It’s been years since original Owner and Chef Morihiro Onodera sold his eponymous restaurant - Mori Sushi - to his protégé, Chef Masanori “Maru” Nagano. I remember reading on our old board how some were wondering if Mori Sushi would take a big hit in quality and execution or not.
But over the years it’s been clear that Maru-san was more than competent at taking over the helm of one of L.A.'s best Sushi restaurants; he’s been nothing short of fantastic.
Maru-san has kept the same austere, clean, Zen-like decor from the early days and has been doing even more interesting things over the years. While I’ve enjoyed his Omakase course with cooked items and Sushi, for this evening, our guests wanted Nigiri-only.
For those that don’t know, original Chef-Owner Morihiro Onodera was responsible for handcrafting most of the porcelain / dishes that you dine on; although some newer pieces have been made by Maru-san and some of the other Sushi Chefs there; pretty neat.
Handmade Tofu with Shizuoka Fresh Wasabi:
Maru-san explains that they handpress their Tofu (no machines), to achieve the ideal flavor and texture he was seeking. The freshly grated Wasabi from Shizuoka is beautiful. The Tofu is so interesting, with a real Soy Bean flavor with each bite. Really good.
Koshi no Kanbai Cho Tokusen Daiginjo Sake from Niigata, Japan:
We leave the Sake recommendation to Maru-san, and he points us to Koshi no Kanbai, his favorite Sake, and we order the Cho Tokusen bottle. To say that this Sake from Niigata, Japan is great is an understatement: It is truly so light, delicate, slightly sweet, dancing across the tongue and your palate, with a clean finish. This is seriously the BEST Sake I’ve ever had! It’s no wonder Maru-san smiles and takes a moment to savor this Sake when we toast him (and offered him a cup).
Tai no Kobujime - Wild Snapper wrapped in Konbu - Nagasaki, Japan:
There’s a nice, slight meatiness, yet it’s still delicate. Really enjoyed that Konbu-infusion of flavor.
Sayori - Half Beak or Needlefish - Kyushu, Japan:
With each piece of Sushi, Maru-san is affable, friendly and takes time to explain little interesting facts about the fish. With this piece, he wonders aloud at why English names vary so much with each fish compared to the Japanese name. He said he’s seen Sayori called “Half Beak” or “Needlefish” before, and so he says he just calls it “Sayori” for his customers.
The Sayori is even more delicate than the Tai, and it is here that we all start to notice and wake up to appreciating how GREAT Mori Sushi’s Rice is.
Besides the fact that they are so obsessive about Rice that they have a farm in Uruguay dedicated to growing the Rice for this restaurant(!), it is heads and shoulders above any other Sushi restaurant in L.A. The grains of Rice have body, substance and supports and enhances each piece of Sushi.
Isaki - Grunt Fish - Nagasaki, Japan:
I’ve never had Isaki before. It’s a little more oily (in a good way) and distinct compared to the previous 2 pieces. The progression is excellent. Allowing us to explore the fish and appreciate different varieties as the evening goes on.
Mizu Tako - Mizu Octopus - Hokkaido, Japan:
While this is very tender and supple, it is also very chewy. The Octopus is only lightly poached and the inside is still raw. I appreciate the exploration of this supple Sushi, but it was probably my least favorite of the course.
Hiramasa - Wild Yellowtail - Kyushu, Japan:
Delicious and meaty.
Sawara - King Mackerel - Inaba, Japan:
This is a naturally oilier fish, there’s a deep flavor and it’s tender. Wonderful!
Karei no Engawa - Winter Flounder Fin - Aomori, Japan:
Maru-san uses a bit of Shiso Leaf and it’s a great match. Nice chew and mouthfeel.
Aji - Spanish Mackerel - Kyushu, Japan:
Strongest-tasting fish so far in the course, yet still tender and yet another flavor profile, different from what we’ve had so far.
Sakura Masu - Cherry Trout / Ocean Trout - Toyama, Japan:
WOW! Melt-in-your-mouth delicious! It’s luscious and so pleasing, super fresh and bright. BEST BITE OF THE EVENING!
Maru-san said he’s glad we enjoyed it. It’s at the tail end of the season, so he was glad we were able to try it before it goes away.
Hon Maguro - Wild Bluefin Tuna - North Carolina, USA:
This was fresh, clean, pure. Lighter than the Sakura Masu.
Hokkigai - Surf Clam - California, USA:
This was naturally sweet, supple, and one of my friend’s 2nd favorite for the night.
Otoro - Fatty Tuna Belly - 150 lb Tuna - Mexico:
And here Maru-san began a study of Otoro and the difference in sourcing. This Otoro was from a 150 pound Tuna from Mexico. Smaller, and with less fat, it was rather light, yet still yielded some delicious fattiness.
Otoro - Fatty Tuna Belly - 450 lb Tuna - North Carolina, USA:
And then the 2nd part of our Otoro study, this was from a much larger Tuna (450 pounds), and it was so buttery and lush! This was delicious!
Kohada - Gizzard Shad - Kyushu, Japan:
This was the heaviest flavor Sushi we had up to that point in the evening. Strong, pungent, meaty and really unique.
Aka Kamasu - Red Baby Barracuda - Nagasaki, Japan:
Smoky, tender, slightly briny (in a good way).
Kasugodai - Spring Baby Snapper - Toyama, Japan:
Maru-san explains this is a popular but very seasonal fish, from about beginning of April - end of May. The Kasugodai is really delicate, to the point it feels like it could melt in your mouth. So good!
Nodoguro - (No English Name) - Toyama, Japan:
Maru-san beams as he presents the next piece - Nodoguro - which he says is prized by many Sushi shops in Japan, but it’s very rare and hard to get. He said he doesn’t know the English name but feels it’s kind of like a “Sea Perch” but not “Sea Perch.”
Suffice to say, I can see why it’s so prized: It starts off with a simple, meatiness to it. Nice bite, and then there’s this latent, delayed creamy, buttery quality! WOW!
Tied for FAVORITE BITE OF THE EVENING! This is so good!
Zuwaigani - Snow Crab - Ishikawa, Japan:
One of my friends turns to me: “It’s like the best candy in the world!” This Snow Crab from Ishikawa, Japan is amazingly sweet (inherent sweetness from fresh Crab), great softness, yet has body to it. Fantastic!
Uni - Sea Urchin - Santa Barbara, USA:
Flawless. It’s PERFECT. So clean and sweet and awesome!
Uni - Sea Urchin - Hokkaido, Japan:
This was another interesting study of sourcing, back-to-back, as Maru-san presented us with a 2nd type of Uni, this time from Hokkaido, Japan. I remembered really enjoying my Uni from Hokkaido last time at Shunji’s, so I couldn’t wait.
Sadly, today’s Hokkaido Uni was definitely of lesser quality compared to the perfect Santa Barbara Uni this evening. I’m guessing it’s just a matter of timing (getting Uni from about an hour away from here, vs. overnight plane from Hokkaido).
Kinmedai - Alfonsino - Chiba, Japan:
There’s a unique consistency with this one, and a slight, welcome smokiness due to a quick sear beforehand. There’s an almost Toro-like buttery quality here. Great.
Anago - Sea Eel - Toyama, Japan:
It’s sweet, naturally oily, it’s fine.
Maru-san asks us if we have any additional requests. I had to get round 2 for:
Sakura Masu - Cherry Trout:
EVEN BETTER THE 2ND TIME. SO GOOD! This is reason alone to go to Mori this week.
Just as great the 2nd time around. Both this and the Sakura Masu were simply outstanding and major highlights.
Hojicha (Roasted Green Tea):
Great way to cleanse the palate in time for dessert. Dessert was a trio of items but I devoured part 1 so fast I forgot to take a picture.
Seasonal Fresh Cherries:
In what could be thought of as a “throwaway” item it was nothing of the sort. Really bright, sweet, amazing Cherries!
Tofu Blancmange, Brown Sugar Honey:
Their Homemade Tofu used in a Blancmange dessert. Excellent and creamy and the Brown Sugar Honey gave it a fragrant, but not overly sweet finish.
Sapote Melon, Yuzu Gelatin:
The Sapote Melon was delicate and not overly sweet, which made it match really well with their homemade Yuzu Gelatin, spring-y and citrusy!
Mori Sushi under the care of Chef-Owner Masanori “Maru” Nagano continues to excel, bringing arguably the best Sushi in Southern California (along with Shunji). Maru-san is affable, a joy to chat with, and the interesting tidbits he talks about during the course makes it all the more interesting.
Note: As of June 1, 2016, Mori Sushi will no longer serve Lunch. Dinner Only.
11500 W Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Tel: (310) 479-3939
Update 1: Another visit: Amazing Hokkaido Scallops, Ohtoro, Sakura Masu and legendary Sake!
Update 2: Winter 2019 Visit - Stunning Iwashi (Sardine), Kohada, Osechi Ryori (New Year’s Dishes) and much more!
Update 3: Uchiwa Ebi (Fan Lobster), Amazing Iwashi (Sardine) and more!