Urasawa (Los Angeles, CA) – The Spoils of Winter

As vegetables go so goes the sea – there is a season for everything. January at Urasawa brings sperm sac and hairy crab for 10-14 days. It is easy to contort one’s face in a grimace over the former, and I may have reached my limits during this meal, but the latter is sheer joy in Urasawa’s hands – crab meat, eggs, internal organs, and uni – cooked over an habachi. KevinEats says it best – “it’s the pure essence of crab.” Dinner is always special at Urasawa but dropping in during opportune times can lead to more exotic fare than usual.

Two months removed from Tokyo, this was my first sushi, not pictured, on American soil since the trip.1 It was comparable to the better sushi in Japan, falling just a notch below Sushiso Masa. The rice seemed warmer than usual2, to the point that it sometimes warmed the fish. It is also clear that a full ten person bar might be too much for Hiro to handle, as sushi and dishes come at an uneven pace – six or eight has been a perfect-sized crowd in the past.

The prepared dishes, pictured throughout, were as elegant and delicate as usual. The hairy crab was my favorite, rivaling the tastes from Koju and Ryugin, but every dish was of a higher quality. The shabu shabu course can be a source of (silent) contention when they help cook it, as I generally prefer raw to cooked, so I immediately took the reins on that course. Hiro has also scaled back on the beef portions and dishes – which is unfortunate. The sperm sac risotto, covered by surprisingly aromatic truffles in the photo below, was a little too “creamy”, if you catch my drift.

As I’ve said before, ingredients rotate in and out of the dishes in an advanced choreography of tastes and textures. The crab began the meal in a bright cool salad, returning later cooked. Uni shines in the sashimi course, plays a support role in the middle of the meal, and then gets featured later as sushi. The ingredients come into focus and out; playing primary, secondary, and tertiary flavors throughout the meal. It gives the meal a tight cohesiveness and a sense of narrative – characters or themes running throughout – highlighting the season.

It is one of my favorite restaurants and I recommend everyone try it at least once. The only caveat is that it is very expensive – and he raised prices again – and I, embarrassingly, let out an audible gasp when I got the bill. The pricing is now Masa-like, solidly the second-most expensive restaurant in the US. If one were flexible, one could fly to Japan for cheaper than a dinner at Urasawa with alcohol.

Pictures are below – it has been too long for any detailed notes but KevinEats, Kung Food Panda, and Food Destination had a similar meal so you can peruse their blogs for detailed descriptions and impressions.

- chuck

1 – Seriously, I do not eat sushi often – I would rather let the fish live and re-populate than to denigrate their memory by eating the crap served most everywhere.

2 – This is probably my tenth trip or so to Urasawa.

  • http://www.kevineats.com kevinEats

    On my last visit, I was really looking forward to the shirako dish, but alas, I’d just missed it by a few days.

  • http://teenagechowhound.blogspot.com/2009/01/awesome-old-photos-from-sacramentos.html Faine G

    Drop dead gorgeous. I’m going to have to make it out there some time – there’s a definite paucity of incredible sushi in Nor Cal insofar as I can determine….

    Wanted to add I’m going to Spain soon and your blog has been rather helpful for determining what to look out for….

  • http://felixhirsch.wordpress.com/ Felix Hirsch

    Great Pics Chuck!

    I think a visit should be done sometime. These dishes along with all of the other (good) stuff in California just look spectacular.

    Keep it up,


  • http://www.luxeat.com Luxeat

    I wish there were this kind of level Japanese in Paris… As always, beautiful review, Chuck..

  • http://fooddestination.blogspot.com Aaron

    It’s good to get the perspective of a multiple Urasawa visitor. I didn’t realize that The U might be the second most expensive restaurant in the US, especially with the fine dining options in New York. Plus, if you get a solid tasting menu with additions and drinks, the bill can be just as staggering

  • Rodzilla

    I’m so happy I found this blog, great detail and photos.

    I was wondering, if you absolutely had to make a choice, would you choose sawa or urasawa, and why?

    Also, if you feel so inclined. Do you think you could give an overall ranking of the finer sushi establishments you’ve visited?

  • chuckeats

    rodzilla – that’s a tough question i won’t answer. sawa’s fish is generally better – urasawa’s preparations are generally better. sawa/urasawa/masa for the US; kuruma/yasuda 2nd tier; sawada/sushiso masa/miztuani/harutaka tokyo.

  • Rodzilla

    Fair enough, I knew it was a tough question. Thanks for your insight!

  • http://www.karineatsworld.com karineatsworld

    FYI – I recently dined at Urasawa, and Hiro-san mentioned wanting to raise his prices again. Just wanted to prepare you for your next visit in case he does…

  • chuckeats

    karin, thanks for your report (here: http://www.karineatsworld.com/2010/09/urasawa-expensive-sushi-extravaganza.html ) – the weak dollar is not helping us!