Review: Del Campo

22 July 2014

I was running around Washington DC the morning of last Tuesday getting a few things done before an upcoming roadtrip. But it was rather humid, and my tolerance of DC’s summer weather was diminishing by the millisecond. So looking at a few of the places I wanted to try in the area, I settled on Del Campo.

It wasn’t too busy, but I opted to sit at the bar. A nice space, one that would have an astronomical cost in NYC, with high ceilings and so forth. Bar was comfortable and I looked at the menu. I had things to do in the afternoon, so decided to be responsible. Kept myself to a cocktail called jamon de melon — a strange concoction with smoked cantaloupe syrup and the glass ringed with flakes of prosciutto. Not bad, refreshing.

I ordered a nice solid lunch, the bone-in shortribs, with a side of greens.

shortribs_marrow

As it came out I ordered a glass of wine and looked at this excellent dish. They comped me a nice piece of marrow as well. The meat was excellent, as you can almost feel the herb smoked flavour. This is a big thing, as they have a smoker and they smoke just about everything — meats, veg, even cocktail ingredients. Excellent item, didn’t need any sauce at all. The marrow was just a nice touch.

I was actually happy enough to order another cocktail, this time the “Admiral Benbow” which was rum-based with more smoked stuff. Then got even smokier with a “bottled” old fashioned, which they also smoked the glass during the prep. They do like their smoke here…

By this point I realised I was drinking too much and not gonna be able to finish my errands, so I just stayed to drink another few cocktails before taking my leave. I dragged myself back to the Metro and as I was about to walk into my apartment, I turned and went drinking boilermakers nearby for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Needless to say no need to write that part of my day in this review…needless to say a bit of it was a blur…

But Del Campo was a pleasant surprise, and definitely a nice place to eat and/or drink. I now know a good place close to Metro Center to eat, excellent.

Del Campo
777 I Street NW
Washington, DC

Richmond, oh Richmond…

8 July 2014
Richmond

I decided to take a few days off South despite the weather, a hot and humid typical mid-Atlantic mess. But I have been out of car for awhile, so needed to run….so I took a few days to Richmond. Yes, you saw 2 reviews already, but this puts the trip together…

It was a short drive, less than 1.5hrs down (my beloved Audi…), and I headed to my hotel downtown. I then immediately headed out before the lunch period closed at a nearly place I was told to check out, Comfort.

I sat and had a lot of nice bourbon for lunch and a pork chop…

blackened_pork_chop

Well, it was actually pretty awful…jeez…WTF? The bourbon was good but the food was awful. Pork chop was sliced into sawdust… Beyond overcooked…flavoured okay, but geez… I was a bit out of it thinking of lunch… A dried hickory slice, tho the drink was good… Headed back to my hotel a little distressed how this trip started…

I enjoyed watching Germany thrash Brazil during the first half of the World Cup match so I walked out to a place called Postbellum to watch the 2nd half and to have dinner. Well, so-so move. The menu looked excellent, and the cracklins were nice to start, but…

fried_sprouts

This was awful, the brussel sprouts starter… Nuts, nuts, nuts… I love nuts, but this was a damn mess. And worse? They brought the main when I was still working on it…and the main?

smoked_ribeye

What I thought was good…smoked ribeye. Well, nope. Not that good.

Not sure what to say, but that was a pretty mediocre meal. I went to Postbellum for its reputation as a new good place, but execution is definitely not there…a sad and normal story… Poor execution and poor service. Bringing my main when I was working on my starter is a huge no-no… I wouldn’t come back…

Next day I headed to lunch at a tested place, and went to Pasture. It was a cousin of yesterday’s not-so-great Comfort, but I was told it was good. And it was dead-on right.

green_beans-meatballs-ham_ribs

Lunch consisted of meatballs, which were scrumtious; ham ribs (in them unique Alabama “white sauce”) which were succulent, and some string beans. Darn these are nice. Nice healthy and big meatballs, the ribs were awesome too. An excellent lunch! Comfort for drinks, Pasture for food!

That afternoon I spent some time wandering in Hollywood Cemetery, one of the most historic graveyards of the US. It’s a mess inside and no easy navigation, but I found what I wanted to find.

One of the oddities of the US are presidential tombs of lesser-known presidents. There were 2 at Hollywood Cemetery — the tomb of both President James Monroe (5th — not so unkown), and of President James Tyler (10th).

prez

Now I know Monroe was well-liked for various things, but “Tyler Too” less so… Nevertheless, if you are a historian you’d appreciate this. And just to remind you were in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, there’s also this…

Richmond-Davis_01

Yes, Jefferson Davis. Kept well, with flags. Many Confererate graves are well-kept with flags Much better kept than Monroe or Tyler. Says a lot.

I headed out from the buggy and rainy cemetery soon after for dinner at The Roosevelt, as I chronicled a few days ago. Excellent meal, as I said.

Next day for lunch I enjoyed food at a cute place called Pork Chop & Grits Cafe, an excellent soul food place in downtown. Guess what I ordered?

fried_pork_chop

Yep. This was a juicy pork chop with greens. Excellent! Probably the most honest and solid meal in Richmond, definitely not to miss! Awesome!

Later that evening I meandered to my meal at Lemaire, as I wrote about earlier. I kinda missed the pork chop, you know?

Good time at Richmond despite the heat and humility. After my years in NYC I had forgotten how close Richmond is. I know I will be back again soon.  A cute and learning excursion…

Comfort
200 West Broad Street

Postbellum
1323 West Main Street

Pasture
416 East Grace Street

Pork Chop & Grits Cafe
219 East Clay Street
Richmond, Virginia

Review: Lemaire

10 July 2014
Richmond

My final day in Richmond proved to be a wet and messy one, not surprising considering it’s the middle of July in the mid-Atlantic. At least it drops the humidity a bit. After last night’s excellent dinner at The Roosevelt I picked for this evening’s dining experience the other top-rated place in town, Lemaire.

Now unlike The Roosevelt, Lemaire is an upscale restaurant located in the very posh and historic Jefferson Hotel — one of the nicest hotels you’ll ever visit in the US South. With the former governor appearing in court nearby on a corruption charge, I had expected a busier restaurant and bar — but it was only about half full when I arrived (though the bar was pretty busy and loud).

I bypassed the bar and was seated at a nice centre table. On offer on the drinks menu was a “make your own” Manhattan. This reminds me of the “make your own” Negroni at NYC’s excellent Lincoln, so I happily explored the options. For tonight’s enjoyment I based the cocktail with the smooth Prichard’s Rye, accompanied by the schizophrenic Punt e Mes vermouth. For a special touch, I requested the Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters to further bring out the oak in the rye. This made for an excellent balance. Mmm…

I placed my order as I enjoyed my cocktail, relaxing in the classy dining room. One small annoyance as I went through the wine list was the lack of local wines. Virginia has some excellent wines, very underrated. And even in the bottle list it was a little lacking. And with my order, I didn’t want to go by bottle, so had to go by glass.

My starter arrived soon, a half dozen Shooting Point oysters, which came from the Eastern Shore of Virginia (the VA part of the Delmarva Peninsula).

1-oysters

These oysters were tasty, a little more rough than the usual bland ones you get at many oyster bars. Some people may not like these, but it has character. I enjoyed them, especially with some nice chardonnay from the excellent Barboursville Vineyards not far from Richmond. I really wish they had a better selection of wines from there, as I’ve always enjoyed them. But a fabulous Virginia set.

I have to say the service was a little off at times, as it seems they either all crowd in or all disappear. Perhaps they are understaffed during a slow period in Richmond. Oh well. Then my main course was presented.

2-sorghum_loin_pork_chop

This was a thick pork loin chop glazed with sorghum. The flavour was excellent and it wasn’t overcooked, which is very important. The chard and turnips were nice additions to the dish, though the way it was plated it was rather hard to cut without being messy. Excellent, though had to do with a so-so Oregon red.

It was a pretty good dinner, perhaps not as good as last night, but solid. I decided to go with the cheese plate as it featured local cheeses. And since they had a nice Tokaji Aszú on the menu I went for it. Unfortunately the cheeses were extremely bland and had little nuance, and it really was a poor selection. So I had another glass of Tokaji to commiserate the really poor cheese.

It was generally a good dinner and a good place for a nice meal, with good oysters and a nicely done pork chop. However, they really should have switched the local focus — forget the cheese, focus on the local wines. I love the featuring of Virginia products in the capital of Virginia. Otherwise, aside from the little hiccups in service, it was a good evening. Last night was still better though.

I headed out and wandered back to my hotel and had a nightcap at the bar before going to crash out. Had thought of going to hit the bars, but having to drive home in the morning the last thing I needed was to be struck down with a nasty bourbon hangover, so…sigh…

Lemaire
101 West Franklin Street
Richmond, Virginia

Review: Roosevelt

9 July 2014
Richmond

When I planned my trip to nearby Richmond, I was studying various menus to see what would be best for my 3 dinners in this charming southern town. And after some disastrous recent experiences with poor execution, I did a bit of online research too. And after all that, the restaurant in Richmond that rose to the top of the list was The Roosevelt.

I had resisted going to places that required driving, as I really do not like to limit my consumption for the purpose of driving sober, but I made an exception for this evening. I arrived for an early booking and happily sat at the bar of this charming little wooden house just east of downtown.

The sun was still peeking into the restaurant as I enjoyed a cocktail to start, what they called “Secession Happens” — playing at the history of this former capital of the Confederacy — a nice spiced rum drink concoction with citrus that really hit the spot on a hot day. I ordered and relaxed.

Soon my first course arrived, the spicy fried pighead with toad-in-the-hole:

1-pigface

Very tasty morsel of pork here, spiced extremely well. The runny egg added to the overall flavour and helped to moderate the spiciness. Excellent stuff, one of the better “pig’s head” dishes I’ve had in awhile, with excellent flavour and texture inside and out. Excellent execution.

I enjoyed some local white during that course and continued into my main course, the catfish.

2-catfish

I usually don’t order catfish as it’s never cooked well (unless fried in a rather decadent way), but something made me choose this today. And it was a good choice. The fish was tender and juicy and plump, fantastic. It sat on a bed of bean succotash with a broth that’s sourced from peppers. An excellent mixture of flavours that complemented the very specific taste of the catfish. Once again, excellent execution.

I decided on a dessert but had to forego the after-dinner drink due to driving (despite the short distance back to downtown, where I was staying — I don’t violate those rules). It wasn’t easy, with the nice selection of bourbons and whiskeys staring at me… But I went for a very rich dessert, the “foie gras” pound cake…

3-foie_poundcake

What is it? It’s a pound cake, but richer — as foie gras was apparently used in its making. I couldn’t really taste it nor discern any difference from a regular pound cake though, but it was a nice dessert. The caramel gelato topping the cake was a nice touch, really balanced this out.

Sadly, I took my leave after this, knowing if I didn’t have to drive I’d be happy to spend more time here enjoying the drinks. But alas, I drove out here, so it’s time to drive back downtown. This was a fantastic meal, and it shows that even in smaller markets a fine menu and excellent execution can result in a meal that blows away some of the “hottest” restaurants in major markets (like the disastrous Bestia of Los Angeles and the rather unpleasant meal at August in New Orleans). The execution here completely blows away that of the aforementioned restaurants and many more. Kudos to the kitchen.

If you ever go down to Richmond, it’s worth it to check out The Roosevelt. It’s cute, comfortable, and excellent. Some of the best execution I’ve enjoyed in months. Will look forward to going back one day when I’m down there again.

The Roosevelt
623 North 25th Street
Richmond, Virginia

Review #4: Il Grano

21 June 2014

A trip for me to LA without a visit to Il Grano would be a wasted trip. I never pass up the chance to visit my favourite restaurant in the world and experience the genius cooking of Sal Marino. Perhaps the most underrated chef in California, if not America, Marino comes up with some of the most amazing tasting menus, often on the cuff.

After last night’s rather poor dinner at Piccolo, I was dying for a good meal. Of my more than half dozen meals at Il Grano, I’ve never had anything that wasn’t close to spectacular on the food front. You can see some of them in earlier reviews from January 2013 (review #1), August 2013 (review #2), and November 2013 (review #3). Ironically, some of my best meals there were ones I didn’t review — which just shows how bloody good this place is.

I arrived on a busy Saturday evening and was escorted to my “usual” table. I was a little shocked when the menu was left for me…and had trouble counting the dishes…

menu

No, this is not a joke or a misprint. This was my menu, a 21-course tasting menu. Marino had designed this as a Summer Solstice tasting for the 21st of June, and I took a deep breath. This is gonna be a wild ride!

As I enjoyed a bubbly the first course arrived, a tomato tasting from Chef’s garden.

01-tomatoes

I need to apologise. After a few days of functioning well, the camera on the new phone went nutty again this evening, and this photo (alongside a few others) ended up with wee focus issues. But this was a cute start, reminding me of of last year’s heritage tomato fest here (review #2). More reminders of that meal came on the second course.

02-cherry_gazpacho

Chef loves to make small gazpacho tastings during the summer, which is extra refreshing in LA (despite it being a relatively cool summer day/evening). This version is made from black tartarian cherries, and it was just perfect. I’ve not been a big fan of fruit-based gazpachos but this was fantastic!

03-tuna

Happily I moved into course three, the tuna tartar, with a generous helping of truffles. Honestly, after several nights of fantastic sushi omakase, first at Kiriko and second at Nozawa Bar, I’ve had my fill of tuna. Nice, but overload for me this past few days.

04-snapper

The fourth course continued with crudo, this time with a beautiful piece of snapper. I’m sad the photo was focus-challenged, because this was a beautiful piece. Chef sliced me a wonder belly portion of the snapper — a rare opportunity to enjoy the rare cut. Wow, this was excellent. From someone who is not the world’s greatest snapper fan, this was stunning.

05-scallop

The crudo wave kept coming, as next up was a beautiful Hokkaido scallop. The shellfish was sweet, balanced by the interesting mascarpone and the devilish pickled green peppercorn crowning the dish. Very cool stuff. I enjoyed some fine whites as the seafood tour-de-force met with a timely interlude.

06-peach_burrata

Chef Marino loves his caprese, and he often does unique takes on this Italian staple combination. This time, alongside a very creamy burrata, was a juicy grilled peach and home-grown arugula in between. Extremely tasty on their own, but utterly beautiful together. I am so sad this photo didn’t come out right, as this was such a wonderful visual item as well…

I kept trying to fix the camera during this meal…not the time to tinker with it mid-stream, but I had a feeling these photos were not coming out right (and sadly, I was right). It didn’t do several of these early dishes justice, especially where the light was not great…

07-king_salmon-fennel

We return to seafood after that interlude with a house-cured King salmon and fennel salad. Honestly this one was way too salty, which kind of took too much out of the fish. A rare miss, but when you have 21 courses…

08-stuffed_peppers

At this point a friend of mine had sent over a glass of very fine bordeaux for me, just as the next dish was presented. Chef had two peppers stuffed with different cheeses and fire roasted them. Excellent, melt in your mouth stuff. Sorry for the picture again.

I went to thank my friend, sitting on the far side of the restaurant at a banquette. Turns out his wife (a well-known food blogger) wasn’t feeling well and had taken early leave, but asked him to stay to finish doing research on the entire tasting menu (he was also doing the 21-course special). He was many courses ahead, but we decided to merge and I moved to his table. This was a pleasant surprise as we kept each other company talking food for the next few hours as I caught up to him.

09-butterfish

The next dish was one of the highlights of the night, grilled butterfish with porcini. I love butterfish, and this was a fantastic preparation. Rich but not overwhelming, it worked fantastic with the porcini and wee bit of truffle. Mmm, fantastic. And as you can see, this table was brighter, and that didn’t wreak havoc with my new phone’s idiotic auto-focus…

10-mackerel

Following that wonderful fish was another fantastic fish, a beautiful piece of Japanese mackerel. Extremely rich, this piece presented a deep and unadulterated flavour, accented by the small bits of purslane. Another excellent dish!

11-kisu

We crossed the half-way mark with dish #11, Japanese kisu (whiting), encrusted with a rosemary-tinged breading. It brought out the neutral flavour of the whiting very nicely like from a fantasy English chippie. Tasty.

12-sphaghetti-polipo

I was still going strong as we transition into the pasta segment, starting with a tasty spaghetti with octopus and pepper. Chef may be celebrated for his crudo, but his pasta is utterly amazing. Cooked perfectly, the pasta takes in the flavours of this dish so well — unlike last night’s disastrous pasta dish that tasted like 3 separate items plopped together at the last minute. The flavours here were symbiotic. Mmm…

13-lobster_risotto

We continue with the pasta segment with this wonderful risotto, made with the fabulous Acquerello carnaroli rice. The richness of the Maine lobster comes full force in this beautiful dish, bearing a creaminess and fullness that one desires during a risotto craving. Wow.

My dining companion was doing about 1 dish for my 3 until I catch up, and we continued to chat on while enjoying some of the amazing wine he had brought. He is a wine collector, and the wines he bring are always fantastic. Though I was on pasta and seafood, the unobtrusive reds worked very well. Fantastic to enjoy such a tasting menu with someone so knowledgeable about food and fine dining!

14-halibut

After the pasta interlude we return to fish, this time a brilliant halibut. One of Chef Marino’s ultimate abilities is to leave the flavourful strong fishes to its own devices, but to accentuate the lighter fishes to bring out its full essence. Halibut is usually not one of my favourites, but this piece was spectacular. Full flavoured, this piece retained a strong texture without compromising on the taste. Excellent!

15-king_salmon

We revisit the Alaskan King salmon next, a rich and beautiful serving of this excellent fish. Wonderfully rich, the slices of this vivid treat were specifically tailored for my love of oily fish it seemed…beyond tasty, mmm… But it was this dish when I started to feel I’m close to hitting a wall. It has been a lot of food, and my pace has slowed noticeably.

16-rabbit_milanese

Just in time we move to the meats, which Chef always realise that in a tasting it should be done in appropriate portions and selections as to not overwhelm. The first of the meat dishes is a beautiful rabbit milanese. A perfectly sized portion for this tasting extravaganza, it brought out the delicate taste of the rabbit successfully. Excellent!

17-anatra

Finally we arrive at course #17, the last of the savoury dishes — and one that Chef outdid himself. A beautiful serving of duck breast, cooked perfectly and sliced to get the most out of each bite. I love duck, and this was a perfect way to end this amazing tasting meal!

My readers know I’m not the biggest dessert fan, and my friend was frankly fading as well — he began his tasting menu 2 hours before mine! So we decided to ask Chef to bring out all the desserts so we could just sample them.

18-gorgonzola

I managed to get a photo of the first, the cheese course — a tangy dolceatte gorgonzola. Honestly it was a little too much at this point, the piece wee too big after 17 wonderful courses. Tasty, but I could not finish it at all.

Unfortunately, at this point I was spent and didn’t manage to take photos of the final dishes, which came out together — alongside Chef Marino. He joined us for some wine and we chatted about this amazing tasting menu. He so loves his craft it is a joy just to talk the dishes with him.

At this point our mutual friend had to leave, so we bid him a good night. Those wines of his were fantastic, an added treat to this tasting extravaganza. I chatted on with chef over some more wine and grappa into the night and closed a fantastic night of dining.

Why I love Il Grano is not just the talent of Chef Marino, his ability to bring out the best of each ingredient and to create masterpieces after masterpieces, but his utter love and devotion to his craft. He does not compromise, he does not self-promote at the expense of his craft. The ingredients he grows himself or acquires himself at dawn hours, fighting top sushi chefs for the same beautiful seafood as the best omakase sushi bars in town. He cooks everything himself, and often even serves. He brings the best of an Italian small family-owned trattoria together with a Michelin-level presentation.

Frankly, if I had the chance to pick my final meal, it would be at the hands of Sal Marino. And I wouldn’t even want to see the menu — or need to.

Amazing…

Il Grano
11359 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Los Angeles, California

Review: Piccolo

20 June 2014

This review is not gonna be like others, it’s more of a “what not to do as a restauranteur” commentary. I was given a recommendation by some “food” people to check out a highly-regarded place in the beachside town of Venice called Piccolo. I had no plans on this Friday evening, so I said why not.

I got to the small and cute place and was sat at a table near the open kitchen. Service was somewhat spotty, as you can see they preferred to give attention to the loud, large tables instead of a lone diner. At times it was extremely frustrating when both wine and water glass were empty for lengthy periods.

The restaurant was darker than Hades, and none of my photos came out remotely well. I’m sorry, I think using flash in a dark restaurant is really crass (and there were flashes all night at this place that blinded me…that tells you the type of clientele here), and no filtering or editing can make them look proper, so this review is sans photos…or I thought. I decided to add the photos, but apologise for their poor quality.

The first dish was lingua, tongue. It itself was pretty good, cooked well. There was an assortment of sauces to use, a little ridiculously varied. None of it was very good. The tongue itself was nice, all it needed was the pepper on the side. This was a case of overkill by a bored chef. And why bother with the colours if it was so damn dark? Oh well, I will resist and show you how weird it was…

01-lingua_edited

Nah, I’ll show it. It looked like a dessert course. Sauces utterly unnecessary and bland. The only star of this dish was the de-tongued cow. Sorry for the pix, I decided to put it in to show just how awkward this dish was. Sorry for the darkness, but I am not a camera douche — especially in a restaurant as bloody dark as this.

Dear restauranteurs. Dark restaurants are not romantic, they are 1980s and backwards. I had to use my phone to be able to read the menu because it was so dark. Plus, when you got loud hipsters and old dudes in shorts and baseball caps while eating, you’re not expecting an imminent engagement.

As I was sipping my short pour of wine (very, very ungenerous, may I add), I was thinking…uh on, this restaurant’s website boasted that it was the “best” Italian resto in LA. Any website that does that means the exact opposite. I sighed…

My pasta showed up, a black spaghettini that was as dark as the room. It was swimming in a really oily green sauce, topped by chunks flavourless dungeness crab.

02-spaghettini_granchio_edited

Sorry again for the bad pix but this was just terrible. To be honest, the pasta was cooked very well, perfect texture. Too bad it was utterly tasteless…was the colour from ink or food colouring? The sauce was hard to swallow due to its oiliness and terrible consistency, and the crab? Wasted. This was poor on planning and execution.

I was just not happy now, and was nursing my wine. My main course was maialino, or pork. You should have seen my face…

03-maialino_edited

This was utterly overcooked like eating pork at a chain restaurant in the 1990s when you purposely overcooked pork as a precaution for badly-sourced meat. What’s the point of all the purple when the room is so ridiculously dark? It was just not good.

I was then told there’s no full liquor license, so no grappa. Great! A terrible dessert of thin pineapple slices and I’ve had enough. Then I saw my bill. For fuck’s sake (pardon for my language) but this is utterly overpriced for a meal that’s barely better than Olive Garden. The dishes here cost more than at some of the best places in NYC. I’m not joking.

I have eaten at some of the best Italian restaurants in and out of Italy, and this wouldn’t even qualify as the best Italian restaurant in a 10-block radius! The price was just insult to injury. Those people who think this is the best Italian food in LA obviously don’t have passports (nor tastebuds). It’s designed for the kind of crowd I hate, those who think they are “foodies” but know jack shit about food. Wow them with big words on a menu, throw some gold crap on their dessert, get it into the crap blogs like Eater, and voila, a recipe for “success” in modern day hospitality.

This is exactly what real food people would gag at, every step of the way. What a waste of my money, time, and energy. Worst meal and dining experience anywhere in LA.

Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Piccolo
5 Dudley Avenue
Venice, California

Review: Nozawa Bar

19 June 2014

Since I planned my trip to Los Angeles I had been anticipating returning to some of my favourite eateries, including the sushi double of Kiriko and Nozawa Bar. I had a fabulous omakase at Kiriko the day before, and was looking forward to another wonderful omakase tonight.

The styles of the two restaurants are very different. As Kiriko is more relaxed and loose, Nozawa Bar is much more regimented. It has a single seating and all dishes are served simultaneously. It certainly has a top-end restaurant feel about it, from the service to the entire experience. I did not write a review last time, so this time it was definitely necessary to redress that omission.

Like last time, I waited in the crowded waiting area along those hoping for a table at the popular Sugarfish – within which Nozawa Bar is located. We were all herded into the back room as a group and took our places around the 8-seat sushi bar, where Chef Fujita greeted us. He remembered me from my last visit.

As tonight I was staying nearby and not driving, I happily drank a generous amount of sake through this omakase. Chef was on good form, joking with the customers and chatting with me about sourcing and so forth. It was an excellent evening of wonderful seafood at the hands of a brilliant sushi chef.

01-jellyfish

The first course, traditional here, is jellyfish. I always hear people a little apprehensive about this start, but I love it. Textured and sliced well to absorb the sauce deeply, a nice start like always.

02-maguro_crab_tako

Course two was a sashimi delight, comprised of hon maguro of an Equadorian big-eye, some Alaskan king crab, slices of fabulous tako (octopus) from Japan, and a touch of wakame seaweed. Watching Chef Fujita work on these was a pleasure, and he joked around a lot with the diners over the octopus tentacle.

03-toro

Next up was a bright piece of toro, also from an Equadorian big-eye. Excellent, with just enough texture for the melt-in-your-mouth fattiness. We are now in the main part of the meal, the nigiri adventure.

04-isaki

Following that was a rarer item on menus in the US, isaki — or the grunt. This was a beautiful piece of fish, almost looks like a thinly sliced pata negra. It was smooth and hints of the sea, an excellent piece! One of the reasons I like Nozawa Bar, like Kiriko, is the use of less-than-common-in-America items.

05-ika

Next up was the humble squid, a nice piece. I enjoy the texture of these things, and Chef keeping the skin on was a nice touch.

06-uni

No need description for this wonderful piece of Santa Barbara uni. Excellent, just melts with goodness in your mouth. Some of the diners passed on this dish, to our shock, so, as with a few more dishes down the line, they were shared with other diners. This was excellent.

07-hotate

Lucky number 7 was hotate, a sweet piece of scallop from Hokkaido. A nice generous size, large enough to extract get the sweetness out of the entire piece. Fabulous stuff.

08-akamutsu

I enjoyed more sake as we continued into a fabulous piece of akamutsu, or ruby snapper. You don’t get these deep-sea treats too often, and it was excellent.

09-katsuo

Next up was katsuo, or skipjack. This deep-red tuna was excellent, with a richness that is quite different from the more typical types of tuna.

10-yamaimo

The half-way point of the meal is marked by another “usual” for Chef Fujita, the yamaimo (mountain yam) handroll, with some shiso leaf and ume (plum) sauce. I’m not a big fan of this yam as it is like an odd poi from Hawai’ian cuisine but textured…hard to describe.

11-oysters

We continued into the second half of the meal temporarily departing from the nigiri, and we are presented with some excellent oysters — kumamoto, kusshi & shigoku. Now oysters are terribly subjective so I won’t discuss the three in detail, but I know kusshi are very popular out in the West Coast. I felt the sauce was unnecessary, as the oysters were fresh and very tasty on their own.

12-ankimo

We continued with the detour as the next course was ankimo, or monkfish liver. Several diners were not sure about this, but they seemed to like it. I enjoy these things, but probably don’t hold it to as high of regard as most Japanese cuisine connoseurs. Nice though.

13-sawara

Next was a return to nigiri, and in fine fashion with sawara, or Spanish mackerel. This was an extremly rich piece from the waters off Boston, and I immediately had a flashback to some of the richest mackerel I’ve had over the years. This was fabulous and rich, the way I love my mackerel!

14-maine_lobster

Following that amazing piece was a rarity in a sushi environment, a piece of Maine lobster. It was nice, but for some reason this is one of those things I prefer cooked. Nevertheless it was an excellent piece.

15-soft_clam

Next up we moved into the bivalves and a nice soft clam from waters near Boston again — like the Spanish mackerel. I really enjoy my bivalves, especially ones with texture, and this was excellent. Several diners had bivalve allergies, so I got some extras here. Lucky me!

16-ikura

More sake, to help wash down the extra clams and the next piece — ikura. I like how Chef made this item, purposely overloading so the extra eggs tumble down off the mountain like a mini avalanche of goodness. They are like little treats after the main piece. Of course Chef uses proper roe, not the over-salted crap you get at 99.9% of sushi places. I love these. Usually my “dessert” piece, but this worked great now!

17-ebi

Continuing with our feast, next was a large local shrimp. Nice and sweet, I enjoyed this more than the lobster earlier. At this point I actually bought some of the other diners a round, as they often fed me things they didn’t eat. So unlike last time, when I was done with the planned course, I did not have to order extras.

18-tachiuo

Next up was the tachiuo, or the beltfish. Nice to be back on the fish, as this was a nice piece of an under-appreciated fish.

 19-lobster

The next item told me we were very close to the end, as were presented with a Maine lobster handroll. Nice and rich, this was a nice set-up piece. And we all know what the final item is…

20-tamago

I usually don’t like tamago but this was a nice ending, with a touch of apricot injected ito the fold of the egg. And after this I was quite full, having had some “extras” from other diners. Mmm…

I enjoyed some dessert but by now I was just basking in the afterglow of the fabulous seafood. I kept chatting with Chef for a bit until he made sure everyone was full and happy before departing, and I took my leave soon after that. Another excellent omakase!

Nozawa Bar is more regimented and less flexible, but it’s good fun. Chef Fujita is always in good humour, and by end of the evening you make new friends. Service is excellent, and the quality is top notch. It’s the place to take sushi lovers that demand a Michelin-level of service and environment, a quiet back room like a peaceful oasis in a chaotic and noisy desert.

Fabulous. You’ll love it. Prices are fixed and there’s a no-tip policy, so you know what you’re in for. Pricey, but worth it. I think it’s better than most of the other over-the-top omakase places in LA and through the country. A must. And frankly, Chef Fujita is more fun than most of them. That counts a lot over 20 courses…

menu

Nozawa Bar
212 North Cañon Drive
Beverly Hills, California