Ushi Wakamaru - Reopened!
So I went to the newly reopened Ushi Wakamaru on Friday, Jan 4th. The exterior looks great: no more burned-black sign that masks the name and address. It's now nicely lit with beautiful wooden doors. The interior is just as nice. They opened up the space by removing that unnecessary "private room" and moved the bathroom further back. The waitresses no longer have to squeeze by you at the bar to get to the tables. Since my friends and I had a reservation for when they opened at 6, they were nice enough to allow me to take photographs.
The menu has remained the same, as has the quality of the food, the friendly, laid-back atmosphere and, equally important, the prices. I got the 15 piece sushi omakase. The first tray of fish included: shira ebi (their trademark white shrimp), jackfish, o-toro, salmon with the grilled skin on, raw octopus and horse mackerel.
The shira ebi was amazing as usual with a great soft texture. Similarly, the o-toro was meltaway soft and luscious. The salmon was something I hadn't had before with the grilled skin still attached. It was flavorful without being too salty and the salmon itself wasn't even seared (which I would've disliked). The jackfish and horse mackerel were middle of the pack (but that's not saying much since everything at Ushi is great). Well, almost everything...
See, we suspected that the reason we got octopus in our omakases (omakasi?) was this: I dislike octopus greatly (no matter how much it is massaged and marinated in citrus) and usually ask for no octopus in my omakase. This time I did not. So my friend whispered to me if I was going to ask to not have it. The chef presumably overheard the word 'octopus' and included it... well, it was terrible. I can't speak to octopus quality because I never eat it. My friend said it almost ruined the meal for her it was so chewy. Anyway, enough ranting about the octopus.
The second tray of sushi included: spanish mackerel, sweet shrimp, red snapper, saury and halfbeak. I had recently read a report on sushi restaurants in California, that most of those tested faked red snapper by using cheaper fish and saying it was snapper. This was the real deal. I enjoy the contrast of textures between a fish and its skin (as long as it isn't too tough) and red snapper is great for this. The same goes for the spanish mackerel, which I loved. The halfbeak was nothing special and the saury had kind of a strangely intense flavor that I didn't dislike, but I didn't love either. The sweet shrimp wasn't stringy at all, but rather soft and, of course, deliciously sweet.
The final tray of sushi included: ikura, uni, abalone and anago. The anago was as truly amazing as the o-toro. Slightly crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside. Of course I had to remove a few bones that I didn't feel like swallowing, but that comes with the anago territory. Ikura was good because it wasn't incredibly salty (due to a sushi restaurant attempting to preserve the ikura for long periods of time) but was salty enough to be flavorful. Also, it didn't get the dry sticky texture that overly salted ikura gets. The uni this time was almost too creamy for my taste and made me want to swallow it quickly rather than savor the nice, mild flavor. Abalone, which I had never tried, but knew to be incredibly expensive, was tasty, but again that texture thing got me (I dislike most octopus and clam sushi because of this chewiness). I wouldn't want it again.
As we ate, I watched Chef Hideo cut up a beautiful block of o-toro and I really wanted to order some of it, but I was full at that point. I was disappointed by the lack of the lobster tank in the front of the restaurant as I was uncertain whether I could still get lobster sushi. For some reason, I failed to ask. Otherwise, the place is beautiful, everything's the same (except for those things they were "required" to change). Maybe they needed a revitalization, maybe not. Either way, I'm happy to have my favorite regular spot back! I mean, a man can't eat at Yasuda every week (and still be able to buy food for the rest of the week)!