REVIEW

Urasawa

Urasawa is renowned for being the second most expensive restaurant in the United States, after Masa in NYC, and also for the not unrelated fact that chef Hiro Urasawa apprenticed under chef Masa Takayama. The restaurant is widely considered the best sushi restaurant in Los Angeles, and dinners there run into 25-30 courses, depending on how you count them. The cuisine is a blend of Kaiseki and Sushi dishes, served intimately around a 10-seat, L-shaped countertop made from a slab of smooth cypress wood. The restaurant is simply decorated with green walls and blonde wood, such a stark contrast to the ritzy glamour of Beverly Hills' North Rodeo Drive immediately below. There is a bamboo and rock garden backdrop behind the counter, where a huge slab of Kagoshima beef sits, beckoning. During the course of several hours, Hiro Urasawa, dressed in a haori, works with both focus and bonhomie, paying great attention to detail and presentation and chatting amicably with guests.

Aside from the obvious (the exorbitant cost), there are several drawbacks to a meal at Urasawa. One is that his congeniality can sometimes be reserved for the regulars. At a recent meal, he spent the entire time talking to a family of regulars in Japanese, while completely ignoring the dressed up couple at the end, out to celebrate the girl's birthday. This is a little less forgivable than at a sushi-ya in Tokyo where language difficulties are the most probable explanation for such neglect. He also has a tendency to pack the rice far too loosely and also inconsistently. Most great sushi chefs will notice whether you are eating with your hands or chopsticks, and whether you have trouble picking it up, and will adjust the density accordingly. I had many pieces fall apart at even the slightest touch, which demonstrated to me both that he had failed to pack the rice tightly enough and that he had failed to compensate after the first instance of remaking the piece. I have eaten at most of the great sushi-ya in the United States, Hong Kong and Tokyo, and have never before, even once, had any issue with the rice falling apart, so I do not believe the fault was with my technique, despite the fact that Hiro acted like it was, making a big production about showing me how to pick it up properly. I've heard other stories along these lines as well, of Hiro embarrassing diners by scolding them publicly for what he perceives as missteps (such as diminutive girls unable to fit an entire piece of sushi into their mouth who resort to taking two bites and are then chastised; one bite is obviously preferable, but if you can't fit it, you can't fit. Hiro is the one cutting the fish and packing the rice, so he should just make it smaller if that happens). This anecdote gives a bit of the wrong impression of Hiro though, who is generally both very friendly and humble. The meal was also an absolute orgy of food and luxury ingredients. Most people feel they have overeaten by the end of the meal, and Hiro could cut the cost of the meal substantially by eliminating a few courses and cutting down on the use of gratuitous items like $45 bottles of water or gold flakes that are expensive but function only as an aesthetic ornament or to add cachet.

With those disclaimers out of the way, here is what is right with Urasawa: the food is sublime and consistently so. For a restaurant that is similar in price to Masa, I feel obliged to report that Masa is actually substantially better. But that is not to say that Urasawa is not phenomenal; indeed, it is the second best sushi restaurant I've eaten at in the United States. Our meal began with a pair of amuse bouche: a Hokkaido scallop with caviar and anikima sauce with a deliciously ripe tomato from Kobe and a bowl of astoundingly fresh and delicious Hokkaido salmon roe with tofu and gold leaf, that was, for me, second only to the wonderful ikura at Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo. Sashimi followed, served on a hand-carved block of ice atop a bed of pebbles decorated with flowers. A beef tartare from Kagoshima in Kyushu, which is cooked two days, is paired with Russian caviar and a daikon radish for a subsequent dish. Rich and decadent chawanmushi with gingko nut, mushroom, squash, black truffle, uni and 23 carat gold follows. It is at about this point that Hiro reaches under the counter and produces a giant, live spiny lobster, which proceeded to flail around on the cutting board after being cut in two. It is used, along with slices from that slab of Kagoshima beef and goose foie gras, for a shabu shabu course cooked in in front of you. The servingware throughout these courses is strikingly beautiful.

The sushi is where the meal becomes very special and memorable. If you haven't done so already, order a bottle of sake at this point – we recommend the kimura. Inverting the typical order, Hiro always begins with a superbly marbeled piece of toro, which he then follows with chu-toro and then maguro. A Kyushu mackerel with a bite of especially apropos wasabi was riveting. Similarly, the grated yuzu zest on a red snapper and remarkably creamy squid was divine. Hiro also serves some non-traditional nigiri, such as a warm shitake mushroom, uni and lightly seared Wagyu beef on top of rice. His tamago had great flavor, but was substantially too cold, while the matcha tea was made with the wrong proportion of water and powder (it had far too much powder, which is an extremely rare mistake to make, as typically it is the reverse). This was a very impressive meal, worth a special visit by anyone who loves sushi or kaiseki.

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INFORMATION

Beverly Hills
218 N Rodeo Drive
(310) 247-8939
    Hiroyuki Urasawa, Chef

    TAGS

    • Los Angeles
    • Sashimi/Sushi
    • Japanese
    • Kaiseki
    • Best Decor
    • Best Service
    • Private Dining Room Private Dining Room: 4 seated

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