The third and final dinner during my short trip to LA. I had been looking forward to visiting ever since reading the reviews of my esteemed FTCers here!
I had done quite a bit of research ahead of time and even thought many times over what to drink with this meal. Not easy when you don’t have a clear idea of the profile of the food. In the end after two nights of drinking in a row, planning, logistics and what not, I decided to take it easy on my final night in town, and went by what I had based on smaller volume, which was not a bad thing at all. Shin has a very generous and modest corkage fee of $20 per bottle.
I departed K-town before 5 pm, as I wanted to drop by Woodland Hills for some shopping. That drive was already quite a torture in rush hour commute traffic (in addition to the creeping crawls just to get on the freeway, thank goodness for the fantastic air con in the rental car and having killer tunes blasting through bluetooth)… by the time I had arrived at Shin, it was still 100 F at 6:15 pm. Yikes…
Luckily it was nice and cool inside, and plenty of warm hospitality to go around!
I’m seated at the left end side. It would then be a huge relief to learn that Take san would shift his station to where I was. Three other customers came in and sat next to me (native Japanese speakers), and turns out one of them was a Japanese restaurant owner of a place nearby (I did not get the name, nor did I ask since I don’t know the area at all), but obviously they are Shin fans and doing girls night out.
Take san and I exchange greetings and start chatting about a variety of topics around Japanese food, sake, the people we know (thanks again @J_L!) and the local industry folks (it’s a small small world after all), as well as my dinners at Shunji and Hayato. He gives equal attention to his other customers and is very attentive and willing to answer any questions as well as inform diners of what they are about to eat. One thing that was blatantly obvious upon sitting down was how much higher the counter was that I am used to, more so than many sushi places I’ve visited in California and outside the country.
I browsed their sake list and am very pleasantly surprised to see Tatsuriki Yokawa Yoneda Junmai Daiginjo, which is actually a very solid choice for sushi. It’s priced at $400 so a note to you ballers out there who want to do a blowout here but want the best on the menu…that’s a solid choice. Hopefully he stocks this regularly. Take san and I then talked about Tatsuriki and Honda Shoten (the name of the brewery that makes Tatsuriki), the people who represent and/or work at the brewery, and then we learn that we have yet another shared mutual friend/acquaintance or two! Now it’s 3 degrees of Kevin Bacon instead of 6… awesome!! I may not have met or know the industry folks down here, but apparently we’re all connected via sake one way or another
I’m not going to dive into the story with Take-san’s profile or biography as quite a few of you have discussed this at length. I’ll comment later on my thoughts of the meal and the overall experience.
The meal started with me taking out my Den Batch #7, single pasteurized version. The master brewer Yoshihiro Sako performs an arduous process where the unpasteurized sake is first bottled, and then he immerses the bottles into hot water for a specified period of time and without loosening the caps before taking them out. This method is referred to as bin han hire (below is a photo of the process). He explains that this method preserves the aroma and delicacy of the sake, with a cleaner finish, as well as allow the sake to age with more complexity (although the act of single pasteurization with batches #6 and onward really add far wider range and introduce some profiles and characteristics that make it far more versatile with food pairings).
Here’s the man in action for this process
Anyways back to the meal and drink:
The starter is the signature trio. That evening it was some cold vegetables, I’m guessing slow cooked in dashi eggplant, okra, and tomato (the tomato was marinated in vinegar as well), then Ezo Baigai from Hokkaido (slow cooked in perhaps sake/mirin), and smoked bluefin. A perfect starter, all nice and lightly chilled (except the bluefin). Went with the Den nicely! Even Take san was impressed with it!
Then it was time for nigiri palooza!! First up, a pair of sea bream. On the left, kasugodai from Kyushu area, with madai on the right, caught around Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture.
Great texture on both! The seasoned brushed sauce on top (nikiri) adds just the right pitch of savory and aroma and is not overbearing at all.
It’s worth noting of Take-san’s smooth, fast, efficient, exacting and precise nigiri crafting technique (tategaeshi立て返し) that he employs throughout the meal. Also the amount and size of shari (in addition to the packing) in relation to the type and size of the neta or seafood topping. It’s a far cry from the young employee (hired from Japan) who made my nigiri at a chain Japanese restaurant in San Jose last month at lunch, who used upwards of 2 to 3 times the regular movements to craft my lunch nigiri pieces (not to mention the resulting packing was so dense, almost onigiri like).
Put it right thar!
Hmmmm hotate (Hokkaido scallop)
And good packing as well as ratio of grains to topping!
Ebodai is next, and the smokey smell that clearly wasn’t done by butane blowtorch is quite a delight
The next piece of isaki has quite an interesting texture with a bit of fat, yet has very good mouthfeel, texture, and flavor. Hmmmmmmm…!
It’s rather ballsy to do marinated white fish, let alone it is not commonly seen, but when done right it is quite delightful. Here is a great piece of kurodai zuke that had just the right pitch of marinade, which only served to impart the soy sauce and mirin flavors to an extent, and firm up the texture of the fish while reducing internal moisture, as well as add some surface texture (nebari or stickiness) but with this white fish the stickiness was a bit more subtle. Delish!
Next piece is Boston bluefin (akami), which Take san explains it is not the best of the season nor the best of the crop. However I was quite pleased with this preparation and rendition. It looks like this piece had some sinews and was appropriately removed. Sometimes at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you are using top of the line product (or not), it’s the execution, delivery, and thoughtfulness. So mad props here to maximizing a product and still making it taste good!
Lightly seared iwashi, which distributes the fat a bit more evenly, imparts more aroma, and sends you a little closer to the moon. The best slice of seafood humble pie crafted over sushi rice. I could use another ten pieces of this shizz bomb diggidy yo goodness!
It’s nice to see a chef have a great time doing what he loves and while chatting up with his customers, exchanging banter and jokes (mostly coming from us thanks to the ladies getting beer in their systems and me sipping on my Den). Really good synergy in here all around.
Next up, the crazy ass ebi miso soup, made with Santa Barbara spot prawn aged 3 days, then the shells and head cooked with miso, with the flesh (uncooked) made into sushi. Thank you so much @J_L for recommending this!!! Hate to use the words “umami explosion” here but that’s exactly what it was like…purity and essence of prawn that reminded me of prawns and shrimp stock in Asia, a hint of very classical Cantonese won ton noodle soup (dried roasted tilefish, mature chicken stock, maybe chinese ham, shrimp roe, and a tiny drizzle of lard when serving to nuke the F out of the package). Home run!!!
Of course this special aged amaebi (or should it be botan ebi) was great too!
I had to look at both longingly before taking the plunge…
His salmon prep was pretty crazy good! I think it was wild king salmon. Skin left on, marinated/zuke, and seared
His preparation of chutoro was quite interesting. Seared but not in the typical ways. It’s medium rare inside with an exterior that’s between medium rare and medium well. Awww yeah.
Good aji! Just ginger only, and it was sufficient to give it a slight kick
About 20 mins before this piece came, Take san and I talked about some zuke techniques and on a whim I asked if he could do a shoyu zuke of bluefin akami. He obliged and was more than happy to do it (seeing that I enjoyed some of this other zuke preps). He sliced a piece of Boston bluefin akami and had it soak in his secret marinade. Right after the aji, this was ready. I must say this was very pleasing and enjoyable! (I then learn this was the first time he’s ever made this for anyone!!). Worked out, because I gave this version my highest approval, so hopefully you lot will get it too (if not, ask and give it a go! But be patient).
I think at this point, I’m like ok, YOLO time…please prepare a zuke of your chutoro!
While we are waiting, the next piece is his ikura. The preparation is dashi (focused) marinated and bears resemblance to the one at Mori and Shunji, but a bit different. It’s a pleasure having this style of marinated ikura, as nobody in NorCal who does it comes anywhere close. Yum!
And then the amazing aori ika (I hope I got that right, forgot to take notes at that point). Very cool scoring and mouthfeel on this piece!
Really enjoyed Take san’s prep of kohada. It’s more classical old style (resembling some of the old school Tokyo sushi shops in the historical neighborhoods), bolder marination of vinegar and salt, and firmer texture but not dry at all. I would call this masculine style. Bravo.
Uni from Mexico, my first time ever having this. Not much in the way of salinity from the ocean, but the purity and sweetness were ridiculously high. Beautiful. Take san explained this time of year, this varietal is better than Santa Barbara currently.
Chutoro zuke (marinated in for 20 mins) arrives and it is quite stunning! Even with this amount of time, the savory/umami flavors are distributed quite evenly throughout, the marination adding some stickiness (especially for this piece) and gives it a more dense mouthfeel/texture. Awesome (and highly recommended)! With this feedback, Take san is very relieved that it works and I suggested that he offers this in the future.
Really enjoyed his anago preparation too! A soft supple fatty piece that had a lot of flavor and quite aromatic! I think Take-san was explaining that this anago was based on his late father’s recipe. And if I did not hear incorrectly, that some sake was used in the cooking process. So don’t believe the BS about don’t drink sake with sushi (and drink beer instead) because it’s a rice based beverage and that it clashes with the rice in sushi and thus doesn’t match… more proof that sake in one form or another is an integral part (and ingredient) for Japanese cooking, and is actually a natural pairing!!
The main part of the meal concludes with his version of castella/katsutera style tamagoyaki, made with a paste consisting of both botan ebi and madai. You can taste both and it is actually a first time for me that a chef integrated both for making tamagoyaki (normally it’s one or the other). Nice piece!
Could not leave without dessert but I requested half / half so I could try both. Whipped tofu mousse with brown sugar syrup, and houjicha ice cream, all made in house. A great way to end the meal, and to be able to taste the signature dessert of Mori (without going there) is super pleasurable indeed. The tofu mousse was superb… like a beautiful pure sweet soy milk (but better).
Very happy to be here!
A few random comments
As an out of town visitor, the drive from LA into that part of the Valley during pre rush hour just to get there on time is horrendous. I’m glad I made the trip to do so to try, but I can see it as a large deterrent for those less willing.
My preference for the rice would be for it to be a lot bolder and stronger, as well as a bit more salt forward. The grains are on the softer side than I would like. But overall it can be a bit less noticeable given the style, preparation, seasoning, and overall feel with the fish as sushi. I understand this rice is entirely his style and it works for beginners and intermediates, and the fact that all his customers that night was happy, then that is a good thing. Nonetheless, it was a very pleasant and fun, relaxed dinner
Take san unfortunately ran out of kanpyo and I wasn’t able to try
I think the prices are within reason and for what he does, he’s already better than quite a number of places in Northern California. While his variety of fish is pretty good, although not as wide, he is working with what he can and does make the most of it.
While the story of Take-san, his father, and how he was determined to learn sushi without his father, yet opened up his own place while calling the restaurant the same name as his father’s place are all heart warming, what is even more commendable is his tenacity and passion/approach which shows in his execution and delivery. All of that is also balanced with a very pleasant, friendly, welcoming, and hospitable demeanor, as he wants to make sure everyone has a great experience. Personally the Michelin award might end up giving him more pressure and attention that he could handle (or want), let alone possibly attracting the riff raff gourmets we all love to despise, but it seems like while he is happy to have it, he is still sticking with what he wants to do (which is great).
I can also tell that some jetsetters will likely not enjoy it here for a number of reasons, but that is ok…this is a completely different style in some ways, but yet is familiar to us.
Bravo Take-san, for doing what you do. He was also the first to comment that the Den Single Pasteurized’s sweet spot was near room temperature, and he was right! We shared some with the folks sitting next to me and even they were very happy with how it tasted (only to be disappointed when it is currently not yet available locally…but hopefully that will change at some point).
As for sake recommendations from the current menu: Ken Daiginjo would be a fun one, Kubota Suijyu is a nama sake (refreshing at light, I think it’s a Daiginjo), Hakkaisan Yukimuro (aged 3 year in snow globe) Junmai Ginjo, but Nanbu Bijin would be the definitive one (if it is Tokubetsu Junmai, the Daiginjo could be great as well but I never tasted it).
Thank you again @J_L for recommending me go here!
P.S. I didn’t want the final night to end so quickly, so on the way back I crushed 7 tacos at Leo’s (Glendale)…including 3 signature Al Pastor’s (Tire Shop was closed by the time I drove down )