Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Urasawa: Simply, was it "worth it?" (Beverly Hills)

(Entrance) *Picture Courtesy of Right Way to Eat*

As a kid growing up watching various sports, "The U" to me has always been the Miami Hurricanes (my favorite College football team previously). As we fast forward ten, fifteen years to today, "The U" stands for one thing: Urasawa, the mecca of Japanese cuisine. Urasawa was formerly run by Chef Masa under the restaurant name Ginza Sushi-ko. In 2004 Chef Masa sold the restaurant to his sous-chef Hiro Urasawa, and thus, this legendary restaurant in Beverly Hills was born. Since moving to Los Angeles 3 years back, Urasawa has always been called my "Good-bye to Los Angeles" meal if/when I move back to Nor Cal, but as I've grown to love life down here, I decided to squash that plan and join a group of foodies in the So Cal area for a meal to remember at Urasawa.

Located in the heart of Rodeo Drive, you'll see many high end stores, and cars in the area, along with its abundance of tourists visiting the sights and sound of the area.

Upon entering Urasawa, you'll step into an immaculate restaurant. With various fresh ingredients in front of your eyes, we were assured of the great meal ahead.

The picture on the above shows the various fresh fish that will be used for our dinner tonight. Can you tell I'm already salivating over the big chunk of toro seen on the lower left hand side?

The picture on the right shows the different knives Hiro-san will be using in the background, while in the foreground, fresh wasabi and yuzu fruit.

Chef Hiro San preparing our first course

1. Toro Senmai Maki

This first course consists of ankimo (monkfish liver), shiso (Perilla leaf), and scallions wrapped in seared toro and senmai zuke (salt pickled turnip from Kyoto) topped with caviar in a light ponzu sauce. The initial taste of the ponzu sauce and the senmai zuke matches well with the creaminess of the ankimo, and the seared toro, while the shiso leaf almost serves as the palate cleaner. This was a great starter.

2. Goma Tofu (Kyoto Style Tofu)

The second course was a "tofu" made of sesame paste, kuzu powder with uni (sea urchin roe) stuffed inside. It was served with nano hami (a type of Spring Vegetable), wasabi, and topped with a gold leaf. The goma tofu dish was slightly rich of sesame flavor, but still light on the palate. The wasabi added a nice kick to the subtle taste of the tofu and the nano hami reminded me of the Gan Lan (橄欖), a type of Chinese vegetable that is slightly bitter to the taste. All in all, a wonderful dish.

1979 Lanson Champagne Brut (50/50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir)

3. Hotari Ika (Squid)

Our third course complemented with the bottle of magnum Will brought for us all to enjoy. Hotari Ika, a specialty of the Toyama Prefeture is enjoyed by taking a piece of the ika while drinking a bit of the Champagne Brut. The sweetness of the champagne meshed beautifully with the ginger flavors of the squid.

4. Sashimi (From Left: Toro from Spain, Tai (Red Snapper) from Kyushu, and Kanpachi from Toyama)

As Hiro-san and Ken-san (sous chef) were preparing for the sashimi portion, I was anxiously awaiting for the toro that was to be served. The presentation of the sashimi dish was magnificient. Served on a wooden "boat," the ice block was on a bed of rocks and presented with various orchids, cucumber flower, wakame (seaweed), and of course, wasabi (from Shizuoka). The toro (from Spain) served was melt in your mouth good. Rich, yet not overpowering, the taste of the toro, with a slight dab of the wasabi and shoyu really made it work. The Tai (from Kyushu) was pretty much the contrast of the toro. Light, yet still flavorful, the freshness of the tai was clearly shown from the taste. Finally, the Kanpachi (from Toyama). I've had kanpachi a few times before, but this was probably the best cut of kanpachi fish I've ever had. The freshly cut of fish was tender and sweet, after using the wasabi and the shoyu. All three fishes from the sashimi dish was delicious, and the cuts of toro were as good, if not better, than I had imagined.

5. Chawanmushi

Chawanmushi (steamed egg), a simple dish that I've had many times at various Japanese, Korean, and even Chinese restaurant. The version served by Hiro-san was far from "simple" as I stated in my previous sentence. The dish had a slightly thick texture, almost gelatin-like than anything else. The collection of ingredients used in this small dish was stunning (yuba (tofu skin), mitsuba (vegetable), uni (sea urchin), tai (snapper), ginko nut, hairy crab, shrimp, and shitake mushroom). However, even with the flock of ingredients used in the chawanmushi, the taste was not complex. It was simple, savory, and delicious. I don't' know how I could go back and eat a "regular" chawanmushi in the future.

6. Spring Vegetable Tempura

Shrimp tempura? Yam tempura? Seriously, those are the type of tempura that we've have known to love over the years, but at Urasawa, Hiro-san doesn't serve anything that we've become accustom to over time. There were three different types of spring vegetable tempura served. From left, it was a vegetable called taranome served in a uni paste. The vegetable was slightly bitter, but the uni paste was a good match to the bitterness of the taranome. The second tempura (middle) was the fukinoto with miso from Kyoto. A fascinating mix, as the sweetness of the miso complemented well with the buds of the fuki plant. Finally, on the right, it was the bamboo (one of my personal favorite vegetables) with shrimp paste. As with all tempura, the accompanied dipping sauce made of dashi and shoyu, with the grated daikon (radish) was served. This dish was quite imaginative, and no less delicious as well. Hiro-san, using the various vegetables in season, created something quite amazing.

7. Kani Miso Kora-Yaki

When you have a dish that combines hairy crab meat from Hokkaido, Uni, and Kani Miso (crab brain) served in a shell (kora), how can it NOT be delicious, right? Well, the answer to that question was a simple "Wow" from my taste buds. The smell and the taste of this dish was amazing. Forget the rise in cholestrol after the consumption of the kora-yaki, this,was truly to die for, or dare I say, an orgasmic experience. Hiro-san could have served me 30 servings of this and I'd leave Urasawa a happy man.

8. Saga Beef

This dish was made of Wagyu beef from the Saga Prefecture on Kyushu Island. Cooked in shoyu and sake for two days, the end result is shown in the picture above. Served with scallions, daikon and snow peas, this piece of meat was "melt in your mouth" good. I know a lot of times people have said previously that this specific melts in your mouth. Well, ladies and gentleman, I'll state for the record, the saga beef at Urasawa was indeed, "melt in your mouth" good. The tastes here, perfect.

Hiro-San and Ken-San preparing the amaebi for the shabu shabu portion of the meal

9. Shabu Shabu (From left: Amaebi (sweet shrimp), saga beef, foie gras)

The shabu shabu course was one that I was prepared for at Urasawa. From looking at Kevin's blog in the past year, this was one course that was consistent in his 3 previous trips there. Hiro-san and assistants instructed us to cook the above three items. The first one to go into the pot was the amaebi. A quick dip a la shabu shabu was all the amaebi needed to cook. A dip into the ponzu sauce was all it needed. The second item to go in was the saga beef, and again, a quick dip was all it needed. Dipped in the ponzu sauce, the sweetness of the sauce and the tenderness of the beef meshed beautifully as shown below:

Finally, the last one to go into the pot, was the foie gras. It needed a bit of cooking time, but as it cooked, the fat started to dissapate into the soup broth. As a so called foodie, it was actually my first experience with foie gras, in what I call a sad, pathetic admission to most at the restaurant that night, I bet. (OT: Thankfully, I will experience foie gras overload at Au Pied de Cochon, next month in Montreal). The texture of the foie gras to me was similar of pork blood that I've had many times previously, but the taste of it was indescribable rich and creamy, yet subtle. Fantastic!

10. Shabu Shabu Broth

Not just any broth. The broth used for the shabu shabu was something that Hiro-san tried in a shot glass all night long. At first, I thought he was either taking shots of sake or some sort of vitamin/supplement. It wasn't until we inquired later on, was when we found out he was checking on the taste of the broth for the shabu shabu. With the addition of the amaebi, saga beef, and the richness of the foie gras, I finished every last drop of the soup. This was a great close before the upcoming sushi course.

Before starting the sushi portion of the menu, Will and Brian of FD generously purchaed the "special" sake on the alcohol menu. The sake was actually a bottle Hiro-san's mother brought to him from Japan. The bottle purchased was a Eikun Ichigin, brewed in Kyoto Prefecture, it has won 11 consecutive gold medals at the Japanese National Sake Competition. (referenced from Kevin's blog). For $350, it definitely wasn't a cheap bottle. Thanks guys!

With the ginger appearing before us, we knew it was time for the start of the sushi portion of the dinner. *Note* That ginger was like crack. Freshly made, and not sharp as what I've experienced before. It was simple, yet delicious.*

11. Toro (tuna belly)

What else really need to be said with toro? Rich, delicious, served with a slight brush of ponzu sauce. It's sushi heaven! The toro served here is the best I've had.

12. Seared Kama Toro (Tuna collar)

The taste of the meat from the collar was tender, rich and fat. Simply delicious. With the smoky flavor from being seared with a touch of yuzu juice, a wonderful mix of flavors.

13. Kanpachi (Amberjack)

A simple fish like kanpachi, the taste was light, yet flavorful. Not strong compared the first 2 pieces, the kanpachi was wonderful, nevertheless.

14. Aji (Spanish Mackerel)

Another common fish to those that frequent sushi restaurant. However, unlike some place, where the fish has a strong "fishy" taste. The aji served here was mellow, yet delicious. Good texture, good taste. I like this piece a lot.

15. Tai (Red Snapper)

I'm not even sure what to say about each individual pieces as they're all delicious. The yuzu zest on top of the red snapper was refreshing. I loved it!

16. Hon Maguro (Blue Fin Tuna)

A simply tuna sushi, but made with the highest grade tuna available. Simple, delicious.

2006 Aubert Chardonnay

2000 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut

The two bottles shown above are bottles Kevin generously shared with the group from his private collection for the sushi courses. Although I'm no wine conneisour, the Aubert was quite crisp and refreshing, a good choice for the nigiri sushi that were served. The Cristal, what can you say about this alcoholic beverage made popular by the hip hop world? It was sweet, bubbly, and a damn fine choice for the sushi pairing in my opinion. Thanks again Kev!

17. Shima Aji (Striped Jack)

This fish had great texture and all in all, a very light tasting fish. A fresh and well cut piece, of course.

18. Shitake Mushroom

Shockingly, this was probably one of my favorite piece of the night. The shitake, grilled to perfection to bring out its earthy, "mushroom" flavors, and contrasted very well with the rice and wasabi. It's a shame that it wasn't a big piece served.

19. Shiro Ebi (Tiny Shrimp)

This was first time I've had something like this. I'm used to eating a big piece of amaebi sushi with its head fried given in a separate plate. I think I've seen a similar sushi in the manga (comic book) series, shota no sushi (Ya, I'm comparaing real life to manga), it's pretty interesting trying this sushi in person.

20. Seki Saba (Japanese Mackerel)

Very good piece of fish. I personally enjoyed the taste of this particular saba and the flavor and texture is a bit different than a regular saba (mackerel) sushi you'd find at any other sushi restaurant.

21. Awabi (Abalone)

Usually, I'm only used to abalone with Chinese cuisine, and the texure can be a bit rough if not cooked correctly. In terms of being used on a sushi, I believe it's the first time (If I had it before, it was just that non-memorable) I've had it served this way and I wasn't sure what to expect. With a slight hint of yuzu on top, this was great. The abalone wasn't tough and the combination of the two flavors was a marriage in harmony.

22. Mirugai (Gooeyduck)

Gooeyduck, aka giant clam was something I've seen, yet never tried. There was a slight crunch in texture, but the sushi itself, worked out well.

23. Aji no Tataki (Chopped Spanish Mackerel)

This piece consisted of chopped up aji mixed with scallions, kyoto miso, ginger and shiso. What else can I say, but it was a wonderful mix of flavors. The mix of aji, with the taste of miso and the strong bite of shiso, worked out well.

24. Gyusashi (Beef)

From the picture above, you're able to see Hiro-san prepare the beef sushi for us. Lightly grilled, the beef comes off as tender, but yet flavorful with the yuzu shavings on top of the sushi. Being a fan of beef, Hiro-san did a marvelous job preparing this cut of beef relative to the way this cut of beef would have been prepared at a steakhouse.

25. Negi-toro maki

This was a simple roll made of: toro, negi (leek) and a pickled daikon. I really enjoyed this roll, so much so, Hiro-san gave me a 3rd piece :)! I'd have to say, toro will always be #1 in my book!

Kimura ($110)

Meursault 2005

Time for a "liquor break." The above two bottles were some of the accompanied alcohol we had during the sushi course of the meal. We first purchaed a bottle of the Kimura sake. A solid bottle, no complaints from my end. The second bottle was a bottle of Meursault (2005) that Brian brought for us to share. Both bottles went well with the various sushi pieces we were served, along with the previous 2 bottles of drinks discussed earlier.

26. Anago (Sea Eel)

I've had unagi, unagi don numerous of time, but this was the first time I've had anago, the less fattier cousin, quote on quote. This is similar to the unagi sushi I've had in the past, but it's a bit lighter, probably due to the yuzu zest Hiro-san put on top. FANTASTIC idea, I'd have to say! The meal was coming down to an end, as the eel represents the heavier, cooked fish to contrast the raw fish served earlier in the course.

27. Tamago (Egg)

The tamago has always been one of my favorites, as in the past I'd love the one served at Kanpachi in Gardena. However, the tamago served at Urasawa takes the cake, literally. Light, fluffy, much like a pound cake, but the heavy egg flavor, with its sweetness really made this piece into a dessert for me. I really loved the tamago at Urasawa. Although this symbolized the end of the sushi course of our meal, it was indeed, a "happy" ending.

28. Papaya w/grapefruit jelly and Yamamomo (Japanese Mountain Peach)

Hiro-san doesn't mess around with even the dessert. The sweetness of the papaya, matched with the grapefruit jelly was delicious. I've had yamamomo a few weeks ago actually, and it's quite delicious actually. Slightly tart, it complemented well with the papaya dessert. I'm wondering where I could score a box of the yamamomo....

29. Sesame Pudding

This was a simple dessert of sesame pudding on the bottom layer (as shown above), covered with a layer of red bean paste, chestnuts, sesame seeds, and of course, that lovely gold foil. This was a delicious capper to the meal.

30. Macha

Stong, and bitter green tea. This went with the dessert given above served as a good balance. This was not your standard light green tea.

31. Hoji Cha

This was a good solid, roasted tea, as we officially closed out the meal and chatted amongt ourselves and Hiro-san.

Hiro-san was showing us the sharpness of this particular knife ($2000) that he only uses to cut one fish (sea eel) that's in season during the season. Wow, talk about going all out!

Speaking of going all out, our final tab wasn't pretty, but the meal was indeed memorable. The 6+ hour meal consisted of many memorable experiences that were truly mind blowing. Going in, I thought this was going to be a once in a lifetime meal and didn't envision a return visit. However, in due time, I do plan on returning to Urasawa (probably in another season for a different variety of fish served), as it's truly a great experience. Would I say this meal was life altering? No, I think that's going too far. Yet, with the food, experience, and the impeccable service (the waitress waited by the entrance when I went to the restroom so she could welcome me back in, in addition, a warm towel was awaiting for me as well. Simply awesome! I don't think my water cup was left any less than 3/4 full the entire evening.), the dinner at Urasawa was easily the best meal I've had in my life. Although that could change as the time moves along, this was simply a great experience. I honestly don't think I could eat any regular sushi for a long time, or at least, not comparing it to Urasawa.

Lastly, I have to thank Aaron for hosting this wonderful dinner, as well as to Will, Brian, and Kevin for sharing many bottles of alcohol from your private collections. As well as an addition thanks to Kevin for his notes and in depth details on each item and alcohol served that night. Again, this was truly a great experience, and I doubt any meal in 2009 could top this one. Thanks to Hiro-san and his staff, he made our night a special one.

I probably went a bit overboard with the post, especially with the pictures, but again, a truly memorable meal deserves a post like this. Now, one of my friends used to ask me "was it worth it?" My answer to that question, stolen from Choisauce would be a, "Hellz Fucking Yes!"

Final Grade
  • Taste: 5+ out of 5
  • Decor: 5 out of 5
  • Service: 5+ out of 5
*Note* I don't think I could give Urasawa any less than a perfect grade. The service and the food were terrific. The ambiance was clean and refreshing. Definitely, the best sushi experience EVER!

Also check out some of my fellow Urasawa companions' reviews:
Aaron of Food Destination and Kevin of kevinEats

218 N. Rodeo Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Urasawa in Los Angeles


Samuel Jeffery said...

Incredible! If I ever make my way out to visit you I'm expecting you to treat me to dinner at this lovely spot...LOL jk :) Anyhow, it looks absolutely fantastic and the diverse assortment of food and arrangement/presentation is something I've never experienced before in person. I suppose if I ever kick my travel bug I'd love to try something like this in the future. I'm very impressed with the high quality photos from your new toy as well! Looking forward to your next experience although I'll enjoy it more after June 2nd if you know what I mean...LOL

kevinEats said...

Nice work Danny! A note: the hotaruika was supposed to be enjoyed with the namazake, not the Lanson.

As for the foie gras, I'm sorry to say, most of your future experiences will probably pale in comparison. ;)

dustin said...

about time! how come it says 9~10 guests on the bill?

Aaron said...

Comprehensive write-up! There's a typo "knifes" instead of "knives" but that's a minor issue.

I'd argue that Urasawa is life-changing. Try having sushi again. I did, a week later. It felt like eating squishy water. Urasawa's fish had so many flavors that it'll be hard for sushi to ever be the same again

Pepsi Monster said...

Yeah, there is no way I'll ever have stop comparing sushi joints. I pity the next sushi place that I will visit. So far, I had been putting off visiting other places. LOL

Great job!

mattatouille said...

took me six hours to read this thing, but hey, i felt like i ate it.

ok not really. when are me and christine coming here? Either I get a staggering bonus this year or I put $30 on #15 black in Vegas or I get over 300,000 hits on my blog and FoodBuzz decides to pay out the earnings. All three incredibly unlikely. but hey, I can always live through it on here :)

cocochanelella said...

Wow, the pics look great. Price is very steep AND I can't believe you never had foie gras before!! I almost want to de-friend you. You can take me to your next visit =P

xman said...

hey danny, wanna hit up the fuji's in davis? LOL

Gastronomer said...

That was a treat to read. Thanks for taking the time to write it up! Now, I really, really wanna go. Minus drinks, what was the cost per person? I think I can make it happen :-)

Food, she thought. said...

The pics of the Kani Miso Kora-Yaki have me wishing my Urasawa fund would fill up a little faster! I have a separate savings account to painlessly save for my Urasawa dinner during this recession. Also, I have read this post three times. It is so long and so detailed and so inclusive. Thank you!

choisauce said...

Ive been exposed. I must admit I covered my face in embarrassement when i read that last line. hahaha

the meal just looks/sounds beyond words or pictures. now tell though, what took longer, eating the meal or writing the review? lol

Kung Food Panda said...

Sorry it took awhile to answer everyone. I was pretty much out of commission last week.

Sam: Ya, it's the best sushi meal I've had. Treating you, hmmmm, let's go dutch?? I'm definitely going back again!

Kevin: Oops, you caught my error. That's what I get for writing this review at a God awful time like 2am in the morning. You're right about the foie gras, it was so tender at Urasawa, I'm not sure the Foie gras restaurant in Montreal could top it.

Dustin: 10 people, I don't know why they put 9-10 myself...

Aaron: Spellcheck didn't catch that...damn. I actually had sushi in SD the following week. It was great, but you're right, it's not Urasawa. Even though it's not "life changing," the meal here will be hard to top by ANY restaurant in the future.

Pepsi Monster: Ya, it's not fair to compare U to any other place, but you know, in the back of our minds, we'll always think about it...

Mattatouille: If you guys ever decide to go, and want a 3rd wheel, I don't think I'd say to no to eating here again. Of course, if the bonus check comes in a positive note, it'll make my decision a lot easier :)

Cocochan: Now I had my foie gras. Is truffles next? Well, I've had truffle oil stuff a few times, but I don't think that really counts...

Xman: How about a run to Hunan's for authentic Chinese food, and a cocktail at Sophia's on their dollar wed night? :P

Gastronomer: It was actually a lot of fun writing this review, so I'm glad you enjoyed it too :). The dinner itself was $350/pp, which was an increase of $75/pp since I moved to LA 3 years ago. I figure with tax + tip, and drinks (even water cost $), I'd say $450/pp is a good estimate. Seriously, make it happen!

Food, she thought: Thanks for checking out the site BTW :). The kora-yaki was delicious. It was a mix of all the goodness, and I'd have to say it tastes as good as it looks, maybe even better :P

KFCC: Hellz Fucking Yes! :P

I think the review took me 7 the writing part wins. Of course, the actual writing may be shorter than that. I was editing pics, listening to music, etc....

Phil said...

Congratulations Danny, you made it! It indeed sounds good, but for me, I still can't muster up the willpower to go through a similar episode. I'll just read your review again for a pseudo-experience =)

igigsti said...

holy god.

joanh said...

wow.. i've never had foie gras in shabu shabu before!!! decadent! you'll have to try the pan seared kind (my fave) and see which you like better. great write up, so specific! but the bill was insane. did you guys have to make reservations or walk in?

Kung Food Panda said...

Phil: Ooops, sorry for the delayed reply. It was awesome!

Gigi: Mmmmmm

joanh: Actually, I've had too much foie gras lately, including seared. I just got back from Montreal and it felt like every meal had some type of foie. =) Urasawa you definitely have to make reservations, but Hiro-San is definitely awesome. If you want an unforgettable exp, you HAVE to try it!

Food, she thought. said...

that mini shabu shabu looks gorgeous!