Sushi restaurants here in Los Angeles tend to come in many varieties. I think that’s so because Angelenos have such varied expectations of their sushi; perhaps more so than any other city in the world. We are spoiled for choice at every level. Whether it’s sharing a dynamite roll fusion creation with friends, scarfing down a bowl of chirashi-don solo during lunch hour, selecting sashimi specials for the “carbophobes” out there, or enjoying traditional full-blown Edomae style omakase meals, L.A. probably has a sushi-ya for every type of sushi eater.
The recent opening of Sushi Ginza Onodera marks the latest entry into the “top echelon” category of Los Angeles sushi restaurants. The Onodera Group (no relation to ex-Mori chef Morihiro Onodera, in case you were wondering) operates other locations in Tokyo, Paris, New York, Honolulu and Shanghai.
LOCATION: The new L.A. storefront, located near the corner of La Cienega & Melrose, features a subdued yet sleek facade. Valet parking is available at the parking structure a few doors north (the restaurant offers validation). If you feel courageous and want to park on the street, beware the famously enigmatic West Hollywood parking signs.
RESERVATIONS: Easy (for now) - I did OpenTable. (I first tried calling their phone number, but received neither answer nor outgoing message.) Last call for food is at 9PM, so I reserved for a 6PM start (my meal took about 2.5 hours). The bar seats 13, but can easily expand to accommodate up to 16 diners. There are no tables. It should be noted that once reservations are made, there is a $150 cancellation fee if within 48 hours of the date. And if there is a “no show”, $300 will be charged.
DÉCOR: Inside, the L-shaped bar is smooth and well-lit (perhaps the brightest sushi-ya I’ve ever been in). Otherwise, the usual minimalist feel prevails. There is no cold case at the counter (instead, the neta are stored in various containers, easily within the chef’s reach, much like Urasawa). The chairs are comfortable, and hooks for handbags are thoughtfully offered for each seat at knee-level. The knockout feature in the room is the gorgeous Japanese cypress bar, sanded smoother than silk. It’s downright sexy to the touch. The unique hashioki and lacquered toothpick boxes are beautiful to behold.
MENU: No mystery here - There is only one omakase option, and it costs $300 per person (before alcohol and tax of course). Interesting thing is that no tipping is accepted (as is the custom in Japan). The alcohol selections are not too expansive, and I did not ask about BYOB or corkage policy. The chef inquired if there were allergies before we got started (luckily ‘no’, I replied).
On to the chow!!! My itamae for the evening was Yohei Matsuki, who, like the name of the restaurant, actually hails from the Ginza district of Tokyo. Yohei-san is quick with a smile, and even faster with his knife. His English is mostly passable, but the very friendly staff helped translate during the rare moments when the going got tough conversationally. Before L.A., Yohei-san worked stints as shokunin in the New York and Shanghai Onodera locations.
Sapporo Black Label…
Amuse 1: Tako (octopus) - Incredibly tender! Top 3 in the city.
Amuse 2: Seaweed salad and gari (pickled ginger, to be enjoyed later)…
Kawahagi (thread-sail filefish) “poke”… Delightful! This was super flavorful. One of my favorite dishes of the night.
Buri (wild yellowtail)… Line-caught off the coast of Japan, this is a rare seasonal delicacy!
Kobako-gani (female snow crab)… Not a big critter…
… But packed with big taste! The female yielded SO MUCH KANI MISO (CRAB ROE)!!! It was so very, very good (like “lick-the-carapace-clean” good)!!!
“Egg Egg Egg”… Japanese chawanmushi (egg custard), with caviar and uni (sea urchin roe), topped with wasabi. Visual luxury - But taste-wise, I wished it was more than the sum of its parts. While nice, the gestalt never elevated this dish to the next level.
Next, giant abalone were brought out! These abalone are from Japan, and are over 5 years old!
Gently steamed awabi (abalone), served with it own liver sauce (awabi miso)… The kimo sauce was fantastic, but I would have liked the abalone to be just a smidgeon more steamed.
Shirako (cod milt), tempura style, served with sudachi (Japanese citrus)… Glorious. Easily as good as any tempura at Endo.
A bit of sake (from Niigata Prefecture) to accompany our next course…
A Tale of Two Karasumis (salted mullet roe)… On the left, fresh karasumi made with miso. On the right, karasumi “Ginza-style”, aged for over one year. So wonderfully complex, and they paired so well with the sake!!!
Ankimo (monkfish liver), braised with red wine… Just incredible. One of my BEST BITES OF THE YEAR. Absolutely stunning taste - After this, I don’t know if I can ever eat non-braised ankimo again!
Nigiri courses, coming right up…
Akasu (vinegar made from read sake lees) is added to the sushi-meshi (starting white sushi rice), resulting is a brownish shari (sushi rice ready to use)…
Shari notes: I very much liked the temperature and packing of the shari by Yohei-san. But I felt that the shari suffered from a bit too much akasu treatment - So much so that it sometimes detracted from the gentler notes of the neta in the overall bite of nigiri. Also, the hagotai (toothsome-ness; some would call it ‘al dente’) of the rice was a bit too stiff for my liking. Maybe this is an Edomae thing, and I am just not accustomed to it.
Kinmedai (golden eye snapper)…
Sake (wild salmon)… From off the coast of Japan.
Kohada (gizzard shad), with ebi (shrimp) flakes…
Kamasu (baby barracuda), slightly seared skin… Tender texture, with a hint of smoky - So nice!
Shiro ebi (white shrimp)… From Toyama Bay. It was fabulous. There is a short season for this shrimp.
Shiro ika (white squid), with uni & wasabi… The precision knifework on the squid was a joy to behold.
Sayori (Japanese half beak)… Nice hikarimono (silver-skinned fish) here at Onodera.
Oma maguro akami (also known as honmaguro akami, or lean Japanese bluefin tuna). This wild bluefin tuna is caught using traditional pole-and-line methods in the Tsugaru Channel of Japan. According to Edomae style preparation, the tuna is aged a bit to bring out even better taste. Might tasty!
Nodoguro (blackthroat perch)… Splendid.
Honmaguro chu-toro (medium fatty bluefin tuna)…
Sujiko (salmon roe in sack) gunkan (“battleship”)-style, topped with yuzu shavings… This nori (dried seaweed) deserves a special mention - It ranks as one of the best nori I’ve ever tried!
Honmaguro o-toro (high fatty bluefin tuna)… Wow!!!
Miso soup… Refreshed the palate!
Bafun uni, from Japan… It’s so silky soft. Pretty plating, too.
Anago (sea eel) two ways - “Salty & Sweet”… Really good. The transition of tastes meant that we were getting closer to dessert!
Kasutera-style tamagoyaki (sweet-ish omelette made from egg, shrimp paste, and mountain potato)… A purist’s way of finishing up such a fine meal! Yohei-san said it took over two hours to prepare this special tamagoyaki.
Dessert: Matcha (Japanese green tea) sauce & coconut pudding with kuromame (Japanese sweet black soybean)…
Hoji-cha (roasted barley tea) to round things out…
SERVICE: Gracious and attentive. Glasses were filled discreetly, oshibori were hot and perfectly timed in presentation. Overall, very professional. I almost felt bad that they didn’t accepts tips, but then I remembered that gratuity is (hopefully) built in to the overall costs.
I would immediately recommend Sushi Ginza Onodera to all you sushi-philes out there, as it definitely is another “box on the list” to check off in the current L.A. sushi scene. But for those of you who are “on the fence” about the price/value, I’m not sure I would want to pay $300 per person for this meal. If their nigiri game was a bit stronger, then I would be more than happy to pony up. To be completely fair, I have only eaten here once so far, and this location is still in its infancy. It is without question worthy of a re-visit in another few months from now. The pace of the meal was lovely. The staff made me feel so welcome. Also, Yohei-san’s ankimo dish is terrific beyond belief.
Sushi Ginza Onodera
609 N. La Cienega Bl.
West Hollywood, CA 90069