Shibucho, boy, have I missed it.
A miniature sushi shoppe that would not feel out of place Tokyo's Ginza district does its traditional thing exceptionally well in a nondescript, down at it's heels neighborhood, stuck somewhat halfway between the eastern fringes of Koreatown and the commencement of Downtown LA. Shige-san has been making sushi here for close to four decades, after putting some serious time at the original Shibucho in Yahoan Plaza under the expert tutelage of Shibutani-san in the early 1970s, which delicately shines through in his utterly pristine morsels of fresh fish.
The cantankerous, curmudgeonly, verging on authoritarian cum despotic sushi chef (in some sushi circles) keeps going about his creative endeavor in his own idosyncratic fashion. That is serving simple cuts of fish and shellfish the traditional way, which also means two pieces of nigir-zushi at a time. Deceptively simple yet transcendental.
Suffice to say the price of entry for newbies and other novices is quite dear. First timers may be turned away before stepping inside depending on various factors such as believing the joint to be a Sirachi cream cheese inflected roll and sake bomb joint. Or if one only wants to devour oodles of fusion inspired and overly sauced junk.
Shige even goes to the lengths of placing myriad of RESERVATION placards along the length of the sushi bar to scare away potential customers when the occasion should be deemed necessary. Furthermore, he will turn down your request for an omakase meal at a first timer. Because after all, "how do I know what they want to eat ?", he gruffly tells a obsequious patron when the request is put in.
When the sushi chef was asked what his favorite sushi was he stated bluntly, "I don't eat sushi." After a lifetime of cutting fresh fish, even the veteran master desires other bites to eat in his off hours. (Urban legend has it that he frequents his friend's Southern Italian restaurant on Beverly Blvd: Madeo Ristorante, which also is the tip off to his olive oil-sauced albacore salad as well as his morsel of eggplant parmigiano (heavy on the finely sourced Parmigiana-Reggiana) that puts many a red-sauce Italian trattoria to shame.
He told one customer who inquired about whether the uni was from Santa Barbara with "How should I know ? I just cut fish. Maybe the fisherman knows." However, he does pride himself on sourcing his fish from Tokyo, Spain, Italay, and even Norway (Norway ? Yes, Norway).
The soundtrack ranges from smooth jazz to Andre Bocelli (i.e. "time to say goodnight") to the Pink Panther theme (yes, that iconic, groundbreaking ditty) each and every night.
Shige has a sideline in bottles of ultra-expensive Bordeaux and Burgundy from the 1950s to 60s though caveat emptor if you deign to order a bottle on a whim. An insidious sticker shock would not begin to describe your imminent troubles.
Working primarily alone, he sculpts each piece to order in the traditional bite-size pieces unique to the edo-mae roots.
His maguro sushi is like slices of ruby hewed steaks snatched from the sea. His yellowtail is quite toothsome in its way to reinforce its structural integrity. It must be said that not all fish should be mushy. The toro sushi melts in your mouth, as it usually does, though its heavily streaked with that ultra-pinkish hue that is highly prized to toro connoisseurs. His kanpachi and kinmedai have always been exceptional. And the obligatory toro hand roll filled to the brim with chopped toro and crunchy pickles is exactly what the doctor ordered to end this repast.
Even his wines by the glass works in conjunction with the meatier fishes.
And to end the meal ? What else by a pillowy, airy, puffy, lighter than air slab of tiramisu (Other desserts include panna cotta, poached pear in red wine with creme anglaise, a fruit tart, and chocolate tart).
You pay the usually excessive bill and then saunter out to your car to visit Los Angeles once again.
A paragon of perfection.
i went to shibucho never having been there; just made a reservation. though i had heard all sorts of 'horror' stories, we found it a thoroughly enjoyable place with great fish.
when we sat at the bar, the guy just said, "what can i make for you?"
we talked for a bit about what sort of sushi we liked, and had at it.
it was expensive, but not terribly so. the wine list is insane, but the cheapest red on there was pretty good and went surprisingly well with the sushi.
i'm sad i haven't been back, but i encourage folks to try it and not be intimidated. the sushi is just that good.
now, i went a few years ago, and maybe he's changed.
f that prick.
btw, I went thru a Shibucho phase a few years back... and he never bothered to insult me, nor did I ever ask for "omakase". Show up w/ CC, show polite respect (not fear, nor reverence), don't ask stupid Q's, acknowledge his history, eat nigiri, walk away with a slight bow.
it's a dance, there's no point in pussyfooting it.
wow, tony, you put it better than i could.
and usually i don't order omakase there, or in fact ever, because after all, how does he know what i want to eat ??????
years ago, i had the best sautéed pate de foie imported straight from paris, in butter, pure exceptional bliss.
and that ain't no joke.
Thank you Kevin for a good read.
I've never been to Shibucho and I'm curious about the details of the actual sushi. How would you describe the rice, the garnishing, proportions / formation, etc. and do they remind you of any other place?
For example, this past week I went to Shunji, Mori, Go's Mart, and Kiriko for nigiri omakase, and I find some apparent differences in style and details among most of them. Shunji and Mori are most similar, Kiriko a pleasant surprise, Go's Mart a bit out from left field - the difference between Mori and Go's Mart is huge in all the details. Shibucho sounds like a slightly unique style, given the eggplant parm and tiramisu...also the red wine pairing (never thought of this before).
I'm trying to decide if I should go to Shibucho on my stay here, but I like to do as much research as possible (and those awful Eater and Yelp posts tell you absolutely nothing relevant about the actual sushi, or food for that matter). Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you Kevin.
Wow, it looks like you've had quite the Chowhound week here in L.A.!
I'll take a stab at trying to answer your question with regards to Shibucho.
I would say that Shige-san's nigiri is closest to what's found at Mori. At Shibucho, the neta cuts are ever-so-slightly bigger than at Mori (but that's more of a stylistic nuance than an actual attempt at customer appeasement). The shari is quite good as well. Shige-san is a consummate oenophile, and very often enjoys infusing a bit of an Italian sensibility into his meals.
In addition, Shige-san makes his own tamagoyaki. I would say this is the best tamagoyaki in town - even better than the already-heavenly one served by Hiro-san at Urasawa.
So overall, I would summarize Shibucho as traditionalist (though not strictly Edomae), with an occasional nod to Italy, and a wine cellar which may have few rivals in our fine metropolis - An interesting combination, to be sure. Enjoy, if you do decide to go!
Thank you for your reply, I appreciate all the details. Yes, LA has been good this trip. My bud kyee87 from the San Francisco boards told me about all the sushi here and it's been great exploring and paying attention to the differences among some of LA's excellent sushiya. I could go into detail of all my experiences but I don't want to sidetrack this thread.
With that said, Mori was an excellent meal that's right up my alley, and if Shibucho is similar, then that is promising. Mori is quite a different experience than Go's Mart, and while I see the appeal at Go's Mart, Mori is definitely more my style in all the details.
Thank you for the note about the tamagoyaki.
I am not much of an oenophile though I do enjoy champagne with sushi - I think bubbles go great with seafood (Launois is my pick).
I will consider Shibucho, and if I go, I will report back - thank you for your response J.L.
Ah yes, kyee87 has helped me out on several occasions with his (her?) keen insights.
You're not alone: Many aficionados opine that Mori and Go's Mart represent two almost-diametrically opposite approaches to high end sushi. I look at L.A.'s elite-level sushi scene as a grand spectrum, with one end ascribing to a strict, traditionalist interpretation, with the far other end being creative, inventive, and often looking to fuse with other genres/cuisines.
My beverage of choice with sushi is cold beer. Of course, if French bubbly is offered in a meal, who am I to pass that up? I particularly like Ruinart - Having family (distant, but family nonetheless) near that region of France certainly sways me in that general direction. :-)
That having been said, you really should try dining at n/naka while here in L.A.
Kevin, if you don't mind, I had a question. Re: the toro, what do you mean "heavily streaked"? Was it an even distribution of fat (a la shimofuri, by the head, and looking like a piece of marbled wagyu) or were there strips of fat alternating with the meat (dandara, by the belly). I personally like shimofuri toro (Sushi Nozomi has a surprisingly good rendition), though I've spoken with many others, including itamae, who prefer dandara.
Also, for the bill of of $175-180, approximately how many pieces of nigiri?
here's the rundown, everything is nigri except for the eggplant parm and the tiramisu and the albacore salad, pieces are way bigger than mori but eco-mae style, it's nothing like go smart/mastsuhisa/zo/shunji:
(two pieces each) (h/r is a hand roll)
oh, and a glass of red wine, of course:
Thanks for the thorough review kevin. It couldn't have been more timely as I'm halfway through a sushi quest (like Ambrose it would seem) and didn't have this on my radar at all.
One question, for first timers, what would you recommend as a stated budget to allow the chef to do his thing without going into overkill territory?
Just a quick point re: Shige's wine list- Yes, it's objectively expensive, but it is actually hundreds (and in some cases thousands) less than the restaurant list market value of the wines he offers. Premier and Grand Cru vineyards and chateaus with +15 years of age on them are usually upwards of $1000/btl, not his $300 and $400s...
I walked in, sans reservation, at about 6:30 to an empty restaurant, a semi-surprised looking server, and a sushi bar absent a sushi chef. The server met me at the door and ran through the usual litany of restrictions designed to scare off the roll-n-bowl sushi eater: no menu, no rolls, no cooked items. I nodded in assent and was shown to a seat at the sushi bar.
After ordering a glass of white wine (I'm still not prepared to drink red wine with sushi), Shige san entered from the back of the restaurant and began to prepare his station. Minutes passed with nary an acknowledgment of my presence. No matter, I used the time to scope out the celebrity photos, newspaper and magazine clippings, and assorted bric-a-brac around the restaurant. Michael Cera made me laugh with his words on a photo with Shige, "You have taught me so much. I feel an attachment to you now."
A few ticks of the clock later, Shige walked over and asked me what I liked. Prepared for this question - thanks to you all - I mentioned that I enjoy everything, but that my favorites are X, Y, Z, and that the things I desire least are A, B, and C. Apparently satisfied with my response, the procession of seafood commenced. I didn't take photos or notes, and Shige did not name any of the fish he served me. So the following list represents my best guess as to what I ate, and the order is definitely not accurate. Two of each:
* Chutoro sashimi (opener)
* Some kind of snapper
* Yellow tail
* Horse Mackerel
* Unagi (closer)
I was happy to find the majority of the nigiri served without sauce or salt. The pieces which did receive such treatment were handled with a light touch, intensifying rather than obscuring the flavors of the faultlessly cut fish. The rice was splendid - slightly above ambient temp and possessing that almost imperceptible, yet crucial, tang of vinegar. All told, the fish to rice ratio, the knife work, the freshness of the sushi, and the rice itself combined to create one tear-inducingly delightful bite after another. There wasn't a single item that I did not enjoy immensely, with some of them - such as the mackerel, ikura, and shad - being among the best I've ever tasted.
Now for a couple of minor nitpickings:
1. The size of the nigiri is substantial. This combined with the rapid fire pace of service (perhaps because I was the only one in the restaurant) and the fact that each serving consisted of two pieces left me as full as I've ever been off of high end sushi. I like the idea of serving two of each, since it allows me to think a lot about what I'm tasting on the first bite, and then surrender myself to unthinking bliss on the second one. However, slightly smaller pieces might moderate the experience a bit.
2. The wasabi was applied with a bit of a heavy hand, causing me to get that "nostril flare" feeling on a few bites. I don't mind the flare, and the wasabi is certainly doing wonders to the overall bite, but I felt it could have been toned down the slightest notch.
Other than the two small gripes above, I found the meal to be without fault, vaulting Shibucho immediately into my top 3 sushi spots in Los Angeles. I was disappointed that I didn't get to try the eggplant parmesan or other prepared dishes, but that will leave me something to look forward to for the next time.
Thanks all for putting me on to this great find. I'll definitely be returning.
Thanks for that quick (and organized!) report back! Yeah, 2 pieces of nigiri makes you (in theory) twice as full. Sounds like the Shige-san we know and love.
Did you request a piece of the tamagoyaki to close it out? Too full? I completely understand.
Try the Italian offerings next visit.
I liked your review of Shibucho. Makes me think of the good old days of many late-night omakase dinners ;)
But, I'm fairly certain that Shibucho on Beverly is the original location and that Shibutani-san opened Shibucho #2 at Yaohan Plaza after selling the Beverly store to Shige. Shibucho #3 followed in the OC.