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1st time at sushi shibucho (long!!!!!!!)

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  • Rafi Oct 3, 2001 01:55 PM
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Okay, I'm getting tired (and hungry)just thinking about reliving it, but here goes: In a year that has included fantastic meals at Water Grill, Lucques, not to mention some great "ethnic experiences", last night's dinner is up there, probably at the top.

The funny thing is -- the very advanced culinary experience that is shibucho wasn't even on our itinerary for the evening. My bf and I are regulars at Saito sushi, it's in our nabe, and we were about to go grab a quick bite there when we randomly decided to give Shibucho a try. (I'd read all the recs on this board, and was curious about it -- mucho arigato, guys.) Well, it's a cozy-looking place, but I have to say, our welcome wan't exactly warm. For those who haven't been, Chef (is Shibucho his name?) is a big, graying, intimidating kind of guy. Chatty with with regulars, chilly with newbies like us. (As the kindly Japanese woman who was sitting next to me tells it, it's important to go at least once a month to foster a relationship -- a tasty but extremely expensive prospect.) Anyway, when we said we'd like him to choose our dishes, Chef looked coolly at us and asked how much we'd like to spend. Because chef's choice would cost us about a hundred dollars -- apiece! Gulp!!! Bf and I looked at each other -- on the verge of walking out, or ordering some yellowtail and calling it a day. Then we decided to throw caution and cash to the wind -- after all, we were sure there was something to celebrate if we thought about it hard enough... As it turns out, a brilliant decision!

After we agreed to the prix fixe dinner (probably a better description than "omakase" in this case) chef's treatment of us improved considerably. Funny how that is... Dinner started with slices of albacore dressed with arugala and an olive oil vinegaigrette -- more like a tuna carpaccio than albacore that I'd had at sushi bars in the past, but great. Next was the best, most buttery toro I've ever had. Then terrific yellowtail -- interestingly served with significant skin attached. After that, things really took a turn towards the dazzling: a delicous, perfect for a warm night, cold eggplant dish. Out-of-this-world almost-haute-couture sashimi roll with salmon, sweet shrimp and caviar (not the trad sushi bar fish roe, real caviar.) A grilled filet of scorpian fish with an almost Mexican-tasting tomato onion salsa -- better than fish I ate recently at La Seranata, btw, and that's no small compliment. Then the real show-stopper; oysters in a wht wine chili flake broth, very Italian in flavor but better than any linguine with clams I've ever had. I usually prefer oysters raw but these were gustatory miracles -- not chewy or fishy, more like perfect poached eggs.
Rounding out this Japo-fusion feast, dessert was creme caramel (good) and tiramisu (fantastic -- and I'm not usually a tiramisu fan.) By the time the 200 dollar bill came (with soup and sake in addition to above), we didn't think it a bargain, but we were reasonably happy to pay it -- and totally ecstatic about the meal. There are probably ways to eat more simply and cheaply at Shibuco, but I think for an everday (if still not cheap) kind of sushi dinner I'd rather go to Saito. Or venture out to Nozawa or Sasabune. (Never been to Tsukasa, or what is the weho place called, Mori?) But for a special occasion dinner, even an impromptu and unexplained one like ours, it's hard to imagine a better place.

As a side note: Down the bar, some shibucho regulars had brought what was evidently very good wine -- which sushi chef decanted and tasted with showy professionalism. He suggested to us that next time we have wine with dinner rather than sake. I know there's been disagreement on that subject here, but it seemed to me with all the western influences in shibucho's cooking wine might indeed be a nice accompaniment. I don't know all that much about wine but his list looked impressive. Anyway, it's going to be awhile before I have to make that particular decision -- I can't afford to go back any time soon. However, if anyone out there is feeling flush, I highly recommend the shibucho experience.

And now, back to work...

p.s. Cafe Coco -- block west of Shibucho on Beverly. What the hell is it? Anybody been?

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  1. been a few times. the guy's real mean and angry at us every time we go. but the sushi is very good, though it dropped off a little bit since the first time I went there. actually, weirdly, the 1st time I went there he didn't offer me a prixe-fixe or omakase style meal although I did have a few specialities that you had such as the albacore salad, yellowtail sashimi, and the toro sashimi. He just asked whatever I wanted with a slightly condesednding "What next?" after each order. My bill always hovers around the $70-$100 range not including any sake (so if you go omakase or not it ends up the almost the same price). Also, you literally have to sell your house if you want to purchase his "rare" bottles of Burgundy, Bordeaux, or fancy Spanish and Italian wines (if I remember correctly the avg. hovered around $250-$300 and it goes up considerably from there). Also, for some reason whenever I go there he tries to steer me away from the foie gras pate, by saying it is way too expensive like about 50 bucks per serving. and after insinuates that I don't really want it. I guess he's nice somewhat in not pushing the outrageously priced things. But I don't get why he steers me away, it would only make sense to increase his bottom line on these gastronomic luxuries. Additionally, when I asked for a toro tartare with a caviar he was serving to others at the bar, he once again said the caviar is way too expensive. (From what I saw the caviar looked looked osetra but possibly beluga anyone know for sure and also what brand he uses?) Go figure. Actually I've had a toro tartare with osetra caviar at Asanebo maybe a year or two ago for about no more than $10. Once again the prices mystify me at Shibucho, but then again every time I go there, the place is half-empty. Though I can tell the majority are regulars. One guy walked in with a paperback book in hand sat at the counter and the chef placed a dish for him without him he even looking up from his paperback. I guess i'll shut up now, but contradictions abound here for some reason and I don't know why.

    1. v
      Vanessa On The Town

      Does this mean you're too broke to go to dinner on Thursday now? Glad you had such a great experience. Have been wanting to try that place for awhile. I guess waiting for the occassion or the financial windfall. Were the regulars having white or red wine with the food? And do you know specifically which type of wine?
      Just curious.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Vanessa On The Town

        Kevin and V.O.T.T.--

        As far as the wine, Kevin's right -- a lot of them were crazy expensive, but I think there were a number for around forty bucks. I'm no judge of high-end wine value -- although I certainly hope to become one. :) My Japanese neighbor said she'd had a bottle of 1960-something or other at shibucho for two hundred bucks which she regarded as a bargain. Then again, her purse looked like it costs four times that... The customers who had brought their own were drinking both white (Maraga -- a local Bel Air label which they seemed to consider very desirable -- anybody know it? of course, said customers may be reading this board now, and may want to give me a piece of their mind...) and red (fancy grand cru the label of which I couldn't properly read despite my attempts.) In general, most of the wines offered were red.

        As for the caviar, can't really say. Tried to peak at the can of course (who wouldn't?) but all I could read was the word caviar. I've had both osetra and beluga in the past but nowhere near enough times to make the call... so sad for me... tasted good though!

        Kevin, sounds like you're pretty ambivalent about the place -- which I can understand if you keep getting treated badly even on repeat visits. (Not that there's an excuse for treating first-timers badly either.) knowing you're a serious sushi man, what's your all-time fave sushi bar if not shibucho?
        I think we deserve a definitive list!

        1. re: Rafi

          Here are my tops but I'm slightly taking price into consideration (also, I have never tried Ginza Sushiko, it would easily cost four times the average meal at Shibucho).

          Katsu in Studio City-make a reservation a couple days in advance for the omakase at the 2nd, smaller sushi bar where chef katsu serves you the greatest stuff. He serves sashimi, sushi (the best toro and kampachi),great handrolls, elaborate cooked dishes (such as an unbelievably good tempura of sardines in a light yellow curry sauce), and ends with dessert (which is usually a light fruit based dessert. He also served various artisanal soy sauces, freshly pickled and grated ginger, and fresh wasabi (no one really serves fresh wasabi in this town due to its prohbiitive cost) The omakase runs about $70 to maybe $80, I guess you can specify a higher price if you really want to spend more money, but there is no need to. I think he also serves a nice variety of sake (but only maybe a few wines not like Shibucho). And did I mention that Katsu is a really nice and warm guy, he treats his customers incredibly well. and you could get into conversations with him about sushi in LA, how to pick the best fish, and other matters. a true professional and the meal is mind-blowing. As far as value goes, it's worth at least double what Shibucho charges. Just the sashimi he serves at the beginning is triple the size of a regular sashimi dish. And he serves an amuse-bouche (little tastes) of a baby crab, cooked fish, eel, and conch in the shell which you scoop out with a toothpick. I don't think many people have mentioned Katsu on this board, but it's definitely worth a try. Outrageouly good food and good service although the ambiance may just be o.k. Make sure to call in advance to see if they are still serving this omakase meal. You won't regret it.

          2. Sushi Nozawa in Studio City -sad but true. Nozawa is really good sushi. And not terribly expensive. I know it's a cliche. But his toro is very good. same with his tuna and yellowtail and sardines and monkfish liver handroll. and the crab handrolls are always superb and as simple as can be (I always order two of them). Nozawa-san ain't the nicest chef, but he's a lot more friendly and accomodating than Shibucho. Once he sensed that I tried all the usual suspects one time, he recommended the oysters and the sardines, and they were both excellent (esp. the sardines). Only problem with the place is the decor which looks worse than McDonald's and the plastic plates the sushi are served on are dented beyond repair. and also they only serve two sakes.

          3. Kazu (also Studio City-a pattern forming)
          The toro tartare topped with a few different caviars is amazing. Can't remember the other stuff here. But the best way to go here is to order from the appetizer list and treat it like a Matsuhisa-type place. Great sashimi, cooked dishes, etc.

          these are a couple of my favorites.
          I'm always on the hunt for new places though.

          1. re: kevin

            Shibucho's owner is named Shige. There was a guy named Shibuya who was great and friendly. He went back to Japan about a year ago supposedly to train his son. He is supposedly coming back here in a few years and will open a place in Gardena.

            As for Nozawa, the fish is very good EXCEPT I hate the scallops in a mayonnaise sauce that he gives you and I don't care for the consistency of the sushi rice.

            Tsukasa has a nice selection of cold sakes as does the Studio city restaurant Asanebo. Asanebo even brings in a cold sake that has some cache as the label supposedly makes just a few cases a year, they don't export (someone brings them bottles from Japan) and the Imperial family, allegedly, buys up most of the output.
            When Shibuya ran Shibucho, there were tons of cold sakes. Shige prefers wine, although for years he would counsel against drinking wine with the sushi, preferring to sip the wine on its own afterwards. However, serving it with the food must be better for business.

      2. I've been going there since around 1980. The chef there now is named Shige. He worked for Shibuya who had opened a second Shibucho (now Tsukasa) downtown and after a while, I believe, Shibuya sold Shige the BEverly Blvd. location.
        I've gone to Shibucho, sat at the counter with a friend, stuffed ourselves with traditional dishes, and left paying a check of $95-$130 for two. The sake adds up and we don't get the wine. I've said before that I've found Shige standoffish, the assistants were always much nicer. Personally I'm not that interested in sturgeon in Japanese food. I'm happy to have sturgeon caviar (beluga, sevruga osetra or whatever) in a traditional manner with (or without) egg, onion, caper, butter, etc, or just with a spoon out of a bowl (love the little mother-of-pearl spoons).
        I would say consider going back, getting a table, ordering the sashimi and sushi you traditionally like, let the waitress bring them (ok, I like the counter as much as the next guy but this is just a suggestion), and let the place stand or fall on the traditional side. I think you may like it better. I think when it comes to western-style food, Shige is too influenced by his Italian friends (the Lucchese guys at places like Madeo's) and overdresses the salads.
        One thing to try out now if you get the chance at either Shibucho or Tsukasa (or elsewhere if they have it) is the oak mushroom soups - matsudake shiro. Tsukasa does a great job with it and Shibucho, when they make it, is quite good as well. It runs about $10-15, so consider ordering JUST ONE and sharing. OR splurge. It's really good.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jerome

          Jerome -- thanks for the tips. The mushroom soup sounds awesome. Maybe you're right about the salad, kind of over-dressed. (I like the albacore sashimi at Saito better.) But as for the other western-style dishes -- I dunno. Pretty spectacular I thought. Especially the oysters. Have you tried them?

          1. re: Rafi

            I've had the oysters there, but just as a simple oyster sashimi and they were fabulous. No need to gussy them up.

        2. r
          R Gould-Saltman

          Cafe Coco? Info anyone?

          There's been a bunch of things in that space in the 20+ years I've been driving through this neighborhood; a Japanese place used to occupy the whole corner; for a while there was sort of an avant-Mexican place (sort of a precursor to ChaChaCha and Prado). Don't know anything about this incarnation.

          Anybody got some straight skinny?

          RFGS