Urasawa report...with a twist
I've put "with a twist" for a reason I'll explain later. I'm not going to break down my experience into individual dishes like previous posters have done with great (and much appreciated) detail. I found Hiro to be informative, funny, and accomodating. My SO and I were the only ones there except for another couple, one of whom is a sushi chef somewhere in Marina Del Rey who brought and graciously shared some sake he'd brought from Japan and also an '03 Caymus.
Urasawa, in my mind, is somewhat of a temple. For someone of non-Japanese descent like myself who has little to no exposure to Japanese cuisine save for multiple visits to Tama and elsewhere, Urasawa is a few steps above what I was expecting or used to. That said, I stayed as open-minded as possible and did my best to acclimate my palate to the more exotic items. Some of the cooked dishes, in particular, presented challenges. I'm normally very picky about uni...I find if it's just not absolutely stellar, I can't eat it. I've only had it once at Tama where I truly enjoyed it. The uni at Urasawa, as one might imagine, is flawless. We must have been presented uni in 6 or so courses, and by the end it was becoming a bit much for me. If I were to return, I would ask for less.
I felt like much of our meal consisted of what I believe to be "Umami"-rich dishes. One such example was a lobster skeleton filled with what I thought to be lobster liver and other innards cooked at the bottom, with a generous sac of uni on top, in a sort of dashi I think. The carcass was laid over hot coals and we were instructed to wait a minute to let it cook. The smell was heady, intoxicating, a little...rich. How does one say it? The intense, concentrated, rich smell of roasted lobster that some find delicious I find a little overwhelming sometimes. Not necessarily in a bad way, I think in a sort of aphrodisiacal way that can become too much. After Hiro pronounced it ready ("Smells good, smells like ocean"), I dipped in. It was even stronger than it smelled. It was in its own way incredible, but due to my relative ignorance of Japanese cuisine I wasn't able to relate to it or find it the soul-food that some might be able to. The combination of the cooked innards and the uni in with the heady aroma packed a concentrated punch to my palate...and throughout the evening I found that several dishes did the same, so that by the end of the night I found myself with what could be called palate fatigue. The egg custard with crabmeat and salmon roe was incredible, also very rich. The whole time I was drinking sake or beer to cleanse my palate, only to be bombarded again with umami-rich, concentrated, incredibly fresh dishes.
The shabu-shabu was...I have to say it, disappointing, but not for Hiro's skill or anything involved with the presentation. For one bite I poached the foie for 30 sec and the beef for about 10 sec, ate them together, and I must say it was sensational. An explosion of rich, clean, animal fat that probably took off a good 5 years of my life. At the end however, I wanted to take some slices of that ridiculously marbled beef and grill it over some hot coals for a second or two and sprinkle it with some Maldon...alas...
The sushi is simply the best sushi I think anyone will ever eat. To say that it's delicious and melt-in-your-mouth is an understatement. It's perfect sushi, and we'll leave it at that. You will forever be comparing this sushi to all others and becoming wistful and reminiscing...I swear you hear angels singing while eating this sushi.
I wasn't a huge fan of the sesame ice cream. It had a coarse and almost broken consistency. The tamago was fluffy and interesting (I've only had tamago once before and it was grilled which I greatly enjoyed) but again, very very rich. We were also presented with half a large persimmon which had been roasted, and then chilled, so that when it was presented, it was like eating the flesh from the middle while the skin acted as a cup. It was incredibly juicy and sweet, but I am not a huge fan of persimmon, so I could only appreciate it for its quality.
With tax, tip, and a bottle of sake, we spent over $700. To say whether or not it was worth it is difficult. It is, but this is the twist: I cannot give Urasawa the same review I would give a restaurant like L'Auberge in Carmel (Where one can spend almost as much), where I would revisit again and again because the atmosphere and food is so familiar to me (Western) and executed at an amazingly high level. I cannot relate to this food due to my own ignorance of it and therefor would only recommend this as a once in a lifetime experience to the uneducated like myself, even as perfect as the ingredients and execution are. I would ecstatically eat here on someone else's dime, but I would have a hard time putting down that amount of money again, at least until I had educated myself a little more and gained an appreciation for such rich and often overwhelming flavors.
I have hesitated to post on this restaurant because of the same reservations you so delicately express. A poetic and IMHO very accurate assessment of this restaurant for a member of the unwashed masses. To whom money is not nothing.
Fooddude, that was a very articulate and insightful review. But I don't think you give yourself enough credit. You're clearly not "ignorant" or "uneducated". It's perfectly fine to say that while it is the best sushi you've ever had, one of the best meals you've ever had and you don't regret your experience, it was a little too rich for your tastes and probably not worth another $700 in the future. I would suspect that most us would draw the same conclusion.