Say No More – Mori Sushi

Mori Sushi, West Los Angeles (LA), CA

The following post is about an October 2005 lunch at Mori Sushi. I made a more recent visit in July 2009 and took a few pictures. The post is –> here <--

Mori Sushi

11500 Pico Boulevard (at Gateway)
West Los Angeles, CA 90064
310.479.3939
www.morisushi.org

Final Elimination Week, no. 4

We sat down at the far end of the sushi bar at Mori Sushi in front of a tiny Japanese sushi chef of an elf, and ordered green tea. My hot tea was served in the traditional gnarled earthenware cup, but his bright neon iced green tea came out in a pitcher, to pour at his leisure. It’s not your ordinary green tea service here. It’s a pitcher.

We looked over the menu, and though little things caught my eye here and there, we were sitting at the sushi bar for a reason. Omakase. Except octopus, he mentioned. He doesn’t eat octopus. The chef pointed at the deep purple coil of tako, shook his head in understanding, then began.

He really was a tiny magic elf. From the top of the case he carefully picked up what looked like the love child born of a three-way orgy among horseradish, ginger, and an anorexic pineapple. It was fresh wasabi root, the reason why I had chosen to come here to Mori Sushi on my last supper. He was very deliberate, yet delicate with his movements. Place the root on the side of the work surface. Place the grater in the middle of the work surface. As if in a holy, ritualistic ceremony, he rubbed his hands softly together, picked up the root, placed it against he grater, then stopped. Something must not have been absolutely perfect. He put the wasabi back on the right side of the work surface exaclt where it had been seconds before. He repositioned the grater. As if to give 100% attention to every detail, he does one, and only one, thing at a time. Perhaps even as he grates he holds his breath, stopping every once in a while to allow himself to inhale. He gathered the grated wasabi into a little pile next to his work surface, much paler and a slightly different texture than the paste I’ve seen squashed down into a little messy mound on my sushi plate everywhere else. We had no shoyu sara. We had nothing on our tiny wooden trays except some pale pink ginger. Wasabi, shoyu, seasoning was all to be well under the control of his bare hands.

His right hand disappeared for a moment, then he softly clapped his little elfin hands in some magical spell. A tiny gleaming white opal of rice appeared as if out of thin air. The rice never left his hands, never touched the countertop, until a sparkling colored gemstone barely covered it, and with just the lightest wave of his magic wand of a brush, he dabs a special soy sauce in a finishing touch. He presented one piece each on our plates in a silent “ta-dah!” I was mesmerized. Perhaps, too, I looked somewhat perplexed, so he leaned over the case and with a voice that was at once soft and confident, “tuna,” then “toro.” They were perfect.

The rest was the exact same ritual done over and over in perfect performance by this magical elf. It was rapid-fire sleight-of-hand as he worked the rice and fish and yet, he seemed slow, exacting, and meticulous. A single piece of sushi would appear on my plate, and at first, I asked him what it was, in order to prepare my palate, perhaps even to brace myself. He quietly identified it in both Japanese and English, in a way that almost sounded like a dare to not love it. But I loved it every time, and by the end, I had abandoned caution, trusting him enough that I didn’t have to know what it was first before eating and enjoying it.

This is where I must stop, because I lose the power to comunicate. I have no words to describe each fish after the tuna and toro. Every single piece had brought me to speechless.

Okay, I’ll try.

When we first sat down, he had told us that the kanpachi was the best. My first time with baby yellowtail, and it was delicious.

He told me the Japanese name of the next one, but I couldn’t hear him. It was Japanese barracuda, so delicately grilled that both the flavor of the fish and the smoky taste on the tiny criss-cross pattern on the flesh was in perfec
t balance.

Aji is among my favorites. It is Spanish mackerel – a bit stronger, oilier, fishier than the others. It was just right for me.

He pulled out a small rectangular plate of three prawns from the case. He lifted the plastic wrap, pulled one prawn away from its bedfellows, and lay it on the table. I did a double take. The prawn was still alive, its antennae waving in a final desperate attempt to signal for help. I watched in horrified fascination as he slaughtered the prawn there on his work surface, carefully wiping his hands of the roe (for it was a she-prawn), then placing the glistening amaebi along the rice. I felt a momentary evil wash over me looking at the victim, but it passed in about three seconds after I ate the amaebi whole.

I had tried kohada only once before at Kiriko. It is shad, and like Spanish mackerel, kohada is marinated, so it’s strong.

He disappeared into a back room again, and when he came back, they were scallops, seared with tiny criss-crossing grill marks on top and bottom, a deep slice through along the latitude, then placed to envelope the rice on either side. The scallop was faintly sweet, faintly smoky, and incredibly delicious. That was the end, I couldn’t have anymore.

But we did. We ended with fresh fruit – cantaloupe, mango, and Asian pear (the server called it melon, but I’m certain it was pear). They were so sweet and strong in their natural flavor, I was slightly taken aback. There are certain things, like an apple, that taste less like apple than something artificially flavored, like an apple martini. Or a strawberry that tastes pale compared to strawberry Jell-o. There was no mistake that this is cantaloupe. This is Mango. This is Asian pear. Weird. I didn’t know fruit could shout at me like that.

It doesn’t sound like much – eight pieces of sushi. It wasn’t eight orders equals 16 pieces, but eight pieces total. It was enough. Watching him grate fresh wasabi, then put so much perfect energy into creating each piece, then tasting every single emotion that was there in the fish, I was spent. I doubt my senses could have taken anymore.

My last lunch working for “them.” I doubt my sanity could have taken anymore.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kirk October 25, 2005 at 5:47 am

Wow Sarah – Such a sublime and wonderful meal. Too bad about the circumtances, though with your talent, you’ll have something in no time! BTW, I thought Kanpachi was Amberjack? But whatever, you have a way of communicating that I truly enjoy! Delici-yoso!

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2 Anonymous October 25, 2005 at 6:27 am

What, no pictures?

Especially of the fresh wasabi root/anorexic pineapple!

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3 sarah October 25, 2005 at 5:15 pm

kirk: hm, not sure about maybe amberjack is baby yellowtail! lol! thanks for the encouraging words about my sitch. :)

anonymous: in the heat of the flavorful moment, i completely lost all my sensibilites, and forgot. :)

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4 spotee50 October 26, 2005 at 11:21 am

Hi Sarah,

I’m glad you finally tried Mori and actually like it. I feel validation now. Like I said I don’t care what the yobbles say but I do care about certain people’s opinions. If the ‘sushi elf’ was able to please you can you imagine what “Mori could do to you?” One of the things I really like I about Mori is that it’s like being in a Japanese sushi bar with real classically trained chefs and not a graduate of the Venice School of Sushi. If I want that kin do sushi I’ll simply go to Mituswa or Nijiya. In Japan, sushi apprentices toil away for six years before they’re even allowed to start using a knife on the fish. I loved sitting at the bar and watching the sushi chefs do their magic. It didn’t matter who it was they all had skills. Mori does the small cool things like in Japan they grate their fresh horseradish on sharkskin, technique, fresh fish, polish their own rice, etc. I mention the rice thing because when you polish the rice the hull is removed and the rice is exposed. By polishing your own rice you can control the freshness of your rice. I’ve had fresh rice that was harvested within a couple of days and it was delicious. “Can you say Torafuku ?” Being in Japan I really miss Mori because despite having incredible sushi in Japan the unique fusion creations found at Mori, Matsuhisa, The Hump, etc. are far and few between. Like I said, “if I felt like having classic sushi Mori would hit the spot or if I wanted something creative then Mori hit the spot.” I loved the Carpaccio anything, ama-ebi, maguro, kanpachi, meji maguro and the rock shrimp tempura. Yes, not to exotic but it worked for me. Thrown in with some Mori creations.

Keep up the good work. You make me miss Los Angeles even more because UCLA football is undefeated.

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5 spotee50 October 26, 2005 at 2:06 pm

I forgot to mention that Mori decorated the place plus made all the earthen ware plates and cups. Tonight I’m savoring a garlic bread and lots of cheese on spaghetti. Though I can still taste Mori things. I mentioned rice before and I forgot to say that it was from my wife’s family crop.

Cheers,
spot

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6 sarah October 26, 2005 at 5:32 pm

hi spotee! i have to say, that those little details, like the fresh grated wasabi, the perfect little grill marks on the scallops and the barracuda, even the uniqueness of every plate and cup…they really added to the overall experience there. awesome. and i can’t wait to go back for dinner. :)

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7 LACheesemonger October 27, 2005 at 6:06 pm

So, with the teaser entry stating ‘Big money, good fish’; can we get an idea of how much DL’s lunch cost? My late Feb/Mar 2001 dinner for two; the then lowest priced $50 omakase followed by a la carte sushi at two pieces per order/per party; ended up costing ~$160, before corkage of $20 for 2 bottles, tax, tip. That would be comparable in price to the over-rated Hump, except you’ll get a higher quality meal at Mori, IMO.

Don’t want to get into an argument with Spotee, (The Hump is a waste of money Sarah; omakase, trust your humble, but not modest, monger ;) ). but now we see where there can be an apparent bias here from Spotte. That crop of rice btw, from the wife’s family, comes from California correct? I’m not sure who’s rice Mori was using back in 2001, but I did like the flavor.

I’ll be back with some rather lengthy and detailed posts later tomorrow (huh, you think this is long…silly fools ;) ), but a few primers to add to Spot’s posts and maybe Sarah would like to edit her entry to include the useful website addy : Mori Sushi Website
Pictures of Morihiro Onodera at this link
Discussion of the rice & wasabi Mori uses

I wanted to add a lot of this to the DL ‘Los Angeles Mag. entry’ on sushi, but I think this will do better.

Someone wanted pictures? Oh well, Sarah was much in an awestruck elated mindset. I took no pictures either, but for a different reason. Will a link to the food pr0n close-up pics of the two takeout platters I got from Kiriko and Shubicho over the last few weeks, which might help for comparison purposes, be useful?

Kirk & Sarah: You don’t know jack! (alright, calm down peeps, it’s only a humorous insult/play on words…read the entire contents of the link about hamachi, kanpachi, wild yellowtail/toro buri, fox ache). Bangs-head-repeatedly-against-brickwall icon, I’m like Rodney Dangerfield, I don’t get no respect. My friend also almost never clicks on any of the links I send via e-mail either… why do I even bother? So I’m forced to print out a hard copy of the information and spoon feed the boneheaded, stupidly stubborn, ignoramus! You can lead a horse to water…

From previous comment in the DL Typhoon entry: A better Sushi 101 w/scientific names

Some iCandy takeout sushi from Japan sushi bars: (along with some of the Japanese names for varieties not usually seen in America).

LA Times article ‘Advanced Sushi’ (which has inaccurate, misleading information, ‘advanced’ my arse…naturally!)

LA Weekly: Jonathan Gold’s July ’05 ‘Raw Power’ article (fairly spot on IMO and I agree with Gold’s comments that Mori is very knowledgeable about fish, but not everything there is article is correct) Nice picture of Kohada from that article, well except I had to ‘enhance’ it, as I’m won’t to do with less than idea pics, link to original, which had washed out highlights and a bit too much color saturation. Excellent large picture of fresh wasabi root on the sharkskin grating board.

Picture of the bar chairs on the side adjacent to the kitchen in Gayot’s review

I saved the page to my hard disk, n00b S. Irene Virbila’s, Feb-March? 2001 review of Mori in the LA Times calendar section? Those grapes with the tannic kick (thicker skins) are most likely the highly addictive Kyoho I commented on now being grown in Temecula and sold by one of 8 Korean families that do the So. Cal farmer’s mkts, in the DL Hlly farmer’s mkt entry…Virbila’s such a n00b. Btw, ‘shad’ (Kohada) is no big deal, it is a stronger tasting fish, but no more so than sardines or other similar fish, Sushi Tenn has it, Kiriko, Shibucho (Shige hasn’t served it to us yet, though he acknowledged it buy nodding yes, when I asked one time “Kohada?”…see the the sushi galleries links for some pictures ‘patterned’ silver skin); as I stated before on CHLA; Katsu at OC’s Wasabi Sushi, when asked by moi said he did not really care for it, so he doesn’t buy it for his restaurant.

As we can see in her 2004 review of Mori, Virbila still doesn’t know the Japanese name for shad, she’s such a n00b ;)

Since Mori made his way through the kitchen of Matsuhisa, then Takao, before opening his own place; I’m wondering how Sarah would compare the style of Matsuhisa to Mori, if she were to have had a dinner omakase? I’m in agreement with Gold’s article, that Shibucho is more ‘ true Edo-style’ (well at least Mori did not say ‘authentic’…you know how I hate the misuse of that word ;) , than Mori claims to be in the ‘Introduction’ part of his own website.

Too bad Sarah did not go for dinner, then she would have been at the mercy of the dimwitted front-of-the-house, Nazi soup, manager Nao Baba (she did not exactly ruin my dinner there, but she made it unpleasant enough to make a return visit off the cards indefinitely). Actually there is a well-to-do Jewish Cheesestore of BH customer who was there that night of my dinner in 2001, who I hear has recently not been all that pleased with Mori- this customer has been eating at Mori many times over the past 4 years.

Mori Sushi
11500 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
323-479-3939
MORI SUSHI
Cuisine: Japanese
Ambience: Simple, somewhat austere space with counter and tables.
Service: Friendly and willing, though English sometimes shaky.
Best Dishes: Sushi, sashimi, broiled spot prawn, octopus carpaccio, arugula and crab salad, omakase selections. Dishes, $2.50 to $15; omakase, $50 to $90 per person. Corkage, $10.
Drink Pick: Kirin beer.
Facts: Dinner Monday through Saturday. Lunch weekdays.
Rating: **
Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory. Everyone loves sushi, but not everyone understands it. Yes, Los Angeles is home to countless prosaic mini-mall sushi bars, but unless the fish is phenomenally fresh, it’s probably not a bad idea to medicate it with chile and wasabi, the better to disguise the taste. As with so many other things in life, if you want the best, you have to pay for it. If you’re willing, you can pick from a handful of sushi restaurants here that rival Tokyo’s best; among them, Mori Sushi in West Los Angeles.
The restaurant keeps a low profile. It was months before I heard about it, and it’s not that easy to spot on a rainy night. Located at the corner of Pico and Gateway boulevards, in one of those odd juxtapositions you find only in L.A., it sits across the street from Fantasy Island, a gentlemen’s club that advertises showgirls and a Monday night bikini contest. There’s nothing that says “Mori Sushi” on the outside; look for the building on the southwest corner surrounded by clumps of bamboo, with a line drawing of a fish mounted high on a pole.
When you poke your head in the d
oor, you’ll get a rousing welcome from Morihiro Onodera and his two assistants. At one end is the sushi bar, which seats about eight. There are also 12 or so tables that, like the counter, are made of laminated plywood finished to a high gloss. The modest space is painted a creamy white. Beneath the high ceiling, a flock of white Japanese paper lanterns bobs in the slight breeze. The sole spots of color–and they are subtle–are three paintings behind the sushi counter.
One visit was all it took to put Mori Sushi high on my list for the quality of the fish and the skill of its sushi chefs. Red snapper is striated with pearly rose. Onodera’s well-marbled toro has a velvety texture. Octopus carpaccio gets a light dusting of crushed pink peppercorns and a dribble of green-gold olive oil. Salt squid is cut to resemble a chrysanthemum.
I like watching Onodera’s quick, sure movements as he scoops up the rice and works it into a perfectly elongated oval. Unlike sushi rice at most places, his isn’t sweet. And he never makes oversized sushi; everything is bite-sized, the way it should be. At most, you may choose to dip some sushi pieces (fish side down) in a light bath of soy sauce, but the sushi chef has already seasoned most things, slipping a little freshly grated wasabi root beneath the fish, or adding a gentle squeeze of yuzu or a sprinkling of Japanese sea salt.
After ordering for myself the first time, on subsequent visits I just let Onodera take charge, asking for omakase, or chef’s choice. He started off a little cautiously, nothing too challenging, but each time I returned he offered me something more unusual, something more surprising.
It might be a little plate of “ginger sardine,” dark, flavorful chunks of sardine topped with matchsticks of ginger that cut the oiliness of the fish. He might offer a piece of fine-grained silver fish. “A type of shad,” he says. Or a single live Santa Barbara spot prawn, split and broiled with skeins of bright red roe inside. Taste this and you’ll understand what fresh means. It’s a feast in a shell.
One night, a friend and I are seated at the counter next to a rapt fan, who questions the sushi chef closely about everything. The diner tells me he used to eat sushi 10 times a week, but has recently cut back a bit. Nonetheless, he still seems to know every sushi chef of consequence in L.A. He was going to Ginza Sushiko when it was still in a mini mall, long before it moved to posher quarters in Beverly Hills. He’s followed Onodera’s career from Katsu and Matsuhisa to a little place in Brentwood and now to this 11-month-old restaurant. He whispers that Onodera designed the restaurant himself and did most of the work.
I can’t stop thinking about eating sushi 10 times a week. Isn’t that rather excessive? I think of great sushi more as special occasion eating. That kind of dedication must have something to do with the display of connoisseurship or the relationship that develops between a sushi chef and his client. You slip into a seat at the bar. You inspect the seafood. You ask the master to feed you, bite by bite like a mother bird feeding her chick. It can be very soothing, much more than visiting your analyst and about the same price.
But Onodera doesn’t even need to have you sitting in front of him to know what you’d like to eat. He intuits it. He may start with a long, skinny platter (he makes almost all the pottery himself) arranged with little tastes: incredibly crunchy–and loud–herring roe with a vein of seaweed running through the middle, a pickled kumquat, a sweet shrimp. He might follow that with a salad of small, perfect arugula leaves covered with crab meat and the rich, odiferous crab “butter” in the inside of the shell.
I’ve eaten things here I’ve never even seen before. A lidded lacquer bowl holds a wonderful light broth with what looks like a snowball in the middle. Our waiter tries to explain. It’s something in tempura batter. But what? She takes out a pad of paper and draws a lily–and its bulb. The snowball is a lily bulb pounded together with a little potato. The bulb flakes into petals and tastes starchy and faintly sweet. A leaf-shaped plate holds Japanese scallops, sliced in half moons, marked by the grill and topped with gorgeous ochre uni roe. Another time Onodera serves lightly broiled uni atop sushi rice in an abalone shell.
Dessert? Choose the fruit, a generous bunch of dark purple grapes served in an iced bowl. The size of quail eggs, the grapes taste dark and sweet and have a little kick of tannin. The only garnish is a sprig of mint leaves. That minimalism and that aesthetic, letting a great product alone, is what makes a serious sushi restaurant. And Mori, despite its modest setting, is one.
–S. Irene Virbila, Times Restaurant Critic

Me giggles, DL did not even actually answer my invitation to join us for a dinner at Mori, knowing full well one of our Japanese born and raised member’s of the group was friends with an assistant chef at Mori. In other words, we obviously would have gotten the best recommendations, and excellent service for that evening. Not to mention the wines we bring are substantially better than anything Mori has (see Mori’s comments on alcohol here http://www.morisushi.org/from_mori.html , and note that Father’s Office’s Sang Yoon got a lot of his exposure to wines, in particular Champagnes, from a certain wine shop in SM; where the staff have less than great palates when it comes to matching the kinds/styles of Champagnes that go best with sushi. Mori really doesn’t know wine or sake very well, there are some sake in the $30+bottle range of a lighter/fruitier style that are pretty decent with sushi, but the lower priced sake leave a lot to be desired).

Silly woman, and now she can’t wait to go to dinner at Mori, lol! “Big brain”, indeed :)

God if she’s experiencing this kind of ‘out of body’ experience at Mori, it would be best she never go to Urasawa. Thinking about it, speechless Sarah, would after a few glasses of wine so good she couldn’t possibly imagine, what would happen to her at one of our wine dinners at Shibucho? I can just see it now, first glass(es) of wines and beginning dishes Sarah’s inhibitions have not been sufficiently mitigated by the alcohol…yet ;). As quiet as she was at Mori? Hmm, maybe for a moment;, but then one big-O of gastronomic ecstasy hits her and she has watery eyes, tears of joy, followed by a much better rendition of the Meg Ryan scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ as her entire body starts to internally undulate and twitch from excitement, as she tries to contain her outward appearance:

“A woman on a date may become sexually aroused several times, even without her knowing it, without her ever reaching the plateau phase. She may experience arousal and the plateau phase during an intense session of dancing, but return to her un-aroused state during the ride home.”

Sarah likes to dance, does she not ;) ?

Then resolution phase, then more bacchanalian rounds of wine and sushi… will Sarah then simply go right back into more big-O’s and faint in gastronomic/orgasmic bliss??? If so, will my friends ban me from ever going with them again after inviting such a wild food pr0n freaky chic to join us? (I suppose if they though I was having great sex, and I mean insanely great sex with Sarah; they might forgive me this one time, but I’d have to be sure and heavily sedate Sarah into her most modest and restrained behavior, for there to be a next time. I mean, I’m bad enough all by myself with the usual rounds of insults aimed at me…”LaCheese, did you forget to take your med’s today”. lol, hehe).

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8 sarah October 27, 2005 at 6:25 pm

lunch was just over $80 for two of us. that’s eight pieces of sushi for me, 9 for him, green tea, and fresh fruit dessert.

not too bad.

on someone else’s dime. LOL!

(and normally, when someone else is picking up the tab, i never peek, but this was a “business” lunch so we had to do some confirmation stuff)

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9 spotee50 October 29, 2005 at 10:21 am

lacheesemonger,

Don’t know if you’ll read this but I’ll leave it anyways.

I personally like Mori and if you don’t then fine. Like I said “makes it easier for me to get a seat at the bar.” I’m not going to argue nor waste my time singing the virtues of Mori.

I wasn’t endorsing The Hump. I had a pleasant meal there and it was one of the better places that I’ve been to in Los Angeles. I like Mori better than The Hump, R-23, Gizno Sushiko (when it was in LA), etc. I like the combination of things where I can have classic sushi to Mori creations. I’m not a sushi expert.

As far as being “biased” don’t know what you mean. I think you had the impression that my wife’s family was selling rice to Mori. Not so, I was merely commenting on the fact that fresh rice tastes really good and polishing the rice makes it that much fresher. I’ve had my wife’s family rice that was only a couple of days old here in Japan and it was delicious. Try Torafuku and you’ll see what I mean.

Cheers,
spot

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10 LACheesemonger July 8, 2006 at 2:46 pm

The annual? 29th B-day moodiness period begins. While I think Sarah loathes this day for some obvious reasons i wonder if it compares to my worst of 2001. 2001 is when everyone remembers the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in NYC. 2001 is the year I remember June 17, 2001…and my B-day depression of Feb. 06 at Mori Sushi. Chinese New Years came early that year on Jan. 24th

Chinese New Year’s calendar explained

On June 17th, 10-days of agony ended when after several failed procedures to get confirming samples of tissue from my mother’s left lung, we finally got the diagnosis of malignancy as expected. June 2000, a week before my mother’s B-day of June 23; and incorrect diagnosis by her then German born (previously very meticulous German like efficiency) physician a few days later had done an ECG that confirmed she had a mild heart attack. That year, while she was in the hospital, I had the foresight to make sure her Labiata type lavender colored flowers orchid was watered such that the blooming orchid (which she specifically bought many years ago because it consistently flowers at her B-day) kept it’s flowers for the typical 2 week period. She had a number of chest x-rays at that time. But only 7 months later, after her German internist sent her home telling her to stop taking aspirin because she went in to she him complaining of blood in the phlegm she was coughing up; a second opinion from the family ENT resulted in an chest X-ray showing a ‘large mass’ in her left lung. Even before the end of the arduous 10 day period of expecting, but not confirmed lung cancer diagnosis, I quickly got up to speed on lung cancer doing research on the internet. After doing the research I was even more depressed about the continuing dismal less than 10% 5 year survival rates, especially as my mother’s tumor had grown so rapidly in just 7 months, that is was at stage 3A or 3B (stage 4 is when the cancer matasticizes to other organs in the body, with nearly always fatal results). Being that Chinese New Years was just a week later, can’t say there was too much to look forward to as far as eating, as my mother lost her appetite for weeks after (I did manage, after thorough search, to get an old-fashioned style, Cantonese hot birds nest soup made for her the was comfort food at it’s best).

My mother had said that I was the only one in the family that was coping and not losing faith or giving up hope. Well I had to keep a positive, optimistic outlook and demeanor to help her from getting even more depressed. Somebody had to step up to the plate and think about how the glass is still half full, despite of horrible odds. Since I was the one she needed to have someone be strong at that time, I did not let on how much I was suffering on the inside, I had to be like a rock for her. So Sarah is mopey and sulky about her B-day. 2001 I had more of a reason to be so on my B-day just a few weeks after the lung cancer diagnosis. My mother was telling me I should do something that day, for myself; but did I listen? Nooo. I went to the Murukai Japanese supermkt in Torrance (which is one of the few places in So. Cal. that stocks a limited selection of Hawaiian foods) and got her some poi and lomi lomi (sp?) and BBQ Char Siu Chinese style pork. She was happy (as could be at the time) to get that (I would have other B-days, but she could have been dead before her next), but I did manage to buy some Big Eye tuna sashimi grade while at the market.

Step back a few months for all the foreplay at Mori. I knew of the then new restaurant through word of mouth, before the ‘big’ review from S. Irene Virbilla in the LA Times a little over a month later. I had been stopping by a couple of times right when the restaurant’s opening hours were @ 5:30PM (weird time to exactly open, not 6PM not 5PM). At 1st I had to endure the ‘blocking’ attempts by the somewhat dense front of the house manager Nao Baba. She would relay any questions she could not answer to the chef, who watched passively at the sushi bar. But after two visits, she finally relinquished and offered that maybe it would be better if I asked the questions of the chef himself, questions she would finally admit she was unable to satisfactorily answer (yeah, i wore her down…be-botch ;) ). Mori was soft spoken, he asked my name when I left, asking each time if I wanted to eat dinner there tonight…foreplay, got to make them really desire it ;). I keep saying, not tonight, maybe next week ;).

Nao Baba was almost as dumb as Jessica Simpson, really! I asked about otoro, and she opined like she actually knew what she was talking about, saying that most restaurants can’t afford to have such expensive cuts of tuna seeing how it is perishable. Translation, “we have yet to build a customer base that warrants the purchase”, but that sometimes they would have chu-toro. Mori had shown me his little notebook pad, which had a small map of the USA, and indicated that in January there were no Bluefin tune to be had except for farm raised from Spain which Mori did not think was of sufficient quality to purchase. That Bluefin runs start on the East Coast of the USA in June. The best hamachi (wild I suppose) would come from Japan in the months around November. That he opened up one styro container after another labeled as bluefin at the wholesale fish mkt, only to see yellowfin inside. There would no toro for my B-day, which is what I was inquiring for in the week that preceded it (though I did not mention this to Mori).

Yeah, I finally got to speak to Mori after I had this long conversation where I wore out Ms. brainless Baba. I had asked her if Mori ever gets Copper River salmon to use for nigiri sushi. Her reply (she’s from Japan, but obviously knows little of high-end fish where the bulk of super expensive Copper River Chinook ends up being shipped to) was ‘what is Cooper River salmon?’ So I tried to explain to her about how the Cooper River Chinook salmon (as well as Yukon river) is most prized because the fish has to travel up these long rivers and therefore stores a very high fat content to fuel the long journey up the river to the spawning grounds. She starts to fumble with her English vocabulary (and while the short 5’2” Baba with those typical thin black sexy rectangular glasses that Asian women wear, usually wears a black pants outfit, that night she had on a spaghetti strap black dress with plenty of cleavage showing off her B-cup breasts were most of her brain power resides apparently, lol) “I don’t recall, I don’t know that word for it in English; I understand, it’s wear the salmon goes up the river to…make babies”. Arrgh, Gawd almighty, I wanted to ask her if Buffalo’s have wings…D’oh. Mori told me that all he could get at the moment as far as bluefin, was baby bluefin fresh off the coast of San Diego.

And so it was, mopey and depressed on the inside (but not showing it to anyone); I decided for my non-B-day non-celebration I would get takeout sushi from Mori (at that time, they told me if they were not very busy, they would do take out, but that they normally will not). Depressed as I was, I went into Mori Sushi right at opening Feb. 6th, 2001 bringing along the cut of dark red Big Eye tuna, presenting it to Mori asking him if he would use it to make up some nigiri sushi for me along with the other items including the baby bluefin (which was mild as he said, but delicious for the freshness). When he was done with the order and ready to present it to me for take out, I mentioned that the only reason I brought in the Big Eye (so as to not offend him) was that he had no otoro, and that it was for my B-day.

Big mistake! (damn it, another stupid Westernized tradition of restaurants corrupting the whole world) Mori said “Oh?” “It’s your B-day?” And as I was paying for my order, Ms. Baba told me to wait, that Mori is quickly preparing a gift….Argggh, I don’t want a ‘gift’.
He had his staff hurriedly cut up a flew slices of orange or tangerine with a few black grapes (not even Japanese grapes mind you), stick single candle into that put into a small styro container, and everyone began to sing that stupid, stupid, stupid “Happy Birthday to you” song, for fox ache!!! I managed to suffer through that, before quickly thanking them, walking out the front door before tears started flowing down my cheeks. I sat in my car for another 10 minutes until I finally managed to stop crying… couldn’t be driving home in that condition and risk an accident from inattentiveness, that would be irresponsible. But the emotions bottled up inside finally got to me, cause I knew that my mother might be dead in less than a year. Knock on wood though, it’s 5 years later, and my mother had beaten the odds, and even survived another bout of cancer, mouth cancer in the Fall of 2004 (though because of the strong radiation treatments, most of her taste buds are zapped, either completely gone, or so out of whack she can no longer taste or enjoy food the way she used to before the cancer…still has a sweet tooth, just like Sarah ;) ).

Fast forward to Mar. 2001; I had my delayed ‘real’ sit down dinner at Mori, which set the two of up back $180. It was excellent, though the omakase prix-fix was the standard fare of what Mori was doing at that time. But one thing marred the dinner, was that super dense Ms. Baba again. We had brought along a double fermented, oak-aged; artisanal soy sauce to try. Mori Sushi has it’s own low salt soy sauce, which to me hardly tastes any better than low salt Kikoman. I asked Ms Baba if Mori had ever tried this brand of artisanal soy sauce. Her brainless response was that Mori had their own low salt soy sauce that is special for the sushi there to compliment it, and to please not use another soy sauce as it will not work with the fresh fish. Otay. So my friend says, “see I told you, you should have never mentioned it, they will get offended, you should have just opened the bottle poured it when they were not looking”. That’s what we then tried, and I swear to God, that Baba woman has a 3rd eye in the back of here head. She wasn’t even facing us when we poured out some of our soy sauce (which btw, tasted better, tasted of less salt that Mori’s); but she came back to our table and once again asked us firmly to ‘please do not use that soy sauce’. Friggin Be-Otch! We’re spending $180, you don’t know sheeet about soy sauce, I out to bend you over a table and pork you in the arse for you abject density… “where the fish go to make babies”, I’ll show you were we go to make babies. Damn, she ruined the atmosphere of the otherwise outstanding dinner.

But I was talking to Katsu of Tama Sushi, while waiting for a takeout order of $200 sushi (NY celebration one year) and told him about Ms. Baba, and that in Japan a businessman would never put up with such insolence from an employee of a restaurant. That’s just rude behavior. Katsu asked me “why?” (did she do that), and I could only tell the surprised Katsu that she was just a bossy, authoritarian type. He opined that maybe she was Mori’s g/f??? But that his wife had gone in to Mori for lunch with a friend and Mori charged them $300 for lunch! See that’s wrong. Since Mori got his start with Katsu years ago at his original Silverlake restaurant, Mori should have been extending professional courtesy, or at minimum only charge ‘cost’ on that meal. I see some high-end gourmet shop in SM is now selling Mori’s tofu, for fox ache! What next, designer chef’s caps???

Since Sarah has not pictures of here speechless lunch, I though I’d show some Hi-def food pr0n comparing sushi takeout from Shibucho @ dwntwn LA, and Kiriko; bought about $100 worth. Both about a few weeks afer Sarah’s visit to Kiriko. Sarah should have seen my friend whine and whine, when I said ‘wait, I have to take one more picture, I have to get the exposure bracketed’. “you and your fucking pictures, I’m hunger, I want to eat, you’re really fucking annoying!!!” hehe.

For reference Chipsan says, along with Tai (fishnet stockings-like patter of the skin ;) ), there is otoro on each of these pix, both were excellent as far as freshess (I’ve had a takeout platter from Shibucho recently that was not quite as fresh)

*note* click on the picture in your browser once it is displayed, as the full size may need to be zoomed in by clicking on it or something?.

Kiriko small btw, too much lemon juice on the scallop nigiri, up rt corner piece.

You’ll notice both a single piece (2 plates here, split from the Kiriko t/o order) hamachi, and then the similar looking kanpachi 2 pieces (curiously looks like what Sarah had at Kiriko a few weeks earlier?)
Kiriko large
Kirko1 xlg

Kiriko
w/decent ;) wine, nothing at all like wines Sarah gets to try (Bill Celyem 1995 PN vineyard designate, & 2003 Broughgen Cellars Savg Blanc)

Shibucho (tripod, remote shutter release, 1/10th sec. exposure time) 6 pieces of otoro in this pic ;).

Shibucho Rochioli vineyard is one of the best, if not the best Pinot Noir vineyards in California, but alas this producer did not do so well in making the wine.

Shibucho (handheld shot ;) )

A month later we had another t/o platter of Shibucho’s sushi, except this time there were 2 pieces of
Shimofuri
or “falling frost” is a highly marbled type of otoro that comes from the tuna belly near the head. Its pinkish, net patterned flesh, delicate texture and smoky taste make it a favorite of many sushiphiles.

My friend who has a printout of this website page, but never bothered to read it or remember anything, like Kobe beef, tried to divide up the platter to keep both pieces (since we’ve never had this before from Shige, but you know marbled rarity when you see it ;) ) of the Shimofuri. No luck sucker, I kicked my friend’s arse, gimme my damned piece! It was much better than standard otoro. But then I had the same cut of tuna at the Hump from Spanish farmed bluefin, and it was nothing special…@$20/2pieces!

One last thing, does Sarah really think Urasawa is ‘all that’? I think Sarah could do justice in a review blog of Urasawa, one that people would trust her for her accurate palate. And given Chez Pinz did not do so well with pictures at Urasawa, with a little help in getting the best out of her limited (hint ;) ) Canon P&S digicam, I think she could get us some better pix. Seeing that we just have the understudy of Masa taking over Masa’s old place? And is Masa NYC really worth the even higher prices, even if you are rich???

I agree with this guy’s wife ;).

The New Yorker: Shouts and Murmurs

The New York Times,Restaurants: Sushi at Masa Is a Zen Thing
Though I found this blogger ‘review’ all the more ‘interesting’ ;)
NY Hotties – Have Coke and a Smile Hehe, she sounds just like you Sarah (well the middle part anyway, lol ;) :

I’m a twenty-something New York escort. I love Prada, Seven jeans, and Jimmy Choos. I’m also totally addicted to Starbucks’ grande non-fat white mocha and working out.

July 8th, 2006

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