Urasawa is busy now.
My first indication of this came when the young man taking the elevator to the first floor saw that I was going to the second and told me he had eaten at Urasawa the week before: "Tell Hiro John says hi."
The purpose of tonight's visit was to expose my good friend, fellow foodie and (very) occasional Chowhound ADW to Urasawa. We had been talking about it for months.
We walked in and there were two other customers at the sushi bar: an adorable Brit and his father, who, as I understood it, owns a soccer team. Nice work if you can get it.
Hiro greeted us warmly and, after the waitress had taken our drink orders, set down before us a little half-cup of something he called "Hoya": "I don't know English word for it." Hmm...unusual but delicious, and instantly we are in the uniquely Urasawa world of flavors.
After that came a truly exquisite course: egg custard with uni, topped with a thick layer of salmon eggs bursting with freshness, over all of which caviar. One of the best all evening.
Next, Hiro's variation on Masa's theme of a blowfish salad, containing blowfish meat, skin, intestines and liver, topped with 24k gold leaf. I had not tasted this flavor in years. It is spectacular.
Next, out came the hand-carved ice sculptures. Yes, it was time for sashimi, this time red snapper, sweet shrimp, and toro. The sweet shrimp are especially memorable, with their wonderfully slimy texture.
Next, a hearty porridge of red snapper, vegetables and mountain potato. Now this is sustenance!
Next, one of my favorites all evening, anago (sea eel) tempura, with a side dish of green salt. "Is it sea salt?" asked ADW. No, explained Hiro, it's "tea salt." Yes, green tea salt, and although it may not be good for me, I coated the tempura in it. Yum!
Next, hobaiyaki. Little grills with huge brown leaves were set in front of each of us, on which were cooking two pieces each of oyster, scallop, and Kobe beef. Delicious tastes and a beautiful, unique presentation.
Then, the eighth and final "special dish": a shabu shabu-like presentation of blowfish meat, liver, skin and sperm sac, with tofu, shiitake mushrooms and radish. Delicious, but honestly, give me the Kobe beef and foie gras shabu shabu some of the others were getting.
And, yes, there were others now. The producer of "The Quiet American" and his visibly jaded Vietnamese wife at the far end of the sushi bar, and at the corner, a charming accountant from Seattle and her considerably less charming husband, Dave.
During the course of the evening, Dave did all of the following: sent back the bottle of white wine he had ordered (something wine-collector friends tell me they may have done once or twice in a lifetime of conoisseurship), took it back when Hiro tasted it and told him it was good, dropped and broke his wine glass, asked ADW what kind of law he practiced and, when told litigation, said, "Oh, how wonderful!" (ADW wondered whether Dave's response would have been the same if he'd told him he was a mass murderer), asked us how long we'd been "together" (um, well, actually, we've been FRIENDS since high school, Dave), induced what looked like the onset of anaphylactic shock in Hiro by drowning all his sushi in soy sauce, and apologized grandly to "the great master," as well as to the Vietnamese woman, "on behalf of all Americans."
Ladies and gentlemen, Dave.
On to sushi now, and Hiro started with a bang: toro.
Orange clam, which Hiro slapped onto the cutting board while alive, then chopped into pieces.
Japanese herring. One of my least favorites of the evening.
Needlefish, which is more about its cool look than its taste.
Uni. ADW broke his uni cherry and liked it.
Sweet shrimp. God, that texture.
Squid. Maybe my favorite of all.
Baby shrimps and tons of them.
Salmon eggs in grilled seaweed, to be eaten immediately after the seaweed is taken off the grill.
Abalone. Not my cup of tea, though ADW liked it.
Negi-toro roll. Heavenly.
Lobster. The lobster was brought out alive and kicking, then, without warning, chopped in half. The lady accountant at the corner indicated she preferred not to know how the sausage is made.
A traditional Japanese palate-cleansing roll of cucumber, shiso leaf and plum paste.
Then, desserts: Hiro's pride and joy, his tamago, made (in "two hours and forty minutes") with egg, shrimp, mountain potato, and much more. Yum!
Strawberry mochi, easily the most flavorful mochi I have ever tasted.
Green tea emulsion.
Roasted green tea.
Only 34 courses this time (43 last time), because Hiro is busier now. Last time I had him all to myself, and that is still the best way to do it, but it may be almost impossible now.
Even with eight customers, you may be wondering, how can he stay in business? The answer may have to do with the names on the backs of the chairs, which ADW pointed out; I had not even noticed them. Ours read, "T. Oku" and "G. Appel." Who are they, Hiro? "The members. One is Vietnamese lady who sits next to Jack Nicholson at Laker games." Ah! Well, he is an artist; why shouldn't he have patrons?
"Are you ready for the car payment?" I asked ADW three hours and change after we had arrived. With two large Pellegrinos, a large Asahi, tax and tip, the bill came to $620. I left a little less stuffed than last time, but secure in the knowledge that nobody within 3000 miles ate better last night.