Shunji Salmon Birthdays (A Photo Story)
- TheOffalo Jul 31, 2014 11:47 PM
[If the Photo Story format doesn't work, check out http://theoffalo.com/2014/07/shunji-s... for full layout.]
When my wife and I were trying to decide where to celebrate our birthdays last month, it wasn’t really a matter of choosing a spot. We both pretty much had the same place in mind: Shunji! We wanted a special meal, befitting a birthday celebration (or two), but money’s been tight lately. We couldn’t splurge on anything too decadent, like the infamous truffle gohan that even Shunji himself is reluctant to serve because of its cost.
Instead, I worked with Yuko to arranged a meal centered around my wife’s favorite fish: salmon. To keep costs manageable, we went mid-day to take advantage of their lunch deals, but I also asked if they would prepare one or two non-sushi courses showcasing the theme ingredient. What we ended up with was a very reasonable, yet quite special, birthday lunch.
I’ve already expounded on the value of Shunji’s lunch specials before (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/918833), so I won't rehash. Our meal, which consisted of one sashimi dish, one kitchen dish, two $40 lunch specials (24 pieces of nigiri, two hand rolls), and dessert, was around $120 before tax and tip. While the restaurant does not usually serve non-sushi items at lunch, they were willing to make a simple kitchen dish for us, and the sashimi is definitely a dish that’s doable for lunch, if requested in advance.
Unlike some my-way-or-the-highway sushi chefs in town, Shunji (and Yuko) always aim to please, whether you're a big spender or on a budget (to a point, of course), and whether you’re a regular or a relative newcomer. Case in point, when another patron saw our special sashimi dish and asked if he could order one, Shunji gladly obliged.
Note: Photos below with quartets of nigiri are label in the following order: Top, left to right. Bottom, left to right.
Salmon Sashimi Salad with Caviar
Shunji said this was a dish from his Asanebo days. Inside the orange-hued globe, composed of at least 7 or 8 “petals” of salmon belly, was a salad of onion, cucumber, and daikon radish. Resting on a pool of ponzu, and topped with a dollop of caviar on a diminutive “plate” of cucumber, this dish was too gorgeous to eat. Almost. And it tasted as good as it looked.
Sake Saikyo Yaki with Yamamomo
The singular kitchen dish, this was a simple preparation of grilled miso-marinated salmon, served along side a mountain peach. The fish was fatty, melt-in-mouth tender, yet substantive, with just a bit of char along the edges.
Marinated Salmon, Salmon Belly. Benizake/Sockeye Salmon, Masu/Sea Trout
My wife had two pieces of each of these nigiri and was in heaven. The marinated salmon was and still is one of her favorites, but it was great to have some variety. I snuck a bite of each piece, and they were each distinctive and delicious.
Madai/Red Seabream, Kinmedai/Golden Eye. Kodai/Baby Seabream, Medai/Blue Nose.
My starting series of nigiri was a small variety of white-fleshed fish, or shiromi. Shunji always has an assortment of these on his specials board, and though they're not my favorite sushi fish (that's next), they never fail to please with their lighter flavors and tender textures.
Shiokko/Baby Amberjack, Kamasu/Barracuda. Hiramasa Toro/YellowtailAmberjackBelly
Some of my favorite neta, sushi toppings, are shiny/silver-skinned fish, or hikarimono. They are usually a little oilier and have a richer flavor than shiromi. These were excellent as always.
Aji/Horse Mackerel, Sagoshi/Baby King Mackerel. Uni/Sea Urchin, Steamed & Raw
Aji, horse mackerel, though commonly translated as Spanish mackerel, is probably my favorite hikarimono. Shunji’s aji is always top notch, with a fresh, ocean-y taste and slightly nutty and bitter after taste. Sagoshi, or baby king mackerel, didn’t taste like the typical hikarimono, but more like albacore. The “regular” uni, sea urchin, that Shunji serves is usually from Santa Barbara, and my wife opted to have a piece raw, while I tried it steamed. Shunji also had bafun uni from Hokkaido that day, but we abstained as it was $15/piece.
Ikura (Salmon Roe)
Shunji doesn’t use typical shio or shoyu marinade. It’s a subtler prep with mirin and dashi (I think), and the roe comes out full and plump, with a mellow sweetness in each briny pop. My favorite ikura!
Temaki/Hand Rolls: Maguro/Tuna, Shiokko Katsuobushi/Baby Amberjack/Shaved Bonito
Rather than the ubiquitous-in-L.A. blue crab hand roll to end the meal, Shunji made a more traditional maguro temaki, tuna hand roll, as well as a possibly less traditional shiokko katsuobushi temaki, baby amberjack and shaved dried bonito.
Shunji’s desserts are simple, yet expertly made. The chocolate mousse is excellent, and the lime ice cream sublime. He does like to experiment sometimes, and that day he had banana ice cream, and I’d have to say it’s right up there with the banana ice creams I’ve had at full-fledged ice cream shops like Sweet Rose Creamery.
Salmon Sashimi Salad with Caviar, Take Two
No, we did not have a second one, but don’t think we weren’t tempted. I just figure I’d end with another shot of our first course, this one taken by my wife.
Great report and happy bday
I like your theme. My wife isn't as adventurous an eater as me but shunji always caters specially to her to and makes her feel special and delivers a terrific meal. Not every sushi chef has that attitude and it is so appreciated. Those salmon eggs are so good there. And I agree he makes some killer ice cream too. Well done.
i didn't eat them together, because i hogged the chocolate mousse msyefl.
btw, guys, do you think Shunji would think it weird if i ordered say three of those tiny pottery dishes of chocolate mousses just for myself ?????? :) or is that bad form ??????? but then again i really love the stuff.
Great report! happy bday!
My SO also loves salmon, I'll need to give this consideration!
The new posting style ain't bad either
Thanks all for the comments and birthday wishes! I really do like the new Photo Story format. I hope more people take advantage of it.
It is chef's choice, but the chefs do ask what people don't eat (we opted out of bluefin tuna for ecological reasons), so you can influence what you're served. Since I asked in advance to have more salmon-centric servings for my wife, 6 of her 12 pieces were salmon (2 sea trout that looked pretty salmon-y). For the remaining 4 pieces, she had three from the shiromi/hikarimono that I had (I can't remember which specifically now) and then the raw uni.
Mine was completely chef-driven except when Shunji was serving the uni and he asked if I wanted raw or steamed. Again, no bluefin tuna (neither lean nor fatty), so I got a few more pieces of hikarimono instead. He also knows I like the ikura, so he makes sure to include the piece.
If you're a brand new customer, you will get a good assortment in the $40: some shiromi, including at least one "premium" like kinmedai; some tuna, akami and chutoro most likely, some hikarimono like kanpachi or kamasu, and then probably an uni or some other shellfish or roe, and then the blue crab hand roll to end. If you've gone in once or twice and have expressed a preference or distaste for something in the past, then it starts naturally getting more tailored to your taste.