I felt incredibly lucky to be there at all - reservations had filled up quickly mere minutes after word spread about the event. By the time I called them at pretty close to the crack of dawn that day, there was already a waitlist of 72 people ahead of me.
Perhaps by divine intervention, I received a call just days before the event with the best news, that by some miracle I had made it into the earlier seating - I quickly pulled "Foodie Mentor", who I knew would appreciate this level of culinary genius, to go with me. I couldn't believe that I would get to experience Urasawa, Cimarusti and Manzke in the same meal (along with David Myers of Comme Ca and Sona, and Ramon Perez from Sona, and Noriyuki Sugie from Breadbar) - all for a price I can actually afford - $110 (+$30 for wine pairings)!
The food was absolutely breathtaking - and I feel like nothing I say can do the actual dishes justice, but they are so beautiful I feel more compelled than any other meal I've had in the past few years to share:
First up was a trio of amuse from the host chef:
Noriyuki Sugie (Breadbar LA) Canapé
Pumpernickel, Aged Lard, Artichoke Barigoule, Caramelized Eel, Sansho Pepper
Wine pairing: NV Jean Philippe, "Brut, Blanquette de Limoux," Languedoc, France
The translucent pieces of aged lard were deliciously salty, and counterbalanced by the firm but yielding pieces of pumpernickel bread. The tender artichoke hearts with foam were a nice light 'chaser', followed by the spoonfuls of caramelized eel, which was a refreshing take on unagi with a natural, crisp sweetness (versus the typical sauce, which I personally find sickeningly sweet).
Hiroyuki Urasawa (Urasawa) Tartar Duo
Hokkaido Scallop & Salmon Roe, Shitake Mushroom
Toro & Osetra Caviar
Wine pairing: Hananomai Sake "Katana" Junmai Ginjo, Japan
This course came playfully plated with two spoons, the better for us to experience all the flavors of its contents come together in one bite.
The scallop spoon had ikura (salmon roe) which presented an unfamiliar texture and taste than others I've had - it was super sticky and pungent - with an aftertaste that reminded me of bottarga (which I love). Perfect when combined with the smooth, velvety and mild hokkaido scallops - which tasted like clean, deep ocean, and grounded with a sliver of earthy, meaty shitake mushroom.
Pickled veggie slices (takuan) were provided on the side atop a shiso leaf - a nice bit of acidity to cut through the preceeding rich ocean flavors, elevated to a new level when wrapped with the unique flavor of the shiso leaf.
Michael Cimarusti (Providence)
Soymilk Panna Cotta, Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Geoduck Clam & Fresh Wasabi
Wine pairing: Epiphany 2009 Riesling Santa Barbara County, CA
Chef Cimarusti created a gorgeous work of art that was as beautiful to behold as it was to taste. Impossibly smooth but light, pristine as untouched snow on Christmas morning soymilk panna cotta - whose consistency reminded me of the classic Chinese dessert 豆腐花 ("dau fu fa" or tofu custard) without the syrup, lined the bowl. This was topped by uni (sea urchin) that was perfectly structured, with a distinct brininess to counterbalance the melt-in-your-mouth, mild-flavored panna cotta. Pansies and other beautiful flower petals were strewn over the mound, adding vibrant color while lending levity to the piece; squid-like slivers of geoduck clam, crispy rice balls, circles of radish and cucumber contributed crunch for textural variety. Lastly, there was a sprig of what we thought was dill adding visual interest to the whole thing. In the wake of so much destruction caused by natural disaster, this dish celebrated the beauty of nature: it was in one word - divine; making me happy to be alive and fortunate enough to experience such an creation of absolute beauty, even if just once in my life (no, I am not sparing with hyperbole at all).
Walter Manzke (Le Saint Amour, Church & State, Bastide) Santa Barbara Prawns Thai Curry, Spring Pea
Wine pairing: Jean-Marc Brocard, 2009 Petit Chablis, Burgundy, France
A nice progression from the clean flavors of the preceding dish, Chef Manzke's masterpiece brought heat in the form of a light textured thai curry broth poured over a plump, juicy Santa Barbara prawn, which sat atop a layer of spring pea custard and was accompanied by a side of caviar. Chef Manzke's skillful control of the elements of this dish ensured that the incredibly fresh texture and ocean flavors in the prawn were augmented, not overwhelmed, by the rich flavors in the curry and custard.
David Myers (Sona) - Charcoal Akage Beef, Mautuke Tempura, Tsukemono
Wine pairing: Fat Monk 2009 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, CA
The seared meat medallion was accompanied by fried mushroom and some sort of radish - while the crispy rice balls make a cameo as well. I've never tasted mushroom charred to this degree yet completely juicy in the center and not powdery even in the blackened bits. A lovely course.
Ramon Perez (Sona) Sakura Cream, Black Okinawa Sugar, Alpine Strawberry, Cherry-Blossom Yogurt-Sorbet
Wine pairing: Mizbasho Sparkling Sake "Pure,", Gunma, Japan
Flowers were threaded through several courses in this meal - and makes a big appearance in the grand finale in the subtly sweet and floral cream pudding made from sakura petals, topped by adorable, exquisite little alpine strawberries and a cherry-blossom yogurt-sorbet. The preserved cherry blossom that served as edible garnish was an interesting touch for this course, both visually and in adding a strong kick of flavor as our last bite.
All-in-all, it may have cost more than I would normally want to splurge on a meal ($110 each person plus $30 wine pairings). But a steal for the caliber of chefs and dishes that was part of the experience - I would never have any glimmer of hope of tasting the genius of a Urasawa creation otherwise! Definitely one of the best meals I've had in LA - and to make it even better, it's all for a good cause!
So in the spirit of continuing support for Japan - please don't stop with your donations, Japan still needs your help. Give to Red Cross here (choose option for funds to go to "Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami").
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067