Monday, October 13, 2008

Urasawa, Beverly Hills

Every single day in the last few weeks I had been reading kevineats' and tangbro1's Urasawa blog and imagining that I too was dining at Urasawa. Today I need not imagine any longer, today I would experience it for myself.

The night kicked off with a very "VIP" feel. Upon arrival Kevineats was immediately recognised by two diners who said that they had gone to Urasawa after reading his blog. Even Urasawa himself took time out to great my fellow diners and talk to them!!!

After comfortably seating ourselves our first 'task' was to pick a sake since I didn't really drink I let my friends drive. Kevineats had also generously bought along a very nice bottle of champagne for the sushi component. There's a funny story here as we were in the car Kevineats had proudly taken out the bottle to show me. Being a philistine I didn't even blink and said something along the lines of "Looks good I hope I like it". The "bottle" was in fact a 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut!!! It is now my favourite champagne oh kevineats you have absolutely ruined me!!!

Hors d'oeuvre

Hors d'oeuvre: Toro tataki
Hors d'oeuvre: King eel

Our epic meal kicked off with seared toro lightly flavoured in orange ponzu and garnished with daikon, scallion, shiso,
chrysanthemum flower and gold foil. The ponzu added a nice subtle tanginess to the seared toro. I was slightly suprised as I had expected the flavours to be more complex however there was always beauty in simplicity.

The gently fried king eel (hamo nambabzuke) marinated in sweet vinegar and garnished with thinly sliced carrots was firm and delicous. I am not sure if it was my imagination but I thought I detected a slight bacon after taste!


Edamame tofu

When I was young I use to make my mum buy silken tofu desserts for me every week so was extremely excited to see Urasawa serve silken tofu. This was not your average silken tofu though it was accompanied by uni, shrimp, salmon egg and mitsuba vegetables topped with gold leaves. The silken tofu was smooth and soft which was well balanced with the delicate saltiness of the salmon roe. Texturally this course also hit the right spot a combination of silky tofu, firm eggs which burst in the mouth and mitsuba pieces.

Sashimi was served on a bed of carved ice. From left to right was toro, snapper
and kampachi accompanied by red cabbage, seaweed, wasabi and daikon. The toro was my favourite so marbled that it melted in my mouth.

Matsutake mushroom soup

Matsutake is the Japanese response to truffles so it was only appropriate that the soup was served with shrimp, snapper, ginko, abalone and sudachi. Surprisingly the sudachi went well with the smokiness of the matsutake bringing out the clarity and freshness of the warm broth.

Karaage abalone

This tasted like high priced KFC popcorn chicken!
Obviously there were differences the abalone flesh was firmer yet more tender to the bite and the batter was light without the associated oiliness. If only I could have a bucket of this and a good movie!!!

Seared toro

Maybe it was the gimmick factor maybe it was the toro whatever it was this was one of my favourites. I almost shamelessly dribbled as the waitress placed my toro marinated in soy, sake and ponzu sauce onto the hot stone. After what was an unbearable wait the toro was ready. I still remember the sensation of the toro melting in my mouth and spreading with it the toro fat enhanced by soy, sake and ponzu.

Simmered saga beef

saga beef was simmered in sake for two days and garnished with scallions and peas. Saga beef was a special type of beef from Saga prefecture known for its minute even distribution of fat and is considered to be on par with Kobe beef. I have to admit it reminds me of my mum's braised proteins. After being cooked for 2 days the meat easily broke away making for a very pleasant dining experience.

Shabu shabu

I watched excitedly as Urasawa prepared for our much anticipated course, shabu shabu. This was the first time I had seen a chef 'prepare' lobster right in front of me and so was very fascinated throughout the whole process. For our shabu shabu we were served scallops, lobster, king eel, sago beef and foie gras. The foie gras was put in first as it would take the longest to cook. The lobster was fresh and firm. Although there was nothing wrong with the scallops it didn't stand out from the crowd (perhaps the competition was tough). The king eel was faultless but the foie gras was absolute heaven. Having never had foie gras served in shabu shabu I was slightly dubious but all doubts ceased as the foie gras melted onto my palate and released its subtle yet somehow strong scent. This was followed by the sago beef which was like foie gras with a rougher texture. After we were done we shamelessly slurped down the broth which still had a slight foie gras after taste.


We now move to the sushi component. Given the length of the meal I will only provide a brief description of each item.

Toro - the toro was delectably oily and rich almost like a more tender, tastier slice of beef and melted as I placed it in my mouth.
Seared toro - slightly searing the toro added variations in texture and temperature which made what was already flawless even more interesting and palatable. This was one of my favourites

- where the toro was oily and rich the kampachi was clean, fresh and clear. Rather than melting in the mouth the kampachi had a pleasantly sharp bite
Snapper - the snapper had the fresh clarity in flavours of the kampachi but with a slight citric punch from the sudachi zest which I had thought was yuzu. In texture the snapper was like a slightly less chewy lobster just the right balance I think

Spanish mackerel
- we were told that of the fish currently available in Japan the spanish mackerel was the most rare and that our mackerel came from Kyushu. The mackerel's flavour was surprisingly very mild and I remember more the coolness of the fish then any distinct flavours
Blue fin tuna - after being spoilt by the preceding rare selection this tasted like good quality tuna. It was still however very good and I did note that blue fin tuna is a delicacy in Japan and importantly before I tasted the toro was actually my favourite fish!

Shitake mushroom
- the mushrooms were smoked over a coal grill (unfortunately no photo) and this smokiness came through. Although I have had vegetable sushi I have never had it in this way and was fascinated
Uni - this was one of the best uni I have had it was very rich, creamy and strong. It was also a very generous portion of the uni which allowed me to fully bask in its texture and flavours

Below is also a picture of the wasabi root prior to it being grated which I have seen for the first time.

- flavoured by sudachi zest and seaweed salt the squid was chewy, crunchy, rich and had a briny texture. Most of the flavour was brought out by the seaweed salt which was a harmonious accompaniment
Geoduck - in texture this was like the squid but was more sweet in flavour than salty

- prior to this I did not know what skipjack was a quick google search reveals that it belongs to the tuna family and is the main ingredient used in dashi (fish stock). I remember some smoothness on the tongue followed by subtle but yet complex flavours
Minced spanish mackerel - this was another favourite. The minced mackerel was layered with flavours of ginger, scallion, shiso leaves and miso resulting in a piece which was individually subtle but cohesively bold. The variations in texture also made the piece more interesting

- the abalone was fresh out of its shell and moved when touched! It was amazing watching the chef score abalone and you can see the scores if you look closely. This is the first time I have had abalone raw and was very surprised to discover that it was crunchy and easy to bite rather than chewy. My mum normally pressure cooks abalone soup for 2 days to tenderise it!
Mackerel pike - is a regional delicacy in the Kii peninsula and is rarely served as sushi, after having it here I think it should be done so more often! Here it was slightly seared with a thin metal rod which produced a brilliant spatter of smoke and sparks and causing the scores which you see below. I absolutely loved this slightly oily and warm concoction. The sushi rice also had additions to it which made eating very enjoyable.

- the lobster was prepared right in front of us and I was one part excited and one part guilty for ending its life. This is the first time I had raw lobster and I savoured every part of its sweet texture
Toro maki roll - toro with leeks and daikon, how could I say no to more toro? Here it was absolutely lovely with the crunchiness of the garnishes adding an additional texture but I still craved for more of the seared toro

Smoked saga beef - I asbsolutely adore saga beef and in fact think it is very similar in texture to toro. Here the beef melted in my mouth and left a slight oily feel to the tongue the smokiness really enhanced the natural beef flavours
Unagi - I normally love eels and the eel here with its slight sauce was very good, however after being completely blown away by the other sushi pieces the eel was underwhelming very good but just underwhelming in the context.


Tamago - is a Japanese omelette made with sugar, soy sauce, and mirin and tastes like a heavier sponge cake. I really like it here compared to the versions I have had elsewhere the use of sugar was restrained and the texture smooth
Pear jello - the pear jello sat in plum sauce and was garnished with goji berry. I didn't really enjoy this dish as I don't normally like pears, jello or plum sauce so it was just an unfortunate choice for me really
Black seasame ice-cream - this is one of my favourite ice-cream flavours so Urasawa could do no wrong. Here it was perfect not to cold as to suppress the flavours, very smooth and had a balanced rather than overpowering sweetness


We finally closed with some matcha whisked on a mat by Urasawa. It was warm and full of umami. A perfect close to a perfect night.

Closing notes

Overall this was one of the best dining experiences I have had in my life and really transformed my understanding of sushi and sashimi. Not only this but the quality of both the produce and the chef was top notch. If I could eat at any restaurant as my last meal Urasawa would be it and I think that says it all.

218 N Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills

Notes: I would like to thank tangbro1 for helping me with my camera settings hopefully you will see in my later blogs that the quality of my pictures has improved and this is all due to tangbro1. I would also like to thank kevineats for generously providing the Cristal. Thanks goes to both for generously explaining the little details of the food to me making the experience that much more enjoyable