Shunji in Spring
I’ve tried to go to Shunji Japanese Cuisine several times this week and have failed miserably each time. It has been frustrating me all week, so I decided to channel all that energy into writing a review for a visit from April, which was my third time to Shunji, the first two having occurred only four and five days prior.
Why not write about those two visits? Because I foolishly hadn’t taken any pictures either time. Plus, I had already reviewed both visits on Chowhound (not saying what my username is there, but I’m sure you can find the write-ups). This was before I was banned from being able to recommend Shunji on CH, but I digress…
It was a Saturday, and I went in solo (my wife didn’t feel like sushi and stayed home with the kids). I sat at the last seat at the corner of the bar around 9:30 PM. The restaurant was as full as I’d seen it–four people to my right at the bar, three to my “left” (perpendicular, since I was at the corner of the “L”), and three tables occupied. Aside from Shunji and his gracious hostess/waitress Yuko, the front of the house had another waiter , whose name I did not catch, and an assistant, Keiko, behind the bar, helping to assemble some of the cooked dishes.
Looking around, I mentioned to Yuko that word must be getting out, and she said it was because of my reviews on Chowhound. Yikes, they had read my reviews?! I tried to deflect a bit, saying that several people have reviewed the restaurant, but they thanked me profusely anyway. I guess it was easier for them to single me out, since I was right in front of them. (Incidentally, I never identified myself as a poster on CH, but they were able to put it together based on the timing of my first two visits and when my reviews were posted.)
Okay, time for the food. The first dish I had was hotaru ika (firefly squid). The steamed or boiled squids were laid across a single green bean for a nice size/color contrast. Each squid was no more than two inches long from the tail to tentacle tip and had a dollop of sauce on it (I forgot to ask what it was).
The squid was pleasantly chewy without being rubbery, and the roe or sperm sac inside each diminutive squid were very creamy. Quit delicate and delicious. Also on the plate were some individual clusters of squid roe. I’ve had squid roe before, and these were excellent–cooked through as to not be gooey, but not overdone either.
I decided to order a few pieces of sushi, mostly ones that I had not had during my first two visits:
Hamachi (Yellowtail) – I ordered this because it had not been available on my first two visits; instead, we were treated to some excellent kanpachi (amberjack). I had forgotten to ask if that night’s yellowtail was farmed (hamachi) or wild (inada, buri, etc.), but having had wild yellowtail since then, I’m pretty sure that what I had that night was hamachi.
The hamachi was delicious and had the melt-in-your-mouth quality that is loved by many but scoffed at by (some) sushi purists. Regardless, it was one of the better hamachi that I’ve had, though the difference in taste between average and excellent quality for hamachi not as wide a gap, in my opinion, as with other commonly available sushi fish.
Aside: Until I had them at Shunji, I had always thought of tuna, red snapper, and halibut nigiri as filler at sushi restaurants, as they always seemed to dominate the sushi combinations at lower-end sushi-ya. Shunji was the first itamae to showed me that maguro, tai, and hirame are exceptional fish in the hands of the right sushi chef.
Honmaguro (Bluefin Tuna) – Having had maguro on a previous visit, I decided to try honmaguro this time. This was a lean akami cut, as opposed to a fatty toro cut. It was rich and flavorful, but, and I blame my unrefined palate, I admit that at the time I couldn’t actually taste that much of a difference between the honmaguro akami that night and the “regular” (bigeye? yellowfin?) maguro akami I had before at Shunji.
(Since the various species of bluefin tuna are classified as endangered, except the Pacific bluefin, which is still considered overfished, and since non-bluefin maguro akami can still be fantastic, I will try to choose honmaguro from the Pacific whenever possible for sustainability reasons.)
Shunji then asked if I wanted to have some fresh bamboo, and of course I said yes. Sitting at his bar, I felt almost obligated to accept any suggestions he made. Not literally, of course; Shunji definitely does not give off that Nozawa-esque, you-will-eat-what-I-want-you-to-eat, “sushi nazi” vibe to me at all. It’s more out of the respect I have for his work. The absolutely amazing bamboo we had in our omakase a few days prior had nothing to do with the acquiescence. ;-)
That night, the fresh bamboo was served two ways. First, bamboo that was simply boiled or steamed, with a light sprinkling of something that was both spicy and smoky, but not really peppery; for the small amount used, the flavors were very strong. Luckily he had used just the right amount, and the unique seasoning complemented the mild bamboo. Second, the same bamboo, diced, topped with uni and swimming in a dense but delicate mozuku seaweed and dashi broth; another incredible combination of flavors and textures.
I then continued with a few more pieces of sushi:
Otoro (fatty tuna belly) – I really wanted to have some toro that night, and I was not disappointed. Shunji served one piece brushed with shoyu and one topped with sesame seeds and a salt mixture with mystery black flecks, similar to the seasoning that topped the slices of bamboo above.
The pieces of otoro were simply amazing. As I anticipated, the fish did melt in my mouth, though I gladly gave each piece a few slow chews for the sake of savoring it for I could for as long as I could.
Ikura (Salmon Roe) – This was the only order of sushi that was a repeat from a previous visit. Shunji puts an interesting twist in his gunkanmaki construction, with the nori strip overlapping itself slightly askewed, looking more like a bow or a hand-tied belt than a ship.
Shunji marinates the ikura in shoyu, which keeps the roe plump and bursting with flavor. I was wondering if the marinade would cause the ikura to be too salty, but they had a very delicate flavor. This was definitely the best ikura I’ve ever had, and it was a perfect way to wrap up another fantastic visit at Shunji.
Shunji Japanese Cuisine
12244 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064