Sunday, May 27, 2012

$400 (and Worth Every Penny!) Sushi

I am a bonafide sushi snob but I never thought I would eat a sushi meal that cost nearly $400 and was worth every single penny; which is exactly what I did this past Friday night.

The Cute Gardener didn’t tell me a word about Asanebo before I saw its rather plain sign on the top of a small space in Studio City crammed into a strip mall parking lot between other equally non-descript businesses. It has become a custom of late, when I stay at his place, to just assume my role as passenger in his car at the weekend’s onset while he takes me to a new restaurant to try. But this time, he admitted to being to Asanebo over 15 times, which is a virtual non-occurrence in his life as he tends to refuse to eat at a place more than once touting the sheer number of restaurants on the perpetual “to do" list making revisits seem borne of sheer stupidity.

Once inside I was impressed with the beautiful and elegant d├ęcor, all in shades of beige and brown with wooden accents and a warm, inviting sense of Zen. Three expert staff members attended to us all evening including a sweet waitress, a knowledgeable bus boy whose recommendations we took to heart, and a man who would deliver specific dishes to us with tips on how we would best enjoy them. The Kardashian mom (absent hubby Bruce Jenner but with a younger actor-in-training type boy), other couples on date night and a continual stream of groups of four continued to keep the restaurant buzzing all evening.

Two bottles of high-quality, iced sake and a stream of eleven custom-crafted and exquisite dishes later, I officially felt spoiled rotten by the best damn sushi experience I have ever had.

I am not sure anything will ever live up to the memory of these fine dishes, each individually worthy of being called a work of stunning, Japanese culinary art.

To start, an elongated tray of homemade pickles, consisting of long, thin carrots, baby round carrots, cucumber, baby beets, Napa cabbage, long thin turnips and a powerfully flavor packed raspberry-hued green onion with miso. Each veggie was pickled in its own unique seasoning blend and brine, creating a myriad of small, exquisite punches of major flavor.

The simple yet sublime spinach and mushroom salad was served room temperature and again, dressed well in something so tongue-tantalizing and original that each bite was savored as its own special experience, again and again.

We ordered the toro sashimi and the waitress lowered her voice and said, “a special for tonight, we have toro collar.” Of course, we nodded emphatically yes and received this sweet pink flesh, fatty and buttery, that melted on impact into the mouth.

Unctuous bits of Uzaku grilled freshwater eel sweetened with vinegar sauce and cucumbers were then spiked nicely with savory grated burdock root.

Sea grunt sushi was sweet and meaty but the surprise sushi of the night was this melon colored orange clam version; rent so smoothly with the teeth and reminiscent of summer peaches.

One of the most beautiful presentations was this dish of steamed zucchini flower stuffed with cake of rock shrimp, white fish alongside tender yellow tomato.

We ordered the shishito peppers, something we both enjoy eating and often say are similar to okra but without the slime. Dressed in just the char of being grilled and a few bonito pepper flakes, it was the perfect mid meal dish while we regrouped, spice cleaned the palette and decided what our last few dishes would entail.

Lovely fat pieces of King salmon sashimi, like most everything on this menu, didn’t need any additional flavoring from soy or wasabi.

Tempura uni wrapped in shiso leaf was the only item that escaped being photographed before we ended it all, somewhat resistant, with a gorgeous fried soft shell crab appetizer. Of course, it became a dessert rather than appetizer, as we knew we didn’t want to mess up the delicate flavors of fresh sashimi with anything fried before hand.

If we hadn’t already went nearly one hundred dollars over our evening’s budget, we probably could have taken a half hour break and continued on eating. The food was that clean and that good.

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