March 03, 2015
Over-the-Top Omakase dinner at Yamakase, the very exclusive sushi restaurant that required me to write a letter just to get a reservation. One seating, 9 people. The dinner was about 4 hours, a food marathon of over 24 courses. Yamakase is considered a Urasawa knockoff, and I can see why. Every ingredient was top of the line, and often rare. Chef Yamamoto-San (The Hump) told a story about each dish, and it often included comments like “only in season two weeks” and “I am only chef in LA/USA who can get this item.” It was an extremely tasty meal, but it is not exactly authentic. It is not Kaiseki. I would describe it as an extremely opulent fish feast. I appreciate that almost every item had rich accompaniments. If you look at the picture you will note Truffle, Uni, Crab, Caviar, Toro, Foie Gras, soft-cooked quail eggs, often all of them, were on every dish. I love all these items but it was very rich and palate- exhausting. And I missed the simplicity that comes from just showing the fish off with a simple soy-dashi enhancement. Three funny moments. 1) When he handed out the certificate proving the meat we consumed in one of the dishes was Kobe it included the cow’s nose print. TMI. 2) At one point when I was asking the very friendly chef about a bit of technical detail on one of the sauces he told me I “think too much” and I “should just eat.” And finally, at the end of the night he announced to the room that sorry he was out of business cards (akin to Totoroko it is how you get around the arduous reservation process.) However, on our way out when no one else was looking they pulled out a stack of cards and handed us one with very warm words about welcoming us back again in the future. Yay we made the cut! All-in-all I am really glad we went and I would go again, but I still think Shunji -Japanese Cuisine- Yuko Sakurai reigns supreme.
Like a Michelin, but not a Michelin
September and November 2014
..And then there’s Maude. We are very excited to have a restaurant like this in LA, finally! The staff are truly professional, and many of them have cute Australian accents – I assume Curtis must have hand-picked them. The whole feel of the place reminds me of what I have experienced in Spain, France, Japan, Vegas, NYC. Solid, well-executed, super-inspired and original. It was like going to a really good show on Broadway that is very well-directed. I can’t describe any other restaurant in LA that can pull this off. So much better than places like Bazaar, Providence, Rivera, etc. And as for the food itself, I adored the way Chef paid homage to the tomato. I felt like I was a judge on Top Chef. Could I nitpick it? Yes. But I won’t, they are undeserving of this kind of disrespect.
Going back for White Truffles in November added more pressure. $250 pp ++ for wine, corkage, etc. While wonderful, I don’t think it was worth the extra $$$. The restaurant is wonderful, but I would recommend sticking to the more “mundane” ingredient themes as besides being half the price, it is actually more difficult to make them spectacular. Better dinner AND better value that way.
White Truffle Pix:
3 Star Michelin
June 1st, 2014
Nihon Ryori Ryugin – 3 star Michelin, #33 on top 50 restaurants in the world. Finally, I am happy to report that this time, I agree. :) This was definitely by far our best meal of the trip. In common with the other Kaiseki dinners we had, their approach was again to use food and presentation to show harmony with nature, with the seasons, with art. Everything was brilliantly executed and delicious, service was impeccable. If you go to Tokyo and only want to pick one high-end dinner, I think this is the one. As an aside, this is the first and only restaurant I have ever seen to offer tea pairings. They were all house blends and home brewed, served in wine bottles and wine glasses. The pairings were brilliant.
1 Star Michelin
May 30th, 2014
Thoughts on the Michelin-starred and well-renowned yakitori restaurant Birdland- located next to Jiro. I was very curious to see how a michelin rating would elevate typically humble pub food. Certainly I appreciated the lack of smoke and the beautiful (kirei) atmosphere. The chicken is of gve highest quality. All free range and cooked rare. It is reasonably priced, the wine list was one of the most approachable of our whole trip. The chicken livers were plump and juicy and probably the best we ever had. But fir me there was something “off” about the place. If it was in LA, i would describe it as”hipster.” There was something just a little but disingenuous about the whole thing. The courses were delivered in random order. The head chef (itamae) was only peripherally involved in what was coming off the grill. The servers and grillers were the same people. Everything was good don’t get me wrong- but it lacked something. Maybe it lacked the grease in the way philly cheesesteaks taste best in philly where they take on the flavor of a grill seasoned with the steaks of yesteryear. Or maybe it just lacked the love. That said, i think this restaurant is perfect for introducing people to yakitori, but for people like us who have had yakitori dozens of times i think it would not be impressive from a pure foodie standpoint, but it is a great place to take friends for a fun and tasty night out.
We were not allowed to take photographs, so instead I am including some photos of a no-name yakitori place we went to in “piss alley” where no one spoke english. The guy next to us at the bar had a daughter in San Francisco and he called her while we were at the restaurant to help translate. The highlight of the meal was a chicken fallopian tube with egg, pictured below. The gizzard was also delightful.
1 Michelin Star
May 19th, 2014
Last night tried a place recommended to us by yoshi-San of Mori sushi. ( chef was his teacher) A tiny tiny place w only 8 seats. 1 Michelin star. Major contrast vs Kaneska- similar fish but so much more intricate seasonings and flavors. Omakase was more Kaiseki than sushi. Really amazing intimate experience. Customers super friendly as well- this guy in the photo kept buying us champagne, burgundy, and sake while we complimented the very pretty and much much younger lady who was with him. This explains why we have far fewer pictures of this extraordinary meal than many others.
Bite of the day was the ankimo that was steamed and roasted and infused w dashi and sake flavors. Much more custard-ey than typical with an interesting skin.
Feb 8th, 2014
Simply extraordinary. I have never had Edomae sushi this authentic and this good before. Chef Hiro-San and his staff are gracious, engaging, and a delight. Each piece of sushi was carefully prepared and presented as a special treasure. Chef Hiro-San welcomed and appreciated our feedback on each piece. Each piece of fish was uniquely prepared to bring out the essence of each. Not only were the sauces and marinades used to accentuate the flavors, they also brought out the best textures. While it is easy to say I loved the Toro, it was the more mundane bonito and tai (snapper) that shocked me with their tastiness. Chef Hiro-san has a gift – and as an added bonus he is very nice to the guests unlike Nozawas/Zo/and Shibucho et al. Omakase was $165 pp ++ and worth every penny.
When I read sushi reviews I judge the credibility of the reviewer by what other sushi restaurants they love/hate. I love Shunji for Kaiseki. Nozomi in Torrance is very good for sushi. I even like Kampai in Westchester if you avoid the western stuff. I hate and will never return to places like Matsuhisa, Katsuya, the new Sasabune and their peers because of the overpowering westernized sauces, fake wasabi, and sub-par and sometimes precut fish. I think Sushi Zo is terrible because he mixes ginger juice into the sauce for several of the fish. Sushi Sushi is simply boring because he uses the same sauce for most of the fish. Kiriko and K-Zo are ok but very westernized and overpriced for what you are getting. I hate the rice at Sugarfish – too sweet. And I don’t think much of the quality of their fish, either.
If you truly understand and appreciate the fine art of authentic Japanese sushi, go here. If you think Katsuya has good sushi, just don’t go here. You will hate and not understand Q.
Three Star Michelin
March 3, 2013
I was a bit wary about French Laundry, was kind of expecting for it to be not worth the money. I was wrong. Chef had a deft but light hand with flavors, textures, even plating. The skill was clear, the harmony of flavors was sublime. Not really molecular gastronomy although techniques were clearly at play. And certainly not stodgy, heavy French dishes. It was one of the best meals I have experienced; I will definitely go back again someday.