Restaurants & Bars

Tama Sushi, Sushi Shibucho(Costa Mesa), Caviar&Champange exploits at the Cheesestore---long rant

LACheesemonger | Dec 31, 200204:41 AM     5

Six months since my last trolling of these boards, time for more rants/controversial OPINIONS.

1. Decided to beat the New Years Eve rush, and start a day early today, Monday Dec 30. Champagne, the best required. So 1990 Bollinger RD(disgorged in July 2001, but cork was already shriveled from age), which the ‘P Man’(Robert Parker) just rated 98 points, the highest ever. 1990 Krug ‘Clos du Mesnil’. Decided to treat my friends over at the Cheesestore of Beverly Hills, but being cheap, wanted to get takeout sushi from Little Tokyo’s Fujiyoshi. Stopped by Fujiyoshi on Sunday, only to be reminded that Fujiyoshi is closed on Monday. Darn! So drove out to the SF Valley to see what was open on Ventura Blvd. In Studio City(already knowing that WLA’s Echigo chef, Toshi-san will not do takeout; Mori is usually too busy/too trendy now, to do the same). Tama Sushi is closed Sundays, but upon pulling into the mini-strip mall where Sushi Nowzawa is not located(kind of dumpy store front if you ask me), I saw the lights on, and a big black SUV parked in front. Woman/wife? Of about 50 years old was just leaving, as I looked at the posted hours, closed on Sunday. I asked her if I could get a takeout dinner when they opened at 5PM on Monday....typical answer, NO.

2. Today at 11:30AM opening at Tama Sushi, I take a table by the window(nice blond wood ambience, with table seating for more than 20 I would guess), ask the teenage/20 something American-Japanese waitress if they have Chutoro or Otoro today. She seems somewhat perplexed(typical as most young American-Japanese or even native born Japanese waitresses do not know the differences), and goes to ask the chef. She informs that it is only chutoro. So I order that and the yellowtail toro(referring to it as hamachi), along with ankimo. She asks if I want one piece or two. Unusual as an ‘order’ is typically of 2 pieces and you have to ask for 1 piece if that’s what you want. The chef, not knowing who I was, must have been trying to impress, as the single pieces of both toro were high quality, the tuna as close as you could get to being otoro(marbled link pink, with veins of fat like with salmon, yet not chewy as lower quality otoro can be). Nice large pieces, and the bill came to $4.79 before tax. Having tested the quality, I then question the waitress as to whether or not the chef is willing to do a $100 takeout order for 5PM today(the menu lists takeout, so the chef appears to be a halfway intelligent businessman). He says yes, and I proceed to order $200 worth of sushi. While the quality was quite good, neither the yellowtail or tuna toro were of the same that I got for lunch, and in fact you’d be hard pressed to notice that the yellowtail was toro, as compared to the lunch sample that quite clearly was fatty. While I was there at exactly 5PM, the restaurant was just opening, and my order was not ready(fine by me, the fresher the better since I had a long drive). Took an additional 10 minutes, but I got to talking to the chef(restaurant deserted then) about all my sushi conflicts/travails at other sushi restaurants. How Sushi Shibucho, and Shige of the Beverly Blvd. Shibucho, and Mori sushi’s chefs had all once worked at Katsu. How his wife(who obviously knew Mori), and a friend ate lunch at Mori, and Mori charged them $160, which made the wife angry; old Japanese courtesy(same applies to Napa/Sonoma wine makers who are not supposed to be charged a corkage fee when visiting a restaurant of another winery)/tradition where sushi chefs should treat other sushi chefs/and wives with respect. But not in America it would seem. In Japan, you’d never have a rude/indifferent Nazi soup waitress of the kind I experienced at Sawtelle Blvd.’s Sasabune. You treat your paying customers with respect or they do not come back for more business....at least that is Japanese culture, not the same here in America.

4. I Friday I stopped by Sushi Shibucho in Costa Mesa(take the 55 Fwy, to 19th Street, go north about 3 blocks just before the corner, in a strip mall you’ll find the small rather plain looking storefront restaurant. 6 Japanese speaking customers, but I asked the waitress if they had chutoro or otoro today...answer NO. So I left, but did manage to see that the price of a eel hand roll is $8, which seems rather expensive to me(not sure how other Chowhounds consider that this non descript restaurant is a bargain compared to Sushi Wasabi, just about 5 miles east in Tustin). Noticed that they were only doing take out on New Years Eve. Called them up Saturday to ask if they had any toro, answer-- NO. Same for Monday....huh, this being the holiday season and they don’t even stock toro, whereas Sushi Wasabi does? While Tama Sushi has a lunch omakase of 10 pieces for only $20, Echigo’s $10 lunch special of 4 items(2 pieces each) and a crab roll---really crispy seaweed, really fresh fish; just beats them all. Had lunch there on Friday, and while the chutoro was $9, it went down like butta---no slimy/chewy texture at all, large pieces, same for the $4 ankimo. Unlike Sushi Shibucho, which has both spicy tuna roll and California roll; you’ll not find these at the more traditional Echigo, or the Beverly Blvd. Shibucho. While you may find both of these kinds of rolls at some so called traditional sushi restaurants in Japan; think about it, would you find either of these anywhere in Japan in the 1960’s...well of course not, it’s an American influence, not necessarily a good one either.

5. Last time I had the Krug ‘Clos du Mesnil’ was a $70 sale priced 1981 vintage, consumed in 1990. That bottling was similar in style to Tattinger Comte de Champagne blanc de blanc, light bodied, frothy, ethereal, that just slips down the throat with ease...just a little more complex and intense than the Tattinger, really great stuff for that style. From the heralded 1990 vintage the Krug ‘Clos du Mesnil’ was entirely different from the 1981(which Julio Eglasias bought 5 cases of for his birthday). While the 1990 Bollinger RD was a typical version of that champagne, English style, full bodied, complex,yeasty, some caramel notes, fairly strong for a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend(note: the rare and expensive Bollinger Vielle Vignes tastes fairly similar even though it is 100% Pinot Noir based single vineyard wine); the Krug was just HUGE. Very strong, stronger than the Bollinger RD, and this from a single vineyard 100% Chardonnay based wine. The finish lasted much longer than the Bollinger, with the Bollinger seemingly more refined/complex/balanced. The Krug is not a wine for the faint hearted, it is a food wine. It overpowered caviar and all the sushi. 1990 Salon, while being much more nutty/walnut flavored with high acidity, is just meager in comparison to the Krug...it’s that powerful.

6. You’ll not find better advice on cheese or wine combinations than from the Cheesestore of Beverly Hills- Norbert or Tony; 30+ years of experience cannot be beat...well except that the LACheesemonger is more finicky/picky than either of them. Last year, the Cheesestore had both excellent beluga and osetra caviar. Plump, excellent flavored eggs with not too much saltiness(remember that it varies from one tin to another, so sweeping generalizations are inaccurate). This year, it is not the same. The Russian beluga I tasted from 2 different tins were both too salty, but each did tasted different in a subtle way. I was shown(and tasted) just plain yellow beluga caviar, that some customers were reportedly drooling over. Sure they looked plump in that single 4oz tin, no residual liquid from broken eggs. But while Tony loved the texture, the creaminess, and most of all the visual sight of these eggs; I go by flavors....being the hedonist I am. What I clearly detected was a dusty/dirty flavor, which Tony claimed was the taste of the ocean. Nonsense, it was dusty flavored which detracted from all else. Anyone who wants to pay a hefty premium for these rarities, go right ahead. That being said, they do have quite good Iranian osetra. Out of 2 8oz tins, I liked the dark brown/gold colored Iranian osetra best, because I could taste the flavors the most with that batch having the least amount of salt. The other similar flavored Iranian Osetra was a pale yellow/gold/grey color, not perfectly plump eggs, but the best of what I tasted---and taste is what counts for me. Funny thing about that powerhouse of a wine the Krug is, it magnified the dusty/dirty flavor of that opaque yellow beluga caviar, all the more flawed to me. The Krug also magnified the saltiness of the 2 Russian beluga caviars; that’s not something I noticed with the Bollinger RD, or with any prior lighter bodied blanc de blanc Champagnes I have had in the past. Using his experience, Tony did what he often does for Cheesestore Champagne customers; he sells them a kind of Normandy butter to go with it. A thin shaving of butter on a small square piece of toast, and voila! The fruit came out better on the Krug champagne. Being the hedonistic glutton I am, I thought, the more the better. So a thick slice of butter did not work with the champagne, just tasted of butter.

7. The Cheesestore closes at 5PM New Years Eve, and it will be a zoo in there all day I would suppose...get there early if you happen to read this, and want to get some gourmet items for your New Years celebrations. Tama Sushi will be OPEN New Years Day for dinner starting at 5PM. You get amiable service, and quality food at both of these establishments....so patronize them as you can afford it(anyone for Italian white truffles at $1,800 a pound?).

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