Archive for sushi

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.

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Sushiso Masa (Nishiazabu, Tokyo) – Nirvana

To say that I was a sushi snob before… An anonymous doorway in Nishiazabu, seven bar seats, no menu, and thirty-five plus courses of sushi nirvana changed my rules of sushi engagement.

As the number of choices in the US dwindle due to inconsistent or inadequate quality;1 I was very curious, and skeptical, if sushi (and raw fish in general) was “that much better” in Japan. The fish is not necessarily fresher since many high-end places air ship it from Japan; what does it matter if the fish is sitting in a restaurant waiting for dinner, or on a plane? Since business connections are made over many years in Japan, was it possible that native practitioners had access to higher quality ingredients? And what of the sushi itself – could its art form be more elevated from the highest expressions on American soil? Time was at a premium, and there were many non-sushi places to try, but I ear-marked Sushiso Masa as “the place” based on a friend’s (offline) report.

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Tsukiji (Tokyo) – The Sea Burst onto the Ground

Tsukiji is the world’s largest fish market – 10x the size of its nearest competitor. This had to be a stop on my trip in Tokyo. Tourists are tolerated but it’s a stressful time – narrow aisles, slippery floors, packed crowds of busy shoppers, and motorized vehicles that are aiming for you from every direction – you have to be alert. And mindful that these people scurrying around are trying to make a living, many owners of small mom and pop shops across Tokyo.

Most of the fish is housed under one gigantic roof that runs seemingly forever. There are hundreds (thousands?) of stalls, most themselves mom and pop operations, that have about 100-150 sqft of “retail” space; and a very tiny office, usually large enough for just a chair and a cash register. The stalls and aisles are generally organized by type of seafood.

You will obviously see a lot of blood and death – not to mention corpses being hacked by knife and power saws. The seafood runs the entire gamut of possibilities – from the familiar to monstrosities straight out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It is fascinating to think of all the permutations of shrimp and fish – and it certainly provides ample excuse for repeat trips to Tokyo sushi spots.

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Masa (NYC) – My Best Sushi Meal

How much would you pay for perfection?

Conventional wisdom (mine included), among those who have eaten at both restaurants, says Urasawa (LA) is a better experience than Masa at one-half the price. It was a case of the student, Urasawa, surpassing the teacher, Masa. The Masa experience has been derided for its exorbitant price and short duration. If you factor these two variables out, and just focus on the food, I had the best sushi meal of my life at Masa this past February.

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Sawa (Sunnyvale, CA) – Where it All Began?

In college, my business partner and I started a consulting business in the nascent Internet industry. We were paid rather handsomely for our age so we felt justified splurging. We began celebrating each deal with a trip to one of the “fancy” restaurants that dotted our sea-side town. One in particular, Alleycat (Sarasota, FL), revealed a world of high quality ingredients – how did something so simple taste so good? (This revelation would be repeated again at my very first Chez Panisse meal in 2001.)

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