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 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
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
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 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