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Aug 3, 2014 04:46 PM

Shunji (just text, no pics, as justly serves a luddite, btw, we already have enough porn these days)

Located in a beyond iconic, distinctive circular edifice, stemming from its years as an outpost of the chili bowl chain and later as a Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs location for over a decade, Shunji has been doling out distinctive, complex, overwhelmingly, intricate yet at times deceptively simple, but above all else delicious sushi and Japanese cooked dishes for over two years now. Shunji has a way with a sushi knife to cut pure slabs of fish down to prime morsels that pop with flavorful intensity when need be. His agedashi tomato reminds one of luscious tomato jelly sent to heaven and back just for our felicitous consumption.

He makes bleu cheese despisers become lovers in a matter of mere seconds due to his incomparable bleu cheese and purple potato quenelles topped with dried persimmon, which gives off the truest blue cheese flavor possible with none of the strident animal pungency. Unlike myriad of his tyrannical sushi colleagues around town, he is completely affable, gregarious, and takes customer requests as a point of pride. Yuko, who manages the joint seamlessly, extends that natural friendliness and helpfulness by treating first-timers and veteran regulars with the utmost care, catering to one’s every need with a request for no octopus in an omakase or sushi only except for say shellfish in a tasting menu.

The sushi counter is truly a place to be happy with cuts of fish not seen elsewhere from blue fish to tiny ice fish collected together on top of rice wrapped with ultra-crisip nori to simply steamed hanasaki crab (when in season). There is no standard refrigerator case causing obstructed sight lines between chef and sushi lovers since the case has been shifted to the right side of the bar underneath the cabinet where over a dozen artisanal sakes stand tall.

His saucing specifically tailored to each fish. Even his vegetables are part of the locavore movment and sourced from local farmer’s market. Red snapper sashimi in a vinegar cum light ponzu water broth contains a bobby cherry tomato. But this is no ordinary tomato. In contrast, it is quite extraordinary. The smoked tomato (how do they smoke it just so, a pointe, if you will) on the outside fills your mouth with the sweetest, juicy, purest tomato flavor as you bite into it reminding one of a tomato’s actual roots as a fruit, rather than a vegetable.

Some of Shunji’s unique creations take home style cooking as its starting point and adds novel flourishes, updating a simple earthy dish. A standard corn chawan mushi (light Japanese custard) becomes something else with touches of a lobe of uni riding shotgun amongst whispers of summer truffle shavings. And one can never get too much in the way of truffle shavings. One dish even houses small though quite pungent bits of Sicilian bottarga (dried mullet roe) which is usually more evident at your destination trattoria than your neighborhood sushi bar.

A couple minor quibbles include the fact that your omakase repaste will most likely run you a couple of C-notes per person before even a drop of sake enters the proverbial equation. And true to its excessively modest chili bowl roots the outhouse is actually located outside. What a concept.

Ultimately, Shunji will steal your breath away even with his desserts, namely his chocolate mousse. A tiny pot of chocolate that is bittersweet, rich yet contrapuntally light as the same time, and has the buttery mouth feel of a fine patisserie purveyed Parisian mousse with none of the excess sweetness. Suffice to say, his banana ice cream is also a paragon of the genre, which washes down quite nicely with his tiny, artfully crafted mugs of hot green tea.

Remember if you happen to get overly randy over a meal, almost an inevitably, there's always the book store next door so that you may reach your orgasmic denouement.

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  1. Nice report. I'm ready.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful report.

      Shunji's is indeed a special place, and they always have exceptional ingredients. That medai (blue nose snapper) is more interesting than your average whitefish and those Sungold tomatoes are just incredible - one of my favorite varieties of fruit/vegetable, period (what Saison did with them on the live hearth was breathtaking).

        1. Great review. Ate here last night for the first time and I never thought I'd say it but my favorite dish at a Japanese restaurant was a tomato.

          5 Replies
            1. re: onelabne

              Mine too: Yuko IS great.
              But what about the food?

              1. re: Ciao Bob

                In a word: beyond extraordinary.

                1. re: kevin

                  Oh kevin.

                  1) that's two words

                  2) I'm afraid the lucidity and, dare I say, eloquence in your review has given you away.



                  1. re: a213b

                    given me away ?????

                    uh-oh. :(

            2. I should go back but my last dinner there cost me $450 for two. While it was very good, didn't necessarily feel worth it. Makes n/naka seem like a bargain in comparison.

              3 Replies
              1. re: TailbackU

                ok, 450 for two with sake ????

                and or with the truffle gohan ????????

                1. re: kevin

                  yes with one bottle of sake (~$65 iirc)

                  Only truffle course was a tiny shawamushi w/ some truffle shaved on top.

                2. re: TailbackU

                  if it's with sake that makes sense, if not cents. :)