Archive for the ‘Sushi’ Category

Sushi Yotsuya (LA)

March 26, 2008

Whenever I get hungry for sushi it is hard to find the right place. Anyone can tell the difference between good and bad sushi, the fish must be fresh! People who open sushi restaurants think of it more as a trend, so they open the restaurant without any concern on how much tradition and passion sushi requires. It takes years to master.

I found a 5-star rated place in Tarzana, 5 minutes from my house. Sushi Yotsuya! From the outside it looked small, quiet, and hidden. Since there are so many sushi restaurants across the street and a few doors down, it was hard to spot.

After you walk in, right in front of you was a big sign that says, “We only serve traditional style sushi, no California roll, spicy tuna roll, appetizers, or American style sushi.” How cool is that!

It is a small simple place, probably about 13 seats at the sushi bar, and 6 tables.

On the right is Masa Masumoto (founder, proprietor, and chef; above right) is going on his 8th year after opening in 2000. Masa and his 2nd chef Chica are a good team, always communicating with one another. Masa’s goal was to have an original/traditional sushi joint since there is so many around his. He says he buys the fish every morning before opening, guaranteed! Can’t get any fresher than that.

We started with a cold beer, the best Japanese imported beer you can get: Orion (deep from Osaka, Japan). Not many Japanese restaurants carry this, it’s got a bite and it’s good.

Next we have the Katsuo (Skip Jack; above), and the Aji (Spanish Mackerel; below). I haven’t seen Katsuo any where around here; just melts in your mouth!

Then we have our Mirugai (Jumbo Clam; above) and our Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp; below). The Mirugai was so fresh it was moving slowly on the rice (as you can see in the picture it is curling), it was so crunchy, which ensures freshness.

The Ankimo (monk fish liver; above) was excellent. The Ankimo was grilled, had a nice color to it. It had this Japanese mustard miso sauce on it. Never had it with a sauce like this. It was flaky, and once again melted in my mouth.

Next are my favorite Uni (sea urchin; above left) and Ikura (salmon roe; above right). The Uni is a delicacy, it fells like a tongue and looks like tongue. It tastes like the ocean, very salty and explodes in your mouth. The best. The Ikura is usually marinated before service to enhance taste, and most places don’t do it right, but Masa was right on.

We got the Tako (octopus; above left) and the Ika (squid; above right). Both very fresh and crunchy; which is needed to ensure freshness, soo good!

Up above is Aoyagi (a orange clam; above), it was moving once again, very fresh, little bit of salt and lemon on it, and no soy sauce needed. It was crunchy and had a good citrus flavor to it, sooo good!

As we were trying to finish up, they treated us a round of their special fish for the day! Starting form the left was Managatsuo (Panfret; left), Tombo Toro (Fatty Albacore; 2nd to left), Kurodai (Black Snapper; 3rd to left), and Kinmedai (Alfonsino; 4th to left). They were all fish I have never eaten before; it was very new and exciting! They all tasted spectacular!

To finishing off, the best part is the Green Tea. Has to be dark as the Tea above, most places you go has weak light tea. You want to make sure you drink tea at the end of the meal to drain out all the oil and start digesting right away.

I recommend this place to any sushi lover out there.

Sushi Yotsuya
18760 Ventura Blvd
Tarzana, CA 91356
T: 818.708.9675

How One Becomes Spoiled in Tokyo

September 27, 2007

This sushi was mediocre. But you can’t expect that much from Bikkuri Sushi – a chain restaurant. There was a bit too much rice for each nigiri. However, this is relative – if I had this in the States, I would be ranting about it for weeks. My taste buds have become extremely discriminating since living here for a full two years. The stuff on the top left were a bunch of little slimy baby fishes that were a bit disappointing. I had never tried this before and was expecting a texture/taste explosion, but it didn’t leave much impact.

This was NOT enough for 6 people (5 hungry guys PLUS me). We killed this in less than 10 minutes and they satisfied the rest of their hunger by blowing this pop-stand and going somewhere else (I had to split at that point).

Temaki Maki Maki

August 28, 2007

Temaki (hand-rolled sushi) is an easy way to entertain a crowd. There aren’t much prep work involved, but the spread is quite luxurious looking and it’s surely a crowd pleaser.

You just make whatever you like to be inside, spread it nicely and voila, party starts.

Instead of going to Japanese grocery store, and buy overpriced sashimi quality fish (which is a total bullshit, you can buy the same quality fish a LOT cheaper at a good fish mongers), I just went to Lobster House in Chelsea Market. Their salmon is always fresh, and I learned from an avid fish eater that you should semi-freeze salmon before you eat it, and that will kill all the bacteria. So I froze it for about an hour, and it’s easier to cut, and all the bad guys are dead, easy process.

Despite last week’s trauma on the mandoline, I grated cucumbers on it. Although my heart was pumping a bit, remembering the horrific incident, I made sure to use the guard. Guard is great, but you can only grate half of the vegetables. Still, it’s better to be guarded than losing a part of your finger right?

Aside from obvious ones you can see (salmon, shrimp, avocado), I made seared tuna belly marinated in ponzu sauce. It was only $9.99 at the market, so I bought it. I know their fish is fresh enough, but thought it wasn’t fresh enough to just cut it up, so I seared for like a minute on each side, then sliced them up, and put it in ponzu sauce. Citrus in ponzu will cook the meat so there shouldn’t be any worry.

Shrimp is also another easy one. I cleaned it, stuck it on a skewer (to keep it from curling up), boil for a couple of minutes, and fillet it in half (inside out, so that it looks like shrimp on sushi).

I am not so much into fishy fish (hikari mono, or shiny kinds), and I don’t like fish eggs (yes I am very picky and cheap at sushi place since I don’t like ikura, uni, and other all kinds of expensive stuff). But I love tamago. I have a tamago-yaki pan, so I mixed eggs, sugar, salt, soy sauce, and dashi, made tamago-yaki and cut them up. Yum!

Sushi and sake should always be accompanied. Sake really clears pallet from fish. This time, instead of buying a big bottle, I bought three small bottles and had a little sake tasting. I like Kurosawa, which is clear, refreshing, and cheap. I was very disappointed at Tukasabotan, which was almost tasteless. Something notable in sake world recently is that many brewers have started to make bubbly sake. Before I tried it, I was a bit skeptical about it, but it is good. If you don’t like sweet stuff, you wouldn’t like it, though. I bought Harushika Tokimeki. It’s sad how overpriced sakes are in this country. It is 493 yen in Japan for the half bottle, becomes $13.99 at booze shop in New York, and $45 at Megu. At Megu, they put freshly grated wasabi into this stuff, and actually taste nice. Anyhow, sake and sushi, very healthy and tasty dinner we had.

The SnarkReport: Moldy Morimoto

July 26, 2007

With my dining partner Matt in tow, we were off to the METApacking District for a restaurant week lunch at Morimoto. When Hua told me that Morimoto NYC was like being in Vegas, my interest piqued. Vegas?? In NYC?? No WAY, can’t wait! (Sarcastic face here). This perceptive comment has inspired this no-holds-barred, special Vegas edition of Umami Mart, live from NY!

As I rushed to meet Matt on 10th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets, I noticed Morimoto one side, and these two joints exactly across the street.

Craftsteak, Del Posto AND Morimoto–three restaurants owned by celebrity chefs–on the same block?? How could this be? It reminded me of one of those strip malls that I grew up surrounded by– the above two are side by side and look exactly the same! Matt noticed that Del Posto looked like an Olive Garden from the front, which I thought was pretty on point. At least Morimoto’s entrance had some flair to it.

Location, VEGAS Factor: **** (out of 5 stars- one star taken out cause c’mon, even Vegas isn’t as bad as the suburbs)

Perhaps one of the things I was most anticipating in visiting Morimoto was the interior design– Tadao Ando is one of my favorite architects, and I was ready to be wowed.

I was far from wowed- frankly, the interior is a confused mix of materials and concepts. Ando is known for his minimal, sparse concrete designs, but here there were these curtain like waves undulating from the ceiling, that extended down one side of the restaurant. Another wall was just a plain wall flanked by clear glass. Uncharacteristically inconsistent.

There were these cement columns that jutted out from the center of the room, that acted as lamp posts essentially. Cement steps led you down to the lounge bar area, and the bathrooms.

So there’s a lounge and bar downstairs that could fit maybe 30-40 people. Can’t you just imagine all the lines of coke that can be snorted right off this bar? Vegas factor is way up on this one.

This glass bottle motif was used as the backdrop for the bar, which I thought was pretty neat looking (we’re in Vegas here, cut me some slack).

Also, there was a wall of these bottles along one side of the cement steps going downstairs, backlit to make these starshaped designs. There was really no function for them to be there except to add bling to the place.

Interior, VEGAS Factor: **** (one star taken out cause it’s still Ando, and he could never be entirely Vegas-y although he really did try!)

Now the bathrooms, what a beauty! I never wanted to come out! Forget the sushi lunch- you can find me on the can! When you walk into the stall, you’re faced with an infinity mirror behind a beautiful glass wall of cherry blossoms. It’s pretty hot.

Now this looks like just another toilet, but au contraire! This, my friend, is the Toto toilet. It’s like magic. Look at all these buttons! Such toilet fun should be banned from public restrooms- I never wanted to come out!

Bathroom, VEGAS Factor: ***** (it’s so perfectly Vegas!)

And now, the food. Does that really matter, when you’re in Vegas? Of course it does, but when you’re in a place like this, it’s no longer about the food– it’s about the scene, the hype, the decor, what everyone’s wearing, blah blah– all the stuff that really probably shouldn’t matter, but all the sudden you realize that you’ve become THAT person. It’s sorta upsetting to know that an Iron Chef would put himself in such a superficial category of trendy restaurateurs (although I’m sure he doesn’t see it this way, and whatever, this is Vegas).

Alright, alright, so the food. We got the sushi platter and the cod with a soy sauce glaze. Nothing too crazy. Oh wait, and we got Morimoto’s signature ‘tuna pizza’ as a starter, which was pretty good.

Here’s the sushi platter– the eel came sloppily toppled over, which I thought was tacky, and ironic.

The waiter mistakenly quoted the white tuna for mackerel. Get it straight people.

Cod came dripping in soy sauce, and did NOT come with a side of rice! We ordered a side of rice (major faux pas), and when we got the check, we saw that it was $5. Isn’t that crazy? The Morimoto gods were loathsomely punishing us for wanting our carbs!!!

We were curious and got a bottle of the Morimoto pilsner. It’s brewed in Oregon with “free range coastal water” (whatever that is, it means they are allowed to charge us $25 for a bottle) by a company called Rogue Ales. It was nice though, I liked it– if nothing else, we got to keep the bottle.

Best part? I found this piece of mold on the plastic bag that came to put the bottle in. Isn’t it sort of pretty? It looks like a little nugget of pot.

Food/ Drink, VEGAS Factor, **** (The sushi itself wasn’t all bad, but both dishes were pretty forgettable. Pretty on par with what you would expect in Vegas, so it gets four stars)

Miscellaneous observations and questions asked throughout the meal:
– Music was one of those super cheesy chillout lounge soundtracks that you find in the dollar bins nowadays. The 90s are over, HELLO! And the volume was at an awkwardly loud volume.
– “Don’t you think it’s weird that all of the waitstaff are white?”
– Flies were buzzing all over the place. We were confused about that. Flies at Morimoto?
– Wait staff were all dressed in awesome outfits by Maria Cornejo. Yes, I asked.

Here is Matt’s 2 cents about the Morimoto Vegas Experience (via chat):

Matt: – flies, really? i just paid $5 for this fucking rice

at least the spray of water up my ass was free
11:52 PM i wish i took a shit there

And there it is: $5 rice, but f
ree ass water, flies a buzzin, scatterings of mold, identity crisis interior, a pornstar bathroom, and a coked out bar room. Check please!

Morimoto Overall Vegas Factor: **** (one star taken out cause we’re in New York, not really Vegas- although sometimes, I can’t quite distinguish one from the other)

Sushi Kuni Restaurant

June 18, 2007

Whenever I visit my hometown, Cupertino, CA (home of the beloved Macintosh computer), the first thing that I do, before I even go home, is stop off at Sushi Kuni Restaurant. In my five years in NY, I haven’t found a place that compares to the comfort, the authenticity (I hate to say that word, but you know what I mean), the freshness, the consistency, and the value of Sushi Kuni. It’s the REAL DEAL. Truly.

Sushi Kuni opened in 1995, and is located right down the street from Apple HQ. Formerly a little house-turned deli (I heard that the folks at Apple calls this place “the House”), this place only seats 13 people at the sushi bar and has only 7 tables (about 5 years ago they built a tatami room in the back for small parties). I went during lunch two days in a row, and it was pretty packed. I asked Kuni (founder, proprietor, chef; below left) how business was and he said it’s “too busy.” Ha! It really was though– there were people waiting for a table out front by 12:30pm.

Kuni, short for Kunio, is a classically trained tempura chef who worked at one of the most prestigious restaurants in Japan, Inagiku. He was transferred to LA to work for the restaurant there, and pursued a career in sushi when moving to the Bay Area in 1984, when sushi was just barely beginning to make a dent in America’s culinary landscape. Can you imagine life before sushi???

You see, it’s only Kuni and Steve (above right) behind the bar– when it gets really busy, it’s pretty amazing to watch the speed in which they slice the fabulous selection of sashimi to create such colorful, dazzling dishes. But they are never too busy to talk to the customers– they love to chat! Kuni loves to talk about the fish (he always has fish specials that aren’t necessarily on the menu, so make sure to ask what they are)– what region the fish is from, when they are in season, how best they are served. He’s an encyclopedia of fish.

Ok so the food: the first thing I ordered was of course the chirashi sushi. Assorted sashimi over rice– it is always super fresh and truly one of my favorite all-time meals. It’s just so simple and delicious! There’s ikura, maguro, hamachi, unagi, ika, tamago, ika, tako, ebi… all over a bed of Kuni’s nicely vinegary (but not too much) rice. It’s genius, if you ask me. With a bowl of miso soup at $13, it’s truly a good deal.

Kuni hooked me up with a few pieces of ‘hotaru ika‘ (below), also called ‘firefly squid’, which were on the special menu. These are tiny little whole squids (only about two inches long), that are slimy goodness very flavorful and truly delicious. I am just reading that they light up blue when migrating in the ocean!

If Kuni is the more straightforward, traditional sushi chef, Steve is the funkier counterpart who always brings in new “fusion” creations that are a huge hit with the experimental, cosmopolitan crowd. He used to work at Wolfgang Puck’s place in Vegas, so he’s quite the hipster chef himself.

This was avocado, snow crab and shrimp grilled in Steve’s special basil-mayo sauce. Superb!

Steve plopped this little cup of delight in front of me as a surprise– it’s his rendition of Hawaii’s poki!!! YUMMY! Tuna, scallions and tobiko, in a tangy ponzu sauce. So good!

The bento box during lunch is about the cheapest meal you can possibly imagine. For $7.50, you get your choice of two items (tempura, sashimi, sushi, gyoza, and chicken/beef/salmon teriyaki), rice, salad and miso soup. Friggin ridiculous. My personal favorites are the pan-fried gyoza (Japanese style pork dumplings) and the tempura– the tempura batter is crispy, never soggy or too eggy, and each delicious gyoza is handmade with love by Sushi Kuni’s other half, Hideko, in the kitchen.

Hideko (below) is Kuni’s wife– she and Victor make everything on the menu that is not done behind the sushi bar. So basically, all the hot food. They cook all the Japanese restaurant standards like teriyaki, tempura and nabeyaki udon (another favorite), and Hideko also is the brains behind countless other “authentic” Japanese dishes that are on a seperate, special menu. Little dishes like ‘kinpira gobo’ (sauteed burdock root) and ‘nasu no nanbanzuke’ (eggplant in a vinegar soy sauce) will immediately make you feel like you are hanging out at an izakaya in Tokyo.

Incidentally, Kuni also has a license to slice and serve blow fish– I think he told me once that he took the blow fish test at the famed Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Remember that Simpson’s episode where Homer almost dies when he’s served bad blow fish? While that episode is not in any way a reflection of Kuni’s mad skills, I always do think of it when I see his certificate on the wall. Hilarious.

Last but not least, let me comment that Kuni’s spicy tuna roll is the best in the WORLD. My brother and I have had spicy tunas far and wide, and nothing has compared to Kuni’s creation. What could it possibly be? Is it the Kewpie mayo? The green onions? The special spicy sauce? Whatever it may be, it is heavenly. Look, it’s pink! So pretty!

In the last 12 years, Sushi Kuni has changed little, but has blossomed into a thriving neighborhood restaurant that is truly a Japanese food destination in the Bay Area. The place has a really loyal following, and the customers all know Kuni and Steve and talk to each other– when I was just there, I ran into fellow Sushi Kuni lovers that I hadn’t seen in years, and we ended up chatting for a while. It’s like Cheers, but a Japanese restaurant- it’s so nice! The place is comfortable, reasonably priced, not ever pretentious, friendly, and the food is always fresh, consistent and just really solid, delicious Japanese food. Don’t just take my word for it– try it for yourself! *k*

Sushi Kuni Restaurant
10211 South De Anza Blvd.
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 257-5864
Closed Sundays

I have a confession to make: Kuni is also my pops! Biggest shill EVER! I didn’t mean to be tricky, but I didn’t want this to be overtly biased given that this is the family restaurant. But really, I’m not just saying all this because my parents run it– it really is a great little place.

He and my mom (Hideko) have poured endless amounts of love, time and energy into Sushi Kuni, and I am so so proud of them both. This is essentially where me and my brother grew up– I was forced to waitress there EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT for ALL FOUR YEARS of high school (you know what that does to a teenage girl who is trying desperately to be cool?? Forget about trying to sneak into San Jose State parties for a night of underage drinking). My brother was forced to work in the kitchen when his delinquency started getting out of hand and my parents thought it would be the best way to keep an eye on him. Oh, and look at us now… Good times.

Despite the grueling long hours (he gets in at 10am, and generally doesn’t leave until 1am– but he does get to sneak a nap in there for about an hour), Kuni has a wry sense of humor and has aged little since the restaurant first opened 12 years ago. He also loves a cold glass of beer and is also quite the sake connoisseur so be sure to offer him some of yours when you are sitting at the bar. He’ll drink you under the table. And my mom will drink HIM under the table!

Happy Father’s Day とうち!!! You are the BEST!