Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wakasan - 03/14/2009

1929 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Wakasan is known for serving traditional izakaya style food. I had read a great deal about the restaurant, even going so far to recommend it to a friend of mine even though I myself had never been despite going to school less than five miles away.

The restaurant offers $35 and $55 omakases but when I called I learned they also had $75 and $95 varieties. Turns out they would like to be notified a week in advance for the last two, but they were willing to accommodate my last minute request. However I decided to stick with the $55 option rather than risk them rushing the higher level dinners.

I arrived a bit early and decided to have an Ebisu while waiting. Turns out this probably wasn't the best idea as I had already had a few and would end up spilling a couple drinks over the course of the evening.

01: Appetizers
We were presented a lovely quarted of appetizers to start. I considered this one course although technically I guess it is really 4.
* Sansai - Mountain vegetables served with bonito broth and dried bonito flakes. The vegetable had a very clean refreshing flavor and a light crunch that seemed totally suited to the dish. The broth and smoky flakes provided the dominant flavors for this course.
* Gobo - I normally find burdock too cloying for my tastes but the flavor was toned down to more appropriate levels here.
* Ikura and Daikon - The ikura was quite nice, cool and taut, the sensation of the globes bursting was quite lovely. The daikon was a bit too intense, its earthy bitterness distracting from the delicate brine of the ikura.
* Ankimo - A classic and delicious preparation of ankimo. The monkfish liver quality was superb, velvety smooth and rich, perfect with the sharp tang from the ponzu and freshness of the scallion.

02: Sunomono
A great selection of seafood, combining sharply different textures and flavors. I loved the use of lemon, vinegar, and mirin, the tangy blend complimenting all of the seafood nicely. The uni was good enough to stand on its own but the octopus and scallop both benefited from a liberal dose of seaweed and the sauce.

03: Sashimi - Binnaga Maguro, Hamachi, Tai, Alfonsino
A very nice selection of lightly flavored fishes though the yellowtail did have a slightly stronger fishiness than was normal. The standout was the Alfonsino snapper with its supple snappy texture. The use of fresh wasabi and soy complimented all four fishes nicely

Dewazakura Oka, Ginjo, Yamagata Prefecture
A nice ginjo sake with a powerful floral nose and with some touches of pear. The sake has a soft smooth feeling on the palate and a clean finish.

04: Grilled Seafood - Kani, Ebi, Tamago
For some reason this dish looked like the Japanese take on American BBQ but with a garlic soy mixture and chili instead of barbecue sauce. The crab was particularly noteworthy with a spry springy texture and intense characteristic sweetness. Very creative of the kitchen, pairing tamago with a sliver of eel. I found the resultant savory note added an element of surprise and creativity that elevated the egg.

05: Duck Nabemono
The vibrant raw duck presented here may be the most beautiful I have ever seen. The whole setup reminded me of the shabu shabu at Urasawa albiet with more modest ingredients. The broth was a savory mushroom base that complimented the richness of the duck wonderfully. The vegetables added textural depth and bitter vegetal notes that contrasted with the duck.

Kokuryu, Junmai Ginjo, Fukui Prefecture
One of the most distinctive sake's I have ever tasted, Rather than the light floral notes, I got something much darker almost autumnal.

06: Uni-Maguro Don
The last course consisted of a rice bowl topped with toasted seaweed, tuna, sea urchin, and wasabi. I really liked how everything came together for this dish. The tuna added a nice fishiness while the uni imparted a delicate sweetness and served to coat the entire dish giving it some much needed moistness. Even the bit players, the seaweed and wasabi added minor though critical elements that made this the best dish of the night for me.

07: Vanilla Pudding
Dessert felt a bit simple given the far more elaborate savory courses. I still enjoyed this simple sweet cream which reminded me of the custard of a creme brulee.

I walked out of Wakasan quite impressed with the meal even at $55 the meal is still a pretty good deal. Although having read a number of reviews of the $35 meal, I am not sure that the extra $20 made the meal that much better. The ingredients are more upscale, but I feel the overall quality of the courses as a whole wouldn't have changed much. My next trip here I will definitely be getting the $95 option.

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