If there’s one type of cuisine that L.A. seems to lack, it would be the intimate setting of a classic Japanese Kappo restaurant. Kappo cuisine has its roots in real chef-driven techniques in preparing and cooking the dishes offered on the menu. It is usually small plates, seasonally-driven, and really up to what the chef has in mind.
While ostensibly a small plates type of Japanese restaurant with alcohol might seem like just another Izakaya, Shibumi is far from that (some publications have mistakenly labeled Shibumi as an Izakaya which it is not), being focused on Kappo cuisine, steeped in traditional Japanese chef-driven preparations, according to Chef David Schlosser.
Izakaya style eateries had their origins arising out of traditional Sake shops, where the Sake shop owners wanted to serve something to eat to enjoy alongside the Sake that they sold. They weren’t professionally trained chefs, and as a result the cuisine and dishes at many Izakayas were more rustic, simpler, etc. Of course there are exceptions to the rule.
Chef David Schlosser has an impressive resume, having previously been at one of L.A.'s most esteemed restaurants, Urasawa. But it’s his training in Japan that impressed me most: He studied under the tutelage of the head chefs at Kyoto’s legendary Kikunoi Honten (3 Michelin Stars), as well as Kyoto Kitcho Arashiyama Honten (3 Michelin Stars). He also went up into the local mountains outside of Kyoto and cooked for a small ryokan that was originally built in the 1600s!
And while all of this might sound impressive on paper, it’s when you meet Chef Schlosser and see his laser-sharp focus in cutting and preparing the dishes, and the conversations as he introduces the dish and little fun facts about his pickling plums in a traditional Japanese method that dates back for centuries, that you realize it’s more than just past work experience, it’s something that pervades his very soul.
Shibumi’s exterior is humble and simple (no signage, with a little window and noren (curtain) signaling the entrance. Once inside, you’re greeted with a low-key beautiful bar top, carved out of 400 year-old Cypress.
Their beverage program is equally impressive, with rare, odd and eclectic drinks beyond the usual Cocktails, with sourcing of rare Fortified Wines, Japanese Whiskeys, Old World and New World Ciders and a solid Sake menu.
Cordial, Amontillado Sherry & Mezcal:
Shibumi also features a rare, extensive menu of Cordials, which as our bartender explained, is something that used to be popular in the 1900’s, made of fortified wine and lower proof than Cocktails. The Amontillado and Mezcal was delicious! Smooth, sweet, and easy to sip.
The music playing in the background is also eclectic, from mellow electronica, down tempo and trip hop, to Queen and relaxing alt-rock. Thankfully it never gets too loud.
We made our first visit during their Grand Opening a few months ago:
Cucumbers stuffed with Shiso Leaf, Seeds, Umeboshi and Bonito:
It should be noted that Kappo cuisine can feel more “subdued” or restrained than the brash, bold, greasy, fatty, bigger flavors in standard Izakaya dishes. It shares some similarity to Kaiseki cuisine in many ways, with things that are locally sourced, celebrating seasonal vegetables, local fish & meats.
So the plate of Stuffed Cucumbers are from a local farm, and while seemingly simple, has a subtle burst of flavors from the Shiso Leaf, Seeds and Umeboshi mixture.
Abalone, Housemade Yuba, Santa Barbara Uni:
One of the specials (not on the menu) is fresh Abalone, with Housemade Yuba(!), topped with perfectly sweet & fresh Santa Barabara Uni. For those unfamiliar, Yuba is the thin top layer of Soy Milk. Fresh Yuba is amazing from what all my friends from Japan tell me, and I’ve never seen Yuba being made fresh here in L.A. before! Well, Chef Schlosser’s focus and pursuit of excellence has driven him to make his own Yuba, which turns out to be fantastic! @bulavinaka can probably chime in on how it compares to Yuba from Japan.
The Abalone is bright and so fresh, meaty, and tender, the Yuba gives the dish a silkiness and the SB Uni? Perfection! This was fantastic!
Summer Vegetables, Koji Rice Dip:
This dish seems like a fancy version of Crudités, but at the same time, it’s a celebration of the local vegetables. The vegetables are raw, but you begin to appreciate just how good they are: The earthiness, the sweetness, the herbal notes inherent in each vegetable you take a bite of. The Koji Rice Dip is another made-from-scratch creation of Chef David’s, where he makes his own Koji Rice (fermented). It’s not something “super umami,” but the Koji Rice complements the vegetables very well.
Scar of the Sea (New World Cider, Dry Hopped), California, USA:
Shibumi features an extensive list of interesting, rare Ciders from Europe and the U.S. Chef Schlosser mentions that these Ciders actually pair very well with his Kappo dishes (where one might think it’s usually only Sake and Beer that might work).
Scar of the Sea was the chef’s recommendation and it turned out to be an eye-opener! It’s dry, not very sweet at all, but clean and refreshing! There are subtle fruit notes, and the sparkling nature is great, and it really does pair well with the dishes we had that night.
Japanese Sea Bream, Ginger Bud, Pickled Plum Irizake:
In this one dish, there are so many fantastic techniques and subtleties that might go unnoticed: The Japanese Sea Bream is topped with Yubiki, a traditional technique of cooking the fish’s skin with a broth until it becomes a gelatinous mixture, it is then chilled and thin sliced as a topping on the Sea Bream. It adds an interesting bite and slight crunch, and there’s a great flavor emanating from each bite.
The Irizake is an old Edo-style technique of creating a Sake Plum Sauce, and it is perfect with the Sea Bream, far more interesting than just Wasabi, or some Soy Sauce / Ponzu preparation that we see so often in L.A.
And this wouldn’t be worth anything if the actual dish wasn’t good: The Japanese Sea Bream was so fresh, clean, and an excellent dish.
Cuttlefish Squid Sashimi, Local Seaweed:
This looks shocking and stunning, the Cuttlefish Squid is prepared in its own Squid Ink. It’s a bit funky, but interesting, and pretty tasty.
They also presented part of its tentacles grilled, which was also pretty good.
California Holstein Beef Strip, Grilled, Fresh Wasabi, Narazuke Pickles:
According to Chef David, the California Holstein breed of cattle is overlooked, but has so much flavor. After taking a bite, WOW! I have to agree with the chef.
There’s a real, deep, true beefiness with each bite of the Holstein Beef Strip! Sure there’s a fat cap, but Chef David slices it in such a way that each bite / slice has mostly lean Holstein Beef with a sliver of fat, and it’s amazing in its flavor! Add in the fresh-grated Wasabi (grated on a sharkskin grater just like traditional Sushi restaurants), and you have perfection!
The Narazuke Pickles (also homemade) are fantastic as well, lending a crunchy sweet-tart angle.
On our 2nd visit, I started with a Cordial: Genever & Amaro:
This was also interesting, and less sweet than the Amontillado Sherry Cordial I had last time. Still very smooth and easy to drink.
We began the night with 3 very rare bites, a tradition that Chef Schlosser says is rooted in Japan, where the chef would present customers that had an appreciation for the rare, unique, or odd items, something they had been cooking / developing for a while.
So for us, Chef Schlosser presented 3 examples of items that are still being developed for his future menu.
Yubeshi, Aged 5 Months:
Yubeshi, an ancient traditional preparation dating back from feudal Japan(!), made with Yuzu and Walnuts, aged 5 months in his personal kitchen! This was fantastic! Japanese Yuzu is amazing, but aged over 5 months, it mellows out the acidity and tartness and has a deep fruity nature to the bite.
Beef Tongue, Aged 4 Months:
Wow! This was Beef Tongue aged 4 months, again also something made-from-scratch. After 4 months, the Beef Tongue took on a super tender, soft, pliant texture and the taste was very sweet, almost like a sweet-style tender Beef Jerky (soft, not hard and chewy). It was very interesting.
Sansho Seed, Aged 3 Months:
Another rare, interesting bite. It was slightly soft, a bit of a meaty texture to it, and fragrant.
Koshino Kanchubai Junmai Ginjo Sake (Niigata, Japan):
Pretty clean, but a bit of a long finish, slight burn. Not the best Sake I’ve had but a solid one that paired well with the dishes. I’ll have to let @beefnoguy see what might best pair here.
Avocado, Wakame, Greens & Hemp:
This was a pretty delicious Salad, showing excellent sourcing with the Avocado, the Greens were bright and Spring-like and the dressing was balanced.
Silky Egg Tofu, Uni, Fresh Nori & Wasabi:
The housemade fresh Egg Tofu is truly silky, soft, and the flavors just work so well! The Nori and fresh-grated Wasabi Root, along with the Uni are just so delicious! This is something @MaladyNelson would love!
Time for another drink, and we noticed (too late, as we already ordered something else,) they have Asahi Lager on tap, from Tokyo, Japan! Which tastes so much better than the North American-brewed Asahi that most of us are used to.
Niigata Beer Company, Golden Kolsch (Niigata, Japan):
I have never seen this Japanese Beer offered locally before, but this Golden Kolsch was fantastic! It was slightly malty, a little bit hoppy, but never too bitter like an IPA. It was very sippable, and just a really great Beer!
Crispy Monkfish, Kara-age, Citrus, Kelp Salt:
This was pretty tasty as well, crunchy, deep fried Monkfish, the flavor pairing with the Kelp Salt, and the quality of the batter really set it apart from the usual Kara-age dishes.
Salmon Trout Smoked with Cherry Bark:
Perfectly cooked Salmon Trout. Smoked in-house using Cherry Bark, which gave each bite a great smokiness. Fish Skin Deep Fried crunchy goodness!
Grilled Heritage Pork in Koji Rice, Pickled Daikon, Leek:
This looked like rather “boring” Pork cubes, but what it lacked in presentation made up for it in absolutely crave-worthy, delicious chunks of Heritage Pork. The Koji Rice (housemade) marinade imparted such a great flavor that we couldn’t stop eating this!
One of the best dishes of the night.
Omusubi: Grilled Rice with Mushroom, Burdock and Gourd:
These are Yaki Onigiri basically, and they were quite good. Just really solid renditions of the classic dish.
Classic Warabi Mochi:
Kinako-coated Bracken Starch is nutty, gelatinous and slightly sweet. Not as good as the homemade traditional Mochi (from Sakuraya), but we learned that this Warabi Mochi was different (not made from Rice).
Koji ®ice Cream, Strawberry, Elderflower:
Yes, Chef David even makes his own “Rice Cream” from scratch, using Koji Rice as a base! This chilled, frozen dessert is quite delicious, not as creamy as a traditional dairy milk version, but standout in its own right. The Strawberries were very fresh and the Elderflower lent a fragrant, natural flower note.
On our 3rd visit, we started with the Cucumbers Stuffed with Shiso Leaf, Seeds, Umeboshi & Bonito again:
Chilled Corn Soup, Yuba, Puffed Rice:
I wasn’t expecting much, but this Chilled Corn Soup was STUNNING! Inherent sweetness of the Corn, Chef Schlosser’s perfect, silky, delicate made-from-scratch Yuba! And the crunchy bits of Puffed Rice.
One of the best dishes I’ve had in 2016! SO GOOD!
Golden Beets, Broiled with Barley Miso:
Beautiful plating and presentation, these are locally-sourced Golden Beets, paired very nicely with his unique Barley Miso (also made in-house). The sweet, earthy, mixed with the nutty and deep, rich Miso flavors (and different from commercially bought versions) was spot-on.
Salmon Trout Smoked with Cherry Bark:
Had to order this again, because another friend (their first time) wanted to try it. Even better on this 3rd visit! Perfectly cooked, still moist, tender.
Japanese Sea Bream Sashimi, Ginger Bud, Pickled Plum Irizake:
Just as good the 2nd time we ordered it. I really love sampling this ancient Japanese Irizake Sauce preparation.
Cordial, Sweet Vermouth & Roasted Barley:
Wow! This tasted like a smoky, nutty, sweet Coffee drink! So good!
California Holstein Beef Strip, Grilled, Fresh Wasabi, Narazuke Pickles:
I thought this second time ordering this was also better than the first time. Love that beefiness!
Chilled Apricot Seed Tofu, Apricots:
I thought I loved Almond Tofu, but Chef Schlosser’s Chilled Apricot Seed Tofu (made in-house once again!), was even better. Imagine a nutty, really aromatic Jello-like dessert, but more nuanced and balanced than the usual Almond Tofu you might find around here, and you have Shibumi’s Apricot Seed Tofu. Excellent!
On our 4th visit, last night, we had heard Chef Schlosser added a few more items to the menu, and now it’s rounded out pretty well.
Castell d’Age (Xarel-lo, Macabeu, Parellada), Catalonia, Spain:
Recommended by the chef, this was a really nice way to start the meal. It paired great with our first course, and it showed Chef Schlosser’s thinking outside the box (beyond Sake) for his Kappo dishes.
Kinki Sashimi, Housemade Ponzu:
One of the specials of the evening was a locally caught Kinki fish, prepared Sashimi style, with a made-from-scratch Ponzu sauce(!). The Kinki was tender but slightly chewy (from the skin, on purpose, as hot water was poured on top of the skin to make it curl up and firm up slightly). The Housemade Ponzu Sauce was fantastic, really delicate and not overly tart like most mass-produced Ponzu.
But the star was the Kinki Liver! Steeped in Sake, flash cooked and tasting like the most amazing, buttery bite you’ve had. Chef Schlosser mentions this is really due to how fresh the fish was (caught that morning).
Abalone, Housemade Miso, Ginger, Fresh Mochi:
Another new dish on the menu, fresh, tender, meaty pieces of Abalone are paired with a Housemade Miso. But what makes this dish so good is the play on textures by the chef: Fresh Mochi (the Rice version) is soft and pillowy, and then you chew some of the fresh Abalone, which is meaty and firmer, but still tender, and you get this interplay of textures in your mouth. It’s really fun in many ways, but this might not be interesting for everyone, LOL. I thought it was great.
Shichida Junmai Sake (Saga, Japan):
Another Sake recommendation by Chef Schlosser for tonight’s food, and it was spot-on! The Shichida Junmai was sweet, but balanced, with a dry finish. Excellent.
A5 Wagyu Rib Cap, Sansho & Kelp Paste:
I was really looking forward to this dish, as A5 Wagyu is supposed to be the best Beef from Japan. Sadly, it was slightly overcooked, and the cut we received was too chewy (gristle running through the piece). There was that unmistakable lush beefy and fatty quality (great), but our piece was ruined by the gristle.
It should be noted that Chef Schlosser isn’t in the back preparing the steaks (his assistants are), and it feels like if he was able to man the stoves as well (which is impossible with all the cutting and prep and work up front), this issue would probably have been caught (seeing his obsessiveness with the dishes he prepares up front).
On a positive note, the made-from-scratch Sansho & Kelp Paste is ridiculous in how good it is! This type of obsessive sourcing and cooking - to want to make what might be a “throwaway” condiment in many restaurants - is what really impresses me the most about Shibumi. It really tasted far better than any Sansho condiment I’ve had before, really nuanced and interesting and balanced.
Mizu Nasu (Eggplant), Housemade Miso:
Chef Schlosser offered us another off-menu bite: Fresh Mizu Nasu (which he says appears 1 month out of the year), simply served raw with his Housemade Miso. It was delicious! Very unusual and tasty.
Watermelon Gherkin, Pickled:
Chef just started another pickling project, with Watermelon Gherkin being pickled. They weren’t fully ready yet, but he let us try this version, aged 3 days. It was unusual, fun and quite tasty! Slightly crunchy, crisp, fresh.
Baby Pearl Tapioca in Bitter Almond Milk, Figs:
Showing more versatility, Chef Schlosser creates a new seasonal dessert, where he makes his own Pearl Tapioca, along with his own Bitter Almond Milk in-house! The result is engaging and stunning: Slightly sweet, Almond nuttiness, with a satisfying chew from the Baby Pearl Tapioca, but what sets it apart is the bitterness! There’s a really interesting bitter backnote, that makes this dessert far more interesting than if it had just been the typical sweet Almond Milk. The fresh Figs reflected what was great in season at the moment.
So over 4 visits and seeing Shibumi from Grand Opening until last night, Chef David Schlosser has created a great Kappo cuisine restaurant in L.A. The dishes are more refined than a standard Izakaya, and his fermenting, pickling, aging and make-everything-from-scratch attitude all support and enhance each dish on his menu.
When you take a bite of excellent Beef or Pork, but with a dab of a Housemade Red Miso made from Shiso Seeds(!), you realize this isn’t just a standard Izakaya like Honda-ya and its ilk.
With an eclectic, interesting Cordial and Cider menu, solid Sake menu, great Beers from Japan like the Golden Kolsch, that might be reason alone to stop by the bar. But then you get to the menu which has a few misses, but far more hits and interesting items like sampling an old Edo-style preparation for Irizake, or sampling odd, interesting made-from-scratch Miso, or Bitter Almond Milk and more, and you gain a genuine appreciation for what Chef Schlosser is trying to do.
And then you get to the Chilled Corn and Housemade Yuba Soup, and all is right in the world.
815 S. Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Tel: (213) 265-7923
Update 3: Amazing Chinmi (Aged, Fermented Uni and Spot Prawns), and the debut of True Kobe Beef from Kobe, Japan!
Update 4: More rare Chinmi offerings, new Sake as well.
Update 5: Amazing Takacho Bodaimoto Sake, More Chinmi Offerings, Beef Tasting and more.