One of the great houses of sushi in Los Angeles, Sushi Shibucho sits in an unassuming neighborhood in Westlake. Quietly plying his trade, itamae Shige Kudo has cultivated his own following at Shibucho over the years. His unexpected (and delicious) Italian interludes to the omakase are part of Shige-san’s hallmark style. My last meal there, in 2011, was terrific. It amazes me that I haven’t been back since then. Well, better late than never!
When I suggested that we all go together, @CiaoBob and @kevin immediately agreed. What better way to celebrate kevin’s recent successes in the media world than to re-visit one of the essential restaurants of which he waxed poetic so elegantly in the past?
RESERVATIONS: Easy: One phone call took care of it. Reservations are essential if one is planning to order omakase at any respectable sushi-ya, and Shibucho is no different. The restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays. No lunch service (dinner only).
LOCATION: Next to a mini-mall housing a laundromat and a 7-Eleven (why is there almost always a 7-Eleven next to a great sushi restaurant?) on Beverly Boulevard, Sushi Shibucho is in a humble but proud area west of Downtown.
The great thing about this stretch of the city is that the street food is often quite good. I got hungry waiting for my reservation time at Shibucho, so I made a quick stop at the impromptu pupusa stand just down the street for “Pre-Dinner” snack (or was it merienda?). Anyways, two dollars later, Salvadoran deliciousness was mine. The accompanying curtido paired just so nicely with my pupusa.
PARKING: On the street. Read the signs carefully, lest you get ticketed.
DÉCOR: The worn door at Shibucho bears the reminders of its urbanity. The very simplicity of its frontage conceals the potential wonderment of the dining room inside. Once we entered, we sat down at the 10-seat sushi bar. There are 4-5 tables in the dining area as well (but come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone sit at the tables).
The sushi bar is adorned with memorabilia of great guests and legendary meals from the past. Pictures of Shige-san posing with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Ronnie Wood, Helen Hunt, and Flea (trivia: kevin actually shared a bar with Mr. Flea on a prior visit) adorn the wall. There is a (empty?) bottle of 1973 Romanée-Conti next to a more prominently displayed bottle of “Cheap Red Wine”. Tongue-in cheek humor…
Of note, the several works of Shige-san’s brother, acclaimed artist Muramasa Kudo, are displayed on the wall as well.
ALCOHOL/WINE/BEER/SAKE: Many of you may have heard of Shige-san’s legendary collection of European vintage wines. His philosophy has always been that truly great red wines will go with any food, including sushi! Well, we were informed on the night we went that many of these bottles have been sold out. BUT the existing wine list at Sushi Shibucho is still strong, with about-equal representation from Italy, Spain, and of course France. Gratefully, most of the bottles on this well-curated new list were under $100, and many were available for purchase by the glass! So this is your take-home lesson: Do NOT let Shige-san’s haute wine history intimidate you from a trip to Shibucho!!!
Beer & sake are available too. CiaoBob enjoyed the crisp Onigoroshi sake.
As for myself, I started by ordering a (very enjoyable) glass of the 2008 Bodegas Cepa 21 Hito, DO, Ribera del Duero, which was drinking very nicely.
MENU: There is none: It’s omakase only. Inform the chef of your wallet’s comfort zone before embarking on your tour. Food-wise, the usual meal at Shibucho (in my experience) runs about $100 per person, but our intrepid crew went a tad above that (ahem).
Finally, our chef stepped out to greet us and, much to my surprise, it was NOT Shige-san.
He apologized on Shige-san’s behalf, explaining that he was actually at home, recovering from a recent medical procedure. Therefore, he would be our itamae this evening.
Were we disappointed? Not in the least! For this substitute shokunin directing our omakase would be none other than Chef Hiro Nishimura (of the now-shuttered sushi West Hollywood restaurant Nishimura)! As kevin astutely pointed out, it’s like buying tickets to a Michael Jackson concert, but instead having Prince perform in his place. What a treat.
Now, onto the FOOD!!!
Simmered cod in ponzu, with chives, onions: Served chilled, this traditional opening dish ably whetted our appetites for the courses to come. (And yes, the Spanish red I had ordered went very well with that).
Nigiri courses were up next: This calls for beer. Kirin, please…
Note: Each nigiri course at Shibucho is served as TWO pieces per person, not one piece. Bring your A-game appetite to this restaurant, folks.
Honmaguro chu-toro (bluefin medium fatty tuna): Superb, superb, superb.
Honmaguro akami (bluefin lean tuna): Another gustatory hit. In addition to serving, Nishimura-san is also sourcing the daily offerings in Shige-san’s absence. He’s definitely still got game. The shari (sushi rice) was just the perfect pearly chewiness, at just the right temperature.
Hirame (halibut): Excellent.
Katsuo (skipjack): Dark and rich in taste, this was given to us to enjoy at the height of the season…
Time for another wine? Sure! Let’s go to Italy on this next one, since I feel a (Shibucho trademark) Italian interlude dish coming on…
2010 La Gironda La Gena, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Piemonte: Another affordable wine that did nicely.
Parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmagiana): This is one of those “Oh WOW this is great!” moments, when you are served an impeccably-prepared and delectable Italian dish in (of all places) a sushi restaurant. This plate absolutely hits it out of the park!
Nigiri resumes with hamachi (amberjack): Succulent…
Aoyagi (surf clam): Snappily oishi…
Sake (salmon), from Scotland: Quite good…
Uni (sea urchin roe), from Santa Barbara: Grade A stuff! Fantastic!
Ama ebi (sweet prawn), again from Santa Barbara: No “dancing” shrimp head routine for us on this evening (I think Nishimura-san knows we’re all about the freshness of the taste more than any theatrics). And indeed, these prawn were incredibly fresh and sweet, with that gorgeously faint ‘crunchy’ texture!
Sliced kyuuri (cucumbers): In anticipation for our next course. By the way, the knife work demonstrated by Nishimura-san when he sliced up these vegetables was nothing short of samurai-level.
O-toro (fatty tuna belly): It was easy to see that this slab of fatty seafood goodness was of the highest grade… What’s Nishimura-san gonna do with it?
Toro hosomaki (fatty tuna belly thin roll): So, so splendid. A perfect combination of nori, shari, wasabi, and o-toro, prepared beautifully.
Anago (sea eel) served two ways (“salty” & “sweet”): One piece with a dash of sea salt, and another with tsume (sweet eel sauce)…
Chu-toro temaki (medium fatty tuna handroll): More umami floating around the palate!
Tamago (egg omelette): Fluffy and creamy…
This marked the end of the formal omakase. We all knew then that it was time for… BONUS ROUNDS!!!
Tako (octopus): The one slight disappointment of the evening. A bit tough, but definitely palatable.
Takuantoro temaki (handroll of minced fatty tuna mixed with pickled gourd): Oh. My. Word. This serving was, hands down, one of the Top 5 best bites I’ve had so far in 2016!!! The interplay of fatty, crunchy, creamy, savory, slightly tart, slightly sweet, rice-y - Downright luxurious!!!
kevin asked for Nishimura-san for some more o-toro, but in sashimi-style. Done!
O-toro (fatty tuna belly) sashimi: Sublime morsels!
CiaoBob asked for some hikarimono (silver-skinned fish), and our shokunin certainly obliged…
Saba (mackerel): Again, the amazingly deft knife work results in a superior presentation. This was a softer than usual cut of saba, with all the flavors of this in-season fish highlighted. Remarkable.
Uni temaki (handroll of sea urchin roe): Damn, so nice!
… And now, Nishimura impresses us one last time by inviting us into the time machine!
Maguro zuke (lean tuna, immersed in soy sauce): This is exactly how traditional Edomae sushi was prepared before the time of refrigeration. Served as nigiri, I realized as soon as I bit into it how quickly the people of the Edo Era became enamored with sushi even from the time of its inception. I have tried old school maguro zuke in Japan before (and at Q Sushi in Downtown as well, if memory serves), but the taste of this one piece of nigiri was ‘Best in Class’ for me.
Simple chocolate tart with singed raspberries: A finessed finish to the banquet we’ve just experienced!
It was so nice seeing and chatting with Nishimura-san again. He mentioned that Shige-san will indeed be back, and better than ever, in a few months. Gochisosama deshita, Nishimura-san - What a feast! You’ve let your personal style shine through, while preserving Shige-san’s omkase flair! Bravo!!!
3114 Beverly Bl.
Los Angeles, CA 90057
p.s. Koreatown was tantalizingly close by, so after Shibucho, we made a quick stop to CottonHi around midnight for dessert. Civilization is grand.