Sushi Ginza Onodera: A Pictorial Essay

Sushi restaurants here in Los Angeles tend to come in many varieties. I think that’s so because Angelenos have such varied expectations of their sushi; perhaps more so than any other city in the world. We are spoiled for choice at every level. Whether it’s sharing a dynamite roll fusion creation with friends, scarfing down a bowl of chirashi-don solo during lunch hour, selecting sashimi specials for the “carbophobes” out there, or enjoying traditional full-blown Edomae style omakase meals, L.A. probably has a sushi-ya for every type of sushi eater.

The recent opening of Sushi Ginza Onodera marks the latest entry into the “top echelon” category of Los Angeles sushi restaurants. The Onodera Group (no relation to ex-Mori chef Morihiro Onodera, in case you were wondering) operates other locations in Tokyo, Paris, New York, Honolulu and Shanghai.

LOCATION: The new L.A. storefront, located near the corner of La Cienega & Melrose, features a subdued yet sleek facade. Valet parking is available at the parking structure a few doors north (the restaurant offers validation). If you feel courageous and want to park on the street, beware the famously enigmatic West Hollywood parking signs.

RESERVATIONS: Easy (for now) - I did OpenTable. (I first tried calling their phone number, but received neither answer nor outgoing message.) Last call for food is at 9PM, so I reserved for a 6PM start (my meal took about 2.5 hours). The bar seats 13, but can easily expand to accommodate up to 16 diners. There are no tables. It should be noted that once reservations are made, there is a $150 cancellation fee if within 48 hours of the date. And if there is a “no show”, $300 will be charged.

DÉCOR: Inside, the L-shaped bar is smooth and well-lit (perhaps the brightest sushi-ya I’ve ever been in). Otherwise, the usual minimalist feel prevails. There is no cold case at the counter (instead, the neta are stored in various containers, easily within the chef’s reach, much like Urasawa). The chairs are comfortable, and hooks for handbags are thoughtfully offered for each seat at knee-level. The knockout feature in the room is the gorgeous Japanese cypress bar, sanded smoother than silk. It’s downright sexy to the touch. The unique hashioki and lacquered toothpick boxes are beautiful to behold.

MENU: No mystery here - There is only one omakase option, and it costs $300 per person (before alcohol and tax of course). Interesting thing is that no tipping is accepted (as is the custom in Japan). The alcohol selections are not too expansive, and I did not ask about BYOB or corkage policy. The chef inquired if there were allergies before we got started (luckily ‘no’, I replied).

On to the chow!!! My itamae for the evening was Yohei Matsuki, who, like the name of the restaurant, actually hails from the Ginza district of Tokyo. Yohei-san is quick with a smile, and even faster with his knife. His English is mostly passable, but the very friendly staff helped translate during the rare moments when the going got tough conversationally. Before L.A., Yohei-san worked stints as shokunin in the New York and Shanghai Onodera locations.

Sapporo Black Label…

Amuse 1: Tako (octopus) - Incredibly tender! Top 3 in the city.

Amuse 2: Seaweed salad and gari (pickled ginger, to be enjoyed later)…

Kawahagi (thread-sail filefish) “poke”… Delightful! This was super flavorful. One of my favorite dishes of the night.

Buri (wild yellowtail)… Line-caught off the coast of Japan, this is a rare seasonal delicacy!

Kobako-gani (female snow crab)… Not a big critter…

… But packed with big taste! The female yielded SO MUCH KANI MISO (CRAB ROE)!!! It was so very, very good (like “lick-the-carapace-clean” good)!!!

“Egg Egg Egg”… Japanese chawanmushi (egg custard), with caviar and uni (sea urchin roe), topped with wasabi. Visual luxury - But taste-wise, I wished it was more than the sum of its parts. While nice, the gestalt never elevated this dish to the next level.

Next, giant abalone were brought out! These abalone are from Japan, and are over 5 years old!

Gently steamed awabi (abalone), served with it own liver sauce (awabi miso)… The kimo sauce was fantastic, but I would have liked the abalone to be just a smidgeon more steamed.

Shirako (cod milt), tempura style, served with sudachi (Japanese citrus)… Glorious. Easily as good as any tempura at Endo.

A bit of sake (from Niigata Prefecture) to accompany our next course…

A Tale of Two Karasumis (salted mullet roe)… On the left, fresh karasumi made with miso. On the right, karasumi “Ginza-style”, aged for over one year. So wonderfully complex, and they paired so well with the sake!!!

Ankimo (monkfish liver), braised with red wine… Just incredible. One of my BEST BITES OF THE YEAR. Absolutely stunning taste - After this, I don’t know if I can ever eat non-braised ankimo again!

Nigiri courses, coming right up…

Akasu (vinegar made from read sake lees) is added to the sushi-meshi (starting white sushi rice), resulting is a brownish shari (sushi rice ready to use)…

Shari notes: I very much liked the temperature and packing of the shari by Yohei-san. But I felt that the shari suffered from a bit too much akasu treatment - So much so that it sometimes detracted from the gentler notes of the neta in the overall bite of nigiri. Also, the hagotai (toothsome-ness; some would call it ‘al dente’) of the rice was a bit too stiff for my liking. Maybe this is an Edomae thing, and I am just not accustomed to it.

Kinmedai (golden eye snapper)…

Sake (wild salmon)… From off the coast of Japan.

Kohada (gizzard shad), with ebi (shrimp) flakes…

Kamasu (baby barracuda), slightly seared skin… Tender texture, with a hint of smoky - So nice!

Shiro ebi (white shrimp)… From Toyama Bay. It was fabulous. There is a short season for this shrimp.

Shiro ika (white squid), with uni & wasabi… The precision knifework on the squid was a joy to behold.

Sayori (Japanese half beak)… Nice hikarimono (silver-skinned fish) here at Onodera.

Oma maguro akami (also known as honmaguro akami, or lean Japanese bluefin tuna). This wild bluefin tuna is caught using traditional pole-and-line methods in the Tsugaru Channel of Japan. According to Edomae style preparation, the tuna is aged a bit to bring out even better taste. Might tasty!

Nodoguro (blackthroat perch)… Splendid.

Honmaguro chu-toro (medium fatty bluefin tuna)…

Sujiko (salmon roe in sack) gunkan (“battleship”)-style, topped with yuzu shavings… This nori (dried seaweed) deserves a special mention - It ranks as one of the best nori I’ve ever tried!

Honmaguro o-toro (high fatty bluefin tuna)… Wow!!!

Miso soup… Refreshed the palate!

Bafun uni, from Japan… It’s so silky soft. Pretty plating, too.

Anago (sea eel) two ways - “Salty & Sweet”… Really good. The transition of tastes meant that we were getting closer to dessert!

Kasutera-style tamagoyaki (sweet-ish omelette made from egg, shrimp paste, and mountain potato)… A purist’s way of finishing up such a fine meal! Yohei-san said it took over two hours to prepare this special tamagoyaki.

Dessert: Matcha (Japanese green tea) sauce & coconut pudding with kuromame (Japanese sweet black soybean)…

Hoji-cha (roasted barley tea) to round things out…

SERVICE: Gracious and attentive. Glasses were filled discreetly, oshibori were hot and perfectly timed in presentation. Overall, very professional. I almost felt bad that they didn’t accepts tips, but then I remembered that gratuity is (hopefully) built in to the overall costs.

I would immediately recommend Sushi Ginza Onodera to all you sushi-philes out there, as it definitely is another “box on the list” to check off in the current L.A. sushi scene. But for those of you who are “on the fence” about the price/value, I’m not sure I would want to pay $300 per person for this meal. If their nigiri game was a bit stronger, then I would be more than happy to pony up. To be completely fair, I have only eaten here once so far, and this location is still in its infancy. It is without question worthy of a re-visit in another few months from now. The pace of the meal was lovely. The staff made me feel so welcome. Also, Yohei-san’s ankimo dish is terrific beyond belief.

RECOMMENDED.

Sushi Ginza Onodera
609 N. La Cienega Bl.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
323.433.4817
onodera-group.com/en/

18 Likes

Great report, thanks. So how were you supposed to eat the kohada with the shrimp flakes?

the no tip policy sure helps soften the blow. I was wondering about that… thanks

How was the pacing?

Our meal in NYC was a bit uneven, with 10-15 minutes between some courses, and little to no break between others.

Interestingly as well is how similar to the two 300 omakase options are on each coasts.

Hi @J_L,

Yah! Thanks for letting us live vicariously through you. :slight_smile:

Great report and pics!

Eater LA originally mentioned they had Omakase from $300 - $400. Was there only one option? Just curious what the $400 range was? (or perhaps if the diner wanted to keep adding? or perhaps certain seasonal specials like Kegani?)

The knifework does look fantastic. The Squid was pretty impressive looking.

And how do you think this compares with Mori and Shunji?

That knife work looks insane

Yep. One $300pp option. No more, no less.

I had no issues with pacing. My meal was evenly spread out a bit over 2 hours. Mind you, I was the only diner in the joint during the whole time, so I have no idea if things might fall apart if there had been other parties there.

Chalk that up to the fact that Onodera is a chain. And this brings up another initial impression - I mean, it was really nice to dine there, but I did get a slight sense that the staff were following a “chain” formula. It was barely perceptible, but there was that je-ne-sais-quoi vibe to their menu upon my visit.

Thanks J_L!

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[quote=“J_L, post:7, topic:4766”]One $300pp option. No more, no less.
[/quote]

Thanks. Given the price tag (far more expensive than Mori or Shunji), do you feel it was worth it?

Did you read my last paragraph?

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Excellent review, fantastic pictures, and thank you for sharing!

Onodera shuttered their Hong Kong location, read of a few downhill reports before their closure (then again Ginza Iwa shuttered too over there unfortunately).

What’s on top of the buri (must be kanburi)? Specks of wasabi mixed in with the nikiri shoyu?

Your kawahagi appetizer, the fish is mixed with its own liver sauce. Truly good stuff there.

Kobako gani, also known as seiko gani, are female Matsuba crabs. In season now, and are truly ridiculous/great treats.
So happy to hear that this is now available in LA! We’ve been luckily enjoying them for the past year in NorCal at a few places.

Similar instincts when I saw the chawanmushi caviar picture, hopefully it wasn’t too salty. Could you taste the dashi in the egg custard?

Did they inform you on the details of the Niigata sake poured? Beautiful vessel! After having quality karasumi, I can’t look at TW Wu yu zi 烏魚子 the same way (although that was my first exposure to cured mullet roe before bottarga). Having the daikon slices together really helps.

The flakes look like ebi oboro. Never seen it served on the side, but one would sprinkle it on top at this point to answer the question posed earlier. Too bad no kurumaebi in this meali, I would have saved some of the ebi oboro to put on top of that.

9 otsumami, ~15 pieces of sushi/post otsumami courses for a flat $300, not too bad actually. Compare that to $300 at Hashiri San Francisco (the Tokyo original location is bookable through opentable…), 7 otsumami, 12 pieces and the bluefin I believe is Hokkaido not Oma, and the tamagoyaki is the atsuyaki (non katsutera) old school version, Hashiri’s extended omakase is $500. Onodera is a steal in comparison.

Can you comment on the shari’s level of salt/savory flavors, the degree of sour, and if there were any sweet tones, and how the temperature was (warm, above room temperature etc)? Had a bad experience at a high end place in Ginza where the shari was overwhelming in salt/sour and threw the nigiri completely off balance.

Now I am really curious about their sake / reserve sake list!

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A few more comments/observations

The Shanghai branch has Teppanyaki, Tempura, and Sushi. So very likely somewhere in the omakase will be an inevitable wagyu/seared wagyu course. The Hong Kong location had everything but tempura, and I’ve seen wagyu courses in various reviews. Thankfully that’s not part of the LA operation.

The no show/cancellation policy is getting more common, so charging a fee for cancelling less than 48 hours is reasonable even if to cover food costs. Too many tourists/visitors to high end restaurants in Japan cancel last minute, forcing places to either take no reservations from overseas or in some cases hotel concierge services. It’s a sad trend. But at the same time many places even in Tokyo don’t require a credit card to hold a reservation.

Nice shot of the counter/ingredients. The ginger is marinating in vinegar (nice dark one, almost like akasu but maybe it’s not). Pretty good looking wasabi root behind it, though you can’t see the leaves/stem.

The sayori piece has a lot of white and very little silver. That is one SUPER fatty good looking piece! Did the fish taste like it was lightly marinated in vinegar, or just a raw pristine piece?

The Honolulu branch has a separate teppanyaki branch also, and there were talks of a tempura branch, too. However, the sushi branch once had a wagyu course, but now after the teppanyaki branch opened, wagyu (or tempura) is no longer a part of the sushi meal.

Gotta say this is quite a bit different than the 2 SGO Honolulu sushi meals I had, 1 being last month. I’m interested to see how they compare and I will post the menus. For one, the rice looks darker in LA, at least comparing our photos.

I believe the LA and NYC branches have a different layout - a PR company and different architect. Hall PR, which has Bouley and Keste Pizza as clients, works with the LA and NYC branches. The bar is different, too, just 6 seats in Honolulu straight across. And of course the price in LA and NYC is 20-50% higher than in Honolulu. Perhaps they are aiming for a slightly different clientele. Eg in Hawaii there was no uni and caviar dish near the beginning, but instead yaki kamasu marinated in shuto (and yes, since I know that you will ask, it was great with sake - Senshin :v:️️).

Anyway, the wasabi was from Shizuoka when I went. Top stuff, though Sushi Kazuma (Vintage Cave’s second sushi bar, in the back) had an even better crop ($$ ingredients but not quite as technical sushi).

Thanks, JL for your pictures and thoughts - I’m trying not to look at it much as it may spoil the surprise for my visit, but it’s hard to resist!

[quote=“BradFord, post:15, topic:4766, full:true”]
but instead yaki kamasu marinated in shuto (and yes, since I know that you will ask, it was great with sake - Senshin :v:️️). [/quote]

You talking to me? :joy:

That is a great bottle of sake. Classic Niigata crisp dry/tanrei karakuchi profile, matured at least a year in the bottle, with some wonderful signature pepper & spice tones along the way. Even if the sushi is weak at an establishment, you can still enjoy the sake and smile, haha. Definitely a match made in heaven with stronger flavored neta/shari and yakimono (even a fatty piece of tachuio shioyaki). Guess it’s a bit more prevalent at the nicer places of late, given the popularity of MTC as the distributor of choice (probably not too difficult to find Tatsuriki too outside of Mori Sushi, another great rice/terroir focused brewery).

Very observant (as always). Yes indeed it was.

I’ve only had them in Japan, and never in the States (that is, until this inaugural meal in the LA location).

Sadly, no. This chawanmushi was one of the weaker dishes of the evening. It felt like they were trying to justify the $300 price tag with the caviar, which didn’t add much to the taste.

The kiriko is a charming touch.

When in Taiwan, we love to pair the bottarga with beer / moutai / sake / shochu / paint thinner - whatever is available! :slight_smile: Yohei-san said that his “Ginza-style” karasumi was prepared by himself in Tokyo over a year ago, and then brought across the Pacific in his luggage!

Yeah, I should have brought a smaller container to smuggle the leftover oboro home. It’d go well as a topping for my morning congee.

I suppose. And no tipping, either.

The shari just didn’t quite approach the $300 “wow” level for me; the suppai-to-amai ratio in the rice was off (i.e. too high). The temperature was just a pinch over ambient, which is just fine. Flavor-wise, the sweetness of the akasu was barely perceptible, and only appeared towards the end of the bite. Sour notes dominated the rice, and overwhelmed a few of the gentler neta in the nigiri courses. Furthermore, the hagotai was a tad too strong, never quite fading after the initial chewing, as it should have. Also, the nebari wasn’t quite all there, leading to some grains falling off the rice despite what looked (and tasted) like decent packing by the shokunin. In retrospect, a bit less akasu would have gone a long way to solve a lot of these issues.

But again, this location is in its infancy, and should be given benefit of the doubt. I am definitely willing to retry it later on. (And on that next visit, I will definitely take note of the alcohol menu, and a photo of the… ahem… bathroom.) :smile:

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Pristine as can be. Strong hikarimono actually matched well with the higher akasu-content shari, in this case.

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Dictionary please …

“because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity!”

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrCnhwtVujQ)

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LOL is that Bollywood scene famous in the States? Pretty hilarious, I must say.

I think he meant the rice was a touch too sour and dense, which overwhelmed some of the more delicate fishes. The red vinegar was a bit too strong, affecting not only balance of the taste, but also the grains’ stickiness.

beefnoguy - yeah, I was talking to you since you tend to talk about sake. Senshin is quite good, and it’s become increasingly popular in the States. It indeed goes well with yakimono like you mentioned with that slight spice working well with that shuto funk (also great with seared nodoguro). My favorite is Otokoyama Junmai Daiginjo with shiromidane sashimi, e.g. madai, karei, hata, kue, etc. but I digress.

3 Likes