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Urasawa is one of L.A.’s most extraordinary dining experiences


High Fashion Dining

by Alain Gayot

Chef Urasawa of Urasawa in Los Angeles
The master at work

Precious gems gain value not from their elaborate settings but from the cut, color and clarity of the stones themselves. So it is at Urasawa, a jewel of a restaurant stripped down to its bare elements of ingredients, flavors and preparation.

The setting on the surface seems basic: an unfinished maple counter, Spartan stools, bare walls. Then chef-owner Hiroyuki Urasawa and his staff color in the picture in glorious detail with their unique and personalized cuisine.

Urasawa Restaurant in Los Angeles, California
Exclusive address

Urasawa inherited its format and address from Ginza Sushi-ko, the ultra expensive sushi bar owned by Masa Takayama that gained fame for its high-priced meals of exquisite seafood served nightly to a mere handful of clients. When Takayama moved on to New York to open Masa and Bar Masa in the Time Warner Center, his sous chef, Hiroyuki "Hiro" Urasawa, stepped in, changing the concept to a broader kaiseki menu that defies description.

From exquisite chunks of toro, the prized tuna belly meat, marinated in sweet sake and soy and seared individually for you, creating a succession of scents, flavors, textures and temperature; to a chilled treasure chest of uni (sea urchin), egg custard, Japanese chive gelée and caviar, dusted with gold flakes, each course is meticulously crafted but divinely uncluttered. Urasawa lets the flavors of his organic ingredients — many of which have arrived that day or the day before from Japan — speak for themselves.

The Rodeo Drive address has been Urasawa's sole professional address in the States, but his training reaches back to childhood, where he grew up in the kitchens of his father's restaurants in Tokyo. He then honed his skills under master chefs in Kyoto before emigrating to join Takayama at Ginza Sushi-ko.

Goma Tofu — sesame-seed tofu at Urasawa in Los Angeles
The grand display case at Urasawa in Los Angeles
Goma Tofu — sesame-seed tofu
Grand display case

Just as Western chefs repeat the basic mirepoix of carrots, celery, onions and herbs to flavor their stocks, Urasawa repeats his core materials of soy — made in-house for a milder flavor — sweet sake and bonito to add punch to his sauces. At times this mixture brings too much to the table, as with the uni sushi that arrives near the end of the meal. Is Urasawa bowing to customer pressure that forces him to mask his pristine ingredients? Or is he testing the boundaries of flavor? Only up to ten guests at a time can answer those questions and the performance at Urasawa changes nightly for a select crowd of Japanese food lovers with deep pockets.

The sushi bar at Urasawa in Los Angeles
Hiro prepping at Urasawa in Los Angeles
Sushi bar
Hiro prepping

Dining on 300-year-old tableware with a meal prepared by a private chef and served according to your preferences does not come cheap, but nothing as unique and hand-crafted as Urasawa does. Most of the ingredients are actually flown in from Japan for your custom meal, which chef has been preparing since someone — quite possibly himself — took your reservation. Every item down to the salt is prepared on the premises. The chef will observe you as much as you observe him, noting each of your idiosyncrasies for future use — during the meal or for a repeat visit. There is definitely an interactive game going on here.

A very short, exclusively French wine list with the exception of a Kistler Chardonnay is there to accompany your four hour journey — although we'd recommend one of the regional sakes, such as the Kubota Manju from Niigata, which pair perfectly with the food.

Sashimi of toro, Spanish mackerel and wild Japanese red snapper, at Urasawa in Los Angeles
Sashimi of toro, Spanish mackerel and wild Japanese red snapper

Unlike ultra-creative chefs that push the edge of the envelope, Urasawa-san respects the primary ingredient and combines them with ultimate perfection. Yes, he is a true artist and a controlled one who creates a balance of image [visual], freshness, textures, flavors and temperatures like you have never had before. His commitment to your satisfaction is so strong that he closes the restaurant on the few days of the year when he travels back to Japan for seventy-two-hour sojourn to study the latest culinary techniques, bring back antique dishware and pick up a new, custom-made knife.

"How much is it?" have you been thinking? Well, if you have to ask .... Taking all factors into consideration, the $250 per person tariff for the basic twenty-nine-course meal we enjoyed was truly a bargain for an experience of a lifetime that will change each time you dine here. (The price has subsequently been raised to $395). Thankfully, all these theatrics lead to one of the highest ratings for a restaurant in Los Angeles, proving that chef Hiro's concentration, talent and efforts have paid off. Itadakimasu!

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