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I finally made it to Shunji for a birthday meal. Advance warning: there are no pics here. I'm just a strong believer that for special meals like this you need to enjoy it without capturing every moment. That's not to slam people who take pics--I love them--but for me it takes away from the experience (especially in a sushi place) to be recording things in that way.
This was the very best meal I've had in LA. I haven't eaten at all of the best places, but I've eaten at many of them, including N/Naka, Providence, Chi Spacca, Osteria Mozza, and Maude. This meal brought me right back to Tokyo. Having eaten at various Michelin-starred places on my Tokyo trip, I have no doubt whatsoever that Shunji would have a 2-star place if his place was open in Tokyo as opposed to Los Angeles.
The first course of the night was a cold soup with raw hokkaido scallop and 4 types of mushroom. I missed the waiter's explanation of the soup base, but it was white and sweet (rimshot!). A perfect opener--nothing amazing, but very tasty.
Next was a tray of vegetables and seafood, including: (a) spinach with tofu; (b) a conch clam in its shell; (c) something I can't remember (the downside of no pics); (d) a purple potato with blue cheese cooked into it; (e) monkfish liver with caviar in a ponzu puddle; and (f) squid in a sweet yellow sauce. This dish really built throughout, going from "interesting" in the beginning to a spectacular finish. The liver with caviar worked wonderfully (who needs foie?), and the squid was a delightful finish.
Next, we were presented with small, hairy crab legs, which had been split for us. With small utensils we were instructed to pry the crab meat out, dip it in its own crab guts (served with the dish), and then dip the whole thing into a vinegar sauce. An intense, special dish.
Next up was a sashimi platter, which included wonderful cuts of amberjack, mackerel, and (gasp) blue fin tuna. The blue fin was, of course, delicious. The only miss the whole night was a piece of belt fish served on this plate. A bit chewy for my tastes, and not my favorite.
We then moved into the cooked dishes. First up was the well-known squid noodles dish, layered in squid ink, truffle, and uni, and topped with a quail egg. You're instructed to eat this without the egg first, and then mix the egg to get a different flavor. While I was lukewarm on the dish without the egg due to the incredible intense flavors, once the egg was mixed in, the dish was delicious.
We were then served with the restaurant's signature dish--the tomato "tofu." Whatever I was expecting, my expectations were shattered. To be clear, I did not have a single dish in Tokyo's famous kaiseki restaurants that was better or more creative than this. The dashi was just incredible. I *cannot* stop thinking about this dish.
Next up was a simple black cod cooked in Yuzu and some other stuff I forgot. Basic, buttery, and delicious. Nothing out of the ordinary, but a nice dish.
The final cooked dish we received was a crabcake. Stuffed to the gills with sweet crab, and served over a sweet potato puree with a tart dipping sauce, this was as good as it gets.
Finally, the sushi course. We were served with: (a) uni, (b) snapper; (c) yellowtail; (d) chu toro (the best I've had); (e) sweet shrimp (same) (f) the head of the shrimp that had just been killed for the sweet shrimp sushi; (g) white sea eel; and (h) a blue crab handroll (we asked for this too). The sushi, while perhaps not reaching the absolute upper echelons of the sushi stratosphere, was perfectly balanced to my liking. And the chutoro and sweet shrimp were particularly memorable.
The meal ended with a nice pineapple sorbet and green tea. Price for two, before tip: $330.
I can't say enough good things about this meal. The food was varied and delicious. They kept us surprised. The meal built wonderfully to a crescendo. The service was absolutely excellent. It contained a dish I'll never forget. And I can't wait to go back.
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