This is a hole-in-the-wall place that is a real hidden gem in the Palms neighborhood of LA. It’s Japanese cuisine served omakase style. There are only 10 seats per night as the meal lasts just about 5 hours. There is no sign on the front. There is simply the address. We got there at 6:50 PM, but the door was locked. It actually does not open till 7 PM on the dot.
This is #24 of 52 of my 2014 LA food expedition.
The restaurant website is very basic. You can only make a reservation by requesting an “invite”. Yeah, the wording is weird on that. There’s a reason for this as the chef sources local ingredients as well as having to import ingredients from Japan. It can be costly if he doesn’t fill up all 10 spots especially when there are plenty of flakes in this town. I’m a “go big or go home” kind of person, so obviously I went all-in on this. What’s cool about this spot is that you sit on a counter top that overlooks the kitchen.
The chef creates every course in front of you. It’s pretty cool to see his knife cutting skills and all the different ingredients he brings out. He actually preps his ingredients and cooks the entire meal in front of you. He brought out different cuts of fish including this gigantic thick tuna steak. He’ll debone everything, slice things into pieces, clean out the fat, and throw it back into the fridge. It’s really cool.
This was a 20+ course dinner, so lots of pictures incoming.
1. Hokkaido uni with tofu, scallion, lobster, freshly grated wasabi, and truffle salt. This was a great start to the night. The Hokkaido uni is very different than the Santa Barbara uni that most Japanese restaurants source here. This uni is more creamy, more sweet, and more rich. The chef had a big box of it tonight and used it in several of the dishes.
2. Japanese baby peach with jelly fish and sesame oil. The broth tasted like a citrus ponzu. The jellyfish was nice and crispy. And lastly, the Japanese baby peach was like mush but sweet. I thought this was more of a textural course as it features the 2 contrasts of crispy and mush.
3. Poached Japanese sea eel with avocado and uni. I don’t remember what herb the leaf was, but the avocado uni mixture was sublime. It was very creamy, and it works deliciously well with the unseasoned poached eel.
4. Hokkaido Uni with quail egg and Kushi oyster shooter. This was heaven. The Kushi oyster was very crisp and fresh. There were hints of cucumber in the shooter. I’m not sure if it was from the natural taste of the oyster or it was the actual juice itself. Regardless, it was a perfect harmony of sweet, crisp, and light sensations.
5. Hokkaido and Pen Shell scallop with truffle oil and truffle salt. The Hokkaido scallop was to the left, and the Pen Shell scallop was to the right. The chef wanted us to try the 2 scallops to see the differences. The Hokkaido was sweeter and not as firm. The Pen Shell was also sweet, but it was also firmer with bolder flavors. I think I still preferred the Hokkaido scallop, but it was cool to try the Pen Shell to see the contrast in taste.
6. Japanese rock fish with hairy crab guts and Himalayan Salt (600 million years old). The chef had this gigantic Himalayan salted rock sitting on a plate. He took the rock and used a grinder to grind some of the salt onto the Japanese rock fish. The hairy crab guts (made from the head) was remarkably creamy and complemented the Japanese rock fish well. The salt added some subtle flavors as well.
7. Cured Bluefin tuna from Spain with mustard leaf flower. The Bluefin tuna was very thick, but buttery soft. It was really good.
8. Hiroshima oyster with tomato, fig, cucumber, sake, and oyster juice. The tomato was soaked in some sauce which gave it some sweet vinegar juices. The fig was very sweet. The green stem looking thing was interesting as it was very crispy. It had some type of gel wrapped around it. Lastly, the oyster itself was very meaty and good. Interestingly enough, there was some spicy kick to the sauce. I’m not sure what was in there.
9. King Salmon with scallop tartare, salmon roe, and cucumber. The King Salmon was very good especially combined with the other 2 ingredients. The salmon roe provided the salt, and the cucumber suppressed any over saltiness. I especially loved the scallop tartare as well.
10. Blue crab tartare with Bluefin toro, Kanazawa shrimp, aged truffle cheese, and quail egg. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Apparently the Kanazawa shrimp was very hard to find and was flown in from Japan. The Bluefin toro was so buttery good though, and it worked perfectly with the aged truffle cheese. The blue crab tartare added that extra light sweetness to the dish as well.
11. Hokkaido hairy crab. What is amazing about this dish was that the chef brought out a huge hairy crab that had been cooked already but chilled. He chopped each of the legs off and served portions to each of the patrons. The leg meat itself was very sweet and flavorful and pulled off so easily.
12. Duck soup with Japanese grouper, sake, lobster claw, Bluefin toro on top, and Japanese scallions. There are noodles at the bottom which beats most ramen noodles I’ve been to in LA. The toro was cooked, but what’s cool was it fell apart in my mouth like cotton candy. The duck soup broth was amazing with very bold flavors for the short amount of time it was prepared.
13. Toast with blue crab, frozen toro, uni, and white truffle butter. The frozen toro looked like spam sitting on top, but the actual consistency resembled more of frozen jam. It was very very soft once it hit your teeth or tongue. This incarnation was the epitome of decadent harmony (in a good way). If I could, I would make this everyday for breakfast or for a snack.
14. Japanese beef tenderloin with truffle salt. This beef tenderloin was also shipped from Japan and had a very distinctive flavor that’s different than normal beef here. What was amazing about it was how tender it was. It was served with ponzu, and it was really good. At this point, I’m already getting a little full, but we’re not even close to being done.
15. Chawanmushi with crab and lobster. This is basically a small cup with egg custard, crab, and lobster steamed in it. I personally love steamed egg dishes, and this was no different. The egg itself was very creamy and soft packed with flavor from the crab and lobster stewing in it. Now, we’re getting into the sushi courses which means we are almost wrapping the night.
All the following courses were assembled by the chef with freshly grated wasabi and some type of glaze on top. No soy sauce necessary.
16. Tuna. Not much can be said other than soft, delicate, and nom nom.
17. Red Clam. This was interesting. I was expecting it to be crispy like geoduck, but it was surprisingly light, somewhat soft, but still crispy enough.
18. Japanese mantis from Hokkaido. This was interesting. I have never tried this type of shrimp before as the texture resembled a hybrid of lobster and shrimp.
19. Japanese shrimp from Ishikawa. You have not had sweet shrimp until you tried this. This was also specially flown from Japan, and it was very sweet. It’s funny to see the other patrons’ facial reactions to eating it. On the first bite, their eyes lit up like an atomic bomb with a big smile.
20. Spanish Mackerel from Kyushu. A patron said it was a bit fishy, but honestly I found it really good.
21. Toro. I think enough can be said about this. It’s high quality toro.
22. Hand roll with blue crab, uni, Bluefin tuna, toro, and shiso leaf. Have you ever had a euphoric blend of everything that is good in sushi? Like the sweet shrimp above, all the patrons were speechless. This could very well be one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.
23. Pineapple, mint yuzu sorbet. By this course, I am completely full. I had thought about tapping out earlier, but I am glad I was able to enjoy #22. It really was that good. This palette digestive cleanser was perfect for my already bloated stomach. It was very refreshing and woke me up from the food coma I was already in.
By this time of night, it was close to 12 AM. We had already been sitting here since 7 PM. The food was simply out of this world. Price was ~$200 before tax+tip, and it was well worth it. Like N/Naka, this ranks highly if not the highest on my list for Japanese cuisine in Los Angeles so far. Sushi Zo can’t even compare to this. The quality in every dish surpassed everything I have tried at Sushi Zo. I have never been to Urusawa, but I can safely say this place throws out any sort of pretentiousness out of the picture. The chef was super friendly and thankful for every patron’s business. As a gratitude for this delicious meal, we left him a few bottles of beer that went perfectly with the meal (Hoegaarden). He shook our hands, and we told him we’ll be back.
Visit: Yamakase, Palms, Los Angeles
#24 of 52 2014 LA food expedition