Having been a solid half year, we wanted to see how Tsubaki was faring from its opening days. We were hoping things might improve…
Worst case, even if the food was about the same (from Chef-Owner Charles Namba (EN Japanese Brasserie, Chanterelle in New York, and Bouchon (Beverly Hills)), at least we knew we’d have a chance to explore some great Sake (and unusual picks) due to Sommelier-Owner Courtney Kaplan (Decibel (New York), Domaine LA, Bestia), who wowed us with some great recommendations on our 1st visit.
Seikyo - Omachi - Junmai Ginjo Namazake (Hiroshima, Japan):
This was a real treat: Sommelier Kaplan started us off with Seikyo Omachi, a Junmai Ginjo Namazake (unpasteurized Sake). This was only the 2nd time we had ever had a Junmai Ginjo unpasteurized before, and this was fantastic! Natural fruit notes (some melon-like qualities), almost sweet on the tongue, and nice and round. And it finished pretty clean & dry(!). One of the highlights of the evening.
Nasu Nibitashi (Japanese Eggplant, Myoga Ginger):
This was OK. The Eggplant was cooked to a nice tender, silky consistency, it was clean, not overly oily. However, it just tasted rather one note (sweet-savory).
Isojiman - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Shizuoka, Japan):
This was a nice progression and paired well with the 2 dishes that arrived at this time. This was the dryest and smoothest Sake of the evening.
Kinoko Kombu-Mushi (Forest Mushrooms, Garlic Oil, Katsuo Butter, Mitsuba):
This was much better. Perfectly sauteed Mushroom mix, fragrant from the Garlic and Butter, but we didn’t really taste any Katsuo or Mitsuba. Still, quite tasty.
Sogen - Junmai Sake (Ishikawa, Japan):
This had a bit of a long alcohol burn / finish. It was still an interesting Sake to explore, a lot fuller and bigger than the previous 2 Sake.
One sad note @beefnoguy and others interested in Sake, is that the Sake Menu has drastically changed since our last visit. There’s only 1 Junmai Daiginjo Sake left on the menu, and the vast majority of Sake (80 - 90%) is just Junmai or Honjozo (with some Nama and Nigori). Looking at the crowd and the tables, we noted not a single table ordered Sake (just Tea / Ice Tea, a couple tables had Beer).
Sakura Masu Yaki (Binchotan-Grilled Cherry Trout & Tokyo Scallions, Shishito Peppers):
There was a nice smokiness to the Sakura Masu, however, it was a touch overcooked. Flavor-wise, it was fine, but nothing really wow-inducing.
Shichida - 75 - Junmai Sake (Saga, Japan):
While we thoroughly enjoyed the stunning Limited Edition Shichida Muroka Nama Junmai Ginjo we had at Izakaya Ginji (it was amazing! Thanks again @beefnoguy), Tsubaki only had the Shichida 75, but it was recommended by Sommelier Kaplan, so we gave it a shot.
The Shichida 75 is vastly different than their Limited Edition Muroka Nama Junmai Ginjo: It’s a bit rougher, a noticeable long tail finish, and just not as wild and interesting as the Muroka. But it was still a solid Sake and paired well with our dishes.
Tako (Binchotan-Grilled Octopus & Tokyo Scallions, Shishito Peppers, Aioli) +
Kamo Shoga-Yaki (Ginger Grilled Duck, Garlic Oil):
The Duck Skewer (Chef Namba’s attempt at Yakitori / Kushiyaki) was… no bueno. The Duck was overcooked, chewy, and dried out. The flavor tasted kind of straightforward (like some Duck meat cooked over Charcoal), with very little additional seasonal or flavor profile.
The Octopus was fantastic! Perfectly cooked, tender, smoky, a light, inherent brininess. Probably our favorite dish of the evening.
Sempuku - Shinriki - Muroka Genshu Kimoto - Junmai Sake (Hiroshima, Japan):
Sommelier Kaplan mentions that this is milled to 85%, and according to the brewer is made with a rarer Shinriki Sake Rice grain. This was definitely another bolder Sake, maybe even earthy.
Looking at the Dessert Menu… we decided to trust our instincts and tried this for Dessert instead.
Hanahato - Junmai Kijoshu (8 Year Aged Sake(!)) (Hiroshima, Japan):
I had never tried any 8 Year Aged Sake before, so we were excited to see what this was about. Sommelier Kaplan did note to us that this was more like a Dessert Wine, than a standard “Sake” that one might think about.
It was a stark, dark color, and taking a sip… it was really familiar… I kept wracking my brain but then remembered what this reminded me of: Taiwanese Shaoshing Wine.
I had a good friend in college (who was from Taipei), and she introduced me to Shaoshing Wine. This tasted like a more refined version of that.
So after 6 months, Tsubaki remains about the same as our last visit: Decent-to-Solid Japanese Tapas plates, but tasting like a new interpretation of the classics (with the chef’s pedigree from Bouchon), with the star being the interesting Sake Menu (and off-menu selections) that Sommelier Courtney Kaplan has constructed.
It is a true delight and interesting to hear her introduce and discuss various Sake being offered, with some unique tastes and standouts in each of our visits.
But looking around this evening, as noted above, not a single table had ordered Sake except for us (it was filled with the local hamster clientele), and with the Sake Menu changes since our last visit, it feels like the very highlight of the place is being overlooked and underappreciated.
1356 Allison Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90026
Tel: (213) 900-4900