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Saturday, March 09, 2024

Toku Unagi & Sushi (West Hollywood, CA)

Toku Unagi and Sushi Restaurant
1106 N La Cienega Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
310-854-7285
www.tokuusa.com / www.unagiya.co.jp/usa/
Sat 03/09/2024, 08:05p-10:20p




Toku Unagi & Sushi Exterior

I'm quite the fan of specialist Japanese spots (e.g. yakitori, curry, shabu-shabu, gyoza, etc.), so when Toku Unagi (うなぎ徳, or unagi toku) opened back in November 2019, it instantly piqued my interest. As the name would imply, the place is centered on Japanese eel (the first I've seen in Los Angeles), and traces its roots back to an eel market founded in 1909 in the city of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture, which I believe was associated with the now-shuttered restaurant Unagi Yaotoku Sakamachi (うなぎ八百徳肴町店). The current operation is run by a business called Toku Co., Ltd. (株式会社徳), incorporated in 2003, which is still based in Hamamatsu and owned by a fellow named Takeharu Kawai (河合毅治). The company boasts 10 other locations in addition to WeHo: Nishi-Azabu (2002), Kyoto (2006), Hakata (2011), Hamamatsu-Iseji, Shibuya (2012), Hamamatsu (~2014), Ginza (2016), Osaka (2016), Bangkok (2018), and Hamamatsu-Entetsu (2019).

Toku Unagi & Sushi Interior
Toku is housed in a second-floor mini-mall space that formerly held the longstanding Wa Sushi & Bistro (opened circa 2003 by some Matsuhisa alums), and the Japanese-Korean Restaurant Raku before that (not to be confused with Raku from Las Vegas). The same layout remains from the Wa days, though the decor has definitely been modernized (with perhaps the exception of those glass blocks).

Toku Unagi & Sushi Specials Menu Toku Unagi & Sushi Omakase Menu Toku Unagi & Sushi Menu: Salads, Tapas, Appetizers Toku Unagi & Sushi Menu: Carpaccio, Tempura, Hot Dish, Soup, Others Toku Unagi & Sushi Menu: Omakase, Sushi/Sashimi, Bite-sized Special Toku Unagi & Sushi Menu: Thin Cut or Hand Roll, Sushi Roll, Toku Specialty Cut Rolls
Toku Unagi & Sushi Menu: Unajyu, Ohitsu Toku Unagi & Sushi Menu: Kabayaki, Shirayaki, Shioyaki Toku Unagi & Sushi Sake List Toku Unagi & Sushi Wine List Toku Unagi & Sushi Beverage List, Dessert Menu
Toku's menu is surprisingly wide-ranging, listing a bunch of izakaya-style dishes and a full sushi selection in addition to the freshwater eel. Drink-wise, you'll find sake, wine, and beer, though do note that what's listed probably won't reflect the restaurant's actual inventory, as our first two sake choices were out of stock. Click for larger versions.

Place Setting
The place setting was about what you'd expect.

Sunomono Salad / 酢の物サラダ
Sunomono Salad / 酢の物サラダ [$10.00] | Vinegared cucumber & seaweeds
We got started with a couple appetizers. I feel like the wrong sort of cucumber was used here, as the cuts were a bit clumsy to eat, thick-skinned, and not particularly crisp. That being said, I did enjoy the acidity of the dish and the additional depth from the seaweed, as well as the sesame's nuttiness.

Oil Marinated Oyster / 牡蠣のオイル漬け オリーブオイル 二ン二ク と タイム
Oil Marinated Oyster / 牡蠣のオイル漬け オリーブオイル 二ン二ク と タイム [$14.00] | Low temperature prepared oyster marinated in olive oil, garlic & thyme
Oysters demonstrated a texture that was somewhere between raw and cooked, while their long-lingering brine was paired with some very familiar Western flavors.

Koshi no Kanbai 'Kinmuku' Junmai Daiginjo
To drink, we ended up with the Koshi no Kanbai "Kinmuku" Junmai Daiginjo [$200], a 35% seimai-buai sake from Niigata's Ishimoto Shuzo. The nose here was sweet and thick, with a fruity, nearly candied quality. On the palate, think soft and round, its elements of tropical fruit commingled with a sweet, ricey heat.

Kimo-kushi / 肝串
Kimo-kushi / 肝串 [$12.00] | Grilled Japanese eel liver skewer
I believe that this was my first time encountering eel liver, which is a shame, since it compared quite favorably to the reba that you commonly find at yakitori. The offal showed off a multifaceted texture, while flavors balanced smoke, bitterness, earth, and mineral all over a sweet backbone.

Unagi Tempura / 鰻の天ぷら 一本揚げ
Unagi Tempura / 鰻の天ぷら 一本揚げ [$45.00] | Imported Japanese Unagi
The eel tempura was definitely a highlight. I appreciated the back-and-forth between the fish's light, crunchy exterior and its soft, almost creamy flesh, while taste-wise, the unagi's restrained brine opened up beautifully with a dab of wasabi salt.

Matsu (Premium Unagi) Shioyaki / 塩焼き<松>
Matsu (Premium Unagi) Shioyaki / 塩焼き<松> [$63.00] | Directly imported premium Japanese unagi, steamed and broiled, topped with Caviar, seasoned with natural salt
I also very much enjoyed the eel in this salt-grilled preparation. I was a fan of the unagi's almost "fluffy" texture and how that played with its crisp-seared outsides, while the fish's sophisticated salinity worked hand-in-hand with the three provided condiments of ginger, wasabi (not fresh, unfortunately), and yuzukosho. However, I will note that, although the menu mentioned caviar, there was no such roe on the plate, so I'm not sure what that was all about.

A5 Wagyu Fillet Bite-Sized Tempura (4 pcs) / A5和牛ヒレ肉をシンと海苔で包み込んだひとくち天ぷら (4 pcs)
A5 Wagyu Fillet Bite-Sized Tempura (4 pcs) / A5和牛ヒレ肉をシンと海苔で包み込んだひとくち天ぷら (4 pcs) [$55.00] | Japanese shiso & nori-seaweed wrapped 60g Japanese wagyu tempura
Next came what was probably the best beef tempura I'd ever had. Cooked rare, the wagyu had just the right amount of fattiness, and melded seamlessly with its seaweed wrapper and delicate tempura crust. It all made for an eminently gratifying eating experience that was further enhanced by a dash of matcha salt or a squirt of lemon, while the shiso imparted a touch of freshness to the fray. Tempura'd mushrooms were also included, and were much appreciated as well.

Ohitsu – Ta-Ke (Special unagi) / お櫃うなぎ茶漬 – ひつまぶし<竹>
Unagi Kabayaki
Unagi in Bowl
Ohitsu – Ta-Ke (Special unagi) / お櫃うなぎ茶漬 – ひつまぶし<竹> [$53.00] | Imported SPECIAL Japanese unagi, steamed & broiled with Toku's special sauce, sliced & served over a bed of rice, along with a pour over tea/broth & garnish. Served with Japanese pickles and clear soup
Tonight's pièce de résistance was of course this hitsumabushi preparation of unagi. I first tried the eel alone, and reveled its satisfyingly smoky sweetness, superbly matched by the seaweed and that well-textured rice. I then mixed in some of the various pickles and such, and finally, enjoyed the fish with a pour-over of tea (chazuke-style), which worked especially well with the bite of wasabi, onion, and the fragrant spice of sansho--a winning combination indeed. Closing things out was a cozy bowl of kombu-boosted osumashi.

Unagi Bo-sushi / 鰻の棒鮨
Unagi Bo-sushi / 鰻の棒鮨 [$32.00] | Unagi topped pressed sushi with toku's special flavored sushi rice
Last up was the bozushi, which missed the mark. The eel itself veered sweet, but was still overwhelmed by the rice, which was quite vinegar-y and "wetter" than I'd like.

I came into Toku with a hankering for eel, and I did not leave disappointed, having enjoyed it in multiple preparations. In fact, this was probably the best unagi I've had in the US. That being said, the non-eel-focused dishes were somewhat more uneven, though I still think there's a lot of potential, given how great that wagyu tempura was. I wouldn't mind exploring more of the menu, but at the same time, I do feel that said menu could but cut down in size a bit, to allow the kitchen to focus. In other words, I'd like this specialist restaurant to be even more specialist.

Toku Unagi & Sushi Sign