We had first heard about Kogane, a newish Sushi Bar that’s opened in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, through Chef Taketoshi Azumi during one of our Omakase dinners at his Michelin 1 Star restaurant, Shin Sushi. Take-san encouraged us to visit Kogane and he mentioned it was from his brother(!), and that he’d be honored if we gave it a try.
For those that may not know, the San Gabriel Valley may be famous for many things, but Sushi is not one of them. All of the Sushi-ya we’ve tried in the SGV have ranged from awful to mediocre at best, but a legit Sushi Bar with a strong endorsement by Shin Sushi’s chef-owner? We were hopeful things would change.
Walking into the space, you arrive in front of a beautiful, austere wooden counter for the Sushi Bar, and there are a few small tables behind it. We are immediately greeted by Chef Kwan (an Indonesian-born Chef who is co-owner of Kogane), along with Chef-Co-Owner Fumio Azumi, brother of Taketoshi Azumi of Shin Sushi. It turns out Fumio-san has honed his craft over a variety of restaurants around LA, including Hamasaku.
During this 1st visit, we stopped by for a Lunch Omakase course (at a reasonable $100, but the price is increasing to $120 in August).
The opening course is a small bite of Shiromi Nanbanzuke, or White Fish that’s been fried and tossed with Vinegar, Sugar and spices. This was a clean, tasty bite, the tartness of the marinade cut through the deep fried White Fish.
Akitabare - Suirakuten - Daiginjo Sake (Akita, Japan):
We’ve always enjoyed Akitabare’s Suirakuten release, but it had been a few years. Pleasant, smooth, lightly sweet with a great dry finish, no complaints.
Tai - Japanese Sea Bream (Kochi, Japan):
Nice pliant mouthfeel, clean, light delicate meatiness. Very good!
Chef Fumio mentions at this point that the Shari (Sushi Rice) they use for Lunch is larger than for Dinner. They adjust the amount of Rice for Lunch because both chefs felt it was more fitting that way (fewer courses for Lunch).
The Shari itself uses a White Vinegar, and the grains are distinct. It’s not overcooked, but it might be a touch loose and wet and almost mushy (not actually there, but getting close).
Hotate - Scallop (Hokkaido, Japan):
At this point, Chef Fumio mentions they actually use 2 different kinds of Shari(!), which is very rare locally, and 3 different kinds of Nikiri / Soy Sauce seasonings throughout the meal. You can tell they care, and are striving for greatness.
Unfortunately, the Shari for this 2nd bite is still the same as before, a bit too wet, almost mushy, which undermined the fresh, silky Scallop.
Suzuki - Wild Sea Bass (Chiba, Japan):
This cut of Suzuki was excellent. Lightly oily and lean, balanced and delicious.
21 Day Dry-Aged Maguro - Bluefin Tuna (Mexico):
Chef Kwan brought out the entire hunk of their 21 Day Dry-Aged Bluefin Tuna (see above). It looked a bit foreboding, but impressive.
There was a genuine deep (land) meatiness, and an umami quality that caused you to salivate as you were eating it. This was an excellent bite, and one of the more interesting Maguro Sushi we’ve had in a while.
21 Day Dry-Aged Ohtoro - Fattiest Tuna Belly (Mexico):
Continuing on in the progression, Fumio-san prepares a 21 Day Dry-Aged Ohtoro (Fattiest Tuna Belly) from the same Fish. They also switch to the 2nd Shari (Sushi Rice) type at this point, using Akasu (Red Vinegar), seen by the dark Rice color (above).
The 21 Day Dry Aged Ohtoro is extraordinary! Super luscious, but more concentrated, more potent in its unctuousness. Highlight of the meal! The Akasu Shari worked quite well here, a heavier, stronger backbone to the bite. This 2nd type of Sushi Rice was also better prepared (not as borderline mushy as their 1st type of Rice earlier).
Aji - Spanish Mackerel (Hyogo, Japan):
Very good. Clean, inherently oily, but not overwhelmingly so, another highlight. (And Fumio-san switched back to the 1st type of Sushi Rice at this point for this Aji.)
Botan Ebi - Sweet Shrimp (Canada):
This was a disappointment. It was too soft and mushy. No texture or mouthfeel other than overly soft flesh.
Shima Aji - Striped Jack (Tokushima, Japan):
This was fine.
Aori Ika - Bigfin Reef Squid (Mie, Japan):
In terms of So Cal’s various Itamae, Chef Fumio is definitely up there as one of the most friendly. You can definitely tell he’s related to Chef Taketoshi of Shin Sushi (who loves to crack jokes). It turns out Aori Ika (Bigfin Reef Squid) is his favorite Sushi. Taking a bite:
You can sense his love and passion for Aori Ika: It’s expertly prepared. Usually many local restaurants’ Squid Sushi is chewy and rubbery, but this version is creamy and almost milky(!), there’s a distinct chew and mouthfeel, but it’s nothing like the usual versions.
Saba - Mackerel (Kyushu, Japan):
In another divergence from the norm, Kogane prepares their Saba (Mackerel) using a marinade of Soy Sauce and Sesame Seeds (instead of the more commonly found Salt and Vinegar prep). The result is a lighter, nutty, less oily & briny version of Saba, which is a nice change. (But I do love the deep brininess that great Saba can have.)
Kinmedai - Golden Eye Snapper (Chiba, Japan):
Deliciously balanced fatty, oily and lean.
Bafun Uni - Sea Urchin (Hokkaido, Japan):
For Lunch, Kogane offers the diners a choice of either the Hokkaido Bafun Uni, or the Santa Barbara Uni. We opted to try both (1 add-on) to do a side-by-side comparison. Unfortunately, the Bafun Uni from Hokkaido on today’s visit was downright bad. Super briny, funky, it tasted of bad seawater. Some of the worst Uni we’ve had in a long time.
Uni - Sea Urchin (Santa Barbara, U.S.A.):
And in a complete turnaround, this was a flawless piece of Santa Barbara Uni! Completely clean, sweet, creamy, zero brininess! Another highlight of the meal!
Negitoro Temaki - Fatty Tuna Belly + Green Onion Handroll:
Their Handroll featured slightly crisped Nori (Seaweed) wrappers, which was good, and the blend of minced up Fatty Tuna Belly and Green Onions is always enjoyable.
Tamago - Egg:
The traditional final piece of an Omakase Sushi meal, the Tamago (Egg), is believed to reflect on the skills of the Sushi Chef. Unfortunately this Tamago (done in the Castella-style) was dry.
2nd Visit - Dinner:
This Lunch Omakase had a few missteps, but many highlights as well. And for $100, it was a very reasonable price considering the overall amount of food and quality. We couldn’t wait to try their full Dinner Omakase, with more courses and see how it compared (it’s also 2.5x the price).
One of the more interesting things we observed was that for dinner, both Chefs-Co-Owners (Kwan and Fumio) will cut different fish for the entire Sushi Bar. It’s probably more efficient that way, so, Chef Kwan might cut all of the Maguro (Tuna) for all guests, even if they aren’t seated in front of him.
Their Sake Menu is a bit interesting / humorous: They offer pretty much all of the Sake that Shin Sushi offers (they are brothers, so who can blame them for sharing tips / wholesalers). And then they add additional bottles on top of Shin’s list.
Izumibashi - Rakufumai “Dragonfly Gold” - Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Kanagawa, Japan):
Quite enjoyable. It has a refreshing opener of Apples, a pleasant palate that has some fruitiness, sharp, quick bite, but then a smooth, clean finish.
For Dinner Omakase, there’s an immediate change from Lunch Omakase in that you start with 3 opening courses (compared to 1 for Lunch).
Mushi Awabi - Abalone (Central California, U.S.A.):
Fresh and bright, the Kimo (Abalone Liver) Sauce added a nice pleasant offal note to contrast the Abalone meat itself.
(Osuimomo Course) Hamo + Junsai - Pike Eel + Water Shield:
Junsai (Water Shield) is always a wonderful thing to enjoy, but it’s not that common locally. So it was a pleasant surprise to see Fumio-san have this as one of the opening courses. The Hamo (Pike Eel) was soft, airy. The Junsai was slippery and the special Broth was clean and delicate.
(Sashimi Course): Chutoro, Isaki, Mizudako - Medium-Fatty Tuna Belly, Chicken Grunt Fish, Water Octopus (Mexico, Hyogo, Japan, Hokkaido, Japan):
The Sashimi course was next. The Chutoro from Mexico was excellent, not overly fatty. The Isaki (Chicken Grunt) sadly had a big piece of tendon/gristle that was unchewable, the Mizudako (Water Octopus) was fine.
Our Nigiri Sushi portion of the meal was next.
Suzuki - Wild Sea Bass (Chiba, Japan):
First, it should be noted Chef Fumio wasn’t kidding when he said that the Lunch and Dinner Sushi were different sizes. Whereas Lunch Nigiri was about average sized portions, the Dinner Sushi was tiny. It’s not an understatement in saying this is the smallest Nigiri I’ve ever had in my life. Note: I don’t need huge Claim Jumper portions (and normally don’t even enjoy too many carbs at once), but the Dinner time Nigiri Sushi felt almost like a “Kids Menu” size(!). I guess with so many Nigiri, they wanted to make sure you could enjoy the variety (more pieces, smaller)?
The Suzuki sadly had a big piece of tendon/gristle as well! (2 pieces of Fish in a row.)
Kasugodai - Baby Wild Snapper (Hyogo, Japan):
This was soft, tender flesh. They actually pour hot Dashi over the outside of the Fish and then drop it in ice to release some flavors.
Mirugai - Geoduck (Washington, U.S.A.):
This Mirugai was seasoned with some Yuzu and Kelp juice, clean and crisp.
Zuwaigani - Snow Crab (Hokkaido, Japan):
I love a great Zuwaigani (Snow Crab) preparation. Kogane’s version was fine. Clean, simple, but it didn’t sing like the best versions we’ve had. It was quite muted and underwhelming.
Aji - Spanish Mackerel (Hyogo, Japan):
This was flat. The Aji itself tasted fresh, but not much flavor at all (which is shocking considering Aji is generally quite flavorful).
Aori Ika - Bigfin Reef Squid (Mie, Japan):
As excellent as Lunch, Chef Fumio prepared this Squid flawlessly. Creamy, lush, excellent!
Chilean Sea Bass Marinated with Yuzu Miso:
As an interlude, we’re presented with Chilean Sea Bass that’s marinated with Yuzu Miso, some Pickled Cucumber, Kinome Leaf (the leaf of a Sansho Pepper tree). This was very good, just cooked through, inherently fatty, tender, flaky.
Sohomare - Tuxedo - Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Tochigi, Japan):
This tasted richer, fuller, rounder than the Izumibashi, but it also had a bit more of a sharp alcohol note, but still finishing cleanly.
Shima Aji - Striped Jack (Shikoku, Japan):
There was a gentle creamy, almost buttery quality here. Very good.
18 Day Dry Aged Hon Maguro - Bluefin Tuna (Mexico):
On this visit, they had an 18 Day Dry Aged Bluefin Tuna (instead of the 21 Day from Lunch previously). This was still very good, definitely a specialization and highlight for the restaurant. But this Maguro was not as good as the Lunch version aged 21 Days.
22 Day Dry Aged Ohtoro - Fattiest Tuna Belly (Mexico):
As with Lunch, the chefs switch up different Shari (Sushi Rice) depending on the Fish, and for the luscious, fatty, concentrated Ohtoro, they switched to an Akasu (Red Vinegar) Rice. It was a good match, the Shari (while much smaller portions) was better than Lunch’s wetness issue. Highlight of the meal!
Sesame Tofu, Hokkaido Uni, Dashi Broth:
The case of variable Uni worked out this time: Unlike the disaster of Hokkaido Uni for the previous Lunch visit, this evening’s Hokkaido Uni was flawless. Sweet, creamy, no nasty oceanic aftertaste. It was very good!
Kuruma Ebi - Tiger Shrimp (Okinawa, Japan):
A great Kuruma Ebi preparation is always a celebration (even if it doesn’t get as much love as the Live Sweet Shrimp preparations). This was plump and inherently sweet and fresh.
Saba - Mackerel (Fukuoka, Japan):
As with Lunch, Kogane prepares their Saba (Mackerel) differently than the more common prep of Salt & Vinegar. Here the Soy Sauce, Sesame Seed marinade mellows everything out. It was still enjoyable, but having it this 2nd time this way, I found myself missing the deep, oily, bold flavors of great Saba.
Nodoguro - Blackthroat Sea Pearch (Nagasaki, Japan):
The chefs break out some Binchotan (Japanese Charcoal) to sear / torch the skin of the Nodoguro which adds a beautiful smokiness. It’s a nice technique seen at a few places. Sadly, there was also a big piece of gristle / tendon running through this Nodoguro! It was really disappointing to see yet another piece of Fish (this time, one of the more expensive / prized pieces) ruined again.
Bafun Uni + Santa Barbara Uni Temaki - Hokkaido Sea Urchin + Santa Barbara Sea Urchin Handroll:
I don’t understand how their Uni sourcing could swing this wildly: The previous Hokkaido Uni in an earlier course was flawless. For this later Handroll with a mix of Hokkaido Uni and Santa Barbara Uni, it was back to the awful, super oceanic brininess that plagued their Lunch Uni last time.
Anago - Sea Eel (Tsushima, Japan):
Creamy, tender, but there were too many noticeable small bones. Anago preparations have this sometimes, but this was more noticeable (the bones were larger, harder), making it unpleasant and we had to discreetly pull some bones out of our mouth.
Tamago - Egg:
As with Lunch, the official end of the Omakase course is marked with their Tamago (Egg), prepared in a Kasutera (Castella) style. This was almost moist, better than the previous Lunch visit, but still not a very good Tamago prep.
Negitoro Temaki - Green Onion & Tuna Belly Handroll:
This was much better than the Uni Handroll. Creamy, flavorful, a textbook good Negitoro Handroll.
Seasonal Fruit + Black Sesame Ice Cream:
The Seasonal Fruit was fine. The Black Sesame Ice Cream was fine, with enough nutty, aromatic flavors from the Black Sesame itself.
For a new endeavor, Kogane makes a pretty good splash to the local Sushi scene, showcasing some potential for greatness, but many hiccups as well. We haven’t been to a Sushi Bar where there were that many pieces of Fish that were plagued with tendon / gristle in many years (I don’t even remember the last bad place that had as many pieces of Fish ruined by that). That shows a need for growth and improvement. And it may have been bad luck, but the Uni pieces that were bad, were so bad (super oceanic, bad sea water) that it was flat out unpleasant. Again, potentially supply chain issues, but a good Itamae should know if it’s bad and not serve it.
Omakase courses don’t need any kind of a Zensai / Opener, but locally, it seems like Southern California has developed a style of “Hybrid Kaiseki Sushi” where many of the top local Sushi Bars will serve a few courses that could be part of a great Kaiseki meal, and then transition into Sushi. Kogane’s opening courses are fine, but fall short of the top tier restaurants locally.
But there’s an earnestness with Chefs Kwan and Azumi. They are both super friendly and amiable, you can tell they are striving to do their best and they have some little touches that other local places aren’t doing, like having multiple types of Shari and 3 different types of Nikiri. But that’s all for naught if the Shari isn’t on point, and for the Lunch visit, it was borderline mushy / too wet.
With their Dinner Omakase increasing in price to $300 per person (+ tax & tip) starting next month, considering the mixed execution (multiple pieces of fish with tendon/gristle, bad uni, some questionable pieces), but also some delectable bites, we’d rather go elsewhere. And for those that are curious, Chef Fumio’s brother, Chef Taketoshi of Shin Sushi has the better Omakase experience for sure.
But their Lunch Omakase, for $100 (increasing to $120 next month) is unbeatable right now. A great value, and we weren’t plagued by the gristle issue as badly (just 1 piece). We’re pulling for Kogane to continue to improve and if nothing else, they are a great value for Lunch Omakase, and easily the best Sushi Bar in the San Gabriel Valley.
1129 S. Fremont Ave., Unit C
Alhambra, CA 91803
Tel: (626) 703-4148