The passage of time has been all jumbled up for many of us over the past year+ of the global pandemic. It seems like only yesterday that Shin Sushi burst onto the local dining scene. Shin Sushi is helmed by Chef-Owner Taketoshi Azumi (formerly of Sushi of Gari, Asanebo and Mori Sushi). During our very first visit a few years ago, Take-san happily shared his story, growing up in Japan watching his father prepare Sushi every day at his father’s original Shin Sushi in Tokyo. But when Take-san wanted to become a Sushi Chef, his father refused to teach him, wanting a better life for him and thinking he wouldn’t be able to endure it. So Take-san set off for America and trained and trained, hoping one day to make Sushi alongside his father (which sadly didn’t happen before he passed away).
But with Shin Sushi, Take-san has named the restaurant after his father’s original place, as a tribute to him. Just a few years earlier, Shin Sushi was already a rising star in the Sushi landscape. He’s worked hard at his craft and earned 1 Michelin Star in 2019. We hadn’t revisited Shin Sushi since before the pandemic hit. Now that we were fully vaccinated (and Take-san and his 1 waitress as well), we decided it was time to pay him another visit (and show support to this small mom & pop shop).
Shin Sushi is following all guidance for COVID-19 precautions: The Sushi Bar itself remains closed. There are only 3 tables (at least ~10 - 12 feet apart) being served at any one time. Everyone was masked and we felt safe.
While not a traditional Zensai course reflecting the season’s bounty in the way that Maru-san at Mori Sushi prepares it, this starting course was nicely plated and delicious!
Pickled Tomato & Okra:
You get an immediate tart-sweet, piquant burst from the lightly Pickled Tomato, full of deep flavor, and the Pickled Okra was a nice vegetal counterpoint.
Poached in a Housemade Dashi, this Tsubugai (Welk) was plump, meaty, and had a pleasing mouthfeel.
Hotaru Ika (Firefly Squid):
Fantastic! Tender, with a light chew (but never rubbery), the Hotaru Ika was excellently prepared by Take-san.
Toro no Kunsei (Smoked Fatty Tuna Belly) + Takuan no Kunsei / Iburigakko (Smoked Pickled Daikon Radish):
You get this deeply, gorgeous smoky infusion, like a great BBQ course, which gives way to a deep, gentle fattiness but it’s slightly taut (perhaps from the smoking?), it is unmistakably Toro (Fatty Tuna Belly) that we all know and love, but very different from the usual Sushi preparation. And it is one of the highlights of the meal!
I wanted to immediately order another serving, but held off since we were about to start our Sushi Omakase experience.
The Smoked Takuan (Pickled Daikon Radish) also known as Iburigakko (thanks @ColinMorey) was still snappy, crunchy and only had a very light smoke infusion. Still it was a great foil for the lush Smoked Tuna Belly we just had.
Hyaku Moku - Alt. 3 - Special Blend Sake (Hyogo, Japan):
A surprise favorite of ours during a previous visit, Hyaku Moku Alt. 3 is a blend of 3 different types of Yamada Nishiki Rice brews, so it doesn’t fall into a traditional classification like “Ginjo” or Daiginjo" etc. Enjoying our first cup of Sake in the new year, in a restaurant… it could’ve been swill like Sho Chiku Bai and would’ve probably tasted great as well (OK, maybe not). But the Alt. 3 was fantastic! Crisp, clean, smooth dry finish. It was invigorating! (@A5KOBE @ipsedixit @ColinMorey)
Madai no Kobujime - Red Snapper / Red Sea Bream (Kyushu, Japan):
The opening Sushi presented to us was an examination of the same Fish, but at different stages of life. The adult version of this Fish is Madai, or Red Snapper as Take-san called it. The Konbu (Kelp) preparation helped give the Madai a delicate light chew, but still tender and just a clean, pleasant taste.
Kasugodai - Baby Snapper / Young Red Sea Bream (Kyushu, Japan):
And then served back-to-back is Kasugodai, or Baby Snapper, which is the younger version of the same Fish. It is served with Sakura no Hana (Japanese Cherry Blossoms) as well. Take-san wanted to celebrate Spring in Japan, and the Sakura (Japanese Cherry Blossom) is a prominent part of that season.
It wasn’t just for show, because that Sakura flower and a Sakura distillation (in paste form) was stunning. Beautifully floral, it added fruitiness and also with some tartness (like Ume, but less intense). It really accentuated the Baby Snapper. Lovely!
Ebodai - Butterfish (Aomori, Japan):
Delicious! Take-san torches the Ebodai quickly to release some of the fat. There’s a smokiness, oily, luscious, but also still having a lean quality as well.
The Shari (Sushi Rice) is good and tastes like it’s improved since before the pandemic: Toothsome, the grains can be appreciated, not overly compacted, nor too wet / soggy like some versions.
Kurodai no Shoyuzuke - Black Snapper in Soy Sauce Pickling (Australia):
I haven’t had anything close to this bite of fish since before the pandemic.
Hotate - Scallop (Hokkaido, Japan):
Hokkaido Scallops are one of my favorites. On this visit, they were good, but not as bright and vibrant as the best versions can be. Still tasty, but I chalk it up to the limited business Take-san is getting these days with the pandemic going on still.
Maguro Zuke - Soy Sauce Marinated Bluefin Tuna (Boston, U.S.A.):
Deeply savory, pleasing, tender Tuna.
Fish Bone Miso Soup:
Outstanding Fish Bone Miso Soup! It was warming, lightly briny (in a good way), balanced Miso flavors and a nice break in the Omakase course.
Suma Gatsuo - Special Bonito (Kochi, Japan):
This was a lovely variation on Katsuo (Bonito), the Suma Gatsuo version is less pungent / oily, still deeply flavored and it fit with this Spring progression.
Genkai Masu - Ocean Trout (Oita, Japan):
This version of Ocean Trout from Oita, Japan was nothing short of amazing: Luscious, fatty, oily, but not as intense as Ohtoro (Fattiest Tuna Belly). I could’ve eaten another 2 orders of this easily.
We asked Take-san (he was close enough to ask questions even from our table), about Sakura Masu (Cherry Trout), usually found in Spring time. Take-san said he tried ordering it a few times and he got some in earlier, but this week there was no supply. Next time hopefully.
Chutoro - Medium Fatty Tuna Belly (Boston, U.S.A.):
Delicious. It had just the right amount of fattiness, still tender, savory.
Iwashi - Sardine (Chiba, Japan):
I have been spoiled by Maru-san’s (Mori Sushi) legendary Iwashi (Sardine) preparation and sourcing. Even though our last bite of that stunning Iwashi was like 2+ years ago, it is burned in my brain. Take-san’s Iwashi is wonderful. It’s lightly fatty, oily, briny, but it lacks the next level fattiness and coaxing that Maru-san was able to get out of his Iwashi he served us (on two separate occasions). Still, even as is, this was great.
Amaebi - Sweet Shrimp (Live) (Canada):
Take-san explained that he didn’t find any product he was happy with this week for his Live Spot Prawns / Amaebi course from Santa Barbara, so he went with this version from Canada. It was crisp, snappy, a silky meatiness that only Live Shrimp immediately dispatched can impart. There’s some inherent sweetness, it is tasty, but not as good as great Santa Barbara sourcing.
Nodoguro - Blackthroat Sea Perch (Nagasaki, Japan):
Fantastic! Smoky, deeply savory and crave-worthy, and luscious.
Bafun Uni - Sea Urchin (Hokkaido, Japan):
I haven’t had Bafun Uni from Hokkaido, Japan in so long. This was near flawless. Savory sweetness, delicate oceanic but bright (not the bad ocean flavors). So good! I would’ve given this 2nd highlight of the night if it wasn’t for the Nori (Seaweed) wrapper, which was soft and chewy. It was very surprising / disappointing. But I think this is due to the limited business / turnover Take-san has right now as he juggles how to fully re-open.
Gindara - Black Cod (Alaska, U.S.A.):
Take-san lightly torches the Gindara (Black Cod), which really makes it shine: Fatty oils get released, smokiness, tender fatty qualities.
This was the official end of the Omakase Sushi meal, but Take-san asked us for any additions. Of course we had to…
(Round 2) Kurodai no Shoyuzuke - Black Snapper in Soy Sauce Pickling (Australia):
As stupid good as before.
Torotaku Temaki - Fatty Tuna Belly + Pickled Daikon Radish Hand Roll:
We let Take-san choose what Temaki (Hand Roll) to end with, and he whipped up this special: He chose a special cut of Toro (Fatty Tuna Belly) mixed and chopped up with Takuan (Pickled Daikon Radish), and the result was an almost creamy fatty delicious bite mixed with little bits of crunchiness from the Takuan. Sadly, the Nori (Seaweed) was still soft.
For those curious, the socially distanced Sushi Omakase experience at Shin Sushi worked. It’s not going to replace the true Omakase experience sitting at the Sushi Bar, right in front of the Sushi Chef, but at Shin Sushi, the 3 socially distanced tables are about ~15 - 20 feet away from the Sushi Bar itself. It’s also quiet (with only 3 tables) so it’s easy to ask questions to Take-san and he can hear you without the need for you to raise your voice.
In addition, he served the Sushi by individual piece, just like the usual Omakase experience, so you get the Nigiri made fresh and served immediately per bite. Some restaurants have resorted to making a bunch of pieces at once, then dropping off a large plate at your table, but this isn’t the case at Shin.
For our first time back to Shin Sushi since the pandemic, the dine-in, socially-distanced Omakase experience was very enjoyable. Sushi Chef Taketoshi Azumi is still as warm and gregarious as always. He’s inviting, loves to chat with the customers and makes you feel at home, enjoying a wonderful Sushi dining experience with him guiding you on the freshest Fish of the day.
This was probably our 7th visit (or so), and with the preparation, knife work, total experience, Shin Sushi is now a real bastion of great Sushi in Los Angeles. There are still areas he can improve in, and he still doesn’t seem to specialize in much Shellfish, but that’s OK, because what we get is just a great Omakase experience by someone truly dedicated to his craft.
16573 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA 91436
Tel: (818) 616-4148