Sad News for Sushi Lovers
- Tom Armitage
As readers of this board are aware, I believe the best traditional sushi and sashimi in Los Angeles is served at Shibucho, located in Little Tokyo on the fourth floor of the Yaohan Plaza on Alameda Street. The excellence of the sushi and sashimi at Shibucho is due to owner and master sushi chef, Shibuya. Alas, the Alameda Street Shibucho is no more. Shibuya has retired, or is at least taking some extended time off from operating a sushi restaurant, and sold his restaurant. It is now renamed Tsukasa Sushi, and the new sushi chef is Kawasaki.
That's the bad news. My commiseration to those of you who didn't get around to eating at Shibucho. You missed a great opportunity.
The good news is that Kawasaki is carrying on, at least as of this writing, many of the traditions that were established by Shibuya. These traditions include fresh from the kitchen, warm tamago (layered omelet) and a basket of steaming, freshly cooked anago (saltwater conger eel). Last night, Kawasaki also had fresh, local octopus. The aji (Spanish mackerel) sashimi was magnificent, as was the light, delicate ankimo (monkfish liver). He prepared a salmon roll, wrapped in a paper-thin sheet of daikon radish with shiso and with gobo (burdock root) at the center. Pretty to look at and delicious to eat. Kawasaki, like Shibuya, provided his customers at the sushi bar with various "treats" throughout the evening, like baby eggplant stuffed with shrimp. Time will tell whether Kawasaki will provide some of the more exotic items that Shibuya introduced me to, such as shirako (codfish sperm sacs) and octopus brains (which I forgot to ask about last night). But, despite the enormity of my disappointment at learning that Shibuya would no longer be serving me or be my sushi mentor, Kawasaki provided a very good experience. I'll go back to Tsukasa Sushi, but, man oh man, will I ever miss Shibuya.
I am very sorry I missed Shibucho; can you tell me anything about the days, hours, sushi bar reservation policy, sake list (onigaroshi, otokoyama? harushika? other suggestions?) and service (mini cups, glasses, lacquer (sp; I don't think it's like liqueur, but I'm lost),l wooden boxes? (spilling over or not)? at Kawasaki? I am tempted by your account of the aji and ankimo (went to BuSan for the first time last week, Tom, Jonathan, and the ankimo was the best I'd ever had, closer to sweetbreads than liver. It put me in mind, for the first time, of how closely everyday ankimo, in its sweet, savory succinctity, realizes the innermost ambitions of the hot dog; although this ankimo, clumsily cut, was more like quail quenelles, like wild halvah.
I've heard a good report about Sushi Gen. My places japonaises or japonesques au courant are Sushi Sasabune and Itacho.
Tsukasa Sushi, like Shibucho, is closed on Wednesdays. On other days, it's open both for lunch and dinner. I would advise calling for a reservation and ask to be seated at the sushi bar with Kawasaki, though most nights this should not be a problem without a reservation. The sake selection has not changed with the change in ownership. Tsukasa has a decent though not extensive selection of premium sakes, around six or so, and will either serve you in a glass within a laquered box, or, as I usually have it, in a wooden box spilled over into the saucer below, as is traditional. E-mail me if you'd like to go to Tsukasa with my wife and me sometime, or for that matter, any of the other good sushi restaurants in L.A.
I think most of the other good sushi restaurants in Los Angeles have been mentioned here and there on the Los Angeles board. Saito's Sushi, R-23, Tsukiji, Hakone, Bu San, Sasabune, and for that matter, Nozawa, are all good. As I've previously posted, I have a hard time with the "attitude" at Nozawa toward non-Japanese patrons, but others enjoy his limited selection (primarily fattier fish) and don't mind the attitude. I would have also included The Hump at the Santa Monica Airport on this list of "best" sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, but recently learned that the sushi chef there, Hiro Nishimura, has left and will be opening his own sushi restaurant soon in West Hollywood. I don't know much about the new sushi chef at The Hump, Nakao Shunji, but will check it out--or maybe you or some other Chowhound will check it out--and report back.
I'd put Sushi Gen a couple of notches below the places mentioned above. It's okay and reasonably priced, but not the same quality.
By the way, I learned about Nishimura leaving The Hump one night when I was eating at Saito's and Nishimura stopped by to eat there himself. During our conversation, he revealed his departure from The Hump and his plans to open his own place.
Regarding comparisons, Tsukasa and Saito's are quite traditional; Tsukiji and The Hump were more "modern" and relatively less traditional.
Hope this help. Let us know of any new discoveries, or what you think of any of the places on the list above.
re: Tom Armitage
ALthough this thread ended some time ago, I thought I'd post my follow-up.
Have been to Tsukasa a few times as I also miss the departed Mr. Shibuya. I've been informed that he went to Japan to teach his son for two years and help him open a place, and then plans to come back and open a place in Gardena.
Anyway, Tsukasa is very good but they haven't been as crowded as when Shibuya was there so there hasn't been the same turnover. The fish is still quite fresh and the service is great at the bar, as well as at table.
I am surprised though, that no one is talking about the old Shibucho on Beverly, run by mr. Shigei who bought it from Shibuya some years back. I think it's still the best around, not that Shibuya's gone. I find the rice at Nozawa to lack the consistency I like and the price and attitude exceed the quality of the fish. I've always been very pleased with the Beverly Blvd. Shibucho over the years, although I find Shigei sometimes downright rude. This seems to be alleviated by those of his customers who bring him gifts and/or speak Japanese. The sake selection at Shibucho on Beverly has decreased but Shigei has taken to buying rare French wines in large lots at auction, so there is a clientele paying $75-200 a bottle for wine there. Personally, I don't get it... I've never found that sushi and lush bordeaux go together all that well, but those folks seem to love it. And his fish is always top-quality, and in season. We won't serve bonito/skipjack (katsuo) out of season and he's pretty traditional - we won't make "spicy tuna roll" and when one customer got very belligerent about it, Shigei informed him that there were many sushi bars that would make him a spicy tuna roll, and perhaps he'd be happier going elsewhere. OK, I did like that.
But summing up, the only places I go now for sushi are Tsukasa and Shibucho on Beverly. I find Hirozen all right, but I'll have other things there and leave the sushi for those two places.
Don't know where you live, but my current favorite is Hirozen Gourmet on Beverly. Tokyo style, Japanese but friendly. Delicious specials (I had my first conchmeat) and Sake served in glass pitchers with the middles hollowed out for ice! The best part is the REAL wasabi- for an extra $10 you're served fresh wasabi. The chef takes what looks like a leaved artichoke on its stem and grates it right in front of you. The taste is drastically different than the usual wasabi most places serve, sweeter and kind of ginger-y.
I have only eaten at Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo once but found it only acceptable. It might be different if I went there a lot and asked for special stuff, but it didn't have the imagination or individual style of sasabune.
However, I can recommend the shabu shabu place next door. The set menu gets you a sashimi appetizer, plus two other appetizers plus soup and dessert with the full shabu shabu (regular beef, kobe beef or seafood). Everything was high quality and the place had a nice quiet atmosphere with good jazz played softly in the background.