When it comes to Japanese food, the Cute Gardener and I tend to overindulge. Maybe it’s because the food is served in such small portions served over a large amount of time that causes us to eat more than normal. Maybe it’s because the food is usually raw fish and veggies, articulated so light and fresh that the caloric intake remains low in comparison to our typical meals. Whatever it is, we turn into gluttons when in the presence of sushi and sashimi and that was certainly our intent last Friday.
We’d been wanting to try Shunji's knowing that Chef Shunji Nakao had been a part of opening his brother’s restaurant Asanebo in Studio City, which remains our hands down favorite with its consistent exquisite and creative concoctions. Unfortunately, although we definitely saw creativity in the dishes at Shunji, it failed to live up to its sibling’s elan. So we tried the basics and the stuff that caught our eye as being out of the ordinary but abstained from our usual blow out feast.
My first time trying jellyfish provided a fun adventure as the translucent cartilage-like creature crunched in my mouth and oozed through my teeth but it was rather flavorless.
The monk fish liver was more like a chicken mousse, the muddy salt of the brine remaining as a bottom note on the palate rather than on the top note which would have expressed more of its funky character had it been served less processed.
The veggies were interesting but bland and unseasoned, tasting more watery and homogenous that individually shining.
The sushi was the hit of the evening. Beautiful small portions, elegantly seasoned at the perfect room temperature with soy on a bed of rice in perfect ratio to the fish. Sea Bream, pike and bonito were very good but the stars were the sea robin and the unbelievably mineral-fresh shad that melted on the tongue slowly like butter.
My first bite of this tomato-cube was a total delight, loving the sprightly way the fruit was transformed into a tofu-like consistency. But then on concurrent bites, all I could taste was the cooking oil. The CG pointed out that he was starting to only taste the cooking oil in the rest of the food too. I wondered if, as the restaurant had gotten busier, the cooking had suffered with the increase of busy and less calculated chefs.
I had never tried conch so we ordered this. It was a beautiful presentation of mushroom and conch pieces in a gorgeous shell but otherwise a plain miso broth.
We loved the melt on your tongue shad so much that we ordered more sashimi. Without the rice, the sweet minerality came through even more. It was like the dessert plate of the evening.
Another pretty dish that was ultimately a bit bland were the squash blossoms stuffed with shrimp and asparagus.
The eggplant topped with shrimp, shitake mushroom and miso was also good but the aftertaste remained of cooking oil.
We were still hungry and could have kept going but decided against it as the bill was already rising to shaky heights. Instead, we headed down the street to a gastropub for a few of their bar dishes. Kind of weird to top off delicate Japanese food with fried bar food and meat, but we obviously weren’t feeling that satisfied and that is what we usually expect from a Japanese food place with a reputation such as Shunji’s. Or maybe we are just getting spoiled and more discerning with the frequency of which we eat out and are reaching a tipping point in the overall arc of “a-ha” moments.