Yes, Japanese food in this country is still equated to sushi. Growing up, people would always ask me, "Do you eat sushi every day?" I guess that's mostly due to the fact that my father is a sushi chef, but even so, it always bewildered me. I mean, sushi is such a luxury! And it is a part of my food culture that I am proud of, and it's pretty neat that it has taken over California and New York the way it has. I mean, a slice of raw fish, on a bit-size morsel rice? For $3+ a piece? It's a bonkers concept, if you think about it.
Even so, the number of sushi joints that are actually GOOD are few and far between. Sushi has become such a fad, that quality has gone down through the years. You have to know--really know--where to go for the good stuff. This usually means that the chef will speak little English, and barely look up from him knife and chopping block, but that's usually a sign you're in the right place.
On my recent trip to Los Angeles, I took Brother out to wherever he wanted for his birthday. He chose Takao, in Brentwood. It is owned and manned by Takao Izumida, who worked with my father for years at Inagiku (one of Japan's oldest tempura restaurants), in LA the early 80s. Although he branched off and opened his own place over 15 years ago, only recently has my parents actually gone to see him. My father still raves about that meal, so I was very excited to finally be able to visit.
We sat at the counter, right in front of Takao-san. He is a youthful, jolly fella, who was taken aback when I introduced myself. Apparently, he only remembered me as a small person. I guess it is pretty trippy to see people all growns up.
Takao-san on the left
Kokuryu sake on ice. So smooth, great with sushi. The restaurant also has an impressive wine list
Takao-san masterfully crafts each dish with precise Japanese techniques, sprinkled with Western influences. But no way would I call his food "fusion". He just uses what is available to him in inventive, unique ways. The meal was spectacular; each bite utterly joyful.
Scallop and crab in su-miso (vinegared miso)
Smoked salmon crisps with avocado and truffle
Hirame carpaccio with pink peppercorn
Salmon skin salad. I have a slight obsession with this and am always looking for the best in town. This was pretty awesome--the salmon skin was perfectly crisp.
Kumamoto oysters topped with a soy-dashi-scallion mixture
Grilled matsutake mushrooms with sudachi. Yup, we went big.
We could have gone Akabori-style and ordered more appetizers, but I wanted to hold out for the sushi. I am so happy we did. Here's the sushi showdown:
Freshly grated wasabi
Ika (squid), my favorite. But not just any ika. Left is spinkled with karasumi (bottarga fish roe). Left is with Russian caviar. Happy birthday, Brother!
Shime-saba (mackeral) on left; tai on right
Mirugai. When it curls up like this, you know it's still alive
UNI! From Santa Barbara. The best!
Ikura with uzura (quail egg). Cholesterol decadence
The Akabori Grand Finale: Ume-shiso maki
Takao-san also makes phenomenal desserts. We had the coffee zelly with syrup:
Great to reunite with Takao-san.
Thank you for such an epic meal, and reinstating our faith in good sushi.
We will be back.