Shibumi - First Impressions

Even I don’t totally get the #2 ranking. But I don’t really get any of Gold’s rankings to be honest so I don’t think about them much even though I like his writing. Weirdly enough Shibumi probably is my second favorite place to eat in LA though.

What’s number 1?

Hatchet Hall.


It is an extremely casual place, this is true. I think I am biased towards casual places…

I want to write some kind of report, but in the end it doesn’t matter because I think the denizens of this place have made up their minds about Shibumi; I doubt it will ever fulfill the visions of authenticity it once promised, or satiate the palates of everyone else, but having finally made it on time to get some morsels from the kitchen, indulging in the memories is worth it; perhaps it may even be of some slight interest for the readership in the abyss!

Spurred on by the calming haze of a different type of music tonight, something more relaxing and electronic, in the vein of Feldman, the musical mood of a Rothko painting, a massage of the mind through the ears that takes place across the street from a strip club in an industrial part of Los Angeles.

Following a few cheap beers from an ice chest at the concert, the driver arrives, and Shibumi, nearby as it is, seems like the enlightened choice of destination.

Alas, many items were sold out for the night, but a treasure trove remained in the snacks and dessert sections of the menu. The only choice that seems right is ordering everything available at such a point in time.

Spanish Almonds in White Miso. As a neophyte one wonders whether one is missing these types of dishes at other Japanese eateries, or if other spots simply don’t care to do this type of thing. In any case, the snack dishes that pair housemade miso and high-quality nuts always dazzle my palate. Here, the Spanish almonds were almost buttery, and the white miso was quite sweet, yet also salty. Utterly addictive. I admit it is a kind of heavy snack, and I took a bunch home with me for later, but in terms of melding simple flavor sensations (sweet, salty, savory all at once) and textures (crunchy, smooth, silky all at once) to create something magical, it felt extraordinary to me.

Lotus, Sweet Potato, and Young Burdock Root Chips

At almost any other restaurant it is hard to tell how a dish like this could even be worth ordering. I’ve had similar things, definitely burdock chips, but nothing like what was represented in this unassuming bowl of chips. The exacting care put into the sourcing of the ingredients at Shibumi really shows here. The individual flavors and textures of each root are displayed with the kind of clarity that is surprising; the only other restaurant I have felt had a similar aesthetic that I have been to has been Saison. The lotus kind of melted in my mouth, yet had a light crispness to it at the same time, and a real zippiness. They were almost refreshing to eat. The burdock was instead deeply earthy with a pronounced crunch. The most fascinating was the white sweet potatoes, which had a flakey quality, and also a zesty spiciness almost tasting of jalapeno but mingled with a starchy sweetness, and this was the product merely of bringing out the flaovrs within the food, not some kind of seasoning or addition of peppers. I expect this to be a forgetable snack and it ended up kind of mezmerizing me.

True Chicken Teriyaki

Ah, finally! I was able to acquire the true teriyaki! Brined in sake for 20 hours and slow-cooked for another 15 hours over low heat! They warned me that it would be too salty to eat by itself, hence the inclusion of the cucumbers to temper the intensity. Perhaps I have a high salt tolerance since I enjoyed it even without a cucumber chaser! The texture of the chicken is remarkable. It is still tender, and moist, yielding a clear smokiness, but not that of American BBQ, but something more delicate and intriguing. However, the meat takes on a sort of laminated mouthfeel, and it has a sort of chew, but without being chewy… it is difficult to describe. The flavors of sake, smoke, and chicken fat are so clear among these odd textures; the superbly simple unadorned, but expertly sliced cucumbers provide an antipode that is highly intriguing to the dish. A truly tremendous snack.

Japanese Caviar - Karasumi, Scallop - Cured in Koji

The scallop here took on a texture similar to the teriyaki chicken, sort of like scallop jerky, but still somehow retaining some of the luxurious suppleness of raw scallop. Absolute umami-bomb if taken without a slice of daikon to temper it; I found the explosion kind of incredible, but even for my palate it was nicer with the radish added. It was much like transposing the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams opening riff into a bite of food. The karasumi was more balanced, though also naturally fairly salty. The stuff is really interesting. It’s a bit musty, briny, and yet sweet with a texture like a good taffy. This small snack offered much to contemplate in terms of textures and tastes, but also in its appearance: so small and compact, yet by far the most intense flavor of the night.

Miyazaki Wagyu Sashimi, Nori, Fresh Wasabi, 10-week Ginger

Chef Schlosser was kind enough to prepare this for me even though it was somewhat late and he had stopped doing sashimi for the night. Watching him slice this was absolutely wonderful as an experience unto itself. I was really excited for this even though it’s not Kobe or whatever, it is high-grade, real wagyu from miyazaki and I’ve never had a sashimi prep of such meat before. Perhaps predictably, it turned out to be incredible. You place a bit of the lovely meat into a nori wrapper, dab some fresh wasabi onto it and add a touch of coarse salt and then roll it into a little wrap. When you bite into it, the crunch and tang of the nori contrasts sharply with the fatty gel-like nature of the supple meat that just melts in your mouth (the meat actually seems to be melting as it reaches room temperature). Then you get hit with a burst of wasabi and salt, the wasabi here being nothing like it is anywhere else I’ve been unfortunate enough to have it. I presume this is because this is real wasabi, and not horseradish masquerading as wasabi because it is far more delicate. It doesn’t overpower the palate, or really make the eyes water, it has a distinctive zip to it that livens up the palate, but it tastes more like a clean herb, and there is no afterburn. The salt and the wasabi are really simple and serve to sort of highlight the prodigious yet delicate flavors of the muscle and fat of the wonderful beef. Then you finish off with a bite of 10-week aged ginger that also lacked the shock of straight raw ginger, and instead had a cleansing effect on the palate, while at the same time being somewhat sweet, but also, interestingly, having an effect that felt like it was drawing out the lingering, hidden flavors of the beef as you chewed it. In terms of taste and textural exploration this was simply genius to me.



They burned some 440-year-old cypress for me to accentuate the meal; I am not sure how to describe the smell, like an oaky, vaguely nutmeg-esque incense.

I was drinking two Sakes by this point. The first a more full-bodied, earthy affair that played with most of the snacks and the wagyu really nicely by counterbalancing all of the salt and sweet going on.

The second was a daishichi that was specifically for the scallop snack, and it really paired awesomely with it by being more light-bodied and lively so that it didn’t overpower the seafood, but drew out additional flavor from it. It also had an interesting effect of drawing a coffee-esque flavor out of the Spanish almonds and miso.

Koji (R)ice cream, Strawberries

I hadn’t ever had the (r)ice cream before, an awful mistake it seems. It is difficult to tell how this is rice-based as it tastes far creamier than any of the other rice-based ice creams I’ve had anywhere else. It did yield that kind of maltiness that is familiar to rice-based ice cream, but the texture was so perfect and the flavor so much more balanced it was just a splendid, simple ice cream that felt pleasantly light. The strawberries were acidic, yet sweet; really showing off the quality to me. They didn’t try to be much more than strawberries, but they were somehow revelatory within the context of the dish. It’s a kind of virtuosic display to make me really think about the flavor of strawberry in a dish when it is otherwise so commonplace, and often forgettable for me (even though I do like the flavor a lot).

Japanese Chizu-keki, pear

I wonder if the name of this is a joke, or truly what they call cheesecake in Japan? It doesn’t matter much as it is perhaps the best cheesecake in Los Angeles. I am stilling thinking about it. I have never experienced a cheesecake with such a texture. Not exactly creamy, not like the almost cream cheese-esque that Raku’s fluffy cheesecake had (which was also quite good), but still impossibly soft airy and light. It almost feels like it could float up off of the plate. The pear with it was also pure wow. I don’t really like pear typically, but these were the most spectacular pieces of pear I have ever had. Not overly sweet, but with this refreshing, slightly sugary intensity that lifted the cheesecake’s flavors on the palate and made it sing with the power of the great singer Caruso.

A rather splendid late-harvest tokaji paired brilliantly with both of these first desserts. The wine was not overly sweet, it had some notable funk to it, but it was sweeter than either dessert; it was a logical pairing, and sort of simply what was called for in the moment, a puzzle piece perfectly placed.

Sakura Mochi

Then when I wasn’t sure the meal could get any better, the sakura mochi came out. Cherry blossoms and red beans formed a supple, sweet, earthy paste that was elegantly wrapped in soft sakura mochi as well as sakura leaves layered over the mochi layer. The leaves had a very slight crispness to them, but also provided a sour component that was almost like a lighter version of kiwi skin. These brought together sensations of saccharine, and sour in a truly graceful culinary flourish. Stunning.

The mochi paired wonderfully with a natural ume (plum wine) that was a bit carbonated, and really quite funky though still somewhat sweet. Sadly I forgot to photograph the bottle.

To finish the night, I had something raucously outside of “proper” procedure as I was presented with a glass of cold Asahi and a shot of the same ume wine to perform a sort of high-minded version of a sake bomb.

You have to slide the ceramic cup in so as not to chip it, but I went for it:

I think a lot of the ume was lost here, but it produced a kind of sweet n’ sour beer that finished up the theme of the night which seemed to be salty/sour and sweet contrasts. It was just a bit of fun in a meal that was otherwise rather “serious”. It was a nice note to end on; I took a happy walk through downtown afterward, simply feeling happy to be alive, and taking in the night air, with my rather cute and well-designed to-go box containing the rest of my almonds and teriyaki:



The first sake with the white characters against the blue label is the well regarded Dewazakura Omachi “Jewel Brocade” Junmai Ginjo (from Yamagata prefecture). Omachi refers to a very specific strand of sake rice that has a much longer history than the more well known king of sake rice (Yamadanishiki, which was cultivated specifically for brewing sake and has a shorter history in comparison). Omachi was also used as table rice back in the day, and apparently is considered an ancestral strain of all other sake rice out there from where they descended from. This rice is quite amazing as most sake I’ve tried brewed with it, produces a wonderful rich mouthfeel, bold and earthy flavors, with grassy/herbal aromas (so imagine if you can find an unpasteurized sake made with Omachi rice how much more pronounced that will be…). This bottle also has interesting hints of citrus on the nose (along with some grassy like elements), and is super enjoyable by itself, or with pub/izakaya type food and even works fine with sushi and I’ve had oysters with it too one time (though a bit overseasoned with ponzu and momiji oroshi/grated (spicy) daikon). Quite a number of fun food pairings with this one. So yes, excellent and well structured sake. Another affordable, good QPR and easy to like Omachi rice sake is Tamanohikari Omachi Junmai Daiginjo (haven’t had one in a long time) and the brewery is located in Kyoto (retails for $30 or under).

The second bottle (green bottle, black characters against white label) is a Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo (Fukushima prefecture). Unlike the first sake, the Honjozo’s sake rice is polished to 70%, and is brewed using the Kimoto method (and has some distilled alcohol added in). Some more information that explains things better here ( A very humble light yet impactful sake that’s more accessible in some ways, and also quite well structured to the point where you can enjoy this at 3 temperatures (chilled, room temperature, and warmed). Daishichi is quite well known in the sake world for their quality and traditional methods. Though their less refined less expensive bottles in the lineup for me tend to be better and more versatile.

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