Thursday, April 9, 2009

R23 -03/26/2009

923 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 687-7178

I have known about R23 since I started appreciating good sushi. I had always heard mixed reviews with some people praising the restaurant while others considering it overpriced. The restaurant has been around for over 15 years and has consistently rated well on Zagat. Kevin clued me in to a dinner at the restaurant and I decided to join them on the spur of the moment.

Interestingly, the restaurant is surrounded by run down manufacturing plants and ramshackle warehouses in LA's Downtown Arts District. While the surrounding buildings might be marked up with graffiti, the restaurant itself looks quite clean and presentable.

The interior of the restaurant is well-suited to its home in the Arts District, with brick walls and a bright contemporary sushi bar. The walls are covered with modern art and most famously the chairs are designed by Frank Gehry. Certainly an impressive setup for a sushi restaurant, lets hope the food lives up to the decor.

The restaurant offers a small selection of beers, wine, and sake and we would partake of all of them before the night was out

Asahi Select
Asahi is my favorite of the three mainstream Japanese beers and I was eager to try the Asahi Select. The thing that drew my attention immediately was the , much darker than the typical Asahi. The beer tasted of sweet grainy malt with some caramel notes, also much more flavorful than the typical Asahi

Kirin Light
This basically tasted like a watered down version of your typical Kirin.

Koshihikari Echigo
Ironically, I tried the Echigo at Echigo restaurant and wasn't impressed. The beer has a watery rice character to it and a faintly medicinal character on the finish.

Spicy Tuna Roll
While waiting for some of our members to arrive we decided to order some finger foods. The tuna hand roll is a perfect example of "safe" sushi. Coat the fish with enough sauce to mask its natural flavor and wrap with plenty of rice and seaweed. Boring but not too surprising for a spicy tuna roll.

Harushika, Junmai, Nara Prefecture
Nothing subtle about this sake, bracing and dry on the attack with a hint of citrus and some heat on the finish.

Maguro - Tuna
This tuna had a strangely bright pink color to it that looked downright artificial. The taste of the fish was dull but acceptable however the cut was overly thick and dry.

Hirame - Halibut
A minor improvement over the previous course, the fish itself had a middling texture. Definitely not quite as firm or interesting as some of the better halibuts I have tried.

Sake - Salmon
One of the standouts of the night was the humble salmon. The fish had a distinctive meaty texture and an intense oiliness to it. Not your typical salmon but quite delicious.

Tai - Red Snapper
The snapper was a bit fishier than I expected. Eaten without soy there wasn't quite enough yuzu or salt to give it sufficient flavor.

Aji - Spanish Mackerel
A nice change of pace as this was one of the oilier presentations of mackerel I have had of late. The use of ginger, scallion, and ponzu gave a sharp tang that faded to the reveal the fishiness of the mackerel.

Mirugai - Giant Clam
I found the mirugai a bit dull and malodorous although the nori did help alleviate the funk somewhat.

Sayori - Needlefish
A rarity that I was surprised to find here given the clientele the restaurant seems to be targeting. The fish had a faintly mildewy flavor suggesting that it was none to fresh. My companions and I were wondering why the majority of restaurants that serve sayori tend to shape it in a particular way.

Hotate - Scallop
The dry crunch of the nori was the most exciting element of the dish. The scallops themselves were not particularly distinctive in any way.

Leth Steinagrund, Austria, 2007
Since we sampled both the beer and the sake we decided to go for a white to close out the meal. Originally we wanted a sparkler but this turned out to be a good choice. The wine had elements of apple and peach with a core of crisp acidity and a short finish; light enough to pair well with most of the fish.

Ikura - Salmon Egg
So far the worst experiences have been with the less common items. The salmon roe was far too salty and defintely none too fresh. The liquid inside seemed to have evaporated somewhat, resulting in a desultory viscous texture rather than the ideal burst of flavor.

Uni - Sea Urchin
The uni had a nice mild sweetness and smooth creamy feel. Given how hard it is to find good uni, this was a welcome surprise after the ikura.

Fresh Kumamoto Oysters
The oysters were pathetically small and the texture was slightly milky if that makes any sense at all, one of the worst oysters in recent memory.

Ankimo - Steamed Monk Fish Liver with Spicy Ponzu Sauce
The most controversial course of the night, both Jane and Kevin were quite satisfied while I felt the liver was a bit too lean resulting in a crumbly texture rather than a uniform smoothness.

Unagi - Fresh Water Eel
A wonderful example of unagi, tender and oily with a good bit of char and sweetness to boot. Not a delicate dish, but it wasn't meant to be.

Beef Sashimi
More of a tataki than a sashimi, It reminded me of the leftover steak we sometimes have at home.

Japanese Style Ceviche
From what I gathered, the ceviche is a was added to the menu to serve as the restaurant's signature dish. It comes in a shrimp chip similar to the ones served with Peking duck. The fish quality isn't the best but the restaurant douses it with so much sauce you won't be able to tell the difference anyway. I did enjoy the biting acidic flavor but I just think with it, the restaurant can cut lot of corners and still serve a decent dish.

Tamago - Egg
When I popped this in my mouth I was immediately struck by how sweet and syrupy this tasted. For the restaurant's sake they better hope most of their customers don't judge them by their tamago.

In terms of food the restaurant doesn't deserve its reputation. What the restaurant does offer is an artsy urban style that is perfect for impressing someone on that first date with food that neither offends nor impresses. Personally I think this is one of those restaurants that epitomizes the style over substance stereotype of the LA food scene as exemplified by the exquisite box for the receipt.


ilikejane said...

great review, ryan! it was an interesting experience, but i definitely think that my fellow yelpers must be on crack (4 stars out of 182 reviews). here's what i had to say the morning after...

see you guys soon - maybe hit up komasa one of these days.

happy easter! jane

Tangbro1 said...

Hey Jane,

I saw your review and I liked the detail and the very gracious nod. I definitely agree the place is a letdown given the reputation.

We should definitely visit Komasa... just keep prodding me and I'll eventually arrange something.

Aaron said...

Did you order a la carte? So many of these dishes seem so plain, and your descriptions of each don't give them much credit.

I have never tried Asahi Select, but I love Asahi Black. Make sure to look for it

Tangbro1 said...

We did order a la carte. Unfortunately the food was pretty pedestrian, it was hard to find much to be positive about.

I think I had an Asahi Black at Kiriko.