Advocates of the place, please step up; I am trying to figure out why this place is so revered.
I went a while ago, and found it relatively dull, uninspired and overpriced ("relatively" specifically being used to compare the experience with its fame and hype). There was one dish that was quite tasty, but not terribly innovative or exciting. And the rest were just rather bleah. On a good note, I will say that the seafood was impeccably fresh and good quality... Still...
Perhaps it was because we ordered off the menu? I know the omakase is famous, but I went with a companion who decided that the menu would be a good thing to do so we could try *everything*...
Nevertheless, is it worthwhile to go again for the omakase when the menu was so bland?
Have only been a few times, and those were early on. Still, the food was highly innovative and the wine pairings were top-notch. I'm basing this on sushi in Hawai`i and the West Coast. Cannot recall having a better dish (of any) any place esle, regardless of proximity to the ocean. I have greatly enjoyed each visit, though they were awhile ago.
I love, love, love Sea Saw. We have been there a bunch of times but at a point realized we are just too poor to go there.
For the most part, we've always had some form of the omakase. I totally think it's the definitely, definitely the way to go. Once I brought a bunch of family & we ordered some dishes. I think it's way more fun & you get to experience way more of Nobu's craft when you get different bites of a variety of things.
For example, getting a bit of the octopus, tomato & mozzarella sashimi along with a bunch of other selections is way more fun/exciting than getting a whole plate of it. Same with the seared ahi tuna tataki with beet puree. Love a bite of it. Would I want to eat a whole plate? Maybe nah. I mean I'd be happy to but it just wouldn't be anywhere near as great as getting the assorted sashimi plate.
Thanks ccl & themis; that's the kind of helpful information I was looking for.
It's one thing for the restaurant just to be good and the meal to be ok, but it's another to understand what it is it does really well... Taking other Beard-awarded restaurants as an example, Palena (DC) has good food, but not spectacular, and the dining experience is not exemplary unless you order the right things (the fries, for example); or Pasqual's in Santa Fe is also just pretty good on most accounts (pancakes were just ok, not even great) but amazing if you experienced the christmas-style chile over eggs with their good strong coffee... and similarly, Binkley's (where I probably had one of the best meals in my entire life) would have fallen very flat if I had simply ordered an appetizer and entree off the menu because what made the meal was the almost theatrical enchantment of all the details and off-menu surprises that came as part of the fixed course specials.
So I guess the fix is to sit at the bar and order omakase the next time.
Honestly, if what you're looking for is innovative sashimi at a good value, you're never going to appreciate Sea Saw; I don't think that's their mission. You should head to Hana; that's what they do, and they do it well. Of the three prix fixes I've done at Sea Saw, I've only come away with four raw dishes. And for that matter, if you cultivate a good relationship with any good sushi chef, you should get a great omakase -- the name on the door means much less than the amount of trust you have learned you can put in the chef, you know?
Our first visit to Sea Saw was incredible. We did the omakase menu and we were repeatedly blown away. Not every course was a wow, but most were, and the foie gras dessert was amazing. We still talk about it. I've never eaten off the menu, so I can't speak to the differences, but it may be worth looking into and trying the omakase if the offerings are different. Also, we did the matching wines, and I thought they did an amazing job finding wines that really enhanced the flavor of the food. The pairings were spot on and added a lot to the meal. Sitting at the bar for the omakase and watching them put everything together, asking questions, etc, adds to the fun for us, too.
I will say that subsequent trips were less mind blowing. We attributed that to simply having experienced much of the menu already, so the surprise factor was gone. That said, it was still very good.
I certainly wouldn't tell you to try the omakase menu unless you thought you missed something. It is very expensive, and there are plenty of other restaurants that you likely enjoy more. I'm a little surprised you described the food as bland, though. Certainly, some of the dishes feature more subtle flavors, but we enjoyed noticing how certain flavors complimented others. On the omakase menu, some dishes are sublte and some more bold, but all were flavorful, at least in our opinion.
Please let us know if you try the omakase and if you thought it was different from the normal menu. Thanks.
Speaking of omakase. I wrote this post a while back:
My purpose in writing it was that I have been looking forward to the Omakase at See Saw and my disillusionment in the Omakase at Okada (which I assume is a similar level restaurant) has made me think twice about Omakase in general.
Unfortunately, nobody responded to it. Perhaps I came off as snobbish in comparing Okada to Alex. Who knows.
I am still quite interested in See Saw. I seek out tasting menus and wine pairings. I have had some really good ones. At the very least I expect the menu to be original, thoughtful and a different experience than just ordering the same menu items al la carte. Does See Saw do this?
They do. To me, the difference is that on a set menu, the ingredients have to be stocked for the kitchen week after week. There's no seasonality, no up to the minute freshness. Sure, the mushrooms in the mushroom melange may vary a bit; but you're getting oysters and shiitakes in there, big whoop. So while it may be a tasty, cohesive dish; it's not going to be transcendent the way his omakase is.
Chef Nobuo has a decades-long relationship with his fish vendor; he knows what fish he can get during the second week of a particularly warm May from the region he's shopping. He knows the semillon that will pair with it and bring out the buttery flavors; he knows which seasonal vegetable will be pulled from the ground and get to his restaurant in hours to complement that. Or, you know, he might mean for the flavor of his protein to stand alone, and serve it on a perfect shiso leaf all by its lonesome and charge you $22 for it because it came out of the water right about the time you were getting out of bed this morning and was flown here just for tonight. Or maybe it's an ingredient you're not entirely sure is within your comfort zone but he's made it comfortable, in that the textures and flavor hearken to something else you can relate to , but the dish has been elevated by its balance and quality.
Either these kinds of things are something you can taste, appreciate, and value; or -- you don't, and that's not a value judgment. People certainly have different priorities, and I'm glad of that. Means I can still get a reservation!
Deserves the Beard win, in my opinion. I have had transcendent meals there and I've had those that were just exceptional.
I've been to Sea Saw twice since coming to the Valley, and have thoroughly enjoyed both times.
Were they the perfect meals? No. The best I've ever had? Not by far.
But I did enjoy my meals. I sat at the counter both times and had omakase.
I think to truly appreciate Nobu's cooking, you really have to opt for the tasting menu where each course creates a certain rhythm and pace that's hard to replicate by ordering a la carte.
By the way, what did you not enjoy about your meal? You say one dish was "tasty" but not "terribly innovative or exciting". Well, in my book, if it's tasty then it doesn't really have to be all that innovate. And if it's tasty, then it's pretty exciting.
Also, you note that the rest of the meal was "just rather bleah". Can you elaborate? What did you order and what made the dish, or dishes, "bleah" as you say?
I will say this, though, in looking over what we had at the counter with the omakase menu and what the regular menu offers, the latter is definitely more sedate and safer. So perhaps this is why Sea Saw failed to meet your expectations.
You're right; "if it's tasty, then it's pretty exciting." But it's a sad meal when I get excited because *one* dish (a fish soup) is tasty and cohesive; especially for a restaurant of its reputation. And, I wasn't that excited about it because it simply reminded me of my mother's cooking (clean, rich broth; homemade noodles) which I love, but is not (to me) worth $20 for a one-cup serving when we eat it by the pot at home.
Other dishes that I liked but fell short: seared ahi = great quality; perfectly seared. Fabulous mini-salad dressed with yuzu and a drizzle of terrific pinot reduction... but served over a roasted beet puree that tasted like an acidic 3-D balsamic dressing was not cohesive, but schizophrenic and distracting. None of the parts came together.
Marinated black cod... other than the quality of fish being exceptionally good, I honestly think my own rendition is better, especially served over a steaming bowl of rice with braised asian greens. Being served 2 oz of fish on an otherwise empty plate without rice or noodles or soups, or any of the other things I usually eat with fish was really kind of sad for me. Even sushi and sashimi comes with some rice (whether in a roll or on the side)... I guess it's an Atkins friendly restaurant...
And, overall, I just couldn't escape the feeling that I could walk into several restaurants in LA and get the same thing, maybe even better... without the price tag.
And it's not that I'm really cheap about paying for food; I just expect that the food would be worth it and not like something I would make at home or get at another restaurant for 1/10 of the price... it's like paying $30 for a good burger when you could go to a different restaurant and getting an indistinguishably good burger for $10. Why go to the first place to pay 3x as much?
I can certainly respect the notion that the food you make at home, or made by mom, tastes as good or better than what's served at a restaurant.
But to say that the food you make at home is less expensive is besides the point. When you dine out, the cost of the bill is not just for the food, it also includes things like service, cooking time and preparation, the plates and silverware you are using, and trivial things like overhead (e.g. water, electricity, gas, etc.)
I'm not so sure I understand your complaint about rice. It's par for the course for sashimi to served sans rice. Having eaten at many LA sushi joints (Nozawa, Ike, Zo, Gen, Sasabune, Asanebo, etc.) sashimi is served without rice. And if you wanted rice, why not just ask Nobu for some?
If you were starved for some noodles or soup to go with your fish, then why not just order some? You were dining a la carte after all. If this was an omakase, I could (maybe) see the complaint as valid, but in your case not so much.
As an LA native, I tend to disagree with your assessment that you could get the "same thing, maybe even better ... without the price tag." I think a comparable restaurant in LA would be Matsuhisa. The food at Matsushisa would be on par price-wise with Sea Saw, but I think the level of execution and detail is a tad higher at Sea Saw than at Matsushisa.
Other places in LA that serve the same type of food as Sea Saw might be places like Orris, Shiro, Mako, Chinois or maybe Providence, and I don't think Sea Saw is appreciably more expensive than any of those places (and certainly not Providence).
Just out of curiousity, what places in LA do you find comparable, but cheaper, than Sea Saw?
Again, this isn't intended as a post to elevate Sea Saw as the end all be all of all Japanese fusion restaurants, but just trying to parlay the restaurant a fair shake.
Matsushisa is also overhyped, precious and pretentious in my book.
When I say the same thing, better, I refer to the hole-in-the-wall gems that I am always so excited by when I go to LA... and they change a lot, turnover being high in that city. A few weeks ago, I got to go to a wonderful little place in Hacienda Heights that served this crazy sushi asian fusion prix fix meal that started with soup, salads (made from jellyfish and kelp), and sashimi: shellfish and strange creatures I don't even know the name of, huge sashimi platters of the "normal" stuff - which is not really your usual thing, as it included toro, hamachi backfin, mirugai, uni, amaebi (the last two were still moving, which actually creeped me out); then it moved onto cooked: more shellfish, fried amaebi heads, seafood soups, and rice topped with fish roe served in an uni shell... and for a party of four, the meal was under 200, including tax, generous tip, and beers.
So dining at Sea Saw a few days later left me wondering about what the hype was all about
oryza, we found sea saw about the same as you did. I know it is not PC to give them negative reviews but glad to stepped up. I figured it was just me, I am not a real raw fish kind of person. I call raw fish bait. So I just kept quiet and we have not returned. Never could figure out how they got so much love from everyone.
I would hope that the SW board would not be giving off the vibe that it is unacceptable to criticize a place because it has a strong following. In fact, I encourage people to speak up if they have a dissenting view because that helps posters and lurkers to gauge their own level of comfort with an aggregate of the reviews and comments.
I have posted reviews that were highly critical of venerable institutions in the Valley (think Vincent's-gate) and while other disagreed, it was a good thing to let my inner rebel go against the tide.
As for Sea Saw, I have heard very good things about it and some comments from friends that thought it was overrated. Since I haven't been, I can't say one way or the other, but please do tell us about your experiences whether they run with the herd or stand alone.
We need all of the input!