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$1100 later... URASAWA report! - VERY long!

  • m
  • Mr. Taster Sep 10, 2004 06:58 PM

Hi 'hounds!

Per my posting about a week ago (and encouraged by jcwla's original 43 part Japanese feast posting-- see his link below), two co-workers and I decided to take the Urasawa plunge. At $250 a head, it is of course a bit intimidating, but let me just say that after experiencing last night, it is all about percieved value.

Hiro Urasawa is an interesting guy... about my age (which is to say 30-ish) Very humble, extremely friendly, knowledgeable and obviously incredibly passionate about the food he's preparing. "my life is food," he told us. He is contantly reading food and restaurant magazines from Japan for ideas. He travels back home 3-4 times a year to see what's happening at restaurants in Kyoto (as opposed to the more modern and experimental Tokyo style, his preparation is Kyoto style -- which is to say very traditional, whole foods prepared very simply-- no "fusion" cuisine here-- he seems to have less regard for popular fusion chefs like Matsuhisa and Iron Chef Morimoto ("he's okay... first Iron Chef Japan much better!")

It would be difficult to explain to someone who eats to live (a non-chowhound) why $250 for a dinner is not highway robbery. Hiro's passion is to recreate the experience you would have at a high quality Kyoto restaurant. The only way to do really this is to fly in fish (and Kobe beef) from Japan. "Everything flown in from Japan except abalone... and tuna comes from Boston. Very good tuna in Boston-- even restaurants in Japan fly in Boston tuna!" But of course, flying in fish 8 hours from Japan almost daily (over ice, by the way-- but never frozen!) is not cheap. Also, kobe beef is a premium item-- people in Japan pay hundreds of dollars for the meat from cattle that are massaged with sake and fed beer to keep the meat tender and flavorful (since Japan is a small island nation, there is not a lot of land to raise cattle on-- so up goes the price.)

I asked Hiro if it was his desire to open a restaurant one day in Kyoto. His reply: "No, I am here forever. If you open other restaurants, quality goes down. I only serve 8 to 10 people per night to keep quality as high as possible." Also, factor in that Hiro has to pay a staff of about 4 other people working for him (this incredibly sweet and beautiful exchange student... I'm still kicking myself for not asking for her phone number... or at least her name! :-) And consider what is probably rediculously obscene rent at the Two Rodeo location, and the $250 price tag almost seems like a bargain. I actually came out doing the numbers in my head, wondering "how can he keep doing this for *just* $250 a person?"

So okay, you've read jcwla's post, and you're wanting the details. Well I've got details. I too kept semi-notes about what I was eating. So without further ado...

OH Wait... one more ado. I must mention the wasabi. REAL wasabi, from a gnarly green root, grated tableside (on a piece of rough *sharkskin* attached to a wooden plank with a handle) Oh my... real wasabi tastes so different, but at the same time familiar. The real stuff has 100 different notes... you still recognize the familiar heat of the old paste, but it's so much deeper and more complex. Really wonderful.

One last ado... at the end of the meal, was asked about progression. He said it is very important to start with bland items and work towards stronger flavors, so "your mouth doesn't go numb" (much like a cheese tasting... young cheeses first, older ones later). So bear that in mind as we explore...

The Courses.

1. Jaun Sai - served in a beautiful, unusual shot glass, this was a tiny drink (sort of a soup) of sweet rice vinegar, soy and "akadashi" (probably misspelled) Sort of like a tiny shot of soup/tea. Interesting way to start.

2. Green beans and sesame - a tiny, delicate bowl of green beans in a flavorful grey/black paste. I didn't see any sesame, be he swears they were in there.

3. Chawan mushi w/ sea urchin - this was my first taste of uni. Served in a little custard cup, a loose egg custard covering layers of uni, topped with beluga and little gold flakes. It tasted, literally, like the sea (I later realized this was the uni at play)

4. Salmon roe- a little cup of salmon eggs, served with a little tiny spoon (one of many tiny, delicate pieces of silverware to be had), mixed with yuzu juice (yuzu is like a small, round Japanese lime... he used the citrusy, fruity tang of yuzu in many of his dishes). Strange... as the salmon roe popped between my teeth, the yuzu made it taste as if I were eating a citrus fruit.

5. Tofu Danuk? (spelling) - miso mixed with shiso leaf and pickled turnip

6. Ikano chocolat? (spelling)? Squid sprinkled with squid guts. Firmer than the calamari I've had in the past, a bit like rubber bands, but the sauce (squid guts?) was flavorful and delicious

7. Sea Urchin - in a little cup, with anouther little spoon

8. Sea Urchin presentation - this was spectacular. This was a replacement for the ice sculpture ("I do ice sculpture myself, but I didn't make one today") that jcwla reports on. A square aged green plate with flared edges, decorated with rose colored rocks, and a spiny black sea urchin shell in the middle-- cavity filled with ice, covered with a green leaf, and layers of uni piled on. Accompanied with that were sheets of seaweed slightly toasted over a charcoal kiln of some sort. Then fresh grated pickled veggies (cabbage/turnip?) of some kind, and more of the lovely fresh wasabi-- garnished with two pink and white flowers. The idea was to make your own mini uni hand rolls. Really delicious... but, a little uni goes a long way. And while the presentation was spectacular and the uni was apparently fantastic (my coworker never eats uni, but loved it here), the texture became a bit repetitive, and the seawater taste of the uni started to give me a bit of a headache.

9. Chakin Mushi - Fish cake w/ mushroom, sea urchin and shrimp. Hiro says this is his favorite. Really wonderful-- look at the incorrectly captioned "gama tofu" for a picture of the fish cake http://www.gayot.com/restaurants/feat...
As you can see, it looks like chinese steamed bao but the white "dough" in this dumpling is soft, mild, wonderful fish cake. Even after the overload of uni in the last dish, this was wonderfully balanced and really spectacular. Also topped with a smidge of beluga, if I remember correctly.

10. One thing to keep in mind is that the staff is *always* one step ahead. They are anticipating your last bite, and are preparing for the next dramatic presentation. So as I finished my last bite of fish bao, my plate is whisked away and a giant paper sheet is laid down in front of me, and then a plate with a sizzling hot black rock about the size and dimensions of a corn bread cake (with a tall dracula style collar tucked behind it as a splatter guard of some sort). Next we're surrounded by the staff, who take out 3-4 little cubes of toro and start to cook them on the sizzling rocks in front of us. Now let me tell you, this is unlike any toro I had tasted before. It had a distinctly meaty flavor, with a slight chew and then… nothing. It melted away like cotton candy, leaving this wonderful smoky flavor behind.

11. Kobe Beef – this is what I was really waiting for. I’ve had the wagyu Kobe beef (American style Kobe) but this was completely different. Now I must say that I was expecting something earth shattering…. And it wasn’t. It was fantastic—unlike any beef I’ve had before. Three little cubes of beef, maybe 2 cm square, with a wonderful flavor and texture that melted away. Why wasn’t it a transcendent experience? I don’t know. But it was really, really good.

12. Karasumi – definitely one of the most unusual items we had. We were served three thin, ochre hued wedges of what can only be described as being extremely similar to parmesan cheese (certainly more like parmesan than any other item I’ve encountered in Asian cooking!)—it had a slight gummy chew the way a fresh parmesan has, and the same aged flavor, but with a distinctly unusual, sour finish. We were told later that it was, in fact… fish eggs! Tiny fish eggs, pressed together to form this wholly unusual item. Fascinating.

13. This was certainly one of the most dramatic items on the menu. As we finished our karasumi, Hiro slapped 3 extremely fresh, thrashing shrimp down on his preparation block. Without hesitating, snap—one broken in half. Snap, snap. Then he pinned the tail to the (former) middle with a toothpick, and they became part of a wonderful soup, served in a tiny kettle with a miniature shot glass as the bowl. Sip the cup, eat a shrimp. Sip the cup, eat a mushroom. (By the way, he said the mushrooms were matsitake—the most expensive mushrooms in Japan). And the shrimp that had given its lives for us? Unbelievable… sweeter than any shrimp I’ve ever tasted.

We learned later that the soup was a way to cleanse the palate for the beginning of the rounds of sushi. By the way, I had printed out a copy of jcwla’s report and given it to Hiro (who was really thankful as he does not use computers!)
Ah… and let me just tell you, as good as the wasabi was, Hiro’s homemade ginger was unbelievable. I don’t know what he did to it, but it had the texture and softness of potato! Phenomenal!

Also, he gave us some sushi rules. Finger food—no chopsticks. Only dip in soy if you have to, and if so, fish side down. Also, eat the sushi within 10 seconds of having it served to you! He dabbed wasabi on the underside of the fish and often finished the piece by brushing it with homemade soy sauce, so when it was presented it had already been seasoned. Also, it should be noted that his pieces of sushi are small and delicate—about ½ the size of what you would expect at a typical sushi place.

14. Toro – wonderful, but with a slight chew that I was not expecting! I had always considered the best sushi to just melt away, and this had a definite firmness to it.
15. Shimaze
16. Maguro – GREAT – melt in your mouth as I was expecting.
17. Red snapper
18 Cooked Toro – FANTASTIC. Again, a really meaty flavor (perhaps from the charcoal) that was just incredible
19. Uni
20. Hoki clam – alive! He did a dramatic presentation by slapping the clam down on the his prep block, and watching the corners curl up. Mean, but… delicious
21. Shimayagi clam (also alive
)22. Scallop
23. Formerly live sweet shrimp, seasoned with guts (really delicious…)
24. Adago (eel). Much firmer than the softness you expect when you bite into eel—Hiro says it’s firm because it’s fresh. Wonderful, as I’m not a big fan of squishy eel. This was perfect! Served warm of couse.
25. Pickled radish—completely unusual flavor. I liked it—my companions didn’t.
26. Pike Makerel prepared Kyoto style—which is to say that they prepare the sushi almost like a roll, with fish fillet laid on top of a log of rice, and then cut into pieces. The result is the same, fish on top of rice, but it looks more like a cut roll than nigiri
27. Shiitake sushi—ok, this was totally shocking. He grilled 3 shiitake mushroom caps over the charcoal kiln for like 10-15 minutes (one cap burned… oops… so he slices the char off!) he then takes the mushroom, folds it over a piece of rice, cuts it in half… and it was amazing! Such simple ingredients, and it tasted so good.
28. Toro roll with scallions
29. Sayori
30. Kohada (fish are becoming gradually stronger in flavor—kohada had a distinct “fishy” flavor

Also, please note that by now we were getting pretty full—but I think Hiro felt compelled to beat jcwla’s 43 course meal or something! We kept say “no no, it’s okay… but this is a man obsessed…!”

31. Small shrimp (really surprising—didn’t even look like shrimp—more like calamari or udon noodles)
32. Giant Clam
33. Spanish Mackerel
34. Japanese Mackered (much more delicate flavor than Spanish mackerel—really good)
35. Seared toro sushi—or was it? I wrote down toro in my book and he said “no… kobe!” Amazing!
36. Abalone – extremely firm, almost difficult to eat—but Hiro had scored the abalone to tenderize it. Not one of my favorites
37. Japanese cucumber with shiso leaf and plum paste. Really delicious, refreshing, and surprisingly flaborful
38. Tamago – ok, tamago is simple eggs, right? Wrong. This was almost like a flan or cake, but was as light as air. With a sweetness/foaminess that just disappeared. He had a pan of it in the back and cut us each a square. Remarkable!
39. Watermelon juice and red beans over shaved ice – So simple, so refreshing, incredibly delicious
40. Strawberry mochi (served with this fascinating long pronged metal fork)
41. Green tea, roasted by Hiro and frothed with a wisk as they do in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.

And that was it. Total for three people with tax and tip—about $1100. (We ordered water, beer and sake.)

Now the question is—would I do it again? Under the right circumstances (and the right budget), certainly. I really respect Hiro for finding a way to carry our his passion for his native cuisine.

Mr. Taster

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. Guys, I'm just loving the reports on this place. But I've just got to step in and correct on the junsai issue.

    Junsai is a water shield, part of the water lily family. It's ultra slimy and oh-so-delicious. It's also so rare (even in Japan!) that it'd be awfully hard to convince even Japanese that you could really find it here. I'm stunned this place has it, and it, alone, makes it worth the trip to me.

    I had some junsai in Japan this summer, and it was a highlite of my trip. Here's the relevant passage from my super long and ambitious Tokyo Report, which we're about to publish in electronic form (if you want a notice when it's available, drop me an email to address above and I'll send an announcement in a week or so). You're coming in in the middle of the description of one of the best meals of my life, at a place no one's ever heard of on the wrong side of town (I had some pretty serious chowhounding success over there):

    ----------
    After this semi-religious repast, we peered at our waiter - he who'd brought us such undistilled happiness - with infinite love and asked what we'd failed to order that's REALLY great. He wandered into a corner, stroking his chin, and spent not seconds but minutes pondering (on a busy night, no less). He returned and bellowed "Junsai!" To which we agreed, en masse, "Hai! Junsai!!"

    Junsai turned out to be the slimiest, weirdest, least food-like vegetable ever. It's served in a small cup - little rolled-up pieces afloat in a gingery murk - and you cannot extract them with chopsticks; they're just too slippery/slimy (junsai make okra seem like potato chips). We cheated and grabbed them with our fingers. And they were fabulous, exquisite, and the very last thing you'd expect to find in a humble yakitori joint.

    We devoured the junsai - even slurping up the gingery murk - and asked our waiter what, um, junsai ARE, exactly. He returned (I'm not making this up) with a field guide to marine plant life, and pointed at a diagram of a lily pad. (Actually, it's a "water shield", part of the water lily family.)

    Why had he recommended junsai? Subsequent research revealed that they're precious (their short annual harvest used to be reserved for friends of the emperor), expensive, and considered highly weird and disgusting by most Japanese. Was he testing us? Was he padding our bill? Was he somehow screwing with us? I don't know, but we loved them, which is all that mattered.

    Link: http://www.media-akita.or.jp/akita-sh...

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff

      Very interesing... Hiro's insructions for us on this were drink it like a shot and then chew.

      I remember an incredibly unique flavor, but unfortunately after so many different courses and flavors, the details are lost to me! Should have been taking more copious notes ;-)

      Mr. Taster

      1. re: Mr. Taster

        "Hiro's insructions for us on this were drink it like a shot and then chew."

        woops, sorry...I forgot to add that THIS is correct and our approach was wrong. OTOH, we had five people sharing one little cup, so the grab-and-splurk method was necessary.

        "unfortunately after so many different courses and flavors, the details are lost to me"

        Maybe too many courses? I tend to get overwhelmed in extensive tasting dinners in exactly the way I do in art museums. There's an element of decadence and wastefulness unless you're incredibly diligent, disciplined, and aware while eating. If I just want to luxuriate, I prefer a couple courses.

        ciao

    2. Mr. Taster, thanks for the report, a few questions if you'd be kind enough to reply.

      Does he do lunch, and the same spectacular meal at that hour?

      Do you know what kind of beluga caviar he used, and also was the sea urchin from the coasts of Santa Barbara or Japan?

      And what kind of sake did you guys have, oh and how long was the meal?

      I may be able to go there, if I stay away from blowfish or something like that which would up the ante. And I will definitely post on it, of course if he allows a pocket notebook and pen in there, and allows me to take copious notes.

      thanks for your honest report. for what it's worth if you like that kobe style grilled beef and just that go to Tsuruhashi on Brookhurst in Fountain Valley, greates melt in the mouth beef i've ever had. Unbelievable, it's Korean bbq by way of Japan, Japanese owners and Japanese style.

      1. Mr. Taster, thanks for the report, a few questions if you'd be kind enough to reply.

        Does he do lunch, and the same spectacular meal at that hour?

        Do you know what kind of beluga caviar he used, and also was the sea urchin from the coasts of Santa Barbara or Japan?

        And what kind of sake did you guys have, oh and how long was the meal?

        I may be able to go there, if I stay away from blowfish or something like that which would up the ante. And I will definitely post on it, of course if he allows a pocket notebook and pen in there, and allows me to take copious notes.

        thanks for your honest report. for what it's worth if you like that kobe style grilled beef and just that go to Tsuruhashi on Brookhurst in Fountain Valley, greates melt in the mouth beef i've ever had. Unbelievable, it's Korean bbq by way of Japan, Japanese owners and Japanese style.

        1. Mr. Taster, thanks for the report, a few questions if you'd be kind enough to reply.

          Does he do lunch, and the same spectacular meal at that hour?

          Do you know what kind of beluga caviar he used, and also was the sea urchin from the coasts of Santa Barbara or Japan?

          And what kind of sake did you guys have, oh and how long was the meal?

          I may be able to go there, if I stay away from blowfish or something like that which would up the ante. And I will definitely post on it, of course if he allows a pocket notebook and pen in there, and allows me to take copious notes.

          thanks for your honest report. for what it's worth if you like that kobe style grilled beef and just that go to Tsuruhashi on Brookhurst in Fountain Valley, greates melt in the mouth beef i've ever had. Unbelievable, it's Korean bbq by way of Japan, Japanese owners and Japanese style.

          3 Replies
          1. re: kevin

            1) dinner only
            2) I asked him where his beluga came from, but I could not understand his answer through his accent and did not was to appear rude, so I dropped it.
            3) He said that all of his fish was from Japan, except for the abalone and tuna. That would indicate to me that the sea urchin would come in his daily fish shipments (it was a bit confusing after reading jcwla's report, as we were told that fish comes in every day)
            4) We asked the type of saki we had, but unfortuantely I did not write it down... I believe it began with an "N"
            5) We arrived at 6:45pm and left around 10:30pm. We of course were the only people there the entire evening, which is part of his philosophy of doing preparing and presenting food in as perfect a way as possible.
            6) He said that blowfish season begins in October and runs through March. He said that although farm raised, poison free blowfish exists, he does not believe in using it unless he is specifically preparing the poisonous parts for consumption (liver and sperm sac)... then he has no choice but to use farm raised. But he told us that he is of course licensed in Japan to prepare blowfish, and it is safe. This incidentally spurred us on to a semi awkward conversation of American food paranoia, lawsuits and liability, which I don't thin Hiro quite understood the nuances of-- but he knew enough to say "that's okay, I have insurance!"

            Thanks for the rec of Tsuruhashi... do you know if they serve the japanese kobe or the American kobe beef?

            Mr. Taster

            1. re: Mr. Taster

              i'm specifically sure if it's kobe beef, if it is it's defintiely american not japananese, since it is after all less than ten dollars an order, count on at least three orders per person, and a couple side dishes or so, and they also have soju and a few high end sakes by the glass.

              1. re: kevin

                It's certified angus. Also, having had all the various styles of meat mentioned (Standard American, Japanese Kobe, The Angus at Tsurahsi, and Wagyu)I can also say it also comes down to preparation. I love my steak RARE and the last time I went to Tsurahasi I went on a date with a man who felt the same way... so we just lightly seared the meat and it was as good as the real Kobe I had because it was so soft and tender... I can also say that about the EXCELLENT prime rib's I've had here and in Chicago...

                Anyway, thanks so much Mr. Taster... The report was excellent. I too hope to visit sometime soon! :D

                --Dommy!

          2. Nothing much new there.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jcwla

              Many of the courses were the same, but there were several differences. I was hoping that by paralleling your itemization of the courses that people could get a better sense of how much variation goes into his menu from night to night, as well as a slightly broader impression of the overall experience.

              Mr. Taster

            2. Wonderful report...thank you.

              When it comes to this restaurant, I have to live vicariously, so I appreciate the detail!

              1. Wow, what a report...and it sounds like quite the culinary experience!

                There is no way I will EVER experience anything like that...the budget would never allow, but more importantly, maybe unfortunately, my palate would never accept it (find me a good pizza or a great steak and that's my style). Despite that my taste buds are tingling and my mouth is watering.

                1. Well, well... Mr. Taster opened the lid on our escapade - the gossiper... I took advantage of the fact that my wife is out of the country (couldn't have used the line "you spend more on a pair of shoes", because she doesn't) and took him up on the challenge. I've been meaning to go to the previous incarnation, Ginsa Suhi Ko, for years, but not so much that it was unaffordable, it just seemed excessive, even to me. So when my other sushi infatuated pal agreed to join, it was a matter of reservations. It proved, unfortunatelly, easier than you'd expect from a top line restaurant in a cosmopolitan city (or so we'd like to see ourselves); when you need two month to get into Per Se in NYC, it took us 10 minutes, and we were the only patrons on a Thursday night. While that's a wonderful experience for the patrons, it's not a good sign for the owner. I don't know what other nights look like, but they can't possibly survive on three customers a night, generous as the tips might be (and they were).
                  So, of corse, I had high expectations, and they were met, well, somewhat. The chef is the real thing, authentic, friendly, highly competent. The atmosphere is awsome (well, when you are the only customers for the night...), the service impecable. But, of course, the only real parameter is the food: exquisite, unique, but too much of it. Overall this as an unbelievable experience; a real Japanese chef and his lovely assistants (down to the hostess Mr. Taster instantly fell in love with - that will teach you to gossip, sir), dressed in kimonos and all that goes with it. I loved the novelty, the mistique,
                  the presentation. Some of the nearly 40 dishes were absolutely outstanding: I didn't take notes so I can't be specific, but I trust Mr. Taster will. The Kobe beef and the Toro stand up on their sublimely bold, yet delicate taste; the egg custard with god remembers what (caviar, gold leaf,etc) , on the delicacy of the taste; the real-time grated wasabi - you haven't had wasabi before. But, it's over 40 dishes (or at least it felt like it; Mr. Taster took notes so he would have the exact count, not that it matters), and after about 20-25, I got into taste overload and couldn't tell the difference. Of course, being as powerless as I am when it comes to food, on top of being a proud American (the more the better), I made it through all of the dishes; can't tell you much about the last ones, naturally. Overall, an amazing experience that I would definitely recommend. The food is outstanding, the ambiance unique. Whether this is a model that can work in LA is doubtful. I abosulutely am glad I tried it, but for the money (it is about $400 a person, after all), I'd rather make three trips (say, Matsuhisa, Nazawa, The Hump). Granted, it's not the same but, and certainly to the American palate, a more cost effective affair.
                  So, I really wish Urasawa the best, because I'd love to go back in blow fish season (ball sack? ok... I'll try anything, of course)but I'm not sure the model fits LA: we love authentic, but this may be just too authentic; and, with just 9 seats, you can't possibly see, or be seen, much. I still love this town...

                  1. Mr. Taster and friends -

                    $1100 for one meal for 3 people? Why, that's disgusting, excessive, obscene...you guys are my heroes!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Foodlum

                      Haha-- thanks! But one of the points I was trying to make was that the price was not obscene considering what Urasawa is trying to do. He told us twice that he was not interested in money, only food-- which may seem inconcievable (even humorous) to fiscally conservative types who only think about value meaning quantity to the dollar.

                      But let's play devil's advocate and play the economics game for a moment. Consider that he only has, at most, 10 seats at the sushi bar. With tip, that's $300 per person, or $3000 MAXIMUM this guy can earn a night, and at $250 a head, he's not packing the house. (And as was said, Urasawa doesn't like to serve more than 4 people because personalization of service goes down-- and food quality and the experience are paramount to him) But let's say Urasawa becomes a raging capitalist overnight and starts packing 'em in. $3000 a night times 30 nights = $90,000 a month as most money this guy can make, but more realistically let's say he makes $50,000. His rent at the 2 Rodeo location amongst the Sergio Giorgini boutiques is probably obscenely high-- maybe $10,000 (anyone know rent prices in this area?). Then he flies this super premium fish, etc. in from Japan almost daily to his door-- let's say $20,000 for that. Then he has a staff of 4 people that he needs to pay - say $7000. Minus 50% for taxes, that leaves him with $6,500.

                      Urasawa has tremendous overhead to contend with, and without feeding hoardes of people, the price must be high simply so that he can continue his passion of exquisitely prepared Kyoto style cuisine.

                      As my food companion Iron Eater said, I do hope that this format can last, because what Urasawa is trying to do is really worthwhile. But his biggest hurdle will be percieved value-- most people aren't going to be looking at Urasawa's economics-- they will be looking at their own.

                      Mr. Taster

                      1. re: Mr. Taster

                        Thanks for the report. Definitely would like to try the place someday, though knowing myself, I'd probably get full halfway through.

                        This is starting to get a bit off-topic, but I do agree with you in questioning the economics of running such a place. Maybe some days he gets very large parties that make up for the off days? Does he do work outside of the restaurant?

                        In fact, I'm not even sure how Masa or Per Se in the Time Warner center make money, given their prime real estate locations.

                        1. re: bruthafez

                          We definitely started to get full halfway through, but considering that it was a prix fixe meal with a number of courses only set by Urasawa's creativity, we felt the need to keep trying new flavors, new creations. We really started getting very full around course #30.

                          As for Hiro entertaining very large parties, as I said before, Hiro is *not* in it for the money or for serving mass quantities of guest for huge profits. In fact I got the impression that he would be very happy making a humble living (if only the economics allowed), because as he said "food is my life... I am always thinking about food." This is what he loves to do. The fact is that he has to charge these high prices is *ONLY* so that he can manage his huge overhead and continue to serve this beautiful food in a manner that is authentic and appropraite.

                          Mr. Taster

                          1. re: Mr. Taster

                            Right - but as you said - with 0-3 customers a night, he can't be even breaking even, given the costs of the raw ingredients, the staff, and the real estate. I wasn't trying to imply that he was money hungry. Rather - I was speculating as to how he could possibly break even, which he has to be doing somehow, I hope. The only way I see is to serve more customers - much more than 0-3 a night.

                    2. Thank you so much for your report. It's wonderful to read about such devotion & artistry to food--unfortunately, a devotion I'll never be able to experience first hand, but one I'm glad exists. The restaurant biz is such a difficult one, and it's heartening to read about a chef who's in it purely for the love of food & to please his clientele.
                      Chow on!

                      1. Just came back from Urasawa. I need time to recover and retouch my pics, but oh man, I'd go back here in a heartbeat.

                        I sat next to an Indonesian couple who have been going here every day for the last 2 weeks. I told them I thought they were really smart and lucky.

                        1. For anyone who has recently visited Urasawa, and who has taken detailed notes as I've done here, I'd be very curious to know how his menu has evolved over the last ten years.

                          When I dined there nearly 10 years ago, it was $250 pre-tax/tip. This was before he was tagged for importing illegal fugu and Kobe beef, and well before the labor issues came to light.

                          Would love to hear direct comparisons in terms of number of courses and types of dishes. Has it stayed largely the same? Different?

                          Mr Taster

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            I wish it was still $250pp

                            1. re: TailbackU

                              How much is it now ????

                              Potential chow meet up ????????

                              (ok, just seriously joking about a meet up here for obvious reasons).

                              1. re: kevin

                                It was $375pp (I believe) in December '13.

                                1. re: Searching4Dunny

                                  six months of inflation plus prices going up.

                                  hmmm.

                                  maybe it's $400 per now before tax and tip.

                                  it's getting super close to masa in nyc.

                          2. I never read this report might as well do it it now.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: kevin

                              You didn't?

                              What about this:
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6295...
                              And this:
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6295...
                              And this:
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6295...

                              Good to know that despite all the changes in this crazy world, kevin is consistent :)

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                thanks, i guess i did i'm always up for re-reading posts. esp on urasawa.

                                yes, very consistent… actually maybe there was a lack of profanity back then ??????????

                                maybe ?????????

                                btw, have you been back in the past year or so ????

                                1. re: kevin

                                  Yes, less profanity in those days.

                                  No, Sep 2004 was my one and only visit.

                                  I met my Lovely Tasting Assistant™ (LTA™) in December 2004, and there's *no way* she'd go for a splurge like that.

                                  Mr Taster

                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                    How come your Lovely Tasting Assistant will not attend (sorry i'm not quite sure how to do that trademark thing, maybe one of these proverbial days I will learn) to an Urasawa dinner ??????

                            2. I thought the cost was higher. What about wine or sake?
                              Edit: Never mind, saw the date. I think its $500 now. Yamakase is a bargin at $200.

                              18 Replies
                              1. re: Thor123

                                i might have to hit up yamakase in that case.

                                1. re: kevin

                                  Yamakase may be worth a try but in my opinion it does not hold a candle to the quality of Urasawa. Although some dishes at Yamakase were interesting, such as the special crab from Japan. The chef often uses a sweet sauce in many of his dishes that masks the flavor of the fish. Yamakase would be interesting if you had enough people to buy out the seating which allows you to put in special requests for the menu.

                                  1. re: issey

                                    I have not been to Urasawa, but Yamakase was fantastic and the dishes were unique and wonderful. See no need to buy out the seating, though it only hold 10 or so.

                                    1. re: issey

                                      (... commenting on a 9+ year-old thread)

                                      Aside from their shared philosophy of presenting and preparing extremely fresh and fine ingredients sourced from all over the globe, Yamakase and Urasawa are just different beasts. Yet, both are very worthy dining destinations.

                                      Yamakase is much more casual than Urasawa in vibe. As I've said before, eating at Yamakase is like entering your crazy Uncle Yama's kitchen (which seats no more than 11), and he's just procured some Hokkaido bafun uni, some A5 wagyu from Saga Prefecture, and some giant live spot prawn from Santa Barbara. The courses and pacing at Yamakase are loosely structured - much looser than classical nihonryori styles. I guess I'd call it "upscale casual" - perfect for the usual L.A. dining crowd. My last meal there consisted of over 20 courses.

                                      The whole "sauce" issue is totally up to the itamae. That's where the personal judgment of the chef comes into play. One can easily ask Uncle Yama to lighten up on the sauce, and he will happily do so. As a tangent, Zo-san is much more heavy-handed with the sauce on the nigiri at his places, if you ask me. (But please just don't ask Zo-san to go light on the sauce.)

                                      Hiro-san follows a much more "rigid" pacing philosophy at Urasawa. It is your classical Japanese kaiseki meal, with a heavy emphasis on sushi. You, the diner, really place yourself in Hiro-san's hands when you request a seating at Urasawa. And you'll be glad you did. My last meal there consisted of 35+ incredible courses (more like bites).

                                      Both places deserve love.

                                      p.s. I'm not sure where you got the idea that you have to "buy out" the place to request any special menus at Yamakase. Many times when I've made the reservation (for just me & Mrs. J.L.), I simply ask Yama-san if ___ is in season. More times than not, ___ shows up in my meal! This can be done at some other Japanese restaurants like Shunji and Kiriko as well. Though I will readily admit, being a repeat diner does help when requesting "specials"...

                                      p.p.s. Now that "buy out" has been mentioned: How about a Chowmeet where we take over Urasawa or Yamakase for a night?!

                                      1. re: J.L.

                                        Only Ballers need reply.

                                        1. re: J.L.

                                          That would be nice. But I'd that's the case I for sure won't be able to make it.

                                          Maybe I can commandeer a second mortgage and perhaps a heloc to partially take care of Yamakase at best.

                                          1. re: kevin

                                            Not so fast, mon frere. I notice you got a spare kidney there, kev...

                                            1. re: J.L.

                                              In that case it won't work...only plump kidneys wanted...

                                    2. re: Thor123

                                      $375 per head. With drinks you are closer to $500+pp

                                      1. re: Searching4Dunny

                                        It seems excessive if you think of it as a restaurant dinner.

                                        However, if you think of it as a class- a course in fine, traditional kaiseki dining taught by a master, the fee seems less egregious.

                                        Consider:

                                        - The dinner lasts 3-4 hours
                                        - You have direct one-on-one interaction with a highly skilled and knowledgable master (who I found to be gracious, and eager to teach and answer questions) for this entire time
                                        - There can only be about 10 other "students" in class

                                        All of this really does add up to something much greater than an expensive meal.

                                        Mr Taster

                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                          Good point, a class. Sort of like a cooking class where I won't have to cook.

                                          Btw, do I have to cook the shabu shabu myself or can I request that they do it for me ????????????

                                          Also, does anyone know if I can leave the premises during the duration of the meal for a walk around the block, etc and then come back to get the blood circulation etc flowing properly.

                                          I'm down for a 5 plus hour meal but I will need the proverbial break.

                                          And that ain't no joke.

                                          1. re: kevin

                                            The shabu shabu is cooked by one of the geisha-like waitresses at your seating area.

                                            I don't think a short break would be a problem as everyone seemed very accommodating when I was there.

                                            Funny tidbit: when one of my dining companions told the waitress that he was starting to get drunk towards the end of the meal, she replied, "It is my duty to get you drunk." We thought that was amusing.

                                            1. re: Searching4Dunny

                                              Hahaha.

                                              I wouldn't want to get too drunk so that I'd let the flavors shine through properly.

                                              Btw, if one were to get drunk there wouldn't it cost about $1000 bucks per person in sake alone ????

                                              Getting people drunk also increase tips to the rafters.

                                              1. re: kevin

                                                You're right - on all accounts.

                                              2. re: Searching4Dunny

                                                what a lady!

                                          2. re: Searching4Dunny

                                            I must hang out with you more often, S4D...

                                            1. re: J.L.

                                              The pleasure would be mine, JL. Would love to do an omakase excursion with you with all proper sake trimmings. I am game next time you have an early day at work.

                                              1. re: Searching4Dunny

                                                Wow, me too, Me too. :)

                                        2. This picture alone makes it look like it's worth the entry fee:

                                          http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/urasaw...