“I love to see Dai Lo @beefnoguy eat and review this place!!!”
You called @JeetKuneBao ? (sorry for the earlier false start)
Originally my trip to LA was but a fleeting fantasy…until I scoured the reservation system and located a seat. With the precision of Hawkeye/Ronin I aimed and sniped the F out of it, hit the bullseye and then the trip planning began. Ultimate and Infinite Endgame!!
I began communications with Chef Brandon Go shortly thereafter and inquired about the beverage selection, and the possibility of special ordering (as sake corkage is not allowed). I think he already knew who I was and gladly (and me thankfully) accepted my one off request. It’s a lot of trouble already, but I appreciated all the effort. This is just in case a few of you ask me, since he does not carry them. Interestingly I noted that a few of what I had suggested in communication and also previously in @Chowseeker1999 's post made it to the sake menu!! So consider this a win for Hayato, the sake list improvement, and for their customers (especially FTC ballers, hopefully for the wine fiends too who will try)
It was still around 90 F at 6 pm when I arrived at Row DTLA. A very interesting setup. I decided not to do any pre and post dinner bang bang’s, so to savor only this meal from start to finish. In any case, I did leave feeling quite full and almost had to cry uncle. Perfectly satiated.
I went towards the entrance about 10 mins before 7 pm. Nobody was waiting outside, but interestingly there was a mega baller racing car parked right out front (guessing street price $200K to $250K). Sure enough, a couple regulars already sat down. I didn’t know parking was allowed right outside (whether VIP or not)
Exchanged greetings with Chef Go as I sat down, and felt nothing but excitement, pleasure, fortune, and happiness to be here. Really felt the great vibe about the place, and upon taking shelter in a cooler environment, a pour of welcome sake was placed in front of me.
I would have failed this blind taste test miserably, as it was nothing like how it normally tastes for me. I couldn’t identify it at first, as it was fairly full bodied and fruity (quite chilled), bordering on a Junmai Ginjo at 50%. A nice delicious refreshing start!
And then Chef Go placed the bottle in front of me
Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai. Love this sake. A higher priced go to sake for grill, stews, even lightly spicy Chinese food (think of the cold dishes at Cindy’s kitchen…marinated pig’s ears or marinated beef tendon slices!), izakaya, yakitori, and the right sushi. Having taken this to Kusakabe in SF earlier this year with explosive results, I knew it would be amazing with kaiseki to match all the cooking styles. This is one of the definitive brews from Aomori prefecture and not easy to find even in Tokyo as production is limited, but we are lucky to get some exported. Super floral and mildly earthy in a wider glass and at lightly chilled temperature. It also warms up nicely as well up to about the 45 degrees C range. For those wanting a super food friendly sake entire bottle but want structure and capability also to last the entire meal, this is a solid pick.
Very unusual to have Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai as a welcome sake, but as it turns out this is perfect for me. And hopefully wine drinkers get it too. As this sake has enough umami and structure. Serving it chilled makes it easier for everyone to drink, it serves to calibrate your tastebuds and nicely sets the tone for the rest of the evening (until you dive into other beverages).
During this time I browse the beverage list. I’m thrilled to report that Den Sake Brewery (Oakland, California) Batch #6 is available by the glass, and also by the bottle (500 mL)! This is fantastic not just for Hayato who likes this sake, but also for my friend the master brewer of Den, Yoshihiro Sako whose offerings are already integrated into the beverage lists and pairings of Quince, Saison, Angler, Single Thread, Harbor House Inn Mendocino etc. I believe the #6 they serve is the single pasteurized version which I think is quite fantastic having had it a few times (it actually ages quite nicely and drinks like a great white wine). There are also a few sake that I mentioned in @Chowseeker1999 's thread as suggestions that finally made it to the drink menu…so I guess someone has been reading The list has expanded quite a bit and even the white wine selection looks great!
They then asked if I was ready for my sake. I nodded and was quite ecstatic being able to do this customized and self dictated pairing (for me to learn and experiment with). Tatsuriki Kome No Sasayaki “Whispers Of Rice” YK-50 Daiginjo (300 mL version) by Honda Shoten, Aboshi, Hyogo Prefecture. A staple at Mori Sushi, (where Maru san is a huge customer of Tatsuriki for LA and carries a few of their lineup) but I think this particular signature daiginjo was built for kaiseki more, especially here.
I would have gladly crushed the 720 mL bottle but felt like I needed something to handle the later part of the meal. This was quite excellent, strong, bold, masculine, yet aromatic with a lot of umami and structure. Not a prototypical fruity super aromatic daiginjo for sure.
You can choose your choice of Hayato’s sake cups, but for me I went straight for the wine glass.
Before I forget, at some point before my sake came, in walks 2 people. One of them is the local legend Morihiro Onodera! They are seated to my right, but as I never had the pleasure of dining with him at any of his restaurants, I didn’t introduce myself (nor name drop as we have mutual social media friends), and no fangurling. Let him enjoy his meal. Someone asked permission to take pictures, and Chef Go responded that it would be a first if nobody took any. So then I gleefully snapped away (with the sound off of course).
Here’s Chef Go grinning in my direction, although I’m sure under that smile is the feeling of nervousness knowing the master of rice is in front of him watching his every move like a hawk while acting cool and smooth . Nothing like industry people coming to your establishment, especially a local legend, and sizing you up in silence. It’s ok chef, I’ll pour you some strong geek sake later!! Got you covered!
Most of you are already familiar with the first course. Wild Santa Barbara spot prawns, seared over binchotan (keeping the inside medium rare) with Tosazu gelee (rice vinegar, dashi, salt) and sake, mirin, white soy sauce, topped with shiso blossoms
This was a perfect blend of all textures. A savoring of the senses, and a great way to start the meal on this hot September evening. Lots of wonderful aromas, and a great match with Kome No Sasayaki Daiginjo… in particular it is the smokey flavors of the dashi (katsuo centric) in the tosazu gelee that interacts with the bold strong umami centric Yamadanishiki in the sake, along with moderate acidity in the sake and astringency that harmonizes and in some ways accentuates the tosazu flavors. Not to mention that this Daiginjo is also quite versatile to pair with shellfish, another added bonus there. Lovely light smokey aromas also from the quick binchotan searing of the spot prawns exterior. Masterfully done. Already a home run for the first course!!
The agemono (deep fried) course was a marvelous kakiage of Northern California Brentwood corn, Hokkaido scallop, and mitsuba. I was surprised to learn that there isn’t as much delicious fresh corn in Southern California now, and that this Brentwood corn was even better during this time. I’ve had Brentwood corn before and more recently at Madcap (Marin County) as surinagashi (fantastically done too), but this was on a different level altogether. Insane frying skills, yet retaining all the natural flavors and textures of the ingredients. Just a tiny dab of salt and the sweetness and natural flavors intensifies. As tempting as it was to try a pairing with a dry style Junmai sake just for this course, the Kome No Sasayaki Daiginjo held up to this nicely, as it should. It was hard resisting clapping for applause.
Bravo, Chef Go! A true showcase of professional skill applying to local premium ingredients (and some from Japan), blending it all seamlessly together.
The famous aji bousushi (Hyogo prefecture) was quite excellent too. Clean, meaty, delicate, with just the right pitch of fish fat, and just a great overall mouthfeel. The rice for bousushi had chopped up chives in it, just a natural flavor boost that worked nicely (instead of putting negi along with ginger on top of the aji, quite genius and subtle I might add). Really didn’t need any further seasoning. Au naturale! Bousushi is more rooted in Kansai, but there are some Kanto/Tokyo slants, as well as Chef Go’s interpretation of this.
The owan course was a magnificent dashi, kani shinjo (made with live Dungeness crab, crab miso [inside the head] and binded with fish paste, and steamed), Junsai, topped with first green yuzu of the season. Soooooo good and soothing. And surprisingly, worked quite nicely with the Daiginjo (but surprised not quite as well with the crab shinjo).
At this point, I think it was time to move on to the next sake
Mutsu Otokoyama Chokara Junmai (Hachinohe Shuzo, Aomori Prefecture)
This brewery (Hachinohe Shuzo) is also very famous in Aomori prefecture, although not as famous as Denshu (Nishida Shuzo). They have two labels: Mutsu Hassen, and Mutsu Okotoyama. However their sake are not to be underestimated, especially for those who love BBBS (big beautiful bold sake), and will appeal to wine drinkers for sure. I first had this at Aoyama Ichita (one Michelin star kaiseki) and found it very delicious. I had no idea this would get exported, and it was a no brainer to try it here upon learning this is available for distribution.
One whiff in my glass, and oh man… heavenly. You know the feeling you get when you smell a premium Brunello, Barolo, Super Tuscan decanted after 2 hours and get a whiff of it (or a Burgundy?) Yeah…that’s how I felt with this bad boy and even more so as it came down in temperature. It was like playing Street Fighter with Shin Akuma injected with the Kurse Stones (re: Thor Dark World) with triple double bars of power. Shun Goku Satsu (Raging Demon) all the way from here on!!
So much structure, character, umami punch, super dry, but well balanced. Red wine drinkers will like this for sure.
At this point, my front view started to look a bit too sake geeky
Sashimi course: Madai (Chiba prefecture), Tairagai (Aichi prefecture), Aka Uni (Awajishima, Hyogo prefecture). Brilliant!! Quite amazed at this point how the Mutsu Otokoyama was also a great pairing with this course, despite the BBB aspect of it.
Steamed abalone (sake, water, piece of konbu) with abalone stomach sauce, and gelee made with its essence. Needless to say, explosively great and it was yet another pairing home run with the Mutsu Otokoyama (I had given up on the Daiginjo at this point and moved on to Shin Akuma lol). The texture of the steamed abalone is ridiculous. This also goes to show the importance of sake used for cooking in Japanese cuisine, and yes even properly done Edomae sushi or otsumami. And you look back at western media coverage saying sushi doesn’t go with sake because rice vs rice and then you shake your head in utter disbelief and ridicule.
The yakimono course was a delectable and fantastic nodoguro, very simply seasoned with salt and grilled over binchotan. As chef Go explained, the salt, fat and flavors of the fish, and the smoke from the binchotan come together to create wonderful combinations of aromas and profiles. And yes needless to say, conducive to that beverage pairing for you to discover and pound to the ground. In the back, lotus root slow roasted until it starts to carmelize. Freaking ridiculous, insane binchotan grilling technique. The renkon flavors and aromas reminded me of fresh senbei/Japanese rice crackers with the brushed sauce right off the grill (e.g. Tokyo, Kyoto).
Of all the pairings this evening, the Mutsu Otokoyama and this yakimono were dead on perfect together in every way. Amazing harmonious match made in heaven. Like scoring double Perfect with Shin Akuma, and telling the other player to take his Street Fighter milk money and go home! So good!
Anago from Yamaguchi prefecture, sauce is made with ankake (dashi thickened with starch), ginnan (gingko nut), ginger juice, dashi, and topped with Tokyo negi. Wonderful light frying skills, fatty anago yet retains all its natural flavors, still crispy on the exterior all the way throughout the course, yet delicate natural anago flavors, perfect chew, and tender on the inside. Legendary and master level! Shin Akuma sake was proud of this too!
Next, a wonderful piece of binchotan grilled aka amadai, shitake, komatsuna, and a beautiful intense dashi infused with the flavors of all the ingredients. The aka amadai was naturally amazing, but one major umami boost came from the shitake. Also it was my first time having yakimono / binchotan grilled fish served in dashi. Incredible combination! Amazing!
Chinmi course: Konoko (sea cucumber ovaries). Very high quality and just very lightly pickled/salted, and imported from Japan. Served with pour of Denshu. For those that did not have sake, another welcome sake sized pour of Denshu was a good match to have (and to re-try it). However if you have a BBBS (or a very dry / 0 dosage bubbly) you will already be in great shape for the pairing. This is something that’s rarely seen even for me in kaiseki cuisine, but I really appreciate it as it introduces customers to some fundamentals of beverage pairing and otsumami/chinmi that elevates the taste of sake.
And next was the super famous earth shattering gohanmono (rice course). Tonight’s fish was binchotan grilled kinmedai
Hands down one of the best gohanmono courses I’ve had in recent memory! I think we all prefer stronger flavored seasoning, and Hayato adjusts theirs to match our tastes (and frankly stronger flavors make beverage pairings that much easier). Personal preference…although gohanmono courses in Japan tend to not taste anywhere near as strong or robust by design.
Beautiful pearly grains of this Niigata rice, perfect heat, texture, temperature, stickiness (nebari), with the aromas from the seasoning, the vegetables, the grilled fatty kinmedai…too good for words.
Rice course is incomplete without pickles. Both the sliced cucumber and the daikon were great…particularly the daikon. Holy crap, hints of Kyoto style turnip and Tokyo sushi restaurant bettara zuke. Legendary match.
The soup was brilliant too. A real nice way to wind down this meal and to be satiated (before dessert!)
Dessert was next, I was super looking forward to it!
Harries Berries Mara Des Bois strawberries with kinako cream, served with a tea blend of matcha and sencha. A simple take on strawberries & cream, but at such a high level!
Chef Go was so kind and gave us all extras of the strawberries, as much kinako cream as we wanted, and some slices of really delectable seasonal summer pluots. So good and satisfying!
This was definitely one of, if not the highlight of my trip! Super happy!
A few additional comments
You guys here in LA are very blessed and fortunate to have Chef Go, a man and craftsman with this level of talent, and to be able to blend all sensibilities together (skill, use of premium local and imported Japanese ingredients) yet deliver an experience that fits a wide variety for the Californian crowd. It’s a no brainer that VIP ballers love to come here and enjoy their aged burgundies, or splurge on very nice sake. But the food is also built perfectly that even if you open and enjoy geek sake or niche wine, that it will work great.
Service is super attentive, and all their server staff are well trained and kept the right pacing. Chef Go is extremely engaging and makes sure everyone leaves happy and satiated. A true to spirit professional craftsman, pays great attention to detail and strives to improve and stays in tune with kaiseki trends (or to stay grounded)…Sushi Yoshizumi is exactly the same way in this regard.
Also loved the build out of the place. A very intimate atmosphere. I can only hope that people who come here really do appreciate the cuisine, and at least leave with a better understanding of washoku, technique, execution, and all the nuances of profiles, aroma, flavors…and last but not least, why having a place like this is ground breaking and a treasure (also setting the bar high for those attempting anything remotely similar).
Looking forward to returning next time!