Shin Sushi (Los Angeles, December 2018)

A visit to Los Angeles for us always means a good sushi dinner. As my readers in the Twin Cities are sick of hearing—and as many are enraged to hear—we have a very low opinion of the sushi options here (including the much-lauded Kado no Mise) and prefer to not eat sushi at all in the Twin Cities. Of course, we have the advantage of being in Los Angeles once or twice a year to visit the missus’ family and so going without is easier with anticipation of much better sushi to come. We’d thought that on this trip we’d eat that much better sushi at Shiki in Beverly Hills. We’d eaten a very good lunch there in 2017 and had been surprised to discover Chef Mori Onodera was then working there. Though he was not working that lunch service he’d invited us to come back and sit with him at dinner on our next trip. This we had planned to do. Alas, in the intervening period Shiki raised their prices through the roof (omakase there is now even more expensive than at Mori, the restaurant that still bears Chef Onodera’s name). So, it was off our list*. We thought of going back to Mori again—always a treat, if a very expensive one. Then I read reports of a new place in Encino, started by a Mori alumnus: Shin Sushi. Almost as good as Mori, sources said, for much less money. That sounded like a good combination to us and so off we went on a Sunday evening in late December.

Like many sushi restaurants, Shin Sushi occupies an unprepossessing space. The focal point is a long bar but there are a number of tables as well. It is attractive enough but not quite as stylishly decorated as Mori. I mention Mori again only because Chef Take at Shin Sushi is, as I said, a Mori alumnus. Indeed, he had been behind the counter on our first visit to Mori in late 2015 and remembered us from just that one visit, even though he had not been the one making our sushi! The memory of sushi chefs is a good advertisement for the benefits of eating a lot of fish. At Mori he was under the tutelage of Chef Maru; here he is spreading his wings and it was nice to watch him do his thing not as an apprentice but as the boss (I think it is his first place as the head chef). I believe the restaurant opened with his brother working alongside him but when we visited he was away helping with a restaurant opening elsewhere (he may be back—this meal was eaten five months ago).

Chef Take was managing perfectly well on his own, however. Granted we were there on a Sunday night and it was not terribly busy. Other than the two of us there were three others at the sushi bar over the couple of hours we were there and no more than 2-3 tables were occupied. Those of us who were there ate well, however. We had specified that we wanted the omakase at the time of making the reservation, and I would say that’s the way to go. Reserving, by the way, is something you should do when going to a serious sushi restaurant for an omakase meal: they’re going to prepare for the number of people they know are coming; indeed, while we were there a walk-in customer looking for an omakase dinner was turned away (it goes without saying that you should do your best to honour your reservation as well).  This is how our meal went:

  1. Starter platter: Kumamoto oyster from Seattle; ankimo (monkfish liver); herring roe: Just great all around. A perfect plump oyster set off perfectly, excellent ankimo and an interesting preparation of the herring roe.
  2. Menegi (Japanese chive): This was a first for us and a really nice way to start off a fish meal, sharpening the palate. Interestingly, this was one of the most expensive items on the bill.
  3. Kasugodai (baby sea bream): The parade of fish began with a wonderful piece of baby sea bream. The skin had an umami quality that set off the mild flesh nicely.
  4. Katsuo (skipjack): The more unctuous skipjack was very good too.
  5. Hotate (scallop; from Hokkaido): The scallop’s texture was a little firmer than I like; I failed to ask if this was due to the mode of preparation (i.e if it had been marinated in any particular way).
  6. Isaki (grunt): Grunt is not the most attractive name for food but this was a highlight.
  7. Kurodai (black snapper): As was this excellent piece of black snapper marinated in bonito broth.
  8. Kohada (gizzard shad): We had specified “no bluefin” and this was in the place of bluefin. It was very good. (There was some confusion with the “no bluefin” thing; see below.)
  9. Yuki Masu (snow trout): This was another highlight with the lightly scorched/seared skin setting off the creamy fish perfectly.
  10. Ama ebi (sweet shrimp): I have to confess I am a savage on whom the pleasures of raw shrimp are a bit wasted but the missus is a fan and she loved this.
  11. Miso soup: And we both loved the miso soup made with our shrimps’ heads.
  12. Kanpachi (amberjack): A return to raw fish with just excellent kanpachi. We’d had some at lunch at Raku a couple of days earlier but this was something else.
  13. Salmon: Alaskan salmon, marinated and seared, this was rather good as well.
  14. Wild tai (sea bream): We’re not used to snapper showing up this late in a sushi omakase (which means little; we’re still relative novices) but this felt like a nice re-set after the heavier flavours and textures of the last few pieces/courses.
  15. Ikura (salmon roe; Alaskan): You know you’re approaching the end when the ikura shows up. You don’t mind when the ikura is as good as this was: briny and slightly sweet.
  16. Iwashi (sardine): I imagine this was in the place of uni in the regular omakase. Alas, there was no uni to be had as it’d been a bad season for Santa Barbara uni and I guess he didn’t have any from Japan on hand.
  17. Anago (sea eel): Simmered and served with yuzu zest on top, this was an excellent last bite of fish.
  18. Tamago: The tamago was the one thing we were a bit disappointed by. Perhaps just a matter of the style but it was just a bit too dry and dense for our liking.
  19. Tofu mousse: The tofu mousse on our first visit to Mori had been excellent and so it was again.

For a look at the restaurant and the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see what we made of the whole experience, how much it cost and how we’d rate it relative to the other places we’ve been to in L.A.

Service was excellent. Chef Take is very personable and the atmosphere at Shin Sushi is as far away from that of a severe temple of sushi as can be. Oh yes, the bluefin confusion: I’d specified “no bluefin” but he forgot and caught himself just as he was about to serve me a piece and after he’d served the missus a piece. He was extremely embarrassed and to spare him further embarrassment the missus just ate hers; I got the kohada in its place. Yet another sign seemingly of how unusual it must still be for people at expensive sushi restaurants to pass on bluefin.

As you can tell, we really liked the fish. The rice was where there was a clear drop-off from Mori. It’s not that the rice here was bad—far from it; it’s just that the rice at Mori is so damned good. But if you’re not that into the rice, or if you’re in the Valley and not West LA, then you may find that to be a moot point. Especially at the price. We paid about $110/head with tax and tip for all of the above plus one Sapporo. That’s about half the price of our last meal at Mori but that doesn’t tell the whole story. This meal comprised 14 pieces of nigiri plus the starters, menegi, tamago and tofu mousse. That meal at Mori, on the other hand, comprised 27 courses including two rounds of uni, nodoguro and snow crab. There’s a case to be made then that the price at Shin Sushi is actually closer to being on par with that at Mori; the difference being that it’s no longer possible to get an omakase of this smaller size and lower cost at Mori. So, yes, it is probably the case that the top line omakase at Shin Sushi is going to be about 60% the cost of Mori but it’s not exactly apples to apples. I would say it’s about 75% of the quality though.

But if you’d like to spend no more than $110/head (as we would be very happy not to do) it also seems unlikely that there are very many better options in Greater Los Angeles. And if there are, you should tell me about them. This was certainly superior to our lunch omakase at Shiki and also better than our lunch omakase at Sushi Tsujita some years ago (and certainly far better than places like Sushi Sushi, Osawa or Sasabune). Alas, it seems unlikely we’ll get to Shin Sushi again on our next trip. My mother-in-law is very unsportingly about to move from Koreatown to Seal Beach and not even the prospect of reasonably-priced, high-quality sushi is going to entice us into driving from Seal Beach to the San Fernando Valley. Even West LA may be a bridge too far. I guess we’ll be exploring the South Bay scene instead (Torrance, Lomita, Redondo Beach). Not sure when we’ll be there next but if you have recommendations, let me have ’em.

*As it turned out, Chef Mori was no longer at Shiki anyway in December 2018. He’s now apparently heading up the sushi counter at Inn Ann in Japan House.


4 thoughts on “Shin Sushi (Los Angeles, December 2018)

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