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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Urasawa

I haven't picked my groomsmen, I don't recall booking honeymoon flights, I don't even have a fiance, but for some self-induced reason the emotions of taking the plunge were within me on Saturday night. It hit me while I was heading west on Santa Monica Blvd. La Cienega Blvd. was a distant memory, past Canon, and fast approaching a left onto Rodeo Drive. I didn't have much time to turn around. The cold feet were setting in. My hands became clammy, I couldn't get my heart rate normalized. "Am I really going to go through with this?" kept darting through my head with every passing second. With her sitting next to me, I glanced in her eyes, I needed reassurance that she was the right one. No abrupt turn was in my future and a couple lights later, I pulled into the structure as this was the final stop, one that is considered life changing to most. Yet, there was no minister, just a young valet attendant and a sign that read, "2nd Floor: Urasawa."
The decor was surprisingly basic, reminiscent of a doctor's office as I walked in. This was in the heart of Rodeo Drive, I was expecting something more lavish, even if in a minimalist sense.

$350 Omakase. Add the cheapest champagne available, $130 Veuve Clicquot, some water, and the final bill was $1,070.



1. Toro, monkfish liver-ooba, myouga, topped with green onion, 23k gold and yuzu sauce (7)
I wanted more impact from the liver, but nonetheless toro and yuzu made for a refreshing start to the evening.



2. Goma Tofu (sesame tofu) with sea urchin, wasabi, 23K gold, nanohana (3)
This dish was well regarded by SIV, but I found it boring. There was so much tofu, it was hard to get any of the uni hidden inside. I think the difficulty to achieve the tofu's smoothness is what you're suppose to appreciate, I didn't really appreciate it.



3. Hasun - myoga, kobomi spring vegetable, herring roe, okra, bamboo, burdock roots (3)
These are flavors you would find as part of a traditional kaseki meal. I found it a bit underwhelming. I kind of felt I could have gotten this anywhere.





4. Sashimi - Toro, sea urchin, red snapper (8)
The toro was the best I have had, almost the fattiness and melting bite of wagyu. The snapper was decent, but the uni had a funk to it. This uni, as opposed to the sushi course, was described as being from Japan.



5. Beef tartar with osetra caviar, daikon radish with red pepper (8)
I was looking forward to this one after reading recent reviews, I love how expensive it looks. It was everything I'd had hoped for, contrasting richness from the fatty wagyu and the salty caviar. My only fault wit the dish is the portion was a bit large for one bite.



6. Yuba chawan [soymilk skin egg custard] with small shrimp, shitake mushroom, eel, sea urchin, ginko nuts, squash and topped with a bonito broth (1)
I've never had this before, so I'm not sure what the objective is, but it tasted like a bland chicken noodle soup.



7. Japanese Spring Vegetable Tempura [Fukinoto, Tsukushi, Taranome] (3)
I remember taking my first bite of tempura at Tenchi in Toyko a few years back. It was deep fried, but you could hardly tell. It was so ironically light and I was expecting the same from Chef Urasawa, it was far from and one of the disappointment of the night.



8. Houba yaki (beef, bamboo, shrimp) with a Tama miso sauce (kyoto miso) (5)
The flavor were mixed on the meats. The shrimp was tender, but the beef had a poached texture to it. The miso was similar to the sweet miso you get with cod or salmon. The down side to the dish was the extreme serving temperature. I wanted to enjoy the meat, but the sauce was so hot I just trying not to burn my tongue.



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9. Shabu-shabu [hotaru squid, scallop, foie gras, beef, green onion, seaweed] (8)
Again, already consuming gold flakes, monkfish liver, osetra, wagyu, and toro, I feel like I'm paying mainly for expensive ingredients. Nearing the end of the kaseki portion of the dinner, I was hoping for a better balance of top-notch ingredients and highly skilled food preparation. Nonetheless, the meat quality could not be denied.


Sushi Segment of the Meal (10) - I don't want to analyze every piece of fish. I'll summarize by saying this was the best part of the meal and the best sushi I have had. Urasawa mentioned that sourcing the best quality fish, then treating it properly was the key to his sushi. Although, some fish is best serve live or fresh right out of the water. Most fish reach the height of their sweetness by aging it a few days, the same way one would age beef. That helps explain why it's common to have fish shipped from Japan without sacrificing freshness.


(Clockwise from top left: Toro, seared Toro, Red Snapper, Spanish Mackerel)
The highlights of this round were clearly the both toro presentations. Whether raw or seared, both just absolutely melted in my mouth. It was pure heaven.



(Clockwise from top left: Giant Clam, Bluefin Tuna, Geoduck, Skipjack)
The tuna and the geoduck were the standouts for me. It no wonder bluefin is nearing extinction and the geouck had a chewy bite expected from a mullusk, but it was so light that it was a welcomed change from all the fish.




(Clockwise from top left: Abalone, Needlefish, Chu-Toro, Uni from Santa Barbara)
First time trying needlefish and I liked the complexity of the fish. As it was coiled on the rice, it gave several textures in that one bite. This uni was a lot better than the one in the sashimi course and better than the live sea urchin I buy from the Hollywood farmer's market, must be Urasawa's magic hands. I wasn't a fan of abalone when I walked in and I wasn't when I walked out, it's unenjoyably chewy.



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(Clockwise from top left: Japanese Mackerel , White Shrimp, Shitake, Live Shrimp)
Loved the fattiness of the mackerel and I always enjoy having live seafood. It would have been nice to see him prepare a lobster as well. The shitake was better than I expected, not rubbery at all, but it's not fish.




26. Beef (10)
I love how they describe it as just beef. True Wagyu beef is one of the great pleasures in this world. Urasawa imports A-10 grade, 12 being the highest on the Japanese scale. 12 he says is too fat for sushi consumption. As I watched the $1500 slab sitting on the counter, it was as though it was still alive, sweating its fat away, begging to be eaten. Absolutely beautiful.


27. Egg (10) A simple dish, but the best I have ever had. It was so light and airy, with a wonderful sweetness. I'd like to try this one at home, I think I would only have a greater appreciation for his talent.


28. Grapefruit gelee (2)
I was stuffed at this point in the evening; I wish I could have passed on the two uninspiring desserts. Adding goji berries did nothing, but help justify the cost.


29. Sesame pudding with red bean paste and chestnuts (2)
I've never been a fan of Japanese desserts and unless Urasawa chooses to push the envelope on desserts, they will just be an afterthought for a meal here.



30. Matcha and roasted green tea
This was my first time having matcha and I liked the earthy taste. Lastly, we ended with a basic fresh cup of green tea and I cannot put anything else in my belly.

The question at hand with Urasawa is what is the premium to be paid for the best quality meat. Prior to this visit, Sushi-zo was the best sushi I have had in Los Angeles. Its omakase, ~25 courses, runs $125. Personally, as sad it sounds coming from a foodie, a $225 premium is too much. Keep in mind out the door, it was $1,070 for two with wine, tax, and tip.


And at the end of the night, it still felt very much like a wedding, the night passed in a blur, way too fast. I can vaguely remember introducing myself. And what am left with? The positive memories yes, but at the forefront is the cost. Granted not $50,000, but I'm confident I could have otherwise feed 140 guests. And as with marriage, my advice would be to do it once and frequent the cheaper sushi spots on a regular basis, you know what I mean...