Apple Valley, a suburb of the Twin Cities, is not a place you’d probably look for Japanese food in and my experiences at Masu Sushi & Noodles suggest that it’s probably best if you don’t. It’s not bad per se but the best I could say of the best of what I ate was that it was inoffensive. This is generally true of the larger Japanese food scene in the area. Whether it’s the original Origami or newer places like Sushi Fix or Kyatchi, restaurants that would be marginal in most major cities in the US are talked about breathlessly here by the professionals as though they could hold their own anywhere. This makes it hard to know what to make of highly-praised newer places, whether at the high end (see, for example, the new sushi and kaiseki place by an ex-Origami chef) or at the more affordable end (see the newer noodle/ramen shops that have opened in Minneapolis). Well, I can tell you that Masu Sushi & Noodles in Apple Valley is not a place you should go to expecting good sushi or noodles. Believe me, I would be very happy if I could tell you otherwise. Unfortunately, they’ve put far more effort into their vaguely Orientalist decor than into their recipes and execution. Continue reading
Our first visit to Mori was almost a year ago—it was our very last meal out in 2015 and it was one of the best meals we ate all that year. It was not cheap—the most we’d spent on a sushi-centered meal so far. It was, however, an excellent meal—by far the best sushi we’d ever eaten and we knew we wanted to go back on our next trip in the summer (yes, it has taken me five months to finally finish writing up all our meals from our L.A trip in the summer). We’d planned to go back for lunch and eat slightly cheaper: we’d been told on our last visit that at lunch the omakase ran about $80 and served up 15 pieces of fish; that seemed like the sweet spot between our appetites and our wallets. Alas, right before we got to L.A. Mori stopped serving lunch. I thought briefly about going somewhere else for our anniversary meal but the missus suggested that we just bite the bullet and go back to Mori and just eat one less meal of sushi elsewhere in the trip. And so we did. It was very good again but the experience fell a bit short of our first visit. Continue reading
I will not annoy my Minnesota readers again by repeating my views on the quality of sushi in the Twin Cities metro area. Suffice it to say, we save our sushi dollars and eat sushi when we’re in Los Angeles. While we splurge on one high-end sushi meal on each trip (it was Mori again on this trip—review coming in a few weeks) we also eat a lunch or two at mid-range places. On this trip we decided to go back to Hirozen in Beverly Hills, a place I used to eat at every once in a while more than 12 years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles. Well, time doesn’t stand still. The name has changed (it’s Matsumoto now; everything else about the restaurant remains the same—Matsumoto is the old chef’s name) and I didn’t like it quite as much as I did back in the day. Is that because they’ve changed, or is it because then I hadn’t had any sushi that was better? Tough to say, but I suspect it’s the latter. Continue reading
Here is the last of my meal reports from our recent trip to Los Angeles. I began those trip reports with an account of a very expensive omakase dinner at Mori and so it’s appropriate that the last one be of a quick lunch closer to the opposite end of the sushi continuum in Los Angeles: at Sushi Go 55, an unassuming restaurant in a mall in Little Tokyo that serves largely people who work in nearby businesses and for which no one (well, no one who is not on Yelp or Tripadvisor) has ever made any strong claims. We were going to be in the area and needed a quick place for lunch and given how poor the sushi scene in the Twin Cities is, were more than willing to roll the dice on an affordable fourth or fifth tier place in L.A. And wouldn’t you know it, the meal was, on the whole, superior to all my sushi outings in the Twin Cities, and far cheaper.
This is part of my quest to eat at Los Angeles area sushi restaurants whose names resemble those of the dwarves Bilbo Baggins accompanied to the Lonely Mountain: first Mori, now Nori; come back later in the week for Ori! Actually, no: if there is a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles named Ori, we have not eaten there. We only ended up at Nori after our meal at Mori because a) we were in search of a decent place that would be open late for lunch on a Monday and b) was not going to be a major hit on the wallet. Why even bother with cheaper sushi on a Monday when there are so many other excellent cheap eats in Los Angeles? Well, when you live in Minnesota where finding even average sushi is an achievement, and it’s priced like it’s better than that, you don’t need to eat at the upper echelons of the L.A. scene to be happy. It’s also the case that my reviews of sushi in L.A. have hitherto covered better known places and I was curious to see what hidden gems there might be out there. Well, I’m not sure if Nori quite rises to gem level but it was surprisingly good and very good value. Continue reading
My first restaurant review of 2015 was of a dinner omakase at Shunji and so it seems fitting that my last restaurant review of the year is of an omakase meal at Mori. Shunji, Mori and perhaps Zo are the three sushi bars that are likely to be near the top of most Los Angeles sushi aficionados’ lists—though some make the case as well for the recently opened Q, and some for the far less classical Kiriko . (I’m not counting Urasawa here both because the base experience there costs several hundred percent more and because it’s known as much, if not more, for its kaiseki dishes as for its sushi per se.) Continue reading
Nozomi is in Torrance, a city in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County, but for the purposes of my reviews Los Angeles more or less refers to all of LA County (the San Gabriel Valley isn’t part of the city of Los Angeles either). Torrance has a very large Japanese population, especially as a percentage of the total population. A large part of this stems from Toyota opening its US headquarters there in the late 1960s, followed by other companies. Nissan moved out in 2006 and, more seismically, Toyota announced plans to move to Texas last year. This has doubtless been a big blow to the many businesses that cater to Japanese executives—a clientele that has also driven the high quality of Japanese food in Los Angeles at large. It remains to be seen what the long-term effect will be, or if there’s now going to be a Japanese food renaissance in Plano, Texas (which is where Toyota is going). Continue reading
Kyatchi is a relatively new entrant to the Minneapolis sushi market. It opened just about a year and a half ago and has steadily acquired a strong reputation. When I posted my account of our not-very-good meal at Origami last year a friend recommended it instead; and since then it’s been showing up near the top of many people’s lists. But the same is true of Sushi Fix and I was very far from impressed with my meal there. So, while I’d planned to hit Kyatchi right after that meal, I was a little gun shy. But then I read this interview with Chef Hide Tozawa on City Pages and he seemed to hit all the right notes for me, promising an experience not centered on wacky rolls, unlike at most MSP restaurants (“if you look at my menu, especially sushi, there are no Americanized rolls. I made those things enough in my career in the United States. I want diners at Kyatchi to see what a single ingredient can create if it is done right”); and suggesting that their selection is not limited by their laudable focus on sustainable fish (“Welcome to 21st century transportation. It’s great. You can get whatever you want overnight”). Continue reading
Every time we come back from Los Angeles in the summer I go through sushi withdrawal and begin to think hopefully about sushi in the Twin Cities. I’ve described my prejudices before, in my review of Origami, which, unfortunately, also seemed to see those prejudices confirmed. That experience seemed at the time enough to ward off thoughts of sushi in Minnesota for another 10 years. However, predictably enough, at the conclusion of this summer’s trip I once again began to think about eating sushi here.
It’s been a bit of a tradition for us to eat lunch at Kiyokawa on our summer trips to L.A. Our first meal there was on our anniversary and even though we’ve always been back a month or so past our anniversary on subsequent trips we’ve always considered it our anniversary meal. Imagine our disappointment then on rolling up to their door three weeks ago and being told that they’re now dinner-only. There was also a sign on the window marking the transfer of their liquor license to a new owner. As the door was open I asked the staff member behind the bar if Satoshi Kiyokawa was still in charge of the food; he assured me he is and that the ownership change hasn’t changed anything else. (I assume this is why they may have left the door open when not in fact open: to reassure people who may ask that Kiyokawa is still Kiyokawa.) A big disappointment for us as it was not possible to eat dinner on this trip (I left the next day and had plans to meet Michael K. for dinner elsewhere that night). Still, if anyone has eaten at Kiyokawa since the change and can reassure me further please write in below. Continue reading
I have a large number of meal reports left from my Los Angeles trip which ended two weeks ago, a number of them of sushi lunches. So as to not give you mercury poisoning from too many sushi meal reports in a row, I’m going to space them out. Here first is a brief account of a lunch omakase at Sushi Sushi in Beverly Hills.
Sushi Sushi is located right off Robertson on Beverly Drive. While there are some who praise it highly, it’s not really in the upper echelons of Los Angeles’ sushi scene; but we can’t afford to eat only at that level. As it happens, we liked our meal fine but it had the unexpected effect of making us appreciate all the more our more expensive omakase at Sushi Tsujita. Continue reading
Tsujita, the famous Los Angeles ramen and noodle specialists, opened four years or so ago, taking the city by storm just as the ramen craze was beginning to crest in the US. A branch of an apparently well-respected Tokyo restaurant, it has set the standard for ramen in Los Angeles (and its own branch, Tsujita Annex, opened down the street on Sawtelle not too long after). And it’s not just American ramen enthusiasts who raved about it: a few years ago when we asked Satoshi Kiyokawa (of the eponymous Kiyokawa) where he likes to eat Japanese food when he’s not in his own restaurant, he said unhesitatingly that Tsujita was the place for him. Continue reading
Kiriko, as I’ve said before, has one of the best lunch deals on the planet: miso soup, salad, 10 pieces of quality nigiri plus one handroll, served omakase-style for $46/head. It is true Shunji’s lunch special offers a couple more pieces but I’ll reiterate that I think Kiriko’s is a better deal anyway, as you get better fish. The only problem is that it’s not served to solo diners (but maybe you could just order two?).
We eat this lunch special at least once on every summer trip but I don’t write up every meal as the selection is seasonal and so doesn’t change so much from meal to meal. However, our most recent trip was at the end of December and so here’s an account of what we ate.
We were in Los Angeles for a little short of two weeks at the end of December and early January and, as usual, ate somewhat excessively. Reports on most of those meals will show up on the blog over the next month or so, though not in sequence. First up is the meal we were looking forward to the most: dinner at Shunji.
Shunji opened a little less than three years ago and in pretty short order rocketed to near the top of Los Angeles’s sushi scene (probably the best in the United States); most of the cognoscenti rank it in the tier below Urasawa (a restaurant I am unlikely to eat at in the foreseeable future). We ate their lunch special “omakase” this summer and while it was good we were not blown away (we both thought Kiriko’s lunch special, on this trip and previous, was far superior). When I said as much on Chowhound’s Los Angeles forum a lot of people insisted that the measure of Shunji cannot be taken without doing their full-on dinner omakase. Frankly, based on the nature of some of the conversation, I think there’s a bit of “Shunji’ism” at play on the Chowhound LA forum, but the point was well-taken and so we resolved to do the full omakase on this trip. And so we did. And it was a very good meal. But, again, it didn’t rise to the level of a transcendental experience—more on this below.