Tokyo, Japan: Mind-blowing Sushi at Sushisho Masa

Chef Masakatsu Oka

I think I am ruined. I have had sushi in Japan and it was phenomenal. It was the best sushi I have ever had; nay, it was the best meal I have had in my entire life. It surpassed my wildest dreams, if they knew at which point to even begin.

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My Top dineLA Restaurant Week Lunch Picks for Summer, 2013: July 15 – 26

RivaBella’s Nidi di Rondine

This summer’s dineLA Restaurant Week commences today and lasts 10 days – over two weekday stretches and one weekend. And since we’ve had a few of these by now, it’s probably time we got smart on maneuvering through the multitude of menus. The trick with dineLA prix fixe is that it may get people through the door, but it may or may not be quite the deal you had in mind. The danger is that you might just be stuck with fewer, albeit recommended, choices for about the same price you’d normally pay.

May I propose lunch? They tend to be better deals than dinner – often true between both offerings of the same restaurant – because there’s more incentive to increase lunch traffic with dinner reservations filling up more readily. So whether you’ve got a 9-5 in the area or are in a certain neighborhood for an audition or client appointment, there’s probably a great dineLA power lunch strategy wherever you end up.

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Beyond Celebrity Sushi Rolls: Omakase at Hamasaku is Top Notch

Kuromutsu Sushi Topped with Shirako

Hamasaku is a Westside strip-mall sushi joint, its designation as such not lost on the many regulars who have gone for a particular sushi experience for a number of years. There’s a menu full of celebrity rolls – that is, name-saken sushi rolls with ingredient combinations made up by celebrities – and it is this menu on which Hamasaku has built its reputation. Until recently, that is. Now, you’ll have to specially ask for the celebrity roll menu should you want to order off it.

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi Opens Today

There are pivotal moments in a sushi lover’s life. Sukiyabashi Jiro is one of those famed restaurants that I have aspirations of eating at in the case that I not only make it to Japan, but have the money (Â¥30,000, or $360) to put up for – at maximum – 20 minutes of the best fish I’ve ever had in my life.

(The closest experience to this has to have been my last meal at Sushi Nozawa – now closed - which clocked in at about 30 minutes and not a minute longer. Warm rice with excellent fish, yes. Jiro’s? No. )

The 10-seat, 3-star Michelin starred Sukiyabashi Jiro is helmed by Jiro Ono, the first sushi chef and oldest chef to be awarded the honor. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is 81 minutes of pure food porn laying the foundation for Jiro’s life story, including the pursuit of literal perfection of his craft and the contingent (and not-so-contingent) roles of his sons and apprentices. It’s an intriguing perspective into Japanese culture and the evolution of its food.

New York opened last week, and finally Los Angeles has its chance – specifically on the Westside at the Nuart. For tonight’s showtimes, filmmaker David Gelb will appear in person for a Q&A after the 7:30pm show and to introduce the 9:40pm show. Tomorrow (Saturday, March 17), he’ll do another Q&A after the 7:30pm show and introduce the 9:40pm show. You can also check out Food GPS’ excellent Q&A with the guy.

And I would be negligent if I didn’t recommend that you be prepared to visit a decent sushi place before or after the movie – so you’re not left hungry and envious, or shall we say, “hangry” (personal experience). While there is no Jiro in LA, perhaps try a SUGARfish location, Sushi Central (Palms) or Sushi Park (Sunset Blvd, WeHo) for some unadulterated omakase nigiri made by chefs who, at the very least, say “no california roll or spicy tuna?”

Opening March 16, 2012:

Nuart Theatre
10850 W Pico Blvd Suite 520
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Opening March 23, 2012:

Laemmle NoHo 7
5240 Lankershim Boulevard
San Fernando Valley, CA 91601

Playhouse 7 Cinemas
673 East Colorado Boulevard
Pasadena, CA 91101

Aburiya Toranoko Adds a Lively, Playful Vibe to Little Tokyo

Yanagita Seafarms Uni Goma Tofu

Over the past year, Lazy Ox Canteen has been one of my favorite spots to drop in and dally at the bar with a glass of wine and a couple small plates. I very much enjoy the energy of the place, though I prefer to not be in the middle of it – or the dining room as part of a 6 top, for example. So when Michael Cardenas talked of his upcoming project immediately next door that would be a Japanese eatery, I was instantly curious. I could sense that he also wanted a lot of energy pulsing through this adjacent space, and I can now vouch that he’s successfully achieved this element.

Cocktail bar and flatscreen

There are not one but two bars at Aburiya Toranoko. One, of the spirits variety, rests opposite the restaurant’s trademark brick wall mural – complete with an oversized, looming mirror so diners and drinkers not be deprived of its view. This is where the flatscreen is should you want to keep updated on the Laker game. The other bar, of the sushi variety, is along the back wall. You’ll receive multiple laudatory and exuberant greetings in Japanese on your way back there, or wherever your seat may be - and enjoy it. It’s an induction into this restaurant and a tone-setter for your meal.

You may find yourself having a hard time narrowing down which izakaya dishes to order. The courteous and knowledgable waitstaff are an important resource to aid you in doing so. When we ordered uni sushi, our helpful server instead suggested the Yanagita Farms Uni Goma Tofu. I’m glad she did, because it was a perfect starter and a great little dish of savory topped with fresh uni to kick things off. 

Hakata-Style Tripe

The New Union Farms Sizzling Mushrooms with Tobanyaki is a must-order. Sizzle, those mushrooms did. You’ll find yourself licking the broth out of the bowl before it’s bussed away. Another one of my favorites happened to be off the special menu: Hakata-style tripe. It had a ton of flavor and I was only used to experiencing this profile with ramen noodles. But the tripe just soaked it all up with its extra soft texture. Its savoriness made me forget that I used to consider tripe as one of those weird things my parents ate…along with chicken feet.

Another favorite was on the regular menu, the braised Colorado Black Pork Kukuni, which came with a couple broth-soaked daikon slices and was so tender the cut fell apart at the…chopstick. Though you would have to try pretty hard to screw up braised pork, I loved that it wasn’t too sweet with very little fat and came with a little sliver of extra-potent mustard that broke up the richness with its kick. (I also saw it garnishing other dishes.)

Oysters on the half-shell with caviar, uni, ponzu & ceviche

Besides the izakaya, Toranoko also offers kukuni – or yakitori. That is, vegetables and/or meat on skewers. Those of you in the foie gras cult can appreciate the Duck with Foie Gras in White Balsamic Soy Sauce Reduction…on a stick! There’s also a selection of oden, or objects in broth, as our server explained. This was new to me, and we got a tofu purse bundle with mochi inside. It was good yet unsurprising and struck me a bit as a novelty, but I clearly have more to learn about oden. For those more bowl-inclined, there’s a “rice/noodle/soup” section for that home feel. I hope to try something from this section next time on maybe a cold (for LA) day – perhaps a bowl of porridge. 

On my visit, we also ordered a delicious sushi roll but I can’t confidently comment on Aburiya Toranoko’s raw fish without a whole meal of it, and the focus was on the small plates for the night. The outlook on their sushi is auspicious, though, since – for starters – the sushi chefs are indeed Japanese.

While they tout their hand-crafted cocktail menu made only with fresh juices and no added sugar, I still found the recipes themselves to err on the sweet side. A good bet would be to stay with the sake. My dining companion and I actually discovered a really delicious, unpasteurized one that was pleasantly at the bottom of the price range: Rin “Organic” out of Fukushima.

Aburiya Toranoko is one of those places that you have to go back to try all the different dimensions of their playbook. If you come with a group, I guess you could play all sections of the field by ordering a little bit of everything. But one thing’s for sure, the place continues to carry out Cardenas’ insistance on playing with his food. Since everyone in partnership, management and the heads of kitchen are Nobu alumni, however, it tends to give the food a more refined take.


Mon – Sun: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Sun – Thur: 5 – 11 PM


Fri – Sat 5 PM – Midnight

Happy Hour: 5 – 7 PM (Food items: $5, Well drinks: $5, Drink items: $3)

Aburiya Toranoko
243 S. San Pedro
Los Angeles, CA 90012

SugarFISH by Sushi Nozawa Opens Downtown, Makes Eating Quality Sushi Everyday a Reality

Yellowtail Sushi

For awhile now, I’ve been craving sushi. Between engagements, typical and a-typical financial obligations as of late, I haven’t been able to satiate that desire. As it turns out, I simply didn’t know where to go – or had nowhere to go before sugarFISH opened up in Downtown LA a few days ago. Quality fish without the scene or price tag is a rare find, and I’m lucky to have been invited by Lele Massimi, one of the founders, to see exactly what they were up to. After all, this kind of research is expensive. SugarFISH will now be my home base.

Large Sea Scallops, Yuzu Ponzu

Fish is bought daily from the fish market just down the street – a claim that the Brentwood, Marina del Rey and soon-to-be Santa Monica locations can’t make. Even when that market is closed on Sundays, Kazunori Nozawa still hand-picks each cut from the fishermen because he’s an insider (you may know that his reputation precedes him). This is the same fish that you would order for double the price at Sushi Nozawa, and here you will often have first choice of the rarest finds from the market because of this outpost’s vicinity – just ask what the special is. Sitting at the sushi bar isn’t an option – because there doesn’t exist one. SugarFISH is able to sustain – and flourish – at these prices by cutting out the middle-man and preparing all food within the confines of their kitchen.

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Kenny Yamada Sushi Pop Art at Royal T Cafe

Ceviche Tower | tuna, laibut, salmon, yellowtail, gyoza skin, jalapeno, red & green onions

For the next couple Wednesdays and Thursdays until September 9, 2010, Kenny Yamada (Hell’s Kitchen, soon: Katsuya Encino) will be running his Sushi Pop Art Series. I had the privilege of tasting a few of the dishes on his 7- ($45) and 13-course ($90) menu. Wine and sake pairings are also available for an additional cost. Truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised with how good everything tasted, not just looked – right down to the miso soup.

Sushi Cake | cake formation with layers of crab, spicy tuna, rice, mashed potato with caviar

Favorites included the delicate yet delicious Ceviche Tower – with that jalapeno kick; the “sauce art” that decorated many of the dishes and were integral to many of the tastes; the Sashimi Garden Salad with its halibut & a very distinctive green tea sea salt seasoning; the simple yet perfectly executed Sushi Platter and especially the Sushi Cake – garnished with different flavored, caviar-laced potato salads.

Sushi can indeed taste just as good as it looks. Since this is just for the next couple weeks, be sure to make your reservation. Or, if you like you can lounge in the back area of Royal T (enter from Lindblade Street) and enjoy the entertainment and custom drinks while ordering from the menu a la carte.

Wednesdays, Thursdays

September 1, 2, 8 & 9, 2010

6 – 10 PM


Royal T
8910 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

A Pairing Made In Heaven: Dassai Sake Tasting at Sushi Central

Saba (Japanese Mackerel) Sushi

It was a February night in Palms when I joined a few other writers in a lesson on sake by none other than Sake Master Yuji Matsumoto. The featured brewer was Dassai, who only makes Junmai Daiginjo sake – pure sake (no added alcohol) made with at least 50% polished rice grain.

Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 50 (Regular and Unfiltered/Sparkling)

It was my first time at Sushi Central and though I could appreciate the casual atmosphere – I won’t be fooled again by the inconspicuous signage nor strip mall placement. It was all about the fish, and thanks to their good sushi that I could really and truly appreciate the sake we were tasting. I plan to return for the omakase when I get my next sushi kick.

We were graced by the presence of Kazuhiro Sakurai, the Dassai representative and 4th generation Vice President of the brewery, who flew in to personally tell us about his family’s sakes. Sushi chef Philip Yi (once a challenged chef in Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!) was gracious throughout the night and wowed us with his extremely good sushi. For starters, the slightly-smoky, ultra-tender Ono (Yi’s self-described “crack” fish) left us eager for the night to come. Our saucers remained untouched and unused the entire night, leaving the chef full reign over our tastebuds with no adulteration by added wasabi nor soy sauce.

Ono Sushi

We started off our sake tasting with the most refined sake of the night, the 23 Dassai Junmai Daiginjo ($80) – which I thought was unusual at the time since I’m accustomed to working up to the highest quality from the low. Later, the order would make sense. The ultra-smooth sake was so clean and so delicious and went well with the yellowtail it was paired with. Light sake paired with a white fish – it was perfectly complimentary.

Salmon Belly Sushi

After that came the 50 Dassai, which was still very smooth but had a little bit more acidity since less of the rice grain was polished away. This was perfect because when paired with salmon belly sushi, it cut across the fattier fish – but the sake still had a good amount of finesse. Perfectly paired sake and sushi is a truly heavenly thing.

Next was the Saba, or Japanese Mackerel (title picture) – which is a saltier, less fatty fish and went well with the 39 Dassai – a variety which isn’t available in the United States. We also tried a very lightly-carbonated, unfiltered version of the 50 Dassai – only available Stateside and perfectly complimented sushi chef Philip Yi’s spicy tuna roll. Before this night, I had shunned spicy tuna rolls – but there was excellent tuna, very little mayo and a good amount of spice in the roll; I could truly appreciate the ingredients in this version of what is typically regarded as “filler appetizer!”

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