Go’s Mart (Canoga Park, CA) – Secret Suburbia Sushi
El Camino Real, stretching across Silicon Valley, is a seemingly endless road that connects one anonymous town to another; with identical strip malls, chain restaurants, and traffic lights every block. But Sherman’s Way, the road to Go’s Mart in Canoga Park, is the same international pastiche of stores and businesses, accelerated 20 years. It’s the horror portrayed in Blade Runner, Snow Crash, and Neuromancer – a future more Brave New World than 1984 – where consumerism runs rampant. Every block advertises tacos, thai, chinese, and sushi – how is anyone to know the wonders that lie behind the back-lit “Sushi” sign at 22330 C-12 Sherman Way?
Shrimp sushi with Uni and white truffle
Sushi, sashimi, and Japanese dining were my original doorways into haute cuisine, particularly sashimi. You could call it the thrill of the chase. In a world of of always-on information and 3:1 staff to customer ratios, these enclaves of tradition sat hidden and relatively unknown, generally run by husband and wife teams. These places have to be tracked and watched. They would never register on the casual diner’s radar – most don’t advertise, relying on word of mouth and personal relationships. And, even then, access is not always guaranteed.
Ankimo with plum sauce
I originally learned of a “pretty good” place, complete with “truffles and caviar” that cost “$200/person”, somewhere in Los Angeles. I didn’t know the name but, whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t one of the normal LA suspects – Sasabune, The Hump, or Sushi Nozawa. The price point and ingredient list ensured it would be “serious” to be some extent. Later, I read this blog entry about Go’s Mart and I became intrigued – the hunt was on. He compared it to Urasawa and he’d eaten at some impressive restaurants. Yelp provided a touch more detail. And then I learned that “pretty good” places was, indeed, Go’s Mart – triangulation and confirmation.
The outside was as non-descript as the anonymous surroundings. A back-lit sign simply read “Sushi”; in fact, as we passed by the first time, my friend joked “we could eat there.” After our U-turn, we realized that, yes, we were eating there. Walking in, a few Japanese VHS videos are available for rent; a few drinks available in a cooler; and a brightly lit six person sushi bar sits in the back, behind a fish cooler. The decor, so to speak, is non-existent. The menu is written on the wall. Nothing more. Was this a well kept secret? Or a bad lead? Whichever the case, our fates were already cast and we ordered “omakase please.”
Grilled Cod Sperm Sac (Shirako) with white truffle
The entire meal came to 11 courses, many of which were unusual for an American sushi restaurant. We started with a series of richer dishes – ankimo, seared toro, and cod sperm sac with white truffle. The next set of dishes got lighter and brighter – flounder sashimi, oysters with caviar, and a white fish sampler – where he employed different types of toppings on each dish. A few pieces of sushi – tender abalone, clam, and a sampling of shrimp with white truffle – continued to show high quality ingredients. Two grilled shrimp heads concluded the savory portion of the meal.
Flounder sashimi with citrus zest
The ingredients were of generally higher quality – this was a serious place. Only the grilled toro was disappointing – it seemed a bit anemic, lacking much fat. Otherwise, all of the fish was of exceptional quality – fresh and firm. Go-san also used luxurious ingredients – white truffle, caviar, sperm sac, and freshly grated wasabi. This was more Masa (NYC) than Urasawa (LA) – a French California slant on traditional Japanese.
Kumamoto Oyster with Caviar
The toppings employed might be decried by some as Americanized or French,not always traditional. However, they almost always worked to great effect. The toppings always enhanced and rarely, if ever, took away from the main ingredient. My only complaint was the cloying plum sauce served with the ankimo – it was too sweet and its proportions too large. The white truffles lent an earthiness to the creamy sperm sac; the citrus zests and salts brightened the flounder sashimi sampler considerably; and the white truffle oil, normally a scourge, but used sparingly here, added an extra dimension to the white fish sampler.
White Fish sampler – Halibut, Kue, Snapper, & Butterfish – with shiso and white truffle oil
If one could point to a flaw in the meal, the sushi rice could be singled out. It was somewhat warm but it did not have the refinement of Sushi Yasuda (NYC) or Urasawa (LA.)
Clam and Abalone sushi
Overall, I enjoyed the spoils of the hunt. I was concerned when we sat down but the ingredient quality and conception was of very high quality. There is no question this is one of the better Japanese restaurants in the country. And where does it rate in the sushi/sashimi pantheon? I would rank it solidly in the second tier, alongside Sushi Yasuda (NYC) and Sushi Kaji (Toronto.) The first tier, which would include Urasawa (LA), Kuruma Zushi (NYC), Masa (NYC), and Sawa (Sunnyvale), have higher quality fish, rice, and/or refinement. Priced at $150-200/head, Go Mart is competitively priced for this quality of meal.
Grilled Shrimp Heads
Do you have a favorite sushi spot that is relatively unknown? That might truly rank in the first or second tier of North America’s best? Share it in the Comments..