Urasawa

by Rodzilla on August 14, 2011 · 25 comments

I got pulled over on the way home. Tired, distracted, food coma – there was no excuse, I found myself flying down an empty I-5 just trying to make it to my bed. Of course, nothing makes you quite as alert as flashing lights in the rear view. I knew I was going fast, I didn’t know I passed an officer at 85+. To make matters worse, my registration was nowhere to be found. After the standard questioning, I knew I was done for.

Okay Mr. Gibbs, I’m going to call this in – find your registration.”

As he walked back to his car, I began to recount the evening in full. The food, the people, the all around amazing experience. I couldn’t help but ask myself if the night had been ruined…not even close. 

Tosazu summer vegetable shooter Tosazu summer vegetable shooter Scallop-Senmaizuke Maki – ankimo, shiso, and scallion wrapped in Hokkaido Scallop, topped with caviar, all in a light citrus ponzu sauce Goma Dofu – filled with uni and rapeseed stems, topped with wasabi and  23k gold leaf, in a bonito stock

I’ve wanted to visit Urasawa since the first time I read about it. That doesn’t mean I ever planned on it actually happening. The cross country trip, and surely the expense made any possibility seem much more like a day dream than a feasible plan. I’ll spare you the details of how my best friend surprised me, how I thought we were going to Spago, how I shaking from excitement when I hugged him in the famed elevator.  I’ll just focus on what it was like to be there. I’ll try to provide some insight for those who are unfamiliar, and a different perspective to those who have trouble believing it’s worth the price of admission.

Assorted Sashimi – toro, skipjack, red snapper, red radish, cucumber flower Wagyu Tartar - Wagyu beef, osteria caviar, pickled radish, pickled bell pepper Wagyu Tartar – Wagyu beef, osteria caviar, pickled radish, pickled bell pepper

To say service is on another level is quite the understatement. I didn’t expect to have my chair pulled for me by the lone waitress, or the counter to be wiped down between every course. There was an extra level of hospitality and noticeable finesse to everything that she did. Made all the more apparent by the time she easily and skillfully had my sweatshirt on the back of my chair. A task that was taking far too much effort from my clumsy hands.

The Show Sake-Steamed Red Snapper – filled with shrimp, shiitake, uni, shiso, and miyoga Chawanmushi – italian summer truffles, osteria caviar, bonito, gingko nut, shiitake mushroom, small shrimp, marinated ikura Shabu-Shabu - foie gras, king eel, red snapper Shabu-Shabu – foie gras, king eel, red snapper

There’s no fear of a mistakes from the back of the house, anything tasting amiss, or being off.  One man, Chef  Hiroyuki Urasawa takes care of everyone. He is in complete control of every aspect of every dish. Each course is presented to diners mere moments after being prepared, ensuring that every component is experienced within a precise window.

Otoro/tuna belly Seared Kama Toro/Tuna Collar Kanpachi/Amberjack Aji/Spanish Mackerel

And what the diners are presented with is the ultimate in decadence and artistry. The most costly of ingredients show up in nearly every dish. The presentation is over the top, but that doesn’t make for overwhelming flavors. Truffles are actually quite delicate, here their inclusion is done in proper (albeit large) amounts so they can be appreciated. Stronger flavors such as Osteria caviar and Wagyu beef are combined to make for a rich, but balanced spoonful, and likely the most money I’ve ever had in my mouth.

Hon Maguro/Bluefin Tuna Ha-Gatsuo/Skipjack Shitake Mushroom Ika/squid with sudachi

It’s not Benihanna. You won’t find  knive flipping, shrimp tossing, or huge open flames – though you will get high a line of steam from the sake steamed course, and a bit entertainment from the killing of giant sweet shrimp. However every technique, every precise stroke of Hiro-San’s knife is done for a reason. Nothing is done merely for show, but it becomes one anyway. If you don’t know enough to watch and appreciate such skill, you’re missing out on one hell of a performance.

Uni/Sea Urchin from Santa Barbara Uni/Sea Urchin from Santa Barbara Chu-Toro/ medium fatty tuna belly Shiroebi/White Shrimp Hotate /Scallop

It may be hard to believe that such indulgences can be had free or any pretension, but it’s true. Chef Hiro is one of the humblest men I’ve come across. He won’t  mention that the ice blocks for the sashimi are hand carved, or that the entire counter top is sanded daily – that is unless you ask. But there is no arrogance in his halting English – Hiro San is proud, but never pompous. He takes such measures because he takes pride in his work, no detail is too small for a true perfectionist.

Negitoro Maki – otoro, leek, pickled daikon Mirugai/Geoduck/Clam Aji no Tataki/Diced Spanish Mackerel with scallion, shiso, and ginger Awabi/Abalone with yuzu zest

The sushi is unsurprisingly, the best I’ve ever had. Beyond proper rice, the precise cuts, and exact ratios. Each piece is the freshest and finest example of that particular  fish, mollusk, or even mushroom. Again, Chef-Hiro is in complete control, adding precise amounts of each component. Diners experience each piece as he would have it. If perfect is ever fitting – it’s here.

Amaebi/Sweet Shrimp with sauce made from shrimp innards Anago/Saltwater Eel Tamago/Egg cake

The ambiance is impossible to replicate. With only 10 seats at the bar in that hidden upstairs room, it feels like an exclusive dinner party. There’s a sense of camaraderie among the diners. Two young guys from the East coast, a local couple from LA, and an archetypal big friendly Texan may look like they have very little in common, but put them in a room together for 4 hours, and they’re bound to find a few things beyond an appreciation  for exquisite Japanese fare. Aside from the food, the company can become one of the highlights of the evening, given the opportunity - don’t miss out.

Watermelon ice with Goji berries Sesame Ice cream – summer truffle, red bean paste 23k gold leaf and Matcha tea Close up Hoji Ja Tea

Back in the drivers seat. I sat there anxious as all hell. I’d finished recounting the evening and was now wondering if I would vomit jewelry from the amount of gold-leaf I had just eaten.  As he started back, I prepared myself for the impending ticket, and possibly more.

“You need to slow down Mr. Gibbs, and find that registration. You don’t want to go back to Pittsburgh with a ticket.”

Stunned, I thanked him, I told him I would. I wanted to tell him all about my amazing evening, my trip to Urasawa, and just how on top of the world I felt. I thought better of it, fearing such excitement would make him suspicious of cocaine – I wouldn’t have blamed him.

I didn’t go a touch over 40mph the rest of the way home. I really can’t express just how lucky I felt, but getting out of a ticket had very little to do with it.

Unassuming

* Special thanks to those who dined with me that evening, especially my best friend Greg
** Kevin and Ryan for their spectacular account of similar meals (see for excellent descriptions of dishes)
***and the San Diego Police Department

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rosa

Lucky you in so many ways!

2 Spencer

I don’t understand the whole gold leaf thing.

3 kevinEats

Nice work Roddy–great to see that you finally made it out here!

I don’t expect Shibucho to hit such stratospheric levels tomorrow, but hopefully it’ll still be good. ;)

4 Katie

I must admit, I don’t eat seafood, but your descriptions/pictures had my mouth watering.
And especially that ice cream. But does the gold leaf add flavor, or just bragging rights?

5 Kevin

I think this was the first time I popped a food boner. When I’m making bank, this will be on my to-do list fo sho.

6 Kurtis

Long time viewer of this blog and felt the need to comment, all I can think of is “Perfection.” You sir, are one hell of a lucky man.

7 Robert

Looks good man! :) Saw it on BB.com and had to check it out :) Keep having a great life man :)

8 Kirbie

Your photos are gorgeous. I’m so jealous. Urasawa and French Laundry are my top two places I want to dine at. And you have the most awesome best friend. How do I find me one of those?

9 Epicuryan

Excellent write up Roddy. I think you captured the essence of the experience quite concisely.

10 Chuck

Glad you had a good time man (and nice work avoiding the ticket)! I don’t really like sushi, but I’m sure there was something there I would have enjoyed!

11 James

Wow, cool that you made it out to Urasawa! I’m glad you had a great experience and I’m glad the San Diego Police found it in their heart to forgive you :)

12 Rodzilla

Rosa – don’t I know it, haha.
Kevin – well thanks for initially turning me on to it! Shibucho wasn’t Urasawa, but better than expected!
Katie – it’s for presentation, and it makes you incredibly lucky.
Kevin – it would be lost on a lot of people, but you will definitely enjoy it
Kurtis – thanks for dropping a line! I am indeed.
Kirbie – Thanks so much. TFL is actually Greg’s favorite restaurant of all time – he was a huge fan of your cookies, maybe he can be bribed :)
Ryan – Thanks a lot my man, that what I was trying to do as you and Kevin have much better detail on similar dishes.
Chuck – maybe you just haven’t been exposed to the right stuff. There’s a lot of variation between different pieces, and certainly quality.
James – yeah, I still can’t believe it, honestly though just in terms of quality (not expense) Kaito was not terribly far away. Keep badgering Kevin and Ryan for me – they need to try!

13 Bobby @ Gourmands Review

So awesome! Sounds like you had an epic night. I can’t even get my friends to take me to In n Out nevermind Urasawa lol.

14 Kim Valentine

Amazing! You’re not allowed to go back there without me in tow!

15 Jenny Cleary

Wow, amazing that you got off the hook on that ticket. I’m super jealous, I have never been let off the hook ;(

Urasawa is BALLA, I’ll add it to my wish list hah. Thanks for sharing!

16 Greg:The Frozen Food Master

Wow. All i can say is wow. Looks like you had a great time and that is some super gorgeous looking dishes!

17 bigtenben

That big friendly Texan is my best buddy. We go to Urasawa together normally but I couldn’t make the trip this time. We are going back in November. Glad you enjoyed my favorite place to eat in the world!! The pictures are great so now I can show people what I have been bragging about. Thanks

18 uhockey

Who knew Rodzilla was a foodie?

Are you living out in LA these days? If yes let me know – going to be in town in November and we could grab sushi or something.

19 kita

That is a simply beautiful meal to have enjoyed! Loved all the pics.

20 JEFF

Hi There,
Thanks for the great pics and the story . . . my girlfriend is taking us to urasawa tomorrow night for my birthday, and we were wondering about gratuities . . . if there was a sense of what was appropriate for the service (given that you are already paying $375 for the meal, and $50 per bottle for corkage . . .? )

also, i have noticed people seem to be taking pics of the food . . .with the chef standing only a few feet away, did there seem to be any issues with that?

thanks! Jeff (and Erin

21 Rodzilla

Mike – haha indeed, I’m back in PA at the moment so we’re even a bit closer

Kita – it really was, and thank you. I’m a huge fan of the pictures on your site.

Jeff – I understand that the meal itself costs a lot of money, but I still feel that one should tip the appropriate amount, and if service is ever deserving – it’s here.

No issues with photos so long as you’re respectful, I asked the couple next to me. Hiro may tell you that when the sushi itself comes you want to snap quickly and eat right away, its best in the moments after it has left his hands.

22 Chelsea

OMG I can’t believe the amazing food you got to taste…and the amount of appreciation you have for food…is refreshing! And That’s the same way I feel about food and it’s not just the medicine talking…my family started making fun of me because I love food soo much i dream about it. When I eat I kind of go into my own world of food that has different dimensions…3 of them…food land – your basic oh ya that’s pretty good…second is food world – when you take that first bite and its so delicious that you could eat it fast and still appreciate the party in your mouth but you’d rather eat it slow and savor every bite….and last but not least…food universe…which i haven’t come up with a description for yet and there haven’t been very many times that I’ve entered food universe but its pretty damn amazing…but reading through your Urasawa experience has given me a whole new level or dimension…and that’s just ultimate bliss…a place where there’s no gravity and no absence of gravity which makes no sense i know…but based on your review the exquisiteness of the food from Urasawa surpasses all logic…considering the scapegoat of that speeding ticket. (haha that’s crazy btw i’ve had my share of tickets and they suck!)…and if only i could speak as eloquently as you about food i would but i can’t so all i can come up with is ultimate bliss. ;-)

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