Sushi Yasuda - better than I could've hoped!
I thought I had arrived in heaven when I first experienced Ushi Wakamaru... and then I realized I had stopped just outside of town and if I had kept going, I would've found Yasuda. I had made my reservation a month in advance as advised (and yet somehow the earliest the restaurant would even give me a reservation) and was told about their policy of making you leave at a specific time. I figured an hour and a half was more than enough time (and no, this isn't another gripe like many before me, actually it WAS more than enough time).
My friend and I got there with under 5 minutes to spare before they gave away our bar seats in front of Yasuda! We went in the wrong direction about three times getting there from the train so we were lucky we made it at all. We prepared ourselves for a night of being pushed around, yelled at and thrown out as other reviews had indicated. Other than being pushed into my seat before my other leg was even over the chair was the only offputting part of the evening. We had also prepared ourselves for the possibility of spending $150-$200 without alcohol as other reviews had indicated as well.
The first course of our omakase was bonito. This bonito was softer and butterier than some of the toro I've had at lower quality places. Because of this, I knew the rest of the meal would be amazing. I mentioned to my friend how bonito is often said to be "baby tuna" simply because it looks like one, but in fact it isn't a tuna at all. Then Yasuda went on to tell us that I was right and in fact Kampachi wasn't baby yellowtail either - they are totally different fish as well! He told us all the subtle differences in the fishes that get grouped together under the Tuna and Yellowtail headings as he served us our next course - white salmon. Not as smooth as the bonito, but just as delicious.
I won't go through each course, however among the standouts were the eel prepared three ways (or rather sea eel prepared two ways and some freshwater eel). The sea eel prepared with salt made the surface crunchy on the outside, while moist on the inside while the "house special eel sauce" on the other sea eel preparation was just amazing.
We also got a bluefin toro vs bigeye toro tasting. The bigeye was definitely meatier while the meltaway bluefin was indescribable other than to say we were on the verge of tears. OK, maybe that was just me, but my friend thought it was superb. The California sea urchin had an orangey taste to it. I can't believe that's it's natural flavor, something must've been added to it, but I didn't see the chef squeeze any orange over it. Does anyone know anything more about how it is prepared?
Anyway, once we hit course 13 we asked for two more pieces, one piece oyster sushi (my friend read about how wonderful it was and had always wanted to try it) and Yasuda's favorite. The oyster had salt crystals on top which contrasted the mushiness (in a good way) of the oyster with the crunch of the salt and a squeeze of lemon. Yasuda told us that everything was his favorite, but he chose for our last course the king salmon roe. This is usually my least favorite type of sushi because it is so insanely salty that I need to wash it down with an entire glass of water. Well, this salmon roe was as amazing as the rest of the meal. The chef explained that most places will marinate their salmon roe so heavily as to preserve it for a long period of time. He said he gets it from Canada fresh and then only lightly marinates it and then quickly freezes it. It only lasts a short time this way but it gives you the natural flavor of the roe and it is not overwhelmed by salt nor does it get that sticky exterior from being so dried out.
At this point we had been there an hour (we had been given an hour and a half until we had to leave) and we were done and ready to go. No one advised us we'd have to leave soon or rushed us to find out if we wanted any more sushi. My friend suspects that those people who get pushed out the door were asking for it. I suspect the same. This isn't a bar where you spend an hour after your meal drinking and talking. That chef in front of you has to give opportunities to other people to try his amazing sushi.
Then the bill came - $90 before tip. Big whoop. I've spent more money on less sushi of lesser quality before. They could hold me at gunpoint until I emptied my wallet and I'd still eat here. I don't know who these people are eating $200 without alcohol in one meal. The food is hardly overpriced based on size alone (and the quality by itself could make the price worth double) and maybe it was just me, but that feeling after the meal lasted for two days - no, it wasn't food poisoning... love perhaps? This is truly the best sushi I've ever eaten and perhaps ever will. I'm a sushi snob, but I can't think of a bad word to say about this place. Are the regular platters as good quality-wise as the omakase? My friend and I both agreed that this is where we are going when we get our FSAs. Now they just need to get better lighting so my pictures of every piece of sushi aren't so damn blurry! Here's a list of all the courses we had:
01 - Bonito
02 - White Salmon
03 - Sea Eel (prepared with salt)
04 - Kampachi
05 - Tasmanian Sea Trout
06 - Warasa
07 - Rainbow Trout
08 - Bigeye Toro
09 - Sea Eel (prepared with eel sauce)
10 - Sea Urchin (from California)
11 - Scallop
12 - Sea Trout
13 - Bluefin Toro
14 - Oyster
15 - King Salmon Roe
Nice review, surprised that you waited so long to check out the place.
And yes I've never understood those big checks that some people mention, my average tab has been $100 per person incl tax and tip. I always work on the basis of $5 average per piece of nigiri and $10 per flask of sake. If you do sashimi, then it gets more expensive but I've never gone beyond $130 all in.
Santa Barbara uni is very sweet, he usually squeezes some yuzu or sudachi (Japanese citrus) on it. And doing the uni trio is great, Santa Barbara, Maine and Russia side by side. Also if you like uni, you got to try uni from Hokkaido. I've had it in Japan but also found it at Lan on 3rd Avenue before, that place is very much underrated for sushi I've always thought.
And on my last trip to Yasuda, I discovered their hand rolls which were superb. And I also discovered that you don't need to be sat in front of Yasuda san to get great food.
I took my dad a while back and got reservations for a table a couple of days ahead of time. We had a great meal just ordering from the menu, with a couple of suggestions from our waiter. I don't think you need to go all-out and spend a fortune or sit in front of the chef to have something quite special here.