“I’m so much more relaxed now!”
Chef Morihiro Onodera was all smiles very early into our omakase meal with him at Shiki last evening in Beverly Hills. It’s been over five years since he sold his highly regarded namesake Westside restaurant, Mori Sushi. A month back, I had heard on the rumor mill that Mori-san was planning to return to the kitchen, but no one seemed to know where he would surface.
After so many years of helping cultivate the L.A. sushi scene at Katsu, Matsuhisa, R-23 and ultimately at Mori Sushi, one would hardly blame Mori-san for wanting to take time off from the kitchen in search of pursuits such as pottery and rice-growing in bucolic Rocha, Uruguay. But recently an old buddy and fellow ex-Matsuhisa alum Nao Sugiyama (of Sugiyama fame in Midtown NYC) pressed him to return to cooking. Nao-san now joins Mori-san once again in the kitchen, this time at Shiki- It’s a reunion which Mori-san says was unexpected, and yet felt so fitting once he accepted the offer.
Today, he beams about a new-found passion for cooking, and his desire to pass on his knowledge for great food to the next generation of chefs. Now that his new stint at Shiki is a secret no more, Mori-san expressed humble gratitude at seeing fans of the original Mori Sushi flock to visit him over the past week, with many customers wishing to rekindle old friendships at the sushi bar. His work schedule at Shiki currently runs Thursdays through Saturdays, with plans to expand to five nights a week starting next year.
And now, onto the omakase! (We reserved for the “Yuki” omakase with Mori-san in advance.)
MIO Sparkling Sake - Tradition be damned. ‘Twas bubbly, ‘twas tasty, and we loved it. So there.
Jikasei ankimo tofu (housemade monkfish liver tofu), served with ponzu… A perfect amalgam of the richness of ankimo with the lightness of tofu.
Zensai: Seven delectable morsels were presented before us!
Agedashi tofu with carrots and mushrooms…
Nanbanzuke (marinated fried rock cod with onion)…
Wakamomo (baby peach) gelee… Essence of peach - Scrumptious!
Nasu goma (Japanese eggplant with sesame sauce)… A derivation of the classic nasu dengaku, here using sesame. It works!
Kikuimo (chrysanthemum potato AKA Jerusalem artichoke AKA sunchoke) with shiro miso… Slightly sweeter cousin of the potato, the oft-underutilized sunchoke is excellent when paired with the sweet miso!
Simmered daikon… Simple and cozy for winter!
Zuwaigani (snow crab) in boiled turnip wrap… It’s high season for crab, and Mori-san knows how to do crab right.
Ni-awabi (abalone), slow-cooked with sake & konbu broth, served with yuzukosho… The flesh was beautifully dense and soft. The abalone kimo (liver) was particularly fragrant and gentle.
Mori-san made this yuzukosho from scratch at home the other day. It tastes strong and crisp. Only a dab is needed to accompany the wonderful abalone!
Kegani (hairy crab) with kani miso (crab innards) from Hokkaido, served with sweet vinegar dashi… Gorgeous and tasty, Japanese hairy crab is always a winter time treat. Along with Shunji’s version, Mori-san’s kegani at Shiki ranks among the top places to enjoy this dish in L.A.!
“Would you like to try some beef?” asked Mori-san. Philosophically, this one question represented a radical departure from the Mori-san we knew from before. He recounts that during his time at Mori Sushi, the menu essentially showcased seafood and vegetables. But Shiki is a general washoku establishment, and not a sushi specialist, and so the chef is happy to be able to offer a wider array of Japanese ingredients.
A5 Wagyu tataki, slight binchotan sear… This was purely exceptional. Mori-san presented this with a paired serving of uni. The combination bite resulted in an explosion of gustatory delight beyond words.
Nigiri time… “Because you can eat sashimi if all you care about is neta,” proclaims Mori-san. For all you shari fans out there, the chef is now experimenting with 2 different strains of Japanese short grain koshihikari rice. Yesterday it was a 60/40 mix, and today, it was a 70/30 mix. Pearly and smooth, I found the shari at Shiki on my visit to be almost as great here as the heights of shari mastery achieved at Mori Sushi. Almost. Mori-san explains that this a work in progress, and thus definitely a reason for a future return visit.
Tai (sea bream)… Delicious.
Sayori (Japanese halfbeak)… At the height of its season.
Kan-buri (winter Japanese amberjack)… From Himi in Toyama Prefecture, kan-buri has a very limited run yearly. Great stuff.
Akami zuke (traditionally marinated lean tuna)… Marvelous, in the true Edomae tradition.
Chutoro (medium fatty tuna)… Fanstastic!
The next progression of hikarimono (silver-skinned fish) were on par with anything Japan has to offer. These three pieces blew my mind.
Kohada (gizzard shad)… Oustanding.
Aji (Japanese horse mackerel)… Gorgeous oily and hint metallic hues from the iron-rich flesh!
Saba (mackerel)… Ethereal.
Mirugai (geoduck clam) with yuzu zest… Crunchy and fresh.
Aori ika (bigfin reef squid)… What texture!
Kinmedai (golden eye snapper) with slight binchotan sear… Tradition prevails here, as Mori-san refuses to use the blowtorch for searing, preferring instead the more subdued heat from hot charcoal.
Ikura (salmon roe)… Popping with flavor!
Uni (sea urchin roe), from Santa Barbara… Mori-san would eventually like to source bafun uni with regularity again, so that he may bring back the “Duet of Uni” originally so famously featured at Mori Sushi. But for now, this luscious, silky murasaki uni from Santa Barbara will have to play solo.
A tale of 2 eels:
Anago shio (saltwater eel with salt)… Here, the leaner, tail portion of the eel is used.
Anago tare (saltwater eel with sweet sauce)… Fluffier preparation, and tasted so soft on the palate. Again, the binchotan charcoal is used to put the finishing touches on the eel.
Tekkamaki (tuna cut roll)… Satisfying! Nicely rounding out our incredible nigiri portion of the omakase.
Dessert time! Two desserts were offered (but no hoji-cha?).
Housemade warabi mochi with kinako (roasted soybean powder) served with ice cream and fresh fruit, topped with kuromitsu (black sugar) sauce…
Matcha (green tea) panna cotta… Sublime.
It is heartening to see the master itamae back at work behind a sushi bar again. Mori-san declares that his time away from the kitchen (“I was never retired! It was only time off!”) helped him regain zeal for his art. The sabbatical worked wonders - Shiki seems to be a great fit for Mori-san at this stage of his career. His cooking now imparts an infusion of new energy, and the partnership with Nao-san allows him to create new dishes with more varied ingredients than before. There are, though, inevitably some very small kinks to be worked out. The rice is still being perfected (fear not, for Mori-san is a true rice geek, and I expect that the shari will only get better), and the sourcing of premium uni is an issue. There were also minor missteps with tea service (again, correctable). But in the end, this dinner was easily one of my best meals of 2017, and represents a terrific return to form for Chef Morihiro Onodera. His presence immediately catapults the “Yuki” omakase at Shiki Beverly Hills to one of the top dining experiences in Los Angeles.
Shiki Beverly Hills
featuring Chef Morihiro Onodera
410 N. Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210