Urasawa or Masa?
If l wished to go to the top end sushi palace in America, there seem to be the top two. Been to Yasuda and loved it, but these, based on price alone seem to present a transcendental experience above the 'normal' high-end establishment. Thus of these two which should l go to and why.
I have been to the original Ginza, Ginza Sushi Ko in Beverly Hills, Masa in New York and Urasawa.
We started going to Ginza when it was in a strip mall in the mid Wilshire district - around Wiltern. At that time it was expensive, but not prohibitive. Masa, did his own thing even then. If you did not have a reservation, you didn't get in, even if the sushi bar was completely empty. We used to go to the old Ginza about once a month. When he moved and we heard the price, we didn't go for obvious reasons. Then curiosity got the better of us and yes we went. In fact we became frequent diners.
Our last meal at Ginza before he left for New York
Moments after we were seated an "amuse" of marinated, cooked eel liver was placed in front of each us.
1st Course- His signature dish of Tuna Tartare served with toast points topped with copious amounts of Beluga caviar.
2nd Course-Blowfish many ways served on a mix of microgreens with a ponzu based dipping sauce
3rd Course- She Crab with Roe and Tomalley-- A bowl with a mound of finely shredded she crabmeat mixed with the bright red roe and the green tomalley
4th course- Seared Toro- simply seared slices of the incredibly rich toro we sampled earlier
5th Course- Toro Shabu Shabu
6th Course-Broiled Miso Marinated Cod with Cod Sperm and Lily Root
7th Course- A little bamboo basket was brought to each of us... it contained a paper wrapped "candy" surpirse---it was certainly a surprise. Once opened there sat a whole white truffle which had been cut into threee pieces dipped in tempura and fried
Then came a parade of sushi- as much as you wanted until you called halt.
Masa New York
Is it worth it at Masa? No. Yes the toro is remarkable, the fish pristine but the meal was a total of 1 1/2 hours and we felt as welcome as a cayote in a pet store. The bar was full and everyone got exactly the same thing - rote and going through the motions. Masa used to take his incredible quality of fish and do something unique - not by adding saucing, but by presenting it in such a way that you were blown away. At Ginza we wouldn't get sushi until at least 2 to 3 hours into the meal. At Masa, sushi begins after 4 courses - about 40 minutes. At Ginza a meal was orchestrated, often times personally for you, here it is more a prix fixe take it or leave it. All in all a very disappointing experience. My over-all impression was a feeling of being rushed, a no nonsense just eat the food, a complete lack of warmth and a sense of "being taken."
Beginning is a tiny dish of spring vegetables with clams.
His signature toro tataki with caviar and toast points is perfect and excellent.
In a very unusual stone bowl slices of Aji mackeral with sprouts, I think julienne daikon and some other unidentifiable herb flowers. Again, the Aji was top quality.
Tempura of baby sardine with spring vegetables was perfectly done and again excellent.
The best dish of the night was foie gras and lobster. You are presented with a 2 tiered bowl of boiling seaweed broth. You dip the foie in the broth for 10 seconds, the lobster and scallions for 5 seconds and then place them into a small dish of sauce. Again excellent. As a second part of this course, you are presented with the second tier as a soup - fair.
Now sushi. One piece at a time:
toro, snapper, simiagi, squid, scallop, cooked toro (again wonderful), needlefish, shitake mushroom grilled, toro roll, grilled eel and only when I insisted uni.
For Urasawa see here:
Lizzieee, your description of Masa New York sounds like a sad metaphor for our times where we have all lost our way as our financial system crumbles around us.
I still remember my first meal at Ginza Sushi-Ko as vividly as I remember first love. It was in a mini-mall on Wilshire at Wiltern, right next to an El Pollo Loco fast food chicken franchise location. It looked like any other neighborhood sushi bar. I stumbled in for lunch without a reservation, and was told "this very expensive sushi bar." I nodded that this was acceptable, and was seated. And ate the most exquisite food I had ever eaten in my young life. I had never even dreamed that food could taste like that. And there is was in the mini-mall, right next to El Pollo Loco, even more lovely for being so unexpected.
Now it sounds like it has been sliced up, packaged and sold like mortgage-backed securities.
I've only been to Urasawa, never to Masa in NYC.
I thoroughly enjoyed my dining experience (yes, "dining experience" and NOT "dinner"). Did it live up to the hype? Probably not, but I guarantee you that you will not be disappointed with a visit to Urasawa.
This isn't to say that Urasawa is better, or worse, than Masa. Simply that both are excellent and one couldn't really go wrong with either.
Bentley or the Rolls this afternoon, sir ...?
Very few people have been to both. The ones that have state that Urasawa is a longer, less rushed dining experience with more cooked items. Masa has been reported to have better sushi by a hair. The sushi and rice at Urasawa has been reported to be of the same calibre as Yasuda while the sushi and rice at Masa has been reported to be slighty better than Yasuda on certain visits.
Do the comparison for yourself and report back!
Been to Masa in L.A. when it was called Ginza Sushi-Ko, but not in New York. It's become rushed? That's sad. Went to Bar Masa a few times in New York shortly after it opened, but it was not great. Wonder if Bar Masa ever got any better? Still waiting to try Urasawa - perhaps when the Dow recovers, if that day ever comes.
Having never been to either myself, I can only tell you what I've seen online comparing the two. The complaint is that Masa is about a 2 hour experience vs Urasawa's 4. I've been trying to engineer a back to back comparison myself but at that price, I'm tempted to go straight to the source and take a crack at Jiro and Mizutani! This is the most extensive blog I've found comparing Urasawa and Masa:
Neither Masa or Urasawa are straight-ahead sushi places. Hiro Urasawa was Masa Takayama's assistant until he closed Ginza Sushiko to open Masa in NYC. So basically, they are in the same mold, but probably differ in what each chef brings in terms of personality and style. I don't know if you can argue which is better.