Sunday, June 26, 2016

Shibumi - 06/02/2016

815 S Hill St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 265-7923

I'd been waiting for Shibumi to open since I first learned about the restaurant towards the end of 2015. Shibumi is the brainchild of David Schlosser who previously worked at both Urasawa and Ginza Sushi-ko as well as various kaiseki restaurants in Japan. Joining him as CdC is Jacob Kear who did a stint at Noma Japan. Originally scheduled to open in February of this year, the repeated delays only hightened my eagerness.

Shibumi's emphasis on Kappo style cooking was a welcome change of pace from the sushi, ramen, and yakitori places that typically dominate Japanese restaurant scene in Los Angeles. The restaurant had planned to offer a higher-end kaiseki option, but when I made my reservation we learned that the team was going to focus solely on the Kappo menu to start.

cucumbers stuffed with shiso leaf, seeds, umeboshi and bonito
The pickled tang of the stuffed cucumbers was tinged with funky notes from the umeboshi and a pleasing freshness from the shiso while the seeds added a contrasting meatiness to the morsel. A couple of end pieces of the cucumber came without any stuffing and the entire table found these unpleasantly salty and rather blunt.

summer vegetables, koji rice dip
Next up was a bed of fresh crudite (radishes, carrots, and snap peas) served over a bed of ice, the chilling effect of the ice helped highlight the crispness of the vegetables. In keeping with Shibumi's ethos, the vegetables were served with little adornment besides a creamy rice dip that tasted reminiscent of a mild sweet miso. The dip helped to temper the aggressive bitterness of the radishes but the overall dish was underwhelming. I can understand the desire to show off the natural flavor of the ingredients but $11 seems a bit much for a small platter of unseasoned raw vegetables that I could buy at my local farmer's market.

japanese sea-bream, ginger bud, pickled plum-irizake (edo style sauce)
Next up was Tai served Edo-style. The fish had a dense texture and plenty of saline heft that was deftly balanced by the tanginess of the plum sauce. Meanwhile the slivers of fresh myoga added a peppery spice and much-needed succulence.

avocado, wakame, greens & hemp
This was the most impressive of the three vegetable courses with the lusciously creamy avocado forming a base for the licorice-tinged fennel and the sharply bitter greens

The cuttlefish was easily the most intimidating course of the night with its glossy oil black coating of ink to the pungent flavor of raw fishy saline. The grilled tentacles were much more approachable, still giving off intrinsic saline notes but with pleasing notes of char and smoke.

golden beets broiled with barley miso
I wasn't expecting much from this course but the mild sweetness of the beets was quite enjoyable especially when tempered with the light bitterness of the greens and the warm soothing maltiness of the barley.

crispy monkfish "kar-age" sudachi citrus, kelp salt
This was probably the table favorite and with good reason. Beneath the layer of crispy batter the fish still displayed a wonderfully moist flakiness. The generous dusting of kelp salt drew out the fish's natural flavor but was kept in check by a quick squeeze of sudachi.

salmon trout - smoked with cherry bark
Despite being called smoked the fish had a well cooked exterior wrapped around a core of supple pink flesh. The soft whiff of wood smoke emanating from the fish worked nicely with the shredded daikon which was quite reminiscent of a sauerkraut while the fragment of crispy skin provided an unabashedly salty accent.

california holstein beef strip, grilled, fresh wasabi, nara-zuke pickle
The strip steak was served in two markedly different styles. First up was a slightly overdone steak topped with wasabi, while the combination was enjoyable I thought the short lived bite of the wasabi didn't match up with the rich beefy flavor. The pickle, marinated for 2-years, proved to be a more effective counterpoint thanks to its lingering sweet and sour pungency.

grilled heritage pork, koji rice, pickled daikon, leek
The pork was served unusually rare and proved to be all the better for it. The meat's rich fat, coupled with the light sweetness of the koji rice sauce was sublime with the scallion-like character of the leeks. A slice or two of thick succulent daikon washed down the fat with a crisp and tart efficiency.

rice omusubi
Our final course was simpled grilled onigiri that exuded a weighty character of earthy umami. The accompanying daikon punctuated the dish with a light pickled tang

chilled apricot seed tofu, apricots
I don't think I've ever had tofu made from apricot seed and after this experience I'm not keen to have it again. The tofu is dry to the point of being tannic and the fresh fruit does little to alleviate the sensation.

koji (r)ice cream, strawberry & elderflower
This was a nice riff on a classic flavor combination pairing sweet cream with strawberry and a flourish of citrus zest.

Shibumi was without a doubt my most anticipated opening for the year. My enthusiasm was tempered a bit when I learned that the Kaiseki menu wasn't going to be available immediately, but not enough to stop me from booking a table for opening night. The meal got off to a rocky start when our server spilled a cocktail down my back. I suppose some service gaffes are to be expected and he did comp all of our drinks for the night which seemed more than fair. Schlosser's philosophy of celebrating the natural flavors of the ingredients made some of the courses more cerebral and less enjoyable at a visceral level. Overall the restaurant shows a fair amount of promise and I'd be happy to return once the Kaiseki menu gets rolled out.

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