I truly have some reservations about posting on Urasawa, mainly because so much information is out there. From the three posts on Chowhound that originally got my attention. You can find them, here, here, and here. And of course the ever informative Gayot feature. All of which I devoured. Before making reservations in October, I found and read this post. And after returning from Urasawa is this fine post on MySpace. All of which provide so much detail and information, and are written by writers much more skilled than I. But I thought I'd give it a shot, and we'll see where it lands. There is a wealth of detailed information on those posts, so please read them.
So Urasawa, huh, where do I start? Well I'd been lobbying for a while to find someone to take the "leap" and pay a visit to Urasawa. And finally found a taker in Captain Jack. (The Missus wasn't sure if She could sit through a 3-4 hour meal, especially if She didn't enjoy it) Arriving at the glitzy corner of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire via cab, we had to make a quick call to find the elevator leading up to Urasawa, identified with this simple sign.(Sorry repeat photo):
Once upstairs we went down a snaking corridor...in the exact opposite direction of the restaurant! Finally back-tracking we found the modest entrance to a restaurant that I've been waiting to try for several years. And though here I was, I had pretty much compartmentalized all thoughts of Urasawa, so I felt somewhat detached. The Missus kept asking me if I was excited about my visit, and I said just a bit, but not much. Probably a personal defense mechanism to prevent disappointment should I not enjoy myself. When Captain Jack asked me the question, I gave him the same answer..His reply? "Dude, you know it's going to be great....just admit it"
As we walked in at about 6pm, the spartan though tasteful decor and the wonderful maple sushi bar that is sanded daily, attracted me....heck, who am I kidding, I went straight over to this:
Now that I was here, I could let excitement take over. Looking at the "food storage case" I now fully understood the definition of the term "food porn"! The size of the abalone alone drove me nuts, and the toro...let's not go there. There was the most beautifully marbled piece of meat lying on the back counter. Captain Jack and I automatically started plotting...
"Ok, Jack, you jump over the counter, grab the meat, and I'll get a running start...you toss me the meat, and I'll make the stairway!"
"One problem Kirk..."
"Do you know where the stairway is?"
"Hmmm, that might be a problem"
"And furthermore, you got us lost when we first got off the elevator....."
And so it was back to reality for our intrepid, and hungry heroes. But oh, how nice reality was! We were seated front and center, just in front of the wooden "stage"(work area would not do it justice), so we could see in minute detail everything Urasawa did.
There was a kind of elegant simplicity to the set-up, everything organized in perfect detail; the squares are square, and circles are perfectly round. They say you can tell alot about the artist by his tools....
The wasabi(the real stuff), yuzu(Sudachi), yuzu grater and brush, and other implements were organized as if sitting for an oil painting.
We were provided Oshibori(hot towels), chopsticks were gracefully placed on holders, and we placed our beverage orders. And soon enough three bowls were carried out by Urasawa, and placed on his block, and rubbing His hands together, Urasawa said, "okay, let's get started."
He bowed slightly and introduced himself as "Hiro", and asked us our names and wrote them down. This was my first hint of how unique and personal this eating experience would be. Could you image Thomas Keller bowing to you and introducing himself as "Tom"? Or Charlie Trotter as "Chuck"? And even remembering your name during a 29+ course meal? At this point, Hiro-san asked us if there was anything we don't eat.....Jack and I couldn't help but laugh and said in unison, "we eat EVERYTHING!"
Enough rambling...let's get to the food. I'm going to break this post into 3 parts, because dinners at Urasawa are broken into 3 segments. First part is the quasi-Kaiseki portion of dishes, which I find quite appropriate since Urasawa is from Kyoto prefecture, well known for their Kaiseki restaurants. The second part is the Sushi portion. And third, I would call the finale, where Hiro-san asks if you would like more of anything, or have requests, and the tea and dessert service. This is quite a challenge for me; I decided not to take notes since I'd be taking photos, so everything is from memory, which isn't too hard, considering that I had a bit of experience with the cuisine, and the dishes were all quite memorable!
Our Kubota Manju Daiginjo($150/bottle) arrived, and was poured for us. I chose Kubota, because I received a bottle for Christmas last year, and found the smooth, mildly sweet qualities went well with anything I ate. So at least for my taste, I thought it would be an excellent sake for this meal. A quick side note; Daiginjo, or Junmai Daiginjo is a classification given to sake whose rice is polished to at least 50%. That means, that of every grain of rice used to create the sake, half of it is discarded. In the case of Kubota, a staggering two-thirds(67%) of the grain is milled! I also thought that Kubota had a nice flavor, there have been a few Daiginjo that I've tried that are almost too smooth......
We started with the dish created from those three bowls above:
The very well known Goma Tofu filled with uni, in a mild dashi flavored "sauce", topped with wasabi, and gold leaf.
Wonderful combination of flavors, the tofu amazingly soft, yet able to hold form. The best way to eat this for me was to use the spoon provided, and break into the tofu(it felt almost like sacrilege, the tofu was so beautiful), and get a bit of the everything into each bite. The gold leaf doesn't matter, it has no taste or nutritional content.
The Uni, Crab, and Shrimp Chawan Mushi(Steamed Egg Custard) topped with Ikura(Salmon Roe):
The Chawan Mushi was perfect in texture, soft, custardy, with hints of sweetness provided by the uni. But for me it was the Ikura that shone. Most of the Ikura that I've had has been really salty and tough. These were like perfect, soft and tender bubbles of brine. I've been told that the freshest, cleanest salt water in the world exists several hundred miles off the South coast of the Big Island, deep in the ocean, the Ikura made me think of how clean and refreshing that water would taste. I mentioned this to Hiro-san, who told me that the Ikura had never been frozen or preserved in any way, and is the absolute freshest he could find, a recurring theme through the whole meal.
The signature Urasawa Sashimi placed on an ice sculpture. Funny story about this; Hiro-san saw my camera, and asked me if I did "internet", to which I replied, "yes, but not Chowhound". When this arrived I turned it, but Hiro-san instructed my Server to turn the plate a certain way. Which I guess was more photogenic, but obscured some of the fish.
The Toro was amazing; melt in your mouth soft. The Mirugai(Geoduck/Giant Clam) was absolutely the best I've had sweet, firm, and crunchy. In fact, I had to ask Hiro-san if it was mirugai! Hidden behind everything is "Red Snapper", I took a bite and immediately knew it wasn't the usual "Red Snapper"(Tai) I'd just eaten. The flesh was firm and almost translucent, and had just the slightest light resistance to each bite. So I asked Hiro-san if this was Ma-dai or Japanese Sea Bream, to which he responded with a small smile, "yes, wild, line caught Ma-dai from Akashi Strait". For those who say there's no difference between Tai and Ma-dai........
The best I can describe this dish, is a sort of Kiku Dango(chrysanthemum dumpling), filled with shrimp paste, in a mild, sweet dashi broth laced with chrysanthemum.
The outside of the dumpling is solid and a few centimeters thick, and seems to be made with Kanten(agar), slightly sweet in flavor. The interior filling is a mild shrimp paste. Again, if one combines all items together, the textures are excellent, though overall this dish is very mild in flavor.
My favorite dish of the evening....the most luxurious Kani Miso, I've ever had!
No there's no Miso in the dish, Kani Miso is the brains, roe, and other innards of the crab mixed into paste. It is usually eaten in the shell, heated and a raw egg cracked on it. In this case there a dab of crab meat, and uni, making it the most amazing dish! Words cannot describe.........
At this point Jack had to visit the facilities.....and we got the first hint of the most traditional service at Urasawa. Our Server, ran in front of Jack to open the sliding door for Jack. When Jack was returning from the restroom, the sound of the restroom door queued Her to Jack's return. She sprinted and arrived in time to open the door to an amazed Jack! same thing happened when the elevator arrived on the second floor, and the bell rang! You arrive back at your table, napkin folded, with a fresh oshibori.
Braised Kyushu Beef. Anyone familiar with Buta No Kakuni(Braised Pork) will understand the rich, slightly sweet-soy flavor.
At this point Hiro-san seemed to conjure a lively lobster(Ise Ebi) out of thin air, and started working on it very quickly. It was probably the fastest I've ever seen anyone work with a lobster....in fact the tail meat was still quivering on the board.
A charcoal brazier with broth was placed in front of us.
And a plate of Foie Gras, the most marbled Kobe Beef I've ever seen, and Lobster Meat was placed before us.
Hiro-san asked us to let our Server do the first piece of Foie Gras for us, but both Captain Jack and I understood from the beginning how to proceed. Place the Foie Gras in the broth for the briefest amount of time (count to 3), place in the chilled dipping sauce(stops cooking) and eat. The exterior of the Foie Gras has seized a bit, and when you bite into it, there's the mildest of resistance...and BOOM! Foie Gras goodness, oh my! Same with the beef, we watched the family of four who came in later just cooking the beef to death......somehow it just made me sad. The lobster was really nothing new, I've had lobster sashimi several times, and still do not really enjoy it...flavorless, tough....I'd much rather have Ama-Ebi. After finishing the dish off by cleansing your palate by drinking the broth(watch the heat or you might burn your tongue and risk ruining your taste buds for the rest of your meal).
At this point a dish of Gari arrived:
Marking the approach of the Sushi portion of our meal. Our sake had run out and so we ordered another. This is as good a place to stop as any, I'll conclude with a few photos and some comments, and we'll do part 2 next, either tomorrow or Thursday.
A few comments:
Reservations - Urasawa is by reservation only, there is a maximum of ten customers, and a single sitting per evening. There is a 24 hour cancellation policy, you will be charge $100 if you cancel within 24 hours. I made my reservations in October, for December, there were only 6 customers the whole evening, so it doesn't look as if reservations are too difficult.
Timing - We'd advise early reservations, say around 6pm. It is a long multi-course meal, and starting early will give you a better "spacing". If you arrive later, Hiro-san will work hard to "catch up", but you won't be able to converse with him as much as we did.
Here's Hiro-san jamming the 3 meats for Shabu Shabu:
For customers who arrived at about 730.
- The only water served is Evian, at $8 a bottle.
- For the first portion you will be provided with fresh spoons and other eating implements for courses that need more than chopsticks.
- Anything placed on the counter will be moved from the counter to you by the Server. It's really easy to get anxious......
Part 2 of this post can be found here.
Part 3 of this post can be found here.