A miniature sushi shoppe that would not feel out of place Tokyo’s Ginza district does its traditional thing exceptionally well in a nondescript, down at it’s heels neighborhood, stuck somewhat halfway between the eastern fringes of Koreatown and the commencement of Downtown LA. Shige-san has been making sushi here for close to four decades, after putting some serious time at the original Shibucho in Yahoan Plaza under the expert tutelage of Shibutani-san in the early 1970s, which delicately shines through in his utterly pristine morsels of fresh fish.
The cantankerous, curmudgeonly, verging on authoritarian cum despotic sushi chef (in some sushi circles) keeps going about his creative endeavor in his own idosyncratic fashion. That is serving simple cuts of fish and shellfish the traditional way, which also means two pieces of nigir-zushi at a time. Deceptively simple yet transcendental.
Suffice to say the price of entry for newbies and other novices is quite dear. First timers may be turned away before stepping inside depending on various factors such as believing the joint to be a Sirachi cream cheese inflected roll and sake bomb joint. Or if one only wants to devour oodles of fusion inspired and overly sauced junk.
Shige even goes to the lengths of placing myriad of RESERVATION placards along the length of the sushi bar to scare away potential customers when the occasion should be deemed necessary. Furthermore, he will turn down your request for an omakase meal at a first timer. Because after all, “how do I know what they want to eat ?”, he gruffly tells a obsequious patron when the request is put in.
When the sushi chef was asked what his favorite sushi was he stated bluntly, “I don’t eat sushi.” After a lifetime of cutting fresh fish, even the veteran master desires other bites to eat in his off hours. (Urban legend has it that he frequents his friend’s Southern Italian restaurant on Beverly Blvd: Madeo Ristorante, which also is the tip off to his olive oil-sauced albacore salad as well as his morsel of eggplant parmigiano (heavy on the finely sourced Parmigiana-Reggiana) that puts many a red-sauce Italian trattoria to shame.
He told one customer who inquired about whether the uni was from Santa Barbara with “How should I know ? I just cut fish. Maybe the fisherman knows.” However, he does pride himself on sourcing his fish from Tokyo, Spain, Italay, and even Norway (Norway ? Yes, Norway).
The soundtrack ranges from smooth jazz to Andre Bocelli (i.e. “time to say goodnight”) to the Pink Panther theme (yes, that iconic, groundbreaking ditty) each and every night.
Shige has a sideline in bottles of ultra-expensive Bordeaux and Burgundy from the 1950s to 60s though caveat emptor if you deign to order a bottle on a whim. An insidious sticker shock would not begin to describe your imminent troubles.
Working primarily alone, he sculpts each piece to order in the traditional bite-size pieces unique to the edo-mae roots.
His maguro sushi is like slices of ruby hewed steaks snatched from the sea. His yellowtail is quite toothsome in its way to reinforce its structural integrity. It must be said that not all fish should be mushy. The toro sushi melts in your mouth, as it usually does, though its heavily streaked with that ultra-pinkish hue that is highly prized to toro connoisseurs. His kanpachi and kinmedai have always been exceptional. And the obligatory toro hand roll filled to the brim with chopped toro and crunchy pickles is exactly what the doctor ordered to end this repast.
Even his wines by the glass works in conjunction with the meatier fishes.
And to end the meal ? What else by a pillowy, airy slab of tiramisu (Other desserts include panna cotta, poached pear in red wine with creme anglaise, a fruit tart, and chocolate tart).
You pay the usually excessive bill and then saunter out to your car to visit Los Angeles once again.
A paragon of perfection.