Urasawa


Los Angeles (last visit: October 2010).
Japanese.


Urasawa is one of the top Japanese restaurants in the country. When Michelin provided a guide for Los Angeles, Urasawa got two stars - a rare honor indeed for a Japanese restaurant.



The Menu
There is none. The chef decides what to create, based on availability of product. I was asked if I had any allergies; other than that, there were no choices for me to make. Luxury ingredients appears in many courses; you're likely to see toro, truffle, caviar and foie gras.



Atmosphere
The entire restaurant consists of nine seats at a sushi bar. The beautiful sushi counter is made of blond cypress, sanded every day to maintain its luster. For these nine seats, there are at least five employees: chef; assistant; server; someone in the back room; someone who answers the phone and such.



My Meal
There were a few dishes that were very good. Everything else ranged between excellent and amazing. I hate using superlatives like that, but so many of the courses were surprising. I had tasted the ingredients before, but they were never that good, or had never been so expertly prepared.

I tried to write down details on everything that was served, but more important things - like enjoying the meal - intervened. Forgive my errors and omissions. If I don't say anything about a course, it means that it was merely very good. Better yet, skip the words, and just look at the pictures.
(unknown). It was smoky; it was chewy; it was delicious. It may have been anago.
Seared toro, ankimo and caviar. Rolled in such a way that it looked like nigirizushi. Great - talk about rich food! This was one of my favorites.
Tofu, tiny shrimp and ikura. With just a bit of gold leaf for show.
Sashimi - toro, kampachi and uni (from Japan). Nothing unusual, but the quality of each was superb. To maintain the proper temperature, it was served on a piece of sculpted ice. This may have been my favorite dish.
Caviar and beef tartare in a spoon. Yawn - yet another caviar course. Excellent.
Shark fin chawanmushi. With ginkgo, shrimp, soybean skin, and more. And gold leaf, yet again.
Toro seared on a hot stone. Each piece was individually prepared, and presented for immediate consumption.  I'm a sucker for this stuff - yet another favorite dish.
Mushroom tempura. Served with green tea salt. My notes on this course are an indication of just how good the meal was: "not one of my favorites tonight, but still the best vegetable tempura I've ever eaten."
Shabu shabu with foie gras. A large hunk of foie gras was used. In addition, there was scallop and a white fish of some kind. A server took care of the first round of cooking, showing just how to do it. I was allowed to finish up. First, let me say that using foie gras in shabu shabu is ridiculous; next, let me say it was wonderful! Even drinking the soup as a last step was good, although it was a little sad, since it meant the foie gras was finished.
Sushi course. And what a course. This would have served as a meal in itself. I don't list this as a favorite, simply because not every item was a favorite. However, it was one of the more memorable courses. Chef Urasawa presented the sushi one piece at a time; "eat within 10 seconds." It may sound like a broken record, but the quality was outstanding. Here's what I had (minus one or two items I missed, or failed to identify):
Chu toro.
Toro.
Seared toro (from the collar).
Kampachi. Richer than normal.
Spanish mackerel (from Kyushi - claimed to be the best).
Red snapper.
Bluefin tuna.
Skipjack.
Squid.
Kohada.
Shiitake mushroom.
Mirugai.
Toro roll.
Uni.
Unagi.
A type of clam. I forget which one.
Fresh pear jelly. A nice palette cleanser after all that sushi.
Truffle ice cream. For you lily gilders, it was then covered with a layer of sliced truffle as well.
Matcha (prepared from powdered green tea).


(click on any picture for a larger image)
Urasawa entrance
Urasawatofu, tiny shrimp and ikuratoro, uni from Japan, kampachicaviar and beef tartarechawanmushi w/shark fin, gingko, shrimp and moretoro seared on a hot stonechef Urasawa preparing seared toromushroom tempura with green tea saltshabu shabu w/foie gras, fish and moreserver preparing shabu shabushabu shabu brothtorosushi knivestruffle ice cream, covered in trufflematcha (powdered green tea)


Summary
This was one of the finest meals of my life. I've eaten at the even more highly rated Masa in New York, but prefer Urasawa, as much due to atmosphere and personal attention as anything else. It's difficult to compare this type of meal to a formal French meal, or to the 25 course meals that are a signature of molecular gastronomy. However, Urasawa is certainly in their company.



The Bill
The meal was about $350, plus drinks, tax and tip.


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