Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yamakase (Los Angeles, CA)

Yamakase Restaurant
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Sun 12/30/2012, 07:00p-12:30a

What do you get when you cross Totoraku with Urasawa? I've often pondered about that unholy matrimony myself, but it turns out the answer is Yamakase ("mountain wind"), a semi-secret, invitation-only, fusion-meets-sushi omakase joint that opened last December in Palms near Culver City. It's the work of 48-year-old Chef/Owner Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, whom you may recall from The Hump in Santa Monica. Yama-san has teamed up with partner Stan Liu, who also serves as GM for the lilliputian eatery. The Hong Kong-raised Liu, for his part, was the founder of Kronos Digital Entertainment and Atomic Bullfrog, and was formerly VP of mobile content development at Walt Disney Internet Group before starting Kronos Games Online.

I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to dine at Yamakase, and jumped on the opportunity. Interestingly enough, we were joined tonight by none other than Chef Ludo Lefebvre of LudoBites fame, who made for a great dining companion, one who really appreciated the artistry going on here. As far as Yamakase's menu goes, there is none per se. Rather, you can expect a kaiseki-ish progression of about 20 courses--both cooked dishes and sushi/sashimi--priced at around $200 or so. To imbibe, thanks to the restaurant's new liquor license, there's a selection of sake, beer, and wine available, but part of the draw here is clearly the liberal BYOB policy with no corkage fee; it's a great excuse to bring out the trophy wines.

2002 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne
For this final blowout meal of 2012, we took the opportunity to bust out some of the good stuff, starting with the 2002 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne. This was a delicious sparkler, showing off an earthy sweetness initially, leading to a nice toastiness on the midpalate and finishing long with some great bread-y and mineral-y nuances. Light, bright, and very well integrated.

Jamón Ibérico with Caviar
1: Jamón Ibérico with Caviar
Our first course I found very reminiscent of a dish called "José Taco" that I'd eaten at the fantastic é by José Andrés in Las Vegas. We had here shards of jamón ibérico, finished with a small mound of caviar. The ham was fatty and nutty, with a rich, round flavor that was deftly accented by the sharp, focused, lingering saltiness of the roe.

2: Jellyfish
Jellyfish was wonderfully snappy and slippery, with a mild relish that was perfectly complemented by the use of earthy sesame, while the dish's acidic broth and cucumber cut through some of that heft. Probably the best jellyfish that I've ever had.

Japanese Butterfish
3: Japanese Butterfish
Japanese butterfish was stupendous as well, showing off a great texture and clean, delicate flavor, duly enhanced by the fish's sweet-ish dressing and thin strands of fruit. Loved the tiny baby peach hidden underneath, too.

1999 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
For my contribution, I pulled a magnum of 1999 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon from my cellar, which, interestingly enough, I also brought on my second visit to Urasawa. I found the wine superbly well balanced, with a lovely acidity and minerality, set off by a subtle undercurrent of citrus zest and creamy toast.

Corn Soup
4: Corn Soup
Next up was probably the most luxurious corn soup ever, containing black truffle, uni, scallop, and a "special" scallop that comes in a triangular shell (I'm guessing tairagai, or pen shell clam). The key here was the sweetness of the corn, which paired well with the bittersweet urchin and mild scallops, all while the truffle contributed an earthy veil to the dish.

Kusshi Oyster and Quail Egg
5: Kusshi Oyster and Quail Egg
Here, Yama-san presented Kusshi oyster and truffle-infused quail egg in two forms. In the front, we had a preparation with crab innards sauce and yuzu, and it was delightful, with the weighty kanimiso enhancing the oyster's inherent brine beautifully, all while the yuzu provided a light overtone of citrus. The version with blue crab-sesame cream was delicious as well, with a sweet, rich, enveloping savor that paired especially well with the egg.

Homemade Tofu with Chicken
6: Homemade Tofu with Chicken
The Chef's homemade tofu with chicken breast, young potato, bamboo, and mushroom soon arrived, garnished with a dab of salty-sour umeboshi sauce. These were hearty, satisfying bites, with the chicken adding a superb savoriness to the dish, while the other ingredients provided further complexity and made for some great textural variation.

Vegetable-Mentaiko Aspic
7: Vegetable-Mentaiko Aspic
We had here what amounted to a terrine of spicy cod roe, asparagus, and baby tomato, set in a black pepper-yuzu dressing. This was a gorgeous amalgam of disparate elements, a deft mélange of salty, sweet, and bitter flavors encased in gelatin and taken up another notch by the lingering, peppery sauce. One of Ludo's favorites.

2004 Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Rosé Brut
For our third bottle of bubbly, we had the 2004 Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Rosé Brut. This one was surprisingly hefty for a rosé, full bodied with expected notes of berry fruit and an intriguing earthy character to it, bound by a countervailing minerality.

Yama-san Spooning Uni
Here, we see Yama-san scooping up some tiny tongues of Japanese uni for our next course.

Baby Snow Crab
8: Baby Snow Crab
Set in the smallest carapace I'd ever seen was a mound of snow crab meat, topped with the aforementioned uni and chunks of crab roe. It was a wonderful dish, with the pure, sweet, saline essence of the kani proudly displayed, augmented by the bittersweet brine of sea urchin while the roe added further complexity and depth to the dish. Ludo reveled in the sheer simplicity and beauty of the course.

9: Chawanmushi
Up next was the most luxurious, and perhaps the best chawanmushi that I'd ever had, one featuring gingko, halibut, truffle butter, seared scallop, shark fin, squid, sea urchin, and hairy crab. It was hot, hearty, and undeniably satisfying, a real celebration of the various seafood elements, all tied together by that egg custard. Delicious.

1979 Pierre Bouree Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers
With the Champagnes dispensed with, we moved on to the reds, starting with the oldest bottle we had, a 1979 Pierre Bouree Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers. The Burgundy was definitely on the mature side, with an earthy, vegetal nose and a dry, peppery character with a pretty strong acidity on the palate.

Yama-san Grating Salt
For our next course, Yama-san grates his 600 million year-old Himalayan rock salt, a gift from a former customer.

Halibut and Halibut Fin
10: Halibut and Halibut Fin
Paper-thin, translucent slices of halibut were joined by meatier cuts of halibut fin. The fish was so fresh, so clean, with a delicate taste that was beautifully perked up by fine pinpoints of saltiness. The engawa, meanwhile, conveyed a great touch of chewiness, and paired swimmingly with the salty caviar and whisper of citrus in the dish.

1985 Château La Fleur St. Émilion Grand Cru
Moving on to some Bordeaux now, we had the 1985 Château La Fleur St. Émilion Grand Cru, a well-integrated wine, surprisingly young tasting and restrained, with delectable berry nuances and some appealing tannins.

Marinated Tuna
11: Marinated Tuna
Cuboids of blue fin tuna from Spain were cured in soy and wasabi and served with pine nuts. The fish was lean and supple, with a fantastic depth of flavor courtesy of the marination process, while the nuts added a well-placed textural contrast.

Dewazakura Yukimanman 'Snow Country'
Next, we delved into sake with the Dewazakura Yukimanman "Snow Country", a daiginjo from Yamagata Prefecture that's been aged for five years. I quite enjoyed it, finding the sake sweet, rich, and viscous, with some marked fruity flavors balanced by a delicate touch of alcohol.

12: Needlefish
Needlefish, or sayori, is fairly hard-to-find, so it was great to see it offered tonight. The fish was paired with a miso vinaigrette, and I loved the zestiness of the shiso as well as the dish's citrus-y brightness.

2009 Maison Ilan Charmes-Chambertin Aux Charmes Hautes
Returning to Burgundy now, Ludo brought along a bottle of Ray Walker's highly sought-after 2009 Maison Ilan Charmes-Chambertin Aux Charmes Hautes for us to enjoy. This was a weighty one, rich and meaty and delicious, with a deft blend of smoke and berry fruit along with a slight herbaceous character. Quite nice.

Needlefish and Mushrooms
13: Needlefish and Mushrooms
The needlefish made a second appearance, this time in cooked form. Firm, dry, and fishy, the sayori melded well with the maitake and shimeji mushrooms, while the dish's viscous, peppery dressing did wonders in integrating all the various elements together.

Ham and Eggs
14: Ham and Eggs
And now, for something completely different, Yama-san served us breakfast in the form of an egg and jamón ibérico scramble atop toast. It was as straightforwardly tasty as you'd expect, with the salty ham pairing in classic fashion with the fluffy egg. Humorously, Ludo even likened this to a "white trash tartine!" Yum.

1990 Château Potensac
Back to Bordeaux we went with the 1990 Château Potensac from the region's Médoc appellation. This one was nicely structured, with notes of smoke and pepper laced with undertones of currant and dark fruit. Quite fitting with the beef to follow.

Yama-san Presenting Beef
Yama-san shows off the star of our next course: some beautifully-marbled Kagoshima beef.

Kagoshima Gyu
15: Kagoshima Gyu
We had here some real deal Japanese wagyu tenderloin from Kagoshima Prefecture, marinated in Macallan 21, dressed in a soy-Maui onion sauce, and garnished with a smear of yuzukosho. It was maaahvelous, the best steak I'd eaten all year and probably one of the best I've had, ever: ridiculously tender and fatty, with a profound depth and beefiness that was perfectly augmented by the meat's concentrated, sweet-ish dressing. I even loved the salty, spicy tang of the yuzukosho, too. Interestingly, during this course, Ludo mentioned that he'd also made a whiskey-marinated steak before at LudoBites 6.0, and indeed, that was quite simply the best steak that he'd ever served as well.

Kagoshima Gyu
Yama-san then gave us a "bonus" course consisting of the scraps and fat from the steak above. Fantastic!

Akitabare Suirakuten 'Heaven of Tipsy Delight'
Our next sake was a daiginjo from Akita that had been aged for two years, the Akitabare Suirakuten "Heaven of Tipsy Delight". I found it rather enjoyable and eminently balanced, with a delectably juicy fruitiness that played perfectly off of the smooth, rice-y notes in the drink.

Toro Sashimi
16: Toro Sashimi
Here was a small sliver of pink toro, buttery smooth and velvety on the tongue, with a keen fattiness that was deftly cut by the small dab of wasabi present.

Special Scallop Sashimi
17: Special Scallop Sashimi
Next was a cut of the "special" scallop mentioned above--mildly sweet and saline, with a fantastically firm, yet pliant consistency.

Yama-san Making Sushi
At this point, Yama-san began with the sushi, formed using rice made with the Chef's own recipe incorporating red vinegar.

Maguro Sushi
18: Maguro Sushi
A cut of lean tuna was just about perfect: silky and slick, with a superb, subtle brine and a wondrous contrast from the shari.

Mirugai Sushi
19: Mirugai Sushi
Geoduck was excellent as well, with an incredibly satisfying chewiness and a marked salinity adroitly tempered by the use of yuzu and shiso.

Kohada Sushi
20: Kohada Sushi
Gizzard shad was similarly flawless, one of the best preparations I've had in fact. Marinated in vinegar, the kohada arrived firm and oh-so fishy, but well-moderated by a touch of yuzu zest.

Toro Sushi
21: Toro Sushi
Rose-colored tuna belly was delightfully rich, with a mouth-watering taste that was elevated by a brush of soy sauce. Again, I just loved how the red vinegar rice worked in the course.

Butterfish Belly Sushi
22: Butterfish Belly Sushi
Our parade of nigirizushi ended with a cut of hard-to-find butterfish belly. Stupendous--clean, light, and refined, but with a certain gravitas to it.

Kokuryu Tokusen 'Crystal Dragon'
The third and final sake of the evening was one of Yama-san's favorites: the Kokuryu Tokusen "Crystal Dragon", a ginjo-class tipple from Fukui Prefecture. Although not as refined as the previous two sakes, it was still delicious, with fresh notes of tropical fruit contrasted by a base of boozy goodness.

Yama-san Making Hand Rolls
Here, Yama-san prepares our hand rolls.

Toro-Kani Maki
23: Toro-Kani Maki
The first temaki combined the holy trinity of toro, crab, and crab guts. It was phenomenal, quite possibly the best hand roll I've ever had, with the tuna and crab faultlessly augmented by the ocean-y intensity of the kanimiso, all while shiso and cucumber provided a touch of levity to things.

Ume-Kyuri Maki
24: Ume-Kyuri Maki
Our next roll served as a sort of palate cleanser, with plum and cucumber making this a light, refreshing course.

Yama-san Pouring Scotch
Yamakase has a small selection of single malt Scotch whiskies, which Yama-san and Stan kindly shared with us. Here we see the Chef pouring a bottle of Port Charlotte PC6.

Glenmorangie Signet The Old Malt Cask Macallan 20 Year Douglas of Drumlanrig Macallan 21 Year
Some of the restaurant's rare, pricey bottlings included the Glenmorangie Signet and two single cask selections from independent bottler and blender Douglas Laing & Co: the Old Malt Cask Macallan 20 Year and Douglas of Drumlanrig Macallan 21 Year.

Maguro Don
25: Maguro Don
Our final savory course brought us blue fin tuna and crab innards over rice, a hearty, satisfying conclusion to the meal. I wanted a bigger bowl of the stuff!

Young Peach Sorbet
26: Young Peach Sorbet
And finally, the Chef's bracing young peach sorbet for dessert.

My last meal of the year was undoubtedly one of the best. Yama-san's doing great things here, serving up some truly awe-inspiring Japanese cuisine featuring pristine, luxurious ingredients and an uncommon talent for incorporating Western techniques and influences. Amazingly, even at $200+ per head, this meal was a superb value, delivering an Urasawa-esque experience for half the cost. And let's not forget the generous BYOB policy, the gracious service coordinated by Stan Liu, and the sheer intimacy of the whole experience (and I do emphasize experience). I think Yamakase's going to be the next big thing on the Japanese scene here in LA, and I almost didn't want to write this post lest reservations become harder to secure in the future! I'm already thinking about my return trip--it's that good. Seriously though, if you care at all about Japanese dining, you owe it to yourself to give this place a try, if you can get in of course.


Anonymous Andy Gavin said...

Ooooh, looks so awesome. I must go. I probably went to the Hump 50 times (conservatively). So how does one score the invitations?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013 5:47:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Damn, that was a quick comment. I figured that this was right up your alley. Shoot me an email.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013 6:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanna go here with Paul and you.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013 9:18:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

Great write up. I couldn't remember the names of anything, glad you wrote it all down :D.

I really enjoyed the relaxed nature of the dinner. Stan and Yama are cool guys so it made the experience even better than just the food alone

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 2:11:00 AM  
Blogger Fritos and Foie Gras said...

This meal looks unbelievable. I would love to make it out there and get a chance to try it!!!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 6:16:00 AM  
Blogger Sam C. said...

You definitely wrapped up 2012 with a huge BANG! This meal looks pretty legendary as both food and wine seems absolutely amazing.

Thanks for the coverage and it makes me miss LA even more!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 7:33:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Stunning! Thanks for posting.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Brian L said...

Phenomenal account, what wines/sakes did you think worked the best, and what else do you think would pair well?

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

Brian: everything screamed for champagne I think. Due to the use of a variety of sauces dependent on how Yama-san feels, I would think that some dishes might pull out too much saline with bordeaux (which it did). I think some nice white burgundy would go well with a variety of the dishes but the dishes are so light and clear that champagne is the best combo.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 1:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris H. said...

I'm more than intrigued - read about it on CH before. Any chance one can score an invite via their system online, or is it like Totoraku where you actually have to know someone?

Thursday, January 03, 2013 4:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yamakase or N/Naka?

Food seems relatively similar. Curious as to your preference.

Thursday, January 03, 2013 8:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

shark fin?

Thursday, January 03, 2013 9:03:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Amy: In time, I'm sure we'll make it here. ;)

Charlie: Thanks again for the wine man. Totally agree about the ambiance--it was like our own private party in there, which definitely enhanced the experience.

Sarah: Indeed! Anything like this in New York?

Sam: Dude, you're making me jealous with all of your Chicago stuff!

sygyzy: You're quite welcome. Any plans on visiting?

Brian: I think Charlie answered your question better than I ever could have. ;)

Chris: Yeah, you can submit a request online, and then you may or may not be contacted following.

Anon: Depends on my mood. In my eye, they're actually pretty different in their approaches.

Anon: Yes, it's perfectly legal to use up your existing supplies; you just can't purchase new stocks of the stuff.

Sunday, January 06, 2013 5:54:00 PM  
Blogger tiffanyyhwang said...

The children say thank you for the wine tastings! Awesome blog, by the way

Wednesday, January 09, 2013 4:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this mouth-watering review. We just got invited for my birthday next month. I was already excited about going, but your post has taken me over the top. I cannot wait!

Friday, January 11, 2013 12:50:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Tiffany: Thanks Tiff--that was a pretty baller meal given that you're still undergrads. ;)

Anon: Awesome, hopefully it turns out great for you too. Bring some good booze, and happy early birthday.

Thursday, January 24, 2013 1:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Alice @ Nom Nom Cat said...

Oh man, that meal looks incredible! And your photos are stunning. Very jealous :3

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 9:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Andy Gavin said...

I just posted up my own Yamakase meal. Wow, was that good! And who would have thought rice and kanimiso could be wonderful? The atmosphere, being so intimate, not to mention the 8 bottles of wine we killed for 6 people, were awesome!

Friday, March 08, 2013 6:58:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Alice: Indeed. Any plans to visit?

Andy: Looks great! Good to see that the menu's changed a bit too. Did Yama-san remember you?

Saturday, March 09, 2013 6:54:00 PM  
Blogger TheGlenOfDoom said...

Talk about Foodgasm. There are moments in life that should be savored and remembered. It looks like you accomplished both, I have teh envy! Congrats!! How does someone get an invitation if they don't know anyone?

Tuesday, April 09, 2013 7:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Andy Gavin said...

I rented the whole restaurant out for my birthday in June -- not that it's huge -- but it should be a blast. Turns out I'd met Stan before too, as we know each other from our video game days, I just didn't know he was involved with this until recently.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 6:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Ray Walker said...

Hey Kevin1
excellent writeup. I'll make it a point to visit this summer. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed my 09 Charmes. Keep up the work

Sunday, April 28, 2013 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Glen: It's actually not that hard. You can probably apply via their web site and get in. ;)

Andy: Funny, I just booked the entire place for June too (not for my birthday though). I was thinking you and Stan would know each other!

Ray: Thanks Ray--great job on the wine. I'm curious, how did you stumble across this post?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 1:05:00 AM  

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