Urasawa – Los Angeles

Shame on me for not writing this up sooner. My birthday present to myself this year was a trip to Los Angeles to see old friends and to finally dine at the mythic Urasawa. There was as much anticipation in approaching this meal as there was in going to the French Laundry for the first time; so much has been written about it and its masterful chef, that one can almost anticipate disappointment. I mean, how special and remarkable can ultra-expensive hunks of raw fish be after all? Suffice to say, that nary a meal in my past can surpass what I experienced at the hands of Hiro Urasawa. Yep, its true. It is the best meal I have ever eaten in my entire life, bar none. No mis-steps, every taste a revelation, every offering better than the last.

Old food-chat-board buddy, Jschyun, was my dining companion for the evening and this was her — what? — fifth or sixth visit (if you can believe that!). It was funny to watch Hiro recognize her upon our entrance. She insisted on doing the camera duty for the evening so that I could just relax and enjoy what was to come. The only regret is that I did not bother taking notes and when the onslaught of nigiri commenced, upon reviewing the photographs after the fact, all cannot be remembered specifically. I have to laugh a bit about that, though. In perusing other blogs to try and match some others’ recent pictures with what we ate, I learned that we easily had five or six MORE nigiri than what others have been served on similar dates. Jschyun and I are chalking that up to her presence; it seems she used to even eat a lot more than what we had that evening. I left stuffed so how her tiny little self is able to consume even more boggles my mind.

1. We started with a small crystal bowl of Junsai, a bit of fresh seaweed, a bit of fish (I thought shrimp, but Jschyun doesn’t think so), all topped with a bit of gold leaf. Elegant, refreshing and a wonderful start.

2. Next was a gorgeous, delicious offering of o-toro, topped with a bit of grated radish, a bit of green, more gold leaf and all perfectly displayed in a rustic, handmade dish with an exquisite broth.

3. An incredibly simple offering came next, a single slice of Japanese eggplant with dipping sauce. Clean and fresh.

4. Goma Tofu – A stunning little dumpling made of sesame tofu stuffed with fresh uni and some red snapper. A little more gold leaf and a delicate broth.

5. The sashimi offering – on Hiro’s famous hand-carved pillar of ice (which frosted, actually LOOKS like folded paper!). Seaweeds, Spanish o-toro, red snapper, and uni. The wasabi was fresh and very sweet.

6. Chawan-Mushi – Hiro’s sous chef, brother-in-law, Kim, instructed us to lightly mix the bit of wasabi hiding under the gold leaf. When he saw me scooping down the bottom to blend, he reached over with his chopsticks to show me that only the top gelée and wasabi were to be blended together. Within the custard were a bit of grated mountain potato and sweet shrimp. Elegant and enticing.

7. Tempura with uni, red snapper, a bit of greens. I can never not like a fried dish and tempura is a favorite. I could have eaten a number of these…

8. Seared fatty tuna – The stone placed in front of us was the cooking stone and while Jschyun was shooting pics, Hiro looked playfully annoyed as he reached over to cook her food while Kim cooked mine. So flavorful and rich it could have been mistaken for seared quality beef.

9. Shabu-Shabu – We had been watching Kim thinly slice foie gras and I had no idea that it was going to be cooked in a soup! The foie is added first to give the broth a level of depth and richness with the melting fat. Then the sweet shrimp (which we had been laughing at their movement during Kim’s dessication) and a bit of Wagyu beef. Again, Hiro was scolding Jschyun as he is obviously anxious that the foods being prepared are eaten within minutes and she was delaying. I was fascinated that the chef was so conscientious about the timing of the courses and their consumption!

10. Being served some of the chef’s homemade pickled ginger, the onslaught of nigiri was about to begin! First up was o-toro. Ohmygod. I apologize there are not specific notes on all of the nigiri. They were each remarkable and a great deal of the joy was the relaxed enjoyment while not analyzing and note-taking.

11. Seared Wagyu nigiri.

12. Aji nigiri.

13. Tai Red Snapper nigiri. If you look closely at the picture, you will see a fine dusting of yuzu on top. Much of the ritual of the evening involved Hiro slicing the fish for the nigiri while Kim watched intently, grating fresh yuzu in a small hand grater. Just as the pieces were ready, Kim would hand the grater to Hiro who, after topping the pieces with a light marinade of yuzu sauce and a light soy, would grasp a chasen (green tea whisk) to brush the grated yuzu onto the pieces. It was a ballet of culinary proportions.

14. Sawara Mackeral nigiri.

15. Shiitake nigiri.

16. Maguro nigiri.

17. Skipjack nigiri.

18. Red Snapper nigiri

19. Squid nigiri.

20. Ebi (Sweet Shrimp) nigiri. A beautiful presentation where Kim is scooping out the shrimp brains and pulverizing the offal into a “sauce” which is smeared on the raw shrimp. Stunning.

21. Kohada (Spanish Mackeral) nigiri.

22. Abalone nigiri. I enjoyed watching Kim prepare this. Only the “heart” of the abalone is used — the rest discarded. And is very carefully scored so that when eaten raw, is completely tender.

23. Spanish Mackeral Tataki nigiri.

24. Scallop nigiri.

25. Migugai (Giant Clam) nigiri.

26. Anago (Sea Eel) nigiri.

27. Tamago – Egg custard.

28. Grapefruit Kanten – A sweet bite with bits of grapefruit and wolfberries, garnished with a touch of 24k gold.

29. Wagyu nigiri — Okay, we couldn’t resist and I asked for one more serving as I had never tasted a beef so tender. Served completely raw, it absolutely melted in the mouth.

30. Sesame ice cream with green tea – Hiro whips the tea himself and the ice cream also has a touch of gold. Such a beautiful finish to an amazing evening.

31. Barley tea. A way to clean the palate and relax while paying the bill. Yes, this meal was $500 a person (I alone drank sake). In retrospect, it was the most well-deserved and easily spent $500 I have ever spent. Worth every single penny.
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