(First post; be gentle.)
My wife and I ate at Shunji's last night, and it was the best meal we've ever had.
We were sans kids for once, and I really wanted to surprise my wife with an amazing-but-affordable (oxymoron?) omakase. I considered Sasabune, Kiriko, Zo, and Mori for sushi, and n/naka for kaiseki, but I was pretty sure that we couldn't get out of any of those places for less than $100-$150/pp (or more) for dinner. I also felt a bit intimidated about going into those places, having never had omakase before.
Fortuitously, I came across a few mentions of this new place opening where Mr. Cecil's used to be, and read up on the owner/chef, Shunji Nakao. The place seemed like the perfect choice for us: relatively affordable omakase ($80/pp) in a casual, unintimidating atmosphere. When I made our reservation, the man who took the call (who I later found out was Shunji-san himself) was quite amiable, putting me further at ease on having our first omakase here.
We arrived at 7 PM and were seated at the sushi bar by our hostess/waitress (who was incredibly gracious the entire evening--wish I had asked her name). Shunji-san greeted us as well, and then began us on an amazing two-hour experience. I wish we had written down each dish as they came out, but we were too busy savoring them!
In rough order for the evening:
* Sunomono-like starter, except the cucumbers were fresh, not pickled. A gelatinous kind of seaweed was mixed in, along with some radish and shallot. It had an interesting texture and a mild flavor.
* Boiled vegetables, including celery, burdock, radish, okra, and purple carrot, delicately flavored and quite good.
* A plate with four spheres of goodness: a mix of purple potatoes and blue cheese; a skinless, marinated cherry tomato; finely chopped ankimo (monkfish liver) topped with caviar; and a mix of yams, feta, and black truffle. All four were incredibly delicious, the infused tomato unexpectedly so.
* Oyster tempura, two pieces, served in its shell. The tempura batter was really light, and one piece was wrapped in prosciutto, which surprisingly helps cut the stronger flavor of the oyster "guts".
* A plate with three different tastes: a tako salad with yellow and orange bell peppers (octopus was sweet and tender), two slices of kanpachi (amberjack) sashimi (soft and savory), and a small cup with thinly-sliced ika (squid) mixed with squid ink and a quail-egg yolk (creamy from the ink and yolk, with a slight crunch from the squid).
* Black cod in dashi with mushrooms: the broth flavorful yet light, the fish delicate and sweet.
* Slices of fresh bamboo, boiled or steamed, with a light sprinkle of seasoning on top. It was incredibly tender but still had a slight crispness to it. Served with a mountain peach, which I'd never had but reminded me a little of umezuke (pickled ume "plums"), and roasted gingko nuts, which were very much like roasted chestnuts.
* Salad with arugula-like (I can’t recall the name) greens, blue-crab meat, tofu, and anchovies. The latter three ingredients were mixed together and then tossed with the greens. The crab added sweetness, and the anchovies imparted an almost-nuttiness, to this refreshing salad.
* Slices of Japanese eggplant, fried or roasted, topped with a dollop of sauce, a small tempura shrimp, and a slice of delicately-fried shiitake mushroom. It was savory, sweet, creamy warmness.
* A cold soup that was amazingly refreshing. I wish I could remember the main ingredient in it, but it almost looked like congee, with a kind of egg-shell color, but much more uniform in texture. It had chunks of yam in it and was topped with thinly-sliced fois gras. Never had anything like it; one of my favorites of the evening.
* Nigiri: grouper (really mild and delicate; chewy, but in a good way), marinated salmon (my wife's favorite sushi of the night), pompano (never had it before, the preparation--scored and scorched--was really nice), mackerel (strong, but not overpowering), orange clam (sweet and delicate), ikura (salmon roe-- marinated, with a refreshingly light flavor).
* A cut roll with a Japanese root, the name of which escapes me; a simple way to end the omakase.
(I know I am forgetting some dishes right now; if I remember, I will update the review.)
Shunji-san asked if we’d like anything else, and I opted for two more nigiri: uni (a single plump piece of sea urchin that was creamy and coconut-y), hotate (scallop, delicate and sweet, served aburi--lightly scorched), while my wife had one more piece of kanpachi.
We wrapped things up with a cup of tea, and then the bill: $170 for the omakase ($80/pp, plus additional pieces), $18 for the three bottles of San Pellegrino, before tax and tip. It was one of the most expensive per-person meal we've ever had, but worth every penny. I just hope we have the opportunity to go back again--better start saving up now!
Shunji Japanese Cuisine
12244 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064