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Urasawa- Amazing Kaiseki However, Not the Best Sushi in Town

I finally had the chance to dine at Urasawa last week and since much more talented photographers have documented the meal in exquisite detail, I won't even try to repeat them here.

In my opinion, the meal and experience was outstanding. The kaiseki meal was easily one of the best dining experiences I've had. I would put it just behind Pierre Gagnaire and Joel Robuchon and well ahead of everyone else including French Laundry.

The cooked and prepared items were delicate, refined, and at times genius. The edamame tofu with sake and mirin marinted ikura and the hairy crab with uni were phenomenal. The sayori was amazing, and the toro was as fatty as I've ever had. The chopped saba with kyoto miso was genius.

However, in my opinon, comparing sushi alone, Urasawa is an easy notch below Yasuda and Mori. Yes, the quality of the fish is pristine, however the rice is soft and lacks the perfected seasoning and texture that Yasuda and Mori have acheived. One does not get the pearly sensation of each well seasoned grain of rice that one can taste at Yasuda and Mori. I found the rice at Urasawa to be a bit soft and lacking in flavor and texture. The quality of the rice was more on the level of Zo. Mori has higher quality nori and Yasuda was a much larger selection of exotic fish. While the Santa Barbara uni was good, I found myself craving the Hokkaido uni that Mori serves. Yasuda's eel preparations easily win hands down.

On sushi alone, I would still have to give a 10 to Yasuda, a 9-9.5 to Mori, and a 9 to Urasawa since I personally give at least 50% weight to the rice.

Overall though, the experience itself was amazing.

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  1. I don't know Yasuda, but I'm thinking I could eat 2-3 times at Mori for the Urasawa price.

    1. Urasawa is not a sushi restaurant.

      14 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        Exactly. It's a kaiseki restaurant.

        But check out every "best sushi in LA" thread and you'll see Urasawa as the top rec. One prolific poster has even claimed that those who do not feel Urasawa is the best sushi in town simply have not been.

        Urasawa serves unrivaled kaiseki. The sushi while very good, is not the best.

        1. re: Porthos

          Well, then those posters would be misinformed.

          You and I know better.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            so where in town is better for sushi?

            1. re: kevin

              I believe he stated: Yasuda and Mori

              1. re: cls

                Sorry for the confusion. In LA, Mori.

                Yasuda is in NYC.

              2. re: kevin

                Some that come to mind ... Toshi, Shibucho, Sorafune Kiriko and Masu

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Is this the Sorafune Kiriko of which you speak? If not, where is it?

                  http://www.kirikosushi.com/directions/

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    Sorafune Sushi is in Monterey Park, on Garvey.

                    Kiriko is a separate restaurant in West LA, on Sawtelle.

                    Ah, the power of commas...

            2. re: Porthos

              I'm not sure I understand the definition of Kaiseki when it comes to Urasawa. It is not like any Kaiseki I have had in Japan, either in presentation, food, or layout of the restaurant.

              1. re: cls

                The check says kaiseki.

                If you look at components of a kaiseki meal below, I think you'll find that Hiro-san's cuisine pretty much fits the definition of kaiseki.

                From Wikipedia:

                kaiseki is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food.[4] To this end, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor. Local ingredients are often included as well.[6] Finished dishes are carefully presented on plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.

                Order

                Originally, kaiseki comprised a bowl of miso soup and three side dishes.[7] It has since evolved to include an appetizer, sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish, and a steamed course[7], in addition to other dishes at the discretion of the chef.

                Sakizuke: an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche.
                Hassun: the second course, which sets the seasonal theme. Typically one kind of sushi and several smaller side dishes.
                Mukozuke: a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi.
                Takiawase: vegetables served with meat, fish or tofu; the ingredients are simmered separately.
                Futamono: a "lidded dish"; typically a soup.
                Yakimono: Broiled seasonal fish.
                Su-zakana: a small dish used to clean the palate, such as vegetables in vinegar.
                Hiyashi-bachi: served only in summer; chilled, lightly-cooked vegetables.
                Naka-choko: another palate-cleanser; may be a light, acidic soup.
                Shiizakana: a substantial dish, such as a hot pot.
                Gohan: a rice dish made with seasonal ingredients.
                Ko no mono: seasonal pickled vegetables.
                Tome-wan: a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice.
                Mizumono: a seasonal dessert; may be fruit, confection, ice cream, or cake.

                1. re: Porthos

                  Yes, Wikipedia seems to describe kaiseki correctly.
                  Urasawa, however, serves several courses of sushi, and it has a sushi bar. It seems fitting to describe it as "the best sushi" should one think that. Although the check may say Kaiseki, it does not closely resemble kaiseki I have had, nor does it conform to the Wiki description. IMO, stating this is a sushi restaurant is as correct as stating it is a kaiseki restaurant. (actually I think it much more closely resembles sushi, but hey....)

                  1. re: cls

                    You can identify most of the components of kaiseki in Hiro-san's meals. There is an amuse, sashimi, steamed dish, broiled dish, hot pot dishe...

                    Only thing he lacks outright is the gohan dish.

                    Semantics aside, I'm saying if comparing a piece of nigiri from Mori and Urasawa, I would pick Mori because the fish can be just as good at Mori and the rice is easily better.

                    Overall though, I agree. Urasawa is a better restaurant than Mori. Just not the sushi.

                    1. re: cls

                      I´ve never been to Urasawa, but I´ve heard something called "sushi kaiseki". My master that is a kaiseki chef says that some chefs make sushi kaiseki meaning they use seasonal fish and make small side dishes that resembles true kaiseki. Many places call this "omakase" though it is actually "sushi kaiseki".

                      Just my opinion on the matter,

                      -----
                      Urasawa Restaurant
                      218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

            3. Sorry to be indiscreet, but how much did it set you back? Any recession discount at the moment?

              17 Replies
              1. re: jono37

                Urasawa usually runs $350 (food only) per person, as far as I recall...

                1. re: J.L.

                  When I went in 2004, it was $250. That's when he was illegally importing fresh fugu and kobe beef from Japan.

                  Ah, the good old days.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6295...

                  Mr Taster

                    1. re: J.L.

                      Ginza Sushiko used to charge $350. At the time that I went to Urasawa, I remember thinking I was getting a deal(!).

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        You were getting a deal. When he first started, I remember he said we could have as much as we wanted. I got to try the fugu before he got caught. Oh my, yes... those were the days. :-)

                        --ooops sorry about responding to an old post.

                        1. re: choctastic

                          Yeah, I remember also that we ate as much as we wanted for $250. In fact, I'm quite surprised now to find that this policy has changed, despite the increased price point.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            what's his new policy? and what's the going rate for the meal now?

                            maybe he was just trying to bui9ld his customer base back in 2004 and 2005 and the way to do that was to be a little less cost prohibitive and more welcoming to customers meaning i take it he would give you more food or less food ???? as long as you paid the flat rate of 250 bucks per person????

                            thanks for any updated info.

                            1. re: kevin

                              Sadly, my first visit in 2004 was my last. I am now married, and while my wife is a tried-and-true Chowhound, she thinks a $250 (or $350 meal, which is what I believe is the current price) is unconscionably excessive, so there likely won't be any visits by the Tasters at any time in the future.

                              *sniff*

                              It's especially sad, because I know how much she'd love the food. She just wouldn't be able to swallow the price tag, and it ultimately would stop her from being able to enjoy the meal.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                even as a chowhounds, i've felt that too sometimes, that something is so expensive that i can't enjoy the meal.

                                1. re: kevin

                                  Access to a corporate account is the way to go...

                                  1. re: J.L.

                                    I'd be very happy to access your corporate account!

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      Hehehe... Actually I'm the client and not the corporation, in this case.

                              2. re: kevin

                                back in those days, nobody was going to Urasawa so he often had an empty restaurant. He said it was so that the food wouldn't spoil. I swear, that's what he told me. I remember one time being one of only four people in the restaurant the entire night. I sat there for over five hours, from open to close, so I know nobody else walked in there.

                                Now he's smart enough to charge for people who eat a lot of food (like me). Otherwise, we'd eat him out of house and home. As it is, he doesn't really live high on the hog, despite what he serves his diners every night. Tough business. I wouldn't do it.

                                -----
                                Urasawa Restaurant
                                218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                                1. re: choctastic

                                  yeah, i guess that's true 450 per person say, times 10 customers a night on average, plus the high quality food, plus that crazy rent or maybe not so crazy rent (maybe back in the day masa had a 20 yr lease, and then got the bright idea of moving to NY less than midway through the lease and then assigned it to Hiro or subleases it to him at a very viable and favorable rate to Hiro, just a thought.)

                                  1. re: kevin

                                    You're kidding me... it's $450 per person now before tax, tip and drinks?

                                    When I was there, my group was 3 people and there were just 2 more sitting at the other end of the bar. Cost was $250 pp. We were there for 4-5 hours. We were never rushed, and Urasawa took the time to answer all of our questions and explain everything. Aside from the uni overload course in the middle of the first half, the meal (and the overall experience) was spectacular.

                                    I was able to justify the cost not as a restaurant meal, but more as an educational experience akin to taking a class in Kaiseki. Somehow $250 for a class doesn't feel as bad as $250 for a meal.

                                    Mr Taster

                                    -----
                                    Urasawa Restaurant
                                    218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      yeah, you're right as a class it does make sense.

                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        there is no such think as uni overload, mr taster.

                  1. hi porthos -

                    i have to say i was certainly taken by your title. i have never been to urasawa nor mori, but have been to zo, and yasuda! since i'm on a carb ban of sorts, i didn't have as much sushi at yasuda, but did spend an armload as it was pretty much mostly sashimi. amazing would be an understatement.

                    interesting how you ranked it with the other top tier places. haven't been to the french laundry, but have been to per se, and twice to joel robuchon's mansion. i do appreciate the differentiation of bringing up the kaiseki concept. in that regard, we actually went back to back at the mansion, then bar charlie in las vegas.

                    when i asked my girls (11 and 16) which meal they would repeat if given the opportunity, as far out as the joel robuchon 16 or 17 course degustation was, bar charlie's insane full on 14+ course kaiseki won hands down. personally, it was the first time i sat there, finally understanding perhaps how some of the judges on the original japanese iron chef show would just giggle and say "this is so good!" since we were pretty much by ourselves, chef hiro added a few little extras.

                    thank you for your comments. it was good to be able to triangulate how an urasawa experience would compare to all these different experiences. well, one of these we'll find out for ourselves!

                    1. I agree with you about Mori's rice, but...

                      Yasuda? Are you freaking kidding me?! My 3 visits to Yasuda have yielded nothing but mediocre to poor sushi (yes, I also consider the rice quality extremely important). No more Yasuda, I say.

                      Urasawa described his place as "sushi kaiseki" (his own words on my first dinner with him), for what it's worth.

                      I'm not saying that Urasawa is bulletproof, but when I think of the gold standard in sushi kaiseki, I truly believe that Urasawa has surpassed his sempai, Masa Takayama, in overall excellence.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: J.L.

                        I've been going to Yasuda-san for 7 years now and Mori-san for 5. I have never had anything close to mediocre at Yasuda. He surpasses Mori and if you speak to both of them, you get the sense that Yasuda-san is the elder with more experience. They briefly worked together in the same restaurant many years ago. Recently, Mori's rice has pretty much reached Yasuda level. Mori has more time to craft each piece of sushi. However, Yasuda still wins on quality and variety.

                        Yasuda teaches you the difference between toro from the tail, toro from the belly, and toro from the collar. He teaches you how amazing scallop roe sac is at the height of season. He teaches you the difference in taste as the yellowtail goes from inada to warasa to buri. He teaches you the difference in taste and fat content of anago, unagi, and sawani. He teaches you that real madai is the king of white fish. Yasuda is also not infallible but for me, he is the gold standard. I have yet to find any sushi restaurant in LA that comes close to offering what Yasuda offers in terms of variety and seasonality.

                        As amazing as Urasawa is, his fish offerings rarely vary. For me, the cooked and prepared courses were much more brilliant than the sushi.

                        1. re: Porthos

                          I am well aware of the history between Yasuda & Mori. Yet, on my visits to Yasuda, the proof was not in the pudding, I am sorry to say.

                          Seasonality is a key concept in all Japanese cuisine, and I don't doubt for a second that Yasuda or Urasawa or Mori are lacking in their consideration of this facet in their selections.

                          Unfortunately (and sadly), speaking from personal experience, I am of the opinion that the omakase variety you speak of at Yasuda is only reserved for his "regulars", and not for mere casual visitors to NYC such as myself. I have neither time nor predilection to dine at a restaurant on the other end of the country for 7 years to attain this level from Yasuda, when Urasawa has warmly welcomed us with his consistent excellence from visit #1 (there have been 6 visits since, each of unerringly equal quality). On a side note, Sushi Ota (San Diego) and The Hump (Santa Monica) are actually the hands-down winner in the "variety" category, while Urasawa & Mori handily win in the "quality" category.

                          I, too, have a special place in my heart for all past itamae who have taken time out to explain their craft, discuss with us diners the nuances of their art, and teach us about true appreciation of sushi. In my case, the itamae just doesn't happen to be Yasuda-san.

                          Therefore, I guess we politely agree to disagree on the sushi question.

                          By the way, I am quite familiar with Mori-san's location on Pico, but is there a Yasuda in L.A.? The title states "... Not the Best Sushi in Town" I surmise that by this you mean Mori Sushi is better than Urasawa in L.A.

                          1. re: J.L.

                            I average 2 trips a year to Yasuda so I doubt he remembers me. He has been the same eccentric funny itame with ever since my first visit. Many of the lessons I learned on my first visit and after 7 years, he still manages to show me something new on each visit. Did you happen to sit in front of Yasuda himself? That makes all the difference.

                            To answer your question, yes, I am saying that I find Mori's sushi better than the sushi at Urasawa. The experience, the cooked dishes, and everything else of course, goes to Urasawa.

                            1. re: Porthos

                              How does one guarantee that he or she sits in front of Yasuda himself? Request it when making a reservation? Go at an off hour?

                              1. re: omotosando

                                Yes, you must request a seat in front of Yasuda at the time of booking.

                                1. re: Porthos

                                  Thanks for this review. I'm planning our next L.A. trip and trying to narrow down our sushi choices. Urasawa is probably out due to price alone, but the L.A. choices are always so varied in comparison to here in the Bay Area. I think Mori may just be it this time.

                                  We make it to Yasuda about once a year, always in front of Chef Yasuda, and always at lunch actually (though we, especially my husband, who puts away three times as much as I do, eat enough for dinner). As decided non-regulars, we've always been blown away by the omakase he's given us. I think what may help is our obvious enthusiasm with putting ourselves squarely in his hands, so as the meal progresses he definitely pulls out more "exotic" kinds of fish and delights in showing us the different varieties of any one kind of fish. The rice is also always superb and well-seasoned.

                                  Anyway, if Mori is up to Yasuda's standard, then I'm looking forward to trying it.

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    I like sitting with Yasuda but have had better times in front of Roshi (I believe that was his name, the one in the other corner).

                          2. re: J.L.

                            Mediocre to poor sushi? Where on earth are you eating that Yasuda is mediocre? I've had an incredible range of incredible sushi there. Did you have the omakase? There's really no way.

                            I agree here with Porthos. Sit at the sushi bar and you don't have to be a regular to get
                            the treats only he has.

                            1. re: epop

                              While a little cross comparison is bound to happen, when the discussion focuses on New York sushi places, we'd ask that you take it over to the Manhattan board, rather than continuing it here on LA. Thanks!