Report from Urasawa *with pics* (long, of course!)
Had my first Urasawa experience last night... and the emphasis is on the word "experience" because there's just nothing like it.
Arrived at 6 p.m. and were the first there, seating front and center. The staff are extremely gracious and attentive, and took care of our beverages right away. We then met Hiro-san, who asked our names and wrote them down, and called us by name the whole evening, which was such a delightful and personal touch (and particularly resonant when he was chiding us on procedure or the finer how-to's of some dishes and pieces!).
He is of course used to 'hounds and aficianados at his silky smooth bar (my god, that surface was indeed like a baby's behind!), so he didn't bat an eye at my camera or notepad and pen. My dining companion had the print out of jcwla's report, just to see how our night might line up--knowing of course that seasonality is a big varietal, which we talked about with Hiro-san.
We had something in the neighborhood of 30 courses; towards the end it became less about appetite and more about experience--at no point during the meal was I particularly hungry or full. My dining companion did feel a bit pressured by Hiro-san's pacing during the last third of the sushi course; I attribute this to it being the exact time there were too many pairs of diners at too many different points of their meals, and the balancing act was maintained by his speed. My friend was excited, we were both content to be chatting with our dining mates (the bonding experience is amazing, and I never expected it--it was so amazing that the universe somehow saw fit to bring the initial six of us earlier diners together because it was absolute synergy), and Hiro was very very very stern about the ten second rule. My friend was having trouble keeping up and keeping it all down, and he scolded her for setting a half-eaten piece back on her plate (I don't think he realized she was just about choking) and I would have to say that was the least comfortable part of the meal, because none of us knew the etiquette for this particular snag. At that point we asked for a break, and this allowed our new friends to "catch up" to us, and for us to get a breather. After sometime my friend said she could only go ahead with dessert, but Hiro-san was happy to provide me with more items before my dessert courses. In any event, we were again thrilled to just be dining with everyone and having such a wonderful time.
I tried to get down all the dish details, but the language/accent barrier did make some of it difficult, and also the really fast pace of our sushi courses made it hard for me to get a photo, note the item (or get Hiro's attention, sadly), and eat it (properly, or else!) within the required ten seconds.
Here's my list of what we had, with some gaps that maybe more seasoned pros can fill in:
1. The "shot" was a soy/vinegar concoction with a special "vegetable" that sounds like "liver" and I failed completely to get the name down.
2. Eggplant with shiso and miso and baby shrimp with cucumber and plum paste.
3. Egg custard with uni and shrimp topped with Ikura (special ikura) and gold leaf. This was like drinking the sea... amazing.
4. Abalone with miso
5. Sashimi on carved ice: toro, spanish mackrel, red snapper
6. Snapper in yuzu sauce with snow peas
7. Freshwater eel grilled with citrus and a pickled onion
8. Toro seared on sizzling rock (got scolded here for our cooking skills--so fast! so much to do!)
9. Shabu shabu with green onion, kobe beef, king eel & foie gras.
Sushi courses: (I may be missing some)
Kohada (Japanese herring)
** this is where we took a break, and I resumed with:
Sweet shrimp (live then headed, served in two portions)
I would love to go back, just to see the variety, and to see if I could eat even more, but of course the price tag is a bit daunting (just under $700 for the two of us, only drank one beer and had water, tipped 20%) and the experience a tad overwhelming.
Photos are here:
We really enjoyed Hiro-san's philosophy of service and quality, his gentle nature (except when instructing! look out!) and his funny stories (Janet Jackson leaving when she was told she couldn't get a spider roll there, Ricky Martin's manager pleading on the phone for Hiro to include a "spicy tuna roll" in the evening's menu!!!). We gossipped a bit about restaurnant news, and my nosy friends (new & old) asked if Hiro was single, etc. ("I work too hard!" he protested when they asked why he didn't want to marry or have a girlfriend) and talked as much as we could about all the food he was serving.
And after all that, I really can only say...WOW!
at the start Hiro asks what you can't eat or dislike. honestly, in any other sushi restaurant i won't eat the ikura (big roe), egg (tamago or custard) or uni, but here i was determined (and thankfully so) to not say no to anything. some of the textures are unusual, but nothing was gross or disgusting or weird or bad in the least. i'd attribute this to quality and preparation. but any aversions are easily accomodated. item requests (i.e. "california roll, please!") are not de rigeur, of course.
Very nice report, and some good photos too. I appreciate some of the detail in the photos, not just of the food, but of the various "vessels" for the food, and would like to have seen maybe a couple of more shots of the room itself, and the chef and his assistants at work.
But the important thing in all of this was that you were enjoying a wonderful experience.
Much has been said about Urasawa being the high end (read very expensive) ultimate sushi experience in the L.A. area, I think from what I have seen of the food and read about the food, and what I can see about the room and the overall ambience, and importantly the chef and his sensibilities, attitude and warm hospitalilty, it looks like the total package is well worth the big bucks.
Do all of your items listed above correlate to the order of the photos in the album? For those of us who are sushi novices, it would be great to have an album with captions to refer to in order to identify some of the items.
The total package is totally worth it. If I had to choose between spending three nights for a $80 omakase at Sushi Zo (which I really enjoy) or spending one night at Urasawa, I would choose the latter. Both feature high-end Japanese cuisine, but I do think that Urasawa easily delivers three times the "bang", in terms of quality and innovation.
Side note, we went to have the $210 tasting menu at the French Laundry two weeks ago. It was excellent in just about every way. However if I had to choose which one restaurant I would like to revisit the most, I would say that I prefer Urasawa.
the photos in the set are arranged chronologically, but like i said, i missed a few photos in the hurry to get the bite in. i did my best to label each photo with what i recall it was, but have a few (?) because it was rather overwhelming.
i didn't take any photos of the room per se because it's tiny--what you see of my dining companions and the chef's workspace is just about all there is, save for the area behind our seats where the staff move back and forth, and the tiny entrance area with curtain and sliding door. i also don't like to stick my camera in front of people working, so i kept "action" shots to a minimum; most of the shrimp-chopping shots were taken as i was being egged on by fellow diners.
it is indeed worth the bucks. again, it's not a meal, it's an experience. we were there just over 4 hours. it was like taking a trip or something...
wow.. wow.. and wow... one of the best urasawa photo coverage i have seen... thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.... i am about to see how much money i have in my checking account.. hahah... you got me thinking urasawa again...
Great job JacyFarrow!
yes, it's $250 flat per person for the food. we shared one large bottle of beer (i forget the price, but something like $12) and their water is bottled evian, which ran us a total of something like $16. of course tax (8-point-whatever-it-is-these-days percent) and tip (20%) and you have just shy of $700 for two people, easily.