We still remember the sadness years ago, when it was reported on our old board that Morihiro Onodera, Chef-Owner of Mori Sushi decided to sell his business and leave for New York. I shared in the sadness as Mori-san provided some of the most fantastic experiences I had ever had with Sushi and the Omakase experience.
But thankfully his apprentice, Chef Masunori “Maru” Nagano, proved more than capable of taking over, and in many ways, Maru-san has arguably exceeded the master, with Mori Sushi still delivering the best Sushi in the City of Angels.
Mori-san went on to retire, and focused on his side hobby and love for pottery and ceramics (he actually still makes custom plates for Providence and Melisse currently).
So it was with great surprise and happiness (thanks to @MyAnnoyingOpinions) that we heard Chef Morihiro Onodera had come out of retirement and returned to L.A. to make Sushi again at Shiki (Beverly Hills)!
We called and confirmed with the receptionist that indeed Chef Mori was at Shiki now, and we quickly made reservations.
As we were seated, it turns out Shiki has afforded Chef Morihiro Onodera his own private Sushi Bar area in the back (a nice, quiet section that’s like your own private dining room with Chef Mori).
As we sat down, we were immediately greeted by Chef Morihiro Onodera.
It has been so many years since we last saw Chef Mori, but almost immediately, from his humble demeanor, to warm welcome, we felt like we were at home again. Throughout the evening, Mori-san was talkative, affable and reminded us of why he was our favorite itamae back in the day.
Mori-san originally worked with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa at Matsuhisa in his early years in L.A. Mori-san also worked under the legendary Chef Jiro Ono (of Michelin Three Starred Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” fame) before that.
Chef Mori then introduces us to his brother, Nao-san, who’s also working at the private Sushi Bar with Mori-san. It turns out it was his brother Nao-san (who also worked under Nobu Matsuhisa years ago) who convinced Mori-san to come out of retirement.
Mori-san said that his brother Nao-san moved back to L.A., started working at Shiki Beverly Hills, and kept asking Mori-san to come out of retirement so that they could work together one last time, which is pretty neat.
Kansansui - Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Fukuoka, Japan):
I’ll leave it to @beefnoguy and other Sake experts to suggest other Sake for our next visit (though that bottle of Daishichi Ginkan (Junmai Daiginjo) looks like it’s for Ballers Only (i.e., for @J_L @ipsedixit @Porthos @PorkyBelly @BradFord @bulavinaka and a few others)).
The Kansansui was recommended by Mori-san as a great pairing with his courses this evening so we went with that. It was lightly floral, elegant, and quite smooth.
Jikasei Ankimo Tofu (Handmade Monkfish Liver Tofu):
The first course is a Handmade Tofu dish, except it’s made out of Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)(!) mixed with Handmade Tofu. It is denser than a Silken Tofu, but still quite light and creamy.
Zensai Course - 5 Bites:
We then start with their Zensai Course, a nice arrangement of seasonal bites. From this course, you can see some of the limitations Mori-san has compared to when he was running his own restaurant (Mori Sushi). There are no handmade, custom ceramic plates (that he sculpted himself). No seasonal accoutrements that were a staple of his presentations at his own restaurant. But the important thing is the taste…
Shiitake Shimeji Nibitashi - Braised Shiitake and Shimeji Mushrooms in a Housemade Dashi:
Delicate, full of deep flavor that only Shiitake can impart. Delicious!
Shirako - Cod Milt (Hokkaido, Japan):
I still lack the confidence to eat this very often, but the Shirako from Hokkaido was perfectly light, creamy, balanced, and the Housemade Dashi Broth (completely different from the Nibitashi Broth we just had) was outstanding!
Ika Saikyo Yaki - Grilled Squid in Saikyo Miso:
We usually see Saikyo Yaki being the choice for Gindara (Black Cod), but the deep, savory Saikyo Miso worked quite well with Squid as well.
Wakamomo - Mountain Peach Gelee (Shizuoka, Japan):
This innocuous little cube contained one of the most beautifully fragrant, floral bursts of Peach flavor that I can remember! One of my favorite bites of the evening!
Sa-mon Daikon Maki - Salmon Wrapped in Daikon Radish:
This was a little bite of Marinated Salmon wrapped in pickled Daikon Radish. This was just OK.
Mori-san was such a joy to talk to throughout the evening. At this point, Mori-san confides in us that he’s not totally happy with the supporting preparation on some of the dishes he wants to make and serve, but he says it’s getting better.
Ni Awabi - Abalone (Morro Bay, California):
Meaty but tender and very fresh, one of the favorite aspects of this was enjoying it with Mori-san’s Jikasei Yuzukosho (Handmade Yuzu Pepper Sauce)(!):
Which had a nice spicy kick to it, but also had an intriguing slight bitterness (from the Yuzu citrus rind).
Kegani - Japanese Hairy Crab (Hokkaido, Japan):
Mori-san was quite proud of the Kegani course, saying this was one of the dishes that represented Winter in Japan right now. It is beautifully presented, with most of the meat de-shelled already and collected inside a hollowed out Lemon.
Served with a lightly sweet blend of Japanese Vinegar and Dashi, the Kegani from Hokkaido is one of the best versions we’ve had in recent years (better than Shunji’s preparation recently). The Crab meat is inherently lightly sweet, with a kiss of the ocean, and it was very easy to eat as well.
The Hairy Crab Tomalley was wonderfully funky and delicious.
At this point, the Nigiri portion began.
Sayori - Japanese Halfbeak (Kanagawa, Japan):
Inbetween a totally light whitefish and the heavier, oily fishes, the Sayori had just the right balance of slight creaminess, meatiness, but keeping a supple mouthfeel. This was excellent, and my friend’s favorite bite of the evening (and one of my favorites).
Seeing Mori-san’s knife work, it’s as if he never left. It was fascinating watching him work and cut each piece for our courses, so effortless and with a real happiness.
Tai no Kobujime - Snapper Wrapped in Konbu (New Zealand):
The Snapper is wrapped in a special type of Konbu that Mori-san sources from Hokkaido, Japan. It’s topped with fresh Yuzu zest, and the result is outstanding! It is very close to the level of joy we had at Mori Sushi from Mori-san’s Tai back in the day and Maru-san’s most recent Tai no Kobujime.
One note regarding the Rice: We had to ask about the Rice. For those that don’t know, Chef Mori was so obsessed with creating the best Sushi Rice that back in the day at Mori Sushi, he sourced a special grain of Rice grown just for his restaurant(!). Maru-san continues the tradition to this day, which is one of the reasons why Mori Sushi is still the best in L.A.
The Rice here is “60/40”: 60% Shiki’s choice, and 40% Mori-san’s choice. He said when he first got here, the Rice at Shiki was not to his liking at all. He has managed to partially convince the ownership to partly change the Rice, with “40%” of the blend being Rice grains he has chosen to mix in.
The result is a good bite with the Rice having a distinct mouthfeel, not mushy, not too dry, not overly vinegared either. Even with the limitations, currently it is better than most local Sushi bars’ offerings, but it is not as good as his original, Mori Sushi.
Buri - Adult Yellowtail (or “Big Yellowtail” as Mori-san affectionately called it) (Toyama, Japan):
Meaty with enough fat to give it an almost creamy quality. Very good.
Chutoro - Medium Fatty Tuna Belly (Kyushu, Japan):
Tender, fatty, luscious, but not overly luscious (like Ohtoro).
Later in the evening we asked how the Akami was (@J_L’s favorite), but Mori-san being his usual open and honest self, told us he wasn’t happy with the Akami on this evening, so he didn’t want to serve it to us.
Kohada - Gizzard Shad (Toyama, Japan):
We saw Mori-san visibly beaming as he was serving this to us. I asked him about this piece, and he said Kohada was one of his favorite Sushi, and he was particularly proud of how the Kohada was this evening. We couldn’t wait.
Taking a bite…
There’s a beautiful supple chew, with real body in each bite. The meatiness gives way to an amazing natural brininess in this oilier fish. The taste was INCREDIBLE!
This was seriously the best Kohada that we’ve had in years.
Best Bite of the Evening!
Mori-san goes on to explain that the Kohada he’s serving is one of the great teachings he learned from Sushi Master Jiro Ono back at Sukiyabashi Jiro. He said this was one of the courses that was very much “Jiro-style” and he was indebted to his teacher.
Aji - Horse Mackerel (Chiba, Japan):
One of the great joys of eating at a great Sushi restaurant is the interactions with the Sushi Chef. Mori-san was talkative throughout the evening, and he related a story to us about this course:
He told us how Aji is normally more of a Summertime fish, but one of his trusted sources found a really fatty Aji in the middle of Winter (from Chiba, Japan). So he went with it, and after eating it, you can see how well Mori-san knows his fish.
The Aji was bright, lightly (naturally) oily, creamy, slightly fatty and delicious!
Mirugai - Geoduck (Seattle, Washington):
Very fresh, great firmness yet soft, pliant mouthfeel. The bit of Handmade Yuzu Kosho really elevated this bite.
Kinmedai - Splendid Alfonsino (Chiba, Japan):
There was a gorgeous smokiness (the skin lightly grilled over open flame), giving way to a creamy awesome bite!
One note: Unlike at some Sushi bars, Mori-san actually applied open flames from a grill when he wanted to have something lightly “seared” (instead of the usual blowtorch (which sometimes imparts a propane / gas aftertaste)). We noticed the staff would use a blowtorch for courses going out to the tables, but Mori-san wasn’t using it.
Ikura - Salmon Roe (Alaska, U.S.A.):
Beautiful pops of salinity and brininess, with a nice crispy Nori wrapper. I would say the Ikura we had at Shunji was slightly more crave-worthy (the Dashi it was marinated in), but this was very good.
Uni - Sea Urchin (Santa Barbara, California):
Creamy, lightly oceanic, very good.
We asked Mori-san about Bafun Uni from Hokkaido, and at this point, he talked about the challenges he has returning from retirement. He said he didn’t really have a reliable source for Bafun Uni from Hokkaido currently, but is working on it. So for now he’s focusing on Santa Barbara Uni (which is arguably better / just as good depending). But this hints at the limitations Mori-san is working with.
Anago - Sea Eel (Tsushima Island, Japan):
Very good. Delicate, lightly sweet.
Tekkamaki - Tuna Sushi Roll (Kyushu, Japan):
At this point, Mori-san shares with us a story of when he goes to other Sushi restaurants, the Tekkamaki is how he judges them by (not Tamago, not other cuts, just Tekkamaki to start with). He explains that with Tekkamaki (Tuna Sushi Roll), you can see how they make their Rice and how it holds up. You can see their knife work (how cleanly the Roll is cut), as well as the sourcing for their Nori (which is very important), as well as the quality of the Fish itself of course. It was fascinating to hear him talk about that.
Mori-san’s Tekkamaki? Very good. Slightly crisped Nori, nice mouthfeel on the Rice grains and the Chutoro was as delicious as before.
Saba - Mackerel (Kanazawa, Japan):
The oiliest and briniest of the Sushi we had this evening (inherently), the Saba was very good. Not as amazing as the Kohada, but also done in a Jiro-style preparation learned from his previous master Jiro Ono.
Hotategai / Isobeyaki - Scallop (Iwate, Japan):
Mori-san lightly grills the Scallops for a couple of seconds on the open grill, just to give it a light smokiness. He explains that normally Isobeyaki is a treat with Mochi in the middle. But here, Mori-san uses a fresh raw Scallop cut and flattened, so that it’s also white and has the same general shape (like Mochi), so it’s playfully called Isobeyaki as well at a Sushi restaurant.
The Scallop was delicious, and the Nori (Seaweed) wrapper was still very crispy and delicious.
We ask Mori-san about his famous Nori he served at Mori Sushi back in the day, and he laments that he has not sourced that Nori for his courses at Shiki… yet. But he’s “working on it.” The Nori he wants to source is a special one from Ariake Bay in Japan, and all of the veteran FTC’ers probably remember how amazing his Nori was (so crisp and crispy and airy).
Housemade Warabi Mochi + Vanilla Ice Cream with Saba Sauce:
Mori-san’s Housemade Warabi Mochi are wonderful. The Pounded Rice Cakes are so pillowy soft and airy, with a bit of nuttiness from the Kinako (Toasted Soybean Flour). It paired quite well with the Vanilla Ice Cream topped with Saba (Grape Must Reduction) Sauce.
Mikan - Oranges (Japan):
Chef Mori gave us some Oranges he sourced from a good friend in Japan as a parting gift. They were very sweet, seedless and very aromatic.
Service was very good at the back private Sushi Bar area, with Mori-san or his brother Nao-san, personally serving us most of the courses, with a waiter popping in for tea, drink refills and clearing plates.
The return of Chef Morihiro Onodera to L.A. (out of retirement) is a wonderful thing: We have regained one of the most talented, approachable, affable Sushi Chefs that I’ve ever met. Even operating under the constraints of another restaurant owner’s conditions (Shiki Beverly Hills), with the Sake list not under his control, nor the Rice (only partially), and some of the sourcing, what Mori-san has done coming out of retirement just a few months ago, under these limiting conditions, is just put out some of the best Sushi that we’ve had in 2017.
Just as important as the Sushi is Mori-san himself: He is a treasure and such a joy to eat with. Unlike too many stone-faced, taciturn, unfriendly itamae that we have to suffer through (cough Q Sushi, Sushi Zo cough), Mori-san is so warm and willing to talk and share stories, that it makes the Sushi experience that much more of a great dining experience. You could see the happiness he had, joking with his brother, and other staff, throughout the evening.
And it doesn’t hurt he’s already served the best Kohada that we’ve probably ever had, with outstanding courses throughout the evening, all in a quiet, relaxed setting.
(Note: Ask to be seated in front of Mori-san when making reservations.)
Chef Mori @ Shiki Beverly Hills
410 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Tel: (310) 888-0036