[Apologies for the not-so-brief hiatus. Just been busy with life. Still need to eat, so I have a backlog of material to post. I figure I’d restart with my favorite subject, sushi!]
Some of the best sushi-ya in L.A. are on the Westside. Kiriko, Mori, and Shunji are a stone’s throw from each other and all within 5 miles from where I live. Because of this, I rarely venture elsewhere for sushi. Of course, I have a wishlist of sushi/kaiseki places to try, both on the Westside (n/naka, Urasawa, Yamakase, etc.) and elsewhere (Asanebo, Kimagure Ike, Q, Zo, etc.), and I was fortunate enough to cross one of the top ones on my list off a little while ago.
Go’s Mart started off as an actual Japanese market, not as a restaurant, according to a regular who we were sitting next to at the bar. Opened and ran by Go-san’s brother Go-san, Go-san took over Go’s Mart from his brother Go-san (confused yet?) in 2007 and converted it into a restaurant, though he (in)famously continued to operate the VHS tape rentals that I presumed existed before his takeover. Nowadays, the tapes have gone, and Go’s Mart is strictly a sushi-ya.
I was meeting up with a friend from the Bay Area for lunch, and as usual I was running late. Didn’t help that I got lost. Fortunately, I arrived as they opened and my friend had already secured us seats all the way at the back of the small sushi bar. We ordered omakase, but rather than being served individual pieces, Go-san served us what I called “flights” (to borrow from wine terminology) of fish, which were grouped thematically.
The first flight consisted of four shiromi, white-fleshed fish: shimaaji (striped jack), kinmedai (golden eye sea bream), karei engawa (flounder fin), kanpachi (amberjack). The fish were all served with yuzukosho (a peppery, citrus-y chili paste), as well as yuzu zest and delicate strips of black truffle. The bold and complex mixture of flavors were quite different than what I’ve become accustomed to with sushi and worked better than I expected.
Next was the flight of maguro: kamatoro aburi (torched fatty tuna collar), kawagishi toro (scraped fatty tuna), akami (lean tuna). This was a most decadent and delicious trio. The kamatoro was topped with gold flakes, and the preparation rendered some of the fattiness instead into crispy edges. The kawagishi was almost tartare-like, and topped with caviar. The akami was the most traditional, with some scallion and a slice of fried garlic.
Ebiko (shrimp roe) served as our intermezzo. Soaked in ponzu, with a hint of sake, if I recall correctly, it was a refreshingly briny treat. It was rather difficult to eat with chopsticks, so I just downed it like a shot.
My favorite seafood tend to be invertebrates, so I was very much looking forward to this plate of non-fish sushi, or hokanomono: uni (sea urchin), amaebi aburi (torched sweet shrimp), zuwaigani (snow crab), hotate (scallop). The truffle oil, which topped each piece, rather than overpowered, really accentuated the sweetness of the each neta, which were exemplary.
Our second intermezzo was the fried head of the amaebi in ponzu, deliciously crisp and “refreshing” in its own way.
Back to sushi, and my preferred kind of fish too, hikarimono, or silver/shiny-skinned fish: sekiaji (horse mackerel from Oita, Japan), sanma (pike mackerel), ebodai (butterfish), kohada (shad). I’ve had some amazing aji and sanma at Shunji and Kiriko, and a really fantastic piece of ebodai at Yojisan last year. The pieces at Go’s Mart didn’t quite measure up to those top specimen (in my opinion–my friend absolutely adored the kohada here), they were still expertly prepared and delicious. The goji berries were an interesting choice to help cut the natural bitterness of hikarimono.
I was pleasantly surprised by the second flight of hokanomono that came next: awabi w/kimo (abalone w/liver), mirugai (giant clam), tako aburi (torched octopus). The tako, which was marked “live” (though I didn’t see it squirming during prep) was probably the best octopus nigiri I’ve had, snappy yet tender, with the slight smokey char from the torch. The mirugai was clean and briny. The awabi was excellent, and, true to my moniker, I loved the rich, buttery, bitterness of the kimo.
At this point, we started ordering okonomi, or à la carte. The regular sitting next to us, Rick I believe his name was, said he gets the ankimo (monkfish liver) every time he comes in, which is often, so we had to try it. The piece was still warm from being made just earlier that day. Topped with some scallions and a goji berry, it was the best solid piece of monkfish liver I’ve had. It’s been called the foie gras of the sea, and the piece I had definitely lived up to that reputation.
Shirasu (icefish) was my next order, and it was great. Slighty bitter, but well balanced with the minced ginger mixed together with the Lilliputian fish.
As I mentioned, I really love non-fish seafood, so I had to try the mongo ika. I had a hard time determining the kind of squid it was, as the other species all had relatively clear translations: aori ika (bigfin reef squid), sumi ika (cuttlefish–literally “ink squid”), yari ika (spearhead squid), etc. It appears to translate as common cuttlefish. Regardless, it was sweet and tender, not too chewy.
For my last piece of nigiri, I opted for sayori (needlefish). I’m not sure if it’d fall under shiromi or hikarimono, but it seemed to have the best of both: delicate, mild flesh, but with a underlying earthy (ocean-y?) bitterness.
Dessert was a platter of mixed fruit drizzled with condensed milk. Simple and a great way to close out the meal.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Go’s Mart. I was really pleasantly surprised by the experience. Go-san projects a playful pseudo-gruffness with a mischievous edge. I heard him telling another patron who had asked what the uni was that it was peanut butter! Go-san was not the only interesting character in the place. Rick, the regular I mentioned previously, has apparently been going to Go’s Mart for 17 years, if I recall correctly, back when it was just a market. He comes in multiple times a week just to get the ankimo. The other regulars I saw were also super-friendly to the newcomers, and the place just has that Cheers-esque everybody-knows-your-name feeling.
Go’s Mart is a true neighborhood spot that belies the incredible quality fish and amazing skills behind the counter. If only it wasn’t so far away, I’d be willing to try to become a regular too. I guess I’ll just have to “settle” for Kiriko and Shunji. ;-)
Go’s Mart (Yelp)
22330 Sherman Way
Canoga Park, CA 91303
All photographs © 2013 The Offalo