Review: Picca

2 March 2014

I had decided not to write too many reviews for this trip to LA; the only one I had originally planned was for Kiriko, because it deserved a full review. I had also dined at some other places I have reviewed frequently such as Il Grano (review #1, review #2, review #3) and Hakata Yamaya (review #1, review #2), so I will not clutter the list with more glowing reviews of those excellent establishments (the meals were, again, excellent). In addition, I also dined at the excellent back-room Nozawa Bar, which featured another amazing omakase dinner — but I chose to keep the phone off all night as I needed a short break from the heartbreak and chaos that is Ukraine…

Nevertheless, I felt I needed to write a review for Picca. I’ve had some nice food there before, and I have not done a review for it yet. Picca is an excellent and innovative Peruvian small-plates restaurant at the edge of Beverly Hills, and I was looking forward to a good dining experience on this long but wonderful Sunday evening. Everyone was busy a few miles north at the Oscars, and I didn’t care…

It wasn’t very busy and I took a seat at the empty chef’s counter. It’s nice to watch the different stations work here, as the different parts of their menu requires such a separation — from the raw stuff to the grilled to others. I chose a selection of small dishes for this meal.

uni_scallop_tiradito

First up was the uni scallop tiradito. The scallops were nice and large and the urchin was a nice touch, but the whole thing seemed a little sloppy and almost a waste. It didn’t mesh as well as you would have thought. A tighter arrangement would have worked better to be honest.

anticucho_lengua

Next up was the anticucho lengua — the skewered braised ox tongue. Nice flavour, soft texture (maybe a little too soft), but the portion was rather small for such a price.

cartilago

Third up was the cartilago — or chicken cartilage. This dish was fried with peppers and onions. Unfortunately, this was nearly inedible. All I tasted was a thick and chunky batter, and there was almost no cartilage. Have you ever had calamari that was all batter and no squid? This was like that. And the batter was just awful… I abandoned most of this dish.

So far I was not happy with this meal, being half way through. The service has been spotty despite the restaurant being rather empty. Took ages to get anyone’s attention for a drink…

anticucho_culito

The fourth dish was anticucho culito — crispy chicken tail. At least this was much better than the last dish, which was still sitting there, almost taunting me… Not bad, but nothing special here…

arroz_con_erizo

Next up was the arroz con erizo, something of a cross between a paella and risotto, with sea urchin and seafood. This was actually a really good dish. This tells me the main station is still doing good work, and that it’s the other stations (grill, and especially fry) that are not up to par this Sunday evening.

anticucho_corazon

After all that I wanted to give them one more chance, so I added one more, anticucho corazon — the beef heart. This portion was more like it, and it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t anything to write home about…

To be fair, after I complained about the cartilago, they took the price off — though after they had already processed my card (no idea if I was being double-charged). It seems the kitchen was confused, the front-of-house was confused. It’s just way too lax. I know it’s Oscar Sunday, but still, your customers are still customers.

I left without any last drinks or desserts, as I was rather disappointed with this dinner. I’ve had such good food here before, even from the grill and fry stations. This was just not up to par, and I don’t see myself returning here again. A total shame, as this was one of the places I always recommend to people in LA…

Picca
9575 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, California

Review: Kiriko

26 February 2014

It’s been a few weeks since I got back from Japan. I’ve had a few meals in the meantime in DC and New York, but just didn’t feel like writing about them for some reason. The taste of Tokyo was still taking up a prominent spot in my head, and I wonder if I could really enjoy Japanese food outside of Japan again…I know I must try!

I had to run to Los Angeles for a few days, and for my first night I returned to what I thought was the best sushi I had in LA in the past, Kiriko. I went for a sushi omakase, like I did last time, and was hoping for something as brilliant and interesting. I was totally blown away last time, especially by the diversity and rarity of some of the pieces.

I sat down on a quiet weekday early evening, with sake in hand, and began my sushi adventure…

01-hamadai

The evening began conservatively with a nice piece of snapper. Good texture, easy to eat.

02-03-maguro-chutoro

Next came a duo of bluefin, a leaner piece and a nice chu-toro. Nice, modest pieces of tuna, a good way to start things off.

04-hiramasa

Following that was a nice piece of amberjack. Not usually my favourite, but this was flavourful and the texture was enjoyable.

05-06-sablefish-katsuo

Next up was another due, this time of sablefish [on the left] and bonito (katsuo). Interesting balance between the two items that you don’t always see on a sushi menu. Nice.

07-ika

Next up was the humble ika, which is always one of my favourites. I love squid, and this was a nice piece. Sorry the photo seems out of focus. For some reason after the last software update it has problem focusing on white-coloured things…

08-hotate

Following that was one of the evening’s treats, a large and sweet Hokkaido scallop. I really like how they presented this, almost making the scallop look even meatier and juicier. Fabulous!

09a-ebi

Next up was a two-parter. First up was the raw shrimp, which was extremely tasty. Sweet and tender. Chef asked what I would like to do with the head, and one option was to fry it, so…

09b-shrimp_head

A mini tempura shrimp head. How awesome… This was one of the highlights of the night, and the head was excellent!

10-11-kohada-baby_sawara

Next up was another duo, this time on the left the gizzard shad, the right baby mackerel. To be honest, these didn’t do that much for me, they were very neutral in taste. Maybe just a touch too much adulteration. I love mackerel, and wished it was more forceful. I love strong mackerel…

12-smoked_chilly_trout

Following that was a piece of smoked chilly trout. I had these in Japan, and they are interesting. Not imposing at all, a nice flavour.

13-anago

Then we have a nice eel (anago). Though always one of my favourite things to eat, especially with sea salt, it just didn’t carry the day today. Not sure why…hard to explain.

14-uni

Then we have some nice Santa Barbara uni, which again is one of my favourite. However, again, I don’t know why, it just didn’t hit the spot as it usually does… Is the sake not matching the flavours? I chose a dry one, but…

15-saba_handroll

A small rest with a mackerel handroll. A good piece to clear out your palate with the nori.

16-mirugai

Now we’re getting into my favourite shellfish section. First up is the mirugai, or the giant clam. I love this, the texture was just excellent.

17-hokigai

Next was the surf clam, or hokigai, which also had a wonderful texture that I love. I wish there was more attention paid to the shellfish portion too, despite how much I love the fish.

18-19-seared_madai-seared_toro

The next pair are both seared…on the right is the red snapper, the left is the toro. I usually am not too into seared sushi, but this brought the flavours out very well, adding a different dimension to both types of fish. Very nice.

20-seared_king_salmon

Following that another seared item, this time the king salmon. I’m not a big salmon-for-sushi fan, but this worked out pretty well.

21-cured_ebodai

Then a pair of cured ebodai, or butterfish. You don’t see this very often on menus, so it’s a nice treat. Nice and flavourful.

22-engawa

Next up is the delicate engawa, or halibut fin. You definitely don’t see this often, and here it is perfect. I had this in Japan as well, which is a very tasty part of the fish that needs extra work to bring out the flavour. Excellent!

23-tako

Following that was the humble tako, or octopus. I usually like my octopus a bit rougher, with more texture. But this was a nice piece, maybe a little too soft for my usual liking.

24-otoro

Now next was another of the highlights, a beautiful piece of o-toro. This was nice and fatty, without any stringiness or problems that sometimes comes with them. Excellent, I loved it.

25-geso

Another dish you don’t see often is the geso, or the squid tentacle. Lovely presentation for a nice dish here. Again, I love squid, so this was a treat.

At this point the session was nearing an end, and chef asked if there’s anything I like again. So I did have the engawa (halibut fin) and the big scallop again.

28-ikura

And finally, the humble ikura, or salmon roe. I have a strange tradition of closing out my meals with these, and it was a nice end.

This omakase at Kiriko was excellent. Maybe not as exciting as the last time I was here, but it was solid and good. Perhaps the sake I chose didn’t work that well, but that’s my fault. The fish was top rate and fresh, and the presentation was wonderful. Great balance.

However, this does make me miss Sushi Bar Yasuda and Sushi Kanesaka in Tokyo so much…

Kiriko has proven itself again to be an excellent place for sushi, one of the very best in the entire country. I know next time I’m in LA I’ll be back here certainly.

Kiriko – Sushi Omakase
1. Snapper
2. Maguro
3. Chu-toro
4. Amberjack
5. Sablefish
6. Bonito
7. Squid
8. Hokkaido scallop
9. Shrimp (and head deep fried)
10. Gizzard shad
11. Baby mackerel
12. Smoked chilly trout
13. Eel (anago)
14. Uni
15. Mackerel handroll
16. Giant clam (mirugai)
17. Surf clam (hokigai)
18. Seared red snapper
19. Seared toro
20. Seared king salmon
21. Cured butterfish (ebodai)
22. Halibut fin (engawa)
23. Octopus
24. O-toro
25. Squid tentacle
26. Halibut fin (engawa)
27. Hokkaido scallop
28. Ikura

Kiriko
11301 Olympic Blvd
West Lost Angeles, California

Unexpectedly in Asia Part 5: Tokyo…it’s finally growing on me…

I left Seoul’s Gimpo airport (thank goodness not another hike to Incheon) extremely early in the morning, trying to beat the rush out of town for the Lunar New Year. Thank goodness I was also flying into Haneda in Tokyo, so I could get into the centre of Tokyo in minutes (instead of that monstrosity Narita so far out of town). It’s like doing Reagan National to LaGuardia instead of Dulles to JFK…

I arrived with some trepidation in Tokyo, as my previous trip I did not enjoy Tokyo at all. There was a barrier, and I felt like a lost outsider. I was “let in” while in Seoul, but not in Tokyo. Would 9 years change that? I pondered that as I jockeyed for space in the Tokyo Monorail headed towards the centre.

It was a sunny and nice morning, so I walked (dragging my bag) to my hotel, which was about 15 minutes away near Shimbashi Station. Not much of an issue, but once again the Asia mantra of “you see it but you can’t get there” proved true, this time hampered also by major roadworks. After a few ramps, I finally found my hotel.

I would recommend the Park Hotel Tokyo very much. Great staff, especially the concierge who sorted out some of my dinner bookings. Convenient location, spartan but good room, and 2 Michelin-starred restaurants in premises and more within a 5-minute radius. I didn’t experience much in the hotel as I had plans, but they looked good. Only drawback was the huge amount of cigarette smoke that permeated the lobby cafe from the excellent (but nauseatingly smoky) whisky bar.

I took some time the first day to solidify my plans and just get acquainted with travelling in Tokyo…last time here was a nightmare for me, and I didn’t want to deal with that. Thank goodness the Suica (the local Oyster Card equivalent) was easy to acquire at Haneda, tho I put too much money on it… Made travelling so, so much easier than to buy a bloody ticket… And machine was in passabe English (learn from that, Seoul…).

I was hungry when I headed out to my dinner that first night at Steakhouse Satou (as in this earlier review). Though the journey was long and a bit of a headache to navigate within stations (with scaffolding and overhangs that covered signs), I felt better about the Tokyo public transport system than I ever did. And suddenly, I felt so much freer than 9 years ago…

As I was quite jetlagged and still revelling in the amazing beef from Satou I took an early night. The next morning I got up and went for a long walk around Tsukiji Fish Market. The famous place hasn’t changed much since my last visit 9 years ago, but way more tourists. There were too many queues this morning for things interested, and I didn’t need to spend a wallet-full to bring home an ultra-sharp sushi knife, so I headed out after an hour or so.

I wandered around in Ginza for a bit until I found my lunch destination, Chikuyotei. I love eel, and this was one of the best places for it in Tokyo (it used to have a Michelin, but now gone, thank goodness). I ordered the main lunch una-don special (large) but also had a quick snack at first of squid in urchin sauce…I love this dish.

chikuyotei

The main lunch was pretty voluminous, first with some eel liver soup (didn’t do much for me), and the large una-don. As often commented, the sauce used is very mild here, which garners complaints from some “destination diners” from North America who love the dish for the sauce and not the eel. Here you taste the eel, thank goodness. Fabulous piece of eel, way too much rice. Once again my poor handling of chopsticks to eat rice catches up with me here…

After a long stroll in Ginza, working off the eel (and rice), I headed back and promptly fell asleep for 2 hours…this 14-hour time change is killing me. I wanted to eat more but my body was just not letting me… I got up and that evening I headed to my amazing omakase at Sushi Bar Yasuda. What a meal…

Now after that meal I ended up back at my hotel and attempted to enjoy some craft Japanese whisky at the hotel’s well-regarded bar (connected to Tateru Yoshino Bis*). Plus, it was Japan’s first Scotch Malt Whisky Society location, I was really looking forward to it. But as I hinted before, the cigarette smoke was just so overwhelming I had to sit outside before quitting after 1 drink…this is ridiculous. I was coughing up a lung…no way to enjoy that, no matter how good the malt was…

I was a little shocked. Even in Macau they have all but banned indoor smoking (despite how much the rules are disobeyed). Or the hotel needs to get a better ventilation system… But it was a turnoff for me despite the wonderful selection…too bad… So I ventured out, already tipsy from rioja, sake and whisky…

I found this little place near the hotel and downed a few beers…was a little groggy so don’t remember much of it. I know I drank a few beers and enjoyed a few skewers of various parts of chicken… I stumbled back to my hotel and collapsed…

Despite all the drink I wasn’t too hungover after the bad sleep…jetlag trumps hangover it seems… I was knackered when I got up and headed out again. A little lazy today, and decided to stay in Ginza once more. Yesterday was eel, today was tempura, and I headed to one of the best regarded tempura restaurants in Tokyo, Ten-Ichi.

This is the flagship location of this popular institution, and I was given a seat (and a bib) at the counter so I could watch the chef prepare the food. I went for a tasting, and it went pretty interestingly…

ten-ichi1

The first course was the shrimp, 2 pieces (sorry, overzealous, ate 1 before remembering to take a picture) including fried legs. Shrimp not big but tasty, and the batter was fantastic, fried to perfection. As everyone says, you eat tempura in Japan you’ll never be able to eat it outside again…and they are right. Wow, what a difference. It was followed a thick slice of lotus root.

ten-ichi2

Next feature was the whitefish, which was also quite tasty, fried to perfection to leave moist and burning hot flesh inside. It was followed by a rather lonely asparagus.

ten-ichi3

Then we got a humble piece of squid, which was a little lacking to be honest, later followed by another lonely pepper. The texture was nice fried, but the squid portion was disappointing.

ten-ichi4

After that was my favourite, anago tempura, which was excellent. I love eel, and eel tempura was just a treat I still find hard to get in the US. And a very generous portion! This was followed by a cute baby eggplant at first, then a strange ball afterwards…turned out it was a ball of baby shrimp! Tasty!

This was a rather expensive lunch, frankly, but good. It’s one of those “try it once” things as tempura is not that high up my priority list when it comes to Japanese cuisine. Nice, especially the anago. A good lunch. I walked around the north and west part of Ginza, dodging shoppers this weekend afternoon.

Then I made my way back to my hotel, and promptly collapsed for an hour or so (my body is telling me it’s 4am back home and I should be sleeping). I got back up and took my time to get to Sushi Kanesaka for another amazing omakase dinner (as reviewed here). But after the meal I walked back to the hotel, but wanted a little more…

I remembered the place I was the night before and went back, this time with a clearer head. It turns out it is not just a bar, but also a well-regarded place to enjoy free-range Jidori chicken. This place is named Hinaiya, and it specialises in the more exclusive chickens from Hinai. So it wasn’t just some yakitori…

I wish I had more time to eat here, but this was just a night for beer and snacking. I had a few different ones, from asparagus to meatballs, but really loved the chicken. The first drunken night I focused on the gizzards and chicken skin skewers…

hinaiya

These were delicious, and these were from the second night enjoying much more of them. Downed many beers and a few more servings of these delicious skewers, I was happy walking back to the hotel.

The next day I checked out, but my body was really rebelling after sleeping for only 2 hours…it just wouldn’t fall asleep again after I got up at 4am or so… I just laid there like a zombie… I had decided to get a hotel near the far-flung Narita Airport as my flight the next day was early morning and didn’t want that headache.

I was gonna wander around for a bit, but my body was just not co-operating…it was my last full day in Asia, but my body wanted to go home…too long this trip… So I headed to Shimbashi Station to get to Tokyo Station for an airport train, but lo and behold I saw a local service (slow) to Narita Airport from Shimbashi. So I upgraded to a first class for a few hundred yen, and took the slow nearly 2-hour service to Narita Airport. Was a nice way to see the suburbs…

Hopped onto a hotel shuttle and tried to relax at the airport hotel. Eventually I headed to the bar, which was a little lacking. Ended up going to the Japanese restaurant at the hotel, Matsuzake, which specialised in shabu-shabu. And it was all you can eat, so…

I enjoyed some more sake and the meal started with various things, including this cute starter selection of pickled clams, tofu with cod roe, and glazed sardine.

1-pickled_clam-cod_roe-glazed_sardine

But the main focus was the beef for the shabu-shabu, which wasn’t bad at all, even for all-you-can-eat. I ended up having about 4 or 5 of these plates…

4-shabu_shabu

Perhaps a little anti-climactic of a meal to end my Asia trip, but it was definitely necessary a climbdown from the amazing foods I’ve had all trip. It was simple and tasty, and a lot of veg — which again I need and want.

I headed to the bar for a last drink, conversed in Russian with some patrons, and headed up hoping for a good night sleep before the 12-hour flight to London in the morning. My body had quit on me, which was too bad. I wish I had more energy to eat in Tokyo (and Seoul). I need to make it a focus next time I come to Asia. And yes, after this trip, I will not wait 9 years ago to come back. Food is just too good.

PS: I got back to Washington after a 36-hour break in London (that means another 8 hour flight). Knackered, jetlagged, and bewildered that I somehow lost half a stone while on an eating trip in Asia…

Chikuyotei [竹葉亭]
5-8-3, Ginza, Chuo-ku

Ten-Ichi [天一]
6-6-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku

Hinaiya [比内や]
8-8-5, Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Matsuzake [松風]
Hilton Nagoya Airport
456 Kosuge
Nagoya, Japan

Review: Sushi Kanesaka

1 February 2014
Tokyo

I was really starting to love Tokyo on this trip, especially after the previous night’s dinner at Sushi Bar Yasuda. However, my jetlag was getting worse, and I was still sick from the bug I picked up in Manila, so I had to really fight to get to food. As a consequence I was not eating as much as I thought I would.

But for my last care-free night on this trip, I made arrangements to check out one of the very best sushi bars in all of Tokyo, the Michelin-starred Sushi Kanesaka. Michelin stars are kind of turn-offs for locals, but compared to Yasuda this place caters much more to the Japanese.

As are many other top sushi restaurants in Tokyo, Sushi Kanesaka is in the basement of an office building. I found the non-descript place, went downstairs and found a small sushi bar divided into 2 sections. I was seated in the front section, possibly because the chef speaks decent English; of the 2 groups next to me one was Japanese and one was Korean (but spoke some Japanese).

I was gonna take it slower on the sake tonight as I don’t need a hangover, so I also had a mug of tea during this omakase. Once again, another amazing experience, and I do have photos of the entire course (like the Yasuda review), so join me once again for the ride!

01-uni_baby_shrimp

The omakase (big course) began with some baby shrimp with a generous serving of fresh sea urchin. Mmm, a nice opening, balancing the two different types of sweet from the key ingredients. Nice!

02-oysters

Next were two succulent oysters. Meaty, briny, these were scrumptious! So far excellent!

03-hairy_crab

Third up was some awesome hairy crab. A generous portion, the savoury crabmeat was very tasty.

04-chu_toro

Fourth was some chu-toro to whet the appetite. Just enough fattiness to make this sashimi a wonderful treat before we move into the sushi.

05-ankimo

Next up was a generous slice of ankimo, or monkfish liver. I’m not a big fan of these things, though this was done pretty well. Fish livers have never done as much for me for some reason…

06-octopus_abalone

Following this was two boiled treats — abalone on the left, octopus on the right. Both were braisd in a sweet-ish sauce, which brought out the delicate (and different) flavours of both items. I’m gonna miss all this abalone when I leave Asia…

07-swordfish

The last of the pre-sushi courses was a nice piece of grilled swordfish. Don’t see this often on Japanese menus, but it was an excellent piece of fish. I was now really looking forward to the sushi portion of this omakase dinner!

08-flounder

First up was hirame, or flounder. A solid piece with nice taste, but after the amazing flounder hoe I had at Seoul’s Goraebul this was a runner-up. Ironically when the Korean group asked me about my dining experience in Seoul they were utterly impressed I had found Goraebul and Congdu.

09-shimaaji

Next was shimaaji, or striped jack. Nice, deep taste on this piece of fish. Excellent. Now we move into the tuna tasting section…

10-akami

First up was the akami, or lean tuna. This was very tasty as the freshness can’t be questioned.

11-chu_toro

Next was the chu-toro, which was very tasty. I got a sniff of this during the early courses as a sashimi, but this was fantastic.

12-o_toro

Then of course was the o-toro, which was just melt-in-your-mouth here…wow, this was stunning. Super fresh, as the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market is just a few blocks from here.

13-ika

In a change of pace the next piece was ika, or squid, one of my favourite sushi to eat. I love the texture. This was no exception, good!

14-aji

Then a wonderful piece of aji, or horse mackerel. Nice and oily, a perfect contrast to the previous piece.

15-ebi

Next we move back to shellfish with a juicy and large ebi. This was a large and delicious piece, fantastic!

16-akagai

Following this we stay with shellfish. The akagai, or red clam, was delicious. I love the presentation here too. Utterly photogenic, and the texture was fantastic.

17-uni

Uni was next on the omakase. To be honest this was nice but nowhere as nice as yesterday. There are some parts of this meal that was better than yesterday’s at Yasuda, but also parts of yesterday’s meal that’s been better than today — and this is one of them.

18-tuna_cheek

Then we have seared tuna cheek…fantastic, really strong flavours here, and the searing brought it out fully.

19-anago

Next up was anago, and this was a really tasty item. I love my eels as everyone knows, so there’s no way to make it bad — especially how fresh this was. Nice!

20-tuna_scallion_roll

You know the meal was coming to an end when they give you the handroll, this was a simple tuna and scallion roll. Nothing special, it was better last night.

21-tamago

Then finally, the closing tamago. Now this was very good. I usually hate tamago as do many sushi lovers, but this was really a nice way to finish the omakase. However, I had some more sake and chef asked if I was still hungry, so we endulged each other for a few more treats…

22x-mirugai

The first “extra” piece was an excellent mirugai. I love clams, so this was a real treat. Very tasty, the cutting brought the crunchiness down a bit but really opened up the taste of this giant clam. Fabulous!

23x-tentacles

Next up were squid tentacles. Beautiful presentation (like last night), I really like this hard-to-get item outside of Japan…not because it’s rare, but few sushi chefs good and patient enough to properly do this.

24x-engawa

I finished the drinks with this final piece, a rarity, engawa — flounder fin. Utterly fantastic piece to end this omakase. Wow…

I was a little shell-shocked when I got the bill, as it was more than double the bill from Yasuda (and I drank far less). But it was a wonderful experience. The tuna section was a particular gem tonight, as were some of the opening courses. I think the progression was better at Yasuda at times, but this was amazing.

I headed out for the 20-minute walk back to my hotel, enjoying the cool breeze and savouring the experience of the evening. Fabulous food once again, and I started to wonder — can I eat sushi at a cheap place again? Or am I doomed to enjoy sushi only at pricey (but awesome) places?

Oh, what a choice… :)

Sushi Kanesaka Omakase
1. Baby shrimp with urchin
2. Oysters
3. Hairy crab
4. Chu-toro
5. Monkfish liver (ankimo)
6. Abalone and octopus
7. Grilled swordfish
8. Flounder (hirame)
9. Striped jack (shimaaji)
10. Lean tuna (akami)
11. Chu-toro
12. O-toro
13. Squid (ika)
14. Horse mackerel (aji)
15. Shrimp (ebi)
16. Red clam (akagai)
17. Urchin (uni)
18. Seared tuna cheek
19. Eel (anago)
20. Tuna scallion roll
21. Egg (tamago)
*22. Giant clam (mirugai)
*23. Squid tentacles (geso)
*24. Flounder fin (engawa)

Sushi Kanesaka
B1/F Misuzu Bldg, 8-10-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Review: Sushi Bar Yasuda

31 January 2014,
Tokyo

When this unexpected trip to Asia was being planned, I thought…hmm, why not drop in on the former sushi master of NYC, Naomichi Yasuda, in his new digs. After all, I had a horrible experience at his former restaurant Sushi Yasuda in late December that swore me off what was my favourite sushi haunt…

I made a booking before I left the US and looked forward to reuniting with Yasuda. It’s been over 5 years since I was at his station in the aforementioned NYC restaurant. I had gotten to the area by train a little early so dropped into a small Spanish winebar and enjoyed myself before getting to Sushi Bar Yasuda. The place was in the basement of an office building, much like many of the top sushi places in Tokyo.

I walked down into the small, 8-seat restaurant and saw Yasuda already hard at work with his customers, joking happily. He looked tremendously happy to be working by himself behind the counter and laughing with his guests — which were all foreign. His English, he tells me, is both a plus and minus; he gets plenty of foreign guests (especially from NYC and after a recent Anthony Bourdain programme), but he is shunned by most Japanese (for the English language signs and so forth).

Not sure if Yasuda remembered me, it’s been awhile, but when I mentioned my favourite item from his previous menu, I saw a little glimmer… It wasn’t available, but he said he’d do something good for my sushi omakase. And he was bloody right about that…

01-buri

The opening piece was buri, or wild yellowtail. Rich, unlike the farmed stuff we all usually get, proclaimed Yasuda. BTW be forewarned, I have photographed all 20+ pieces of this omakase…

02-hon_maguro

The rich buri was followed by a smooth piece of bluefin, hon-maguro, excellent counterbalance to the previous. Yasuda was also telling the customers as he made different items for different parties, about the fish, the sourcing, and more. He is really enjoying his role as story-teller, much more chatty than before. Maybe it was just how relaxed he looked and how me seems to enjoy this place?

03-chilly_trout

Next was a “chilly” trout…no idea what this is in Japanese, but it’s a specialty and quite hard to get. It was indeed rich and nice, not overwhelming. The balance has been good so far.

04-hotate_Hokkaido

Fourth up was a sweet piece of Hokkaido scallop. Fresh, fabulous taste. Nothing like fresh Hokkaido scallop when you’re just one island away…

05-saba

Next was a nice piece of mackerel, one of my favourites. Yasuda knows I love saba and this was a solid and rich piece of the oily fish. Mmm… Balances well with the previous sweet shellfish.

06-o_toro

Sixth was a beautiful piece of o-toro, not extreme, but fancifully fatty. Rich and luscious, I actually prefer o-toro to chu-toro. Excellent.

07-iwashi

Lucky number seven remains with the oily fishes as he moved to a lesser-used sushi item, the sardine. This piece of iwashi was rich as well, just what I liked. He knows what types of fish I enjoy!

08-sayori

Then we move onto the halfbeak, or sayori, another fish you don’t get too often outside of Japan. Cool, smooth tasting. Yasuda was on fine form laughing and telling stories, now moving onto one about Bourdain when some guests from Singapore asked about it. He really is loving the banter!

09-anago

Next was one of my favourites, anago. Yasuda was one of the first in NYC to not use eel sauce and just simple sea salt, and I love it like that. You taste the good eel, not the sauce hiding cheap eel. Mmm…

10-oyster_1

The follow-on switches gears a bit as he starts challenging me with pairs of different types of same items. First was a brilliant oyster. I wish I had taken down the names of these types of oysters, but this one was slightly briny but very plump. Excellent stuff.

11-uni_1

Then it was the first of two uni. This one was rich, much like we were used to. Then he gave me the other:

12-uni_2

Wow. This one, sourced further north (not sure if it was still Japan or into Russia), was more deep and sharp, less creamy but far more complex in a different way. Blown away here…

13-oyster_2

Then back to another oyster. This one was really plump, with a bit more brininess about it, but also rich as anything. Mmm…loving this meal!

By now, over half-way done, we were having fun. The sake was flowing quickly for me, Yasuda was very chatty. I won’t reveal what he said about NYC especially after what I told him about my last experience at his former abode, but I came out of this smiling and lauging, knowing there’s no need to go back to that place in Midtown again…

14-bream

Next up was the bream. I think it was the red bream, but I am not sure. I’m not good with breams. Usually not one of my favourites, but this was a flavourful and strong piece that I really enjoyed.

15-ikura_roll

Following this was a departure. Yasuda was telling us about the very rare nori he acquired, usually not used for sushi because of its quality, so he wanted to show it off. This is a ikura handroll. He cures the roe himself so it’s not crazy salty, and I told him it was his old place that I fell in love with ikura again because of the salting. The nori was, indeed, fantastic.

16-white_shrimp

Next was the white shrimp. A hint of sweetness, but it carried itself very well. I am not an ebi eater usually for sushi as so often you get inferior ones (even fully raw), but this was quite fresh and excellent.

17-squid

Following this soft item was something with a harsher texture, squid tentacles. A beautiful presentation, this is always one of my favourite items on the menu when I can get it. Solid stuff!

18-spider_crab

We move next to the spider crab, which is quite nice. Always wonderful to taste the fresh and richness from these creatures. And by now we are moving to the ending of the meal…sadly…

19-toro_scallion_roll

Yasuda brought out these brilliant tuna scallion rolls to focus on the fantastic nori and his excellent rice (sourced from his brother-in-law). I’m not a roll guy as my readers know, but these were a nice ending…or was it?

Yasuda was still on top form as the place emptied out a bit towards the end of service. I was still having fun and had plenty of sake left, so teased a few more out of him at this point…

20-21-bream_buri

We revisited the buri and the bream here, excellent juxtaposition of different ends of the sushi fish spectrum. Nice. And as Yasuda began the cleaning up process, he made me my final parting gift:

22-23-akagai_mirugai

Mmm…a battle of clams. I love the differences in these bivalves, the texture and the flavour deep inside. Mmm, Yasuda knows what I like! He was nearly done cleaning the main sushi area, and I was done with the sake, so it was pretty much time to take my leave.

Shockingly this dinner was less expensive than a similar one in his old NYC place. It would have been doubled. Yasuda here charges a very reasonable price for his omakase, almost too reasonable. I’ve had lunches as expensive at his old haunt…

I headed out into the cool night very happy, having seen an old friend and master at work again (never thought I’d see him again), enjoying a spectacular omakase with excellent seafood. Oh, it’s nights like this that makes me fall in love with Tokyo…

Sushi Bar Yasuda Omakase:
1. wild yellowtail (buri)
2. bluefin (hon-maguro)
3. “chilly” trout (masu)
4. Hokkaido scallop (hotate)
5. mackerel (saba)
6. o-toro
7. sardine (iwashi)
8. halfbeak (sayori)
9. eel (anago)
10. oyster #1 (kaki)
11. uni #1
12. uni #2
13. oyster #2
14. bream, red? (madai?)
15. ikura roll
16. white shrimp (ebi)
17. squid tentacles (geso)
18. hairy crab (kani)
19. tuna scallion roll
*20. wild yellowtail
*21. bream
*22. red clam (akagai)
*23. giant clam (mirugai)

Sushi Bar Yasuda
4 Chome-2-6 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Review: Satou

30 January 2014,
Tokyo

One of the missions I planned on this major trip is to have some of the best beef I can get my hands on, and that’s where the Tokyo trip played a key role. It was my last Asia stop. I was exhausted, having arrived from a very early morning flight out of Seoul as the exodus of people for the Lunar New Year began in all its nuttiness… Thank goodness my flight was Gimpo to Haneda, the 2 convenient airports…

I made sure I had a reservation to Satou before I even started on this trip. I have heard wonders about Matsusaka beef, and I had to have some whilst in Tokyo. Satou was a butcher and small steakhouse that specialised in this amazing beef, but was quite a long way from central Tokyo.

It was a hike from Shimbashi, where I was based, and it took me over an hour to get there by subway and commuter rail. Then I found the place and climbed up the impossibly steep stairs to the 2nd floor tiny, unassuming steakhouse. Wow, this is tiny, only 6 counter seats and 2 tables. They were expecting me…

I took my counter seat after dropping my coat into the basket under the seat — a very brilliant idea (place is too small for a coat rack), as the aroma of meat overwhelmed all senses (and attached to all clothing). The owner handed me the menu and just pointed at one thing, telling me it’s the best meat I’ll ever have.

I nodded and soon he returned with the meat I was to feast on for my dinner, a fabulous Matsusaka sirloin, quite sizeable at 200g as well…

sirloin1

Wow…just look at this thing. If you ever wondered about the amazing marbling, this is it… I was already drooling looking at this, to the approval of the boss.

They began prepping the beef by slicing off some of the fat to use as the base of cooking. As they also cooked up some veg (sprouts and enoki mushrooms), I was given a small salad to enjoy. Very typical Japanese salad, but it really got me salivating. Plus, it was the last time I had to chew all night…

The aroma of the cooking meat was amazing…I just wanted to jump over the counter to eat like an animal… And soon it was done, medium-rare, and I was ready to feast…

sirloin2

That first taste…oh my bloody goodness… No chewing required. This thing just melts in your mouth in a way that even a high-grade imported Wagyu cannot compare. The richness of the marbling just explains itself to you within seconds.

As I slowly ate my meat, my eyes were closed…I was told I was making “orgasm sounds” whilst eating. It sure felt like it… I will be honest by saying I have never had such delicious, decadent, rich and overwhelming beef like this in my life. You can see the richness from each piece…

sirloin4

I savoured each and every piece of this amazing beef, and slowly just pressed my jaw down on the meat and had it melt away in sheer exhilaration…wow…

Now I tried both red wine and beer with this dish, and I think it works best with beer. Wine really did not complement the richness of this beef for some reason. When I was done, I was still making strange noises…

The owner smiled at me as he took the plate away. The place was winding down so I had another beer and told him how good this was. It was cash-only, so thank goodness I had enough. Price was nowhere as bad as you’d imagine, the large amazing portion cost me exactly ten thousand yen (98 dollars, 72 euro, 60 quid).

I wandered out for my long trek back to central Tokyo. This first night’s dinner was worth this long trip, this crazy jetlag, just about anything. I have never tasted anything so delicious in my life. Now I’ve had 2 of the most amazing meals of my life in the last 2 nights, just as the trip was starting to wind down.

Oh, the memories…writing this review I have a tear slowly meandering down from my left eye…and a drool from my right lip…

Satou [サトウ]
1-1-8 Kichijoji-honcho, Musashino-shi
Tokyo, Japan

Review: Goraebul

29 January 2014
Seoul

My last meal in Seoul turned out to be a massive surprise. As I mentioned in a rather poorly-written round-up of Seoul (yes, it was poorly written, and I am sorry for that), this was my last meal and this Goraebul experience was one of the most impressive I’ve ever had, anywhere. My body was re-invigorated after this meal…

A friend of a friend joined me for dinner, which was a wonderful surprise as I was tired of eating alone — and she helped with the menu. We were shown to a private room and once we decided on the medium tasting menu, we went for it. And with some soju and beer for me (she drove), we began one of the most amazing seafood tastings I’ve ever experienced…join me for this ride…

1-taro roots

The meal began very relaxed with some fresh taro root in a very nice tangy sauce. The seaweed was also very fresh and uncompromising. A nice start! Then we move totally to the sea on the next dish.

2-shellfish and seaweed

A wonderful serving of an unknown shellfish. I thought at first it was rock octopus, but it tasted more like a clam. Again, more wonderful seaweed, which really tasted of the sea, fresh and crispy. Excellent! It keeps getting better!

3-barnacles

Now we have some fresh green barnacles, which was a pleasant surprise. I rarely get the chance to eat these things, so it was a big treat. They were processed by the waitress, and we enjoyed the meaty contents of these little wonders. Excellent! And this was just the start of the exotic richness…

4-giant oysters

Wow…this was an oyster. I wish I had a picture of the content, because the giant oyster inside this monstrosity was about 20cm in length. It was briny, rich, and fantastically complex for a giant oyster. Wow…it wasn’t tough or stringy, it was like a wonderful small oyster but several times bigger. Wow…

Then the main dishes began…

5-raw fish

This was a huge selection of raw fish, or hoe in Korean. Several species including red snapper and flounder. They were extremely rich and tasty, very clean and fresh. A good sized selection! Then of course there’s the shellfish…

6-shellfish

Wow… I was speechless for a few minutes when this came out. I couldn’t even name all that was on this plate. The excellent seaweed of course, but a large selection of clams, sea cucumber, and even sea pineapple (the orange thing). This was one of the most fantastic dishes I have ever seen. We were told to take a seaweed, topped by sea cucumber, then scoop this on top…

6z-urchin

Wow…this sea urchin was a “side” and it was super rich. It came from the cold waters on the east side of Korea. And together this was just bloody amazing… This was one of the most amazing dishes I’ve ever had…even if it was just the urchin. OMG…

The feast continued. The restaurant is best known for its whale (don’t…I’ve made my case about this whilst in Iceland), and here’s a small tasting.

7-whale

The selection included belly, back, and fin. These pieces were rich and showed what the whale tasting (the restaurant’s name is actually “Whale Heat” and it is their main specialty) could have been. Very nice, rich and tasty. The fin was especially crunchy and interesting. Then the last course came, the abalone.

8-abalone

These were lightly cooked and just delicious. I also don’t need to say all of these dishes were plated beautifully. This was fantastic…

We were both totally full and the staff was actually wishing us to leave, because the mass exodus from Seoul for the Lunar New Year was happening. But we were full and appreciative of the wonderful food and the private room.

My now new friend headed south from Gangnam as I headed north by train back across the river, still enjoying this amazing seafood feast. This was the most impressive tasting menu I’ve had for seafood…just awesome.

If you are in Seoul, you really need to try this. If not in Seoul, you gotta go to Seoul for this!!!

Goraebul [고래불]
828-53 Yeoksam 1-dong, Gangnam-gu
Seoul, Korea