There have been many reports about how the pandemic has ravaged the restaurant industry. Many mom and pop shops (and some national chains) closed down; others were forced to downsize and layoff their staff. One of the silver linings from all this is the cottage industry sprouting up of chefs, bakers and even home cooks turning to social media to create “pop-up restaurants” of sorts, where you can view their Instagram or Facebook account and place an order for food directly with them. Some offer delivery, others will provide a pick-up location when you’ve paid.
The upside to this pop-up industry is that we’ve seen an explosion of creativity and specialization appear that would’ve never happened in the traditional restaurant setup (where many of these chefs, bakers and others would be busy cooking on the line, focused on whatever menu is set for that business).
One example of the wonderful cooking that has appeared in this pop-up environment is that of Sugishita, named after Chef James Sugishita who previously had worked at Michelin 1 Star Mori Sushi, and at the stellar Hayato (that has since earned 2 Michelin Stars).
Chef Sugishita has been earning a living since the pandemic doing pop-ups, where every week, there’s a new menu and new items, depending on what’s fresh and available at the time. What you can expect with someone of his pedigree are simply stunning Bento Boxes and Chirashi Sets (and various Bozushi (Pressed Sushi Rolls)) that continue to surprise and delight.
Some of the earlier Bento Boxes that Chef Sugishita was making and delivering during 2020:
It had been awhile since we last ordered from Sugishita, so a recent order consisted of:
Chirashi (Mixed Seafood Over Rice): (Akami, Otoro (Lean and Fatty Bluefin Tuna Belly (Date, Japan), Kinmedai (Golden Eye Snapper), Shima Aji (Wild Striped Jack), Ikura (Salmon Roe) (Hokkaido, Japan), Bafun Uni (Sea Urchin) (Hokkaido, Japan), Atsuyaki Tamago (Omelet), Kyuri (Japanese Cucumber), Simmered Shiitake Mushrooms, Myoga (Pickled Japanese Ginger), Oboro (Egg Crumble)):
Looking past the beautiful visuals, to understand the quality of the fresh Seafood here, as well as the great knife work, is to understand what makes Sugishita shine as one of the best Chirashi offerings in the entire region. The Akami (Lean Bluefin Tuna) was outstanding. Chef Sugishita ages his Akami and Otoro (Fattiest Tuna Belly), and the flavors are more intense, but also bright and buttery.
Each Fish was pristine and delicious, and the Bafun Uni (Sea Urchin) from Hokkaido, Japan was vibrant, with no bad brininess at all (which can happen with Uni quite often).
And it’s not just throwing a bunch of Fish over Rice, but there’s a method to Chef Sugishita’s offering, the Japanese Cucumbers and Myoga (Pickled Ginger) offer textural and flavor contrasts to the amazing Sashimi slices. His Atsuyaki Tamago (Egg Omelet) is the style that many aficionados adore at top Sushi restaurants, the style that is fluffy, and Cake-like, and it offers yet another layer of texture with each bite, on top of well-seasoned Sushi Rice. It is outstanding!
Nodoguro Bozushi (Blackthroat Sea Perch Pressed Sushi):
And for this particular week, Sugishita-san had also gotten in some outstanding Nodoguro (Blackthroat Sea Perch) from Japan and was offering it as Bozushi (Pressed Sushi). The top is lightly torched, releasing some of its incredible natural fattiness and making each bite that much more delectable. It is smoky, luscious (without being overwhelming like Otoro can be), and probably some of the best Bozushi you can get in Southern California right now.
And on our most recent order (a few weeks back), we decided to order a Seasonal Bento Box (with more cooked items than raw seafood)…
Seasonal Bento Box (Nodoguro Sumibiyaki (Blackthroat Sea Perch), Hon Maguro (Wild Bluefin Tuna (Boston, U.S.A.), Sudachi, Saba & Satsuma-Imo Tempura (Deep Fried Mackerel & Sweet Potato), Kabocha-Ni (Simmered Japanese Pumpkin), Agebitashi-Ni (Simmered Japanese Eggplant), Atsuyaki Tamago (Egg Omelet), Kuruma Ebi (Japanese Tiger Prawn)):
Besides the beautiful arrangement in the Bento Box, it was probably the best Bento Box that Chef Sugishita has created to date! (And we’ve tried numerous Bento Boxes from him since he started.) The Hon Maguro (Wild Bluefin Tuna) was listed as simply “Maguro”, but tasted like the most perfect Chutoro (Medium Fatty Tuna Belly), it had an outstanding fatty & lean balance, so decadent!
The one misstep was the Saba and Satsuma Imo Tempura (Deep Fried Mackerel and Japanese Sweet Potato), not because of the ingredients - there was beautiful flavor, the Saba (Mackerel) was inherently oily, lovely and punchy, but in a Bento Box, any kind of Tempura will naturally turn soggy, as it was here (to be fair, even Hayato’s vaunted Bento Box’s Tempura is also soft).
The Nodoguro Sumibiyaki (Charcoal Grilled Blackthroat Sea Perch) was absurd! Gorgeous light smokiness, the perfectly cooked skin and flaky, moist, tender meat within was jaw-droppingly delicious! One of the best bites of 2021! (@ipsedixit @paranoidgarliclover @A5KOBE @attran99 @Starch and all - don’t miss this!)
Probably the surprise bite of the Bento Box was the Agebitashi-Ni (Simmered Japanese Eggplant). Gentle smokiness, incredible Dashi infused flavor within the Simmered Eggplant, it made me want to order an entire side dish of this Simmered Eggplant for next time, that’s how good it was!
The inclusion of Wakamomo (or Japanese Mountain Peaches) were another surprise and delight! They were lightly sweet, fragrant, floral and a perfect counterpoint to the rest of the Bento Box.
Sanma Bozushi (Pacific Saury Pressed Sushi):
This is the season for great Sanma (Pacific Saury) according to Chef Sugishita, and after taking the first bite of his Sanma Bozushi (Pacific Saury Pressed Sushi), I would have to agree. I’ve never had Sanma this fatty before! It’s not at the level of Otoro (Fattiest Tuna Belly), but there’s a distinct level of oiliness, umami, beautiful oceanic qualities in this Hikarimono (Silver Skinned Fish). It is lush, full of flavor, and stunning!
At pop-up restaurant Sugishita, Chef-Owner James Sugishita is making arguably the best Bento and Chirashi Boxes in L.A. and O.C. This is top tier, sit down restaurant quality food, but it’s currently available only via this pop-up for pickup and (sometimes) delivery. These days, Chef Sugishita will usually offer a Chirashi (Mixed Seafood over Rice) set, and a Bento Box (which is usually more cooked items, with some raw seafood at times), and usually 1 or 2 Bozushi (Pressed Sushi) offerings. They are all excellent and must-order items.
Will Chef Sugishita eventually return to work at a brick and mortar restaurant? Only time will tell, but during the pandemic, he’s able to deliver some of the best quality Japanese Bento Boxes and Chirashi Sets (and Pressed Sushi) on his own terms. And we’re all the beneficiaries of it.
(Message the chef via Instagram for the latest weekly offerings.)
(Usually it’s pickup (in Little Tokyo area), but he will deliver depending on if he has enough orders for a particular area (he’s delivered before to the Westside, San Gabriel Valley and Irvine).)