Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hamasaku: One Who Creates Food from the Sea: Smorgasbarachirashi and Uni Udon Carbonara Extraordinaire

Sushi lovers on the Westside have plenty of great options, many of them on or near Sawtelle Japantown.  So when I first heard about Hamasaku a few years back, that it was owned by Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz, and a 'celebrity hotspot' complete with rolls named after stars who frequent the place - it immediately became associated in my mind with 'probably overpriced', and 'probably packed with trendy over-sauced rolls with playful names'.

But one visit to the secluded, surprisingly serene spot in the back corner of a strip mall on Santa Monica, and I became a fan in spite of that all. 

The heavy rustic double doors shield the bustle of two of the busiest thoroughfares in LA (the mall is located by Santa Monica and Sepulveda) away from a peaceful, bright, airy space inside.

Though the menu is indeed full of specialty rolls, yes, one even named Rick Castle, after Nathan Fillion's character on the namesake TV series - they are actually good quality, clean and tasty, and prices are affordable.  Sashimi dishes are gorgeously plated.

But the thing that really sealed the deal for me: they also offer elegant, inventive takes on Japanese dishes, raw and cooked - that are some of the most creative and beautiful I've seen and tasted.

Let's start with the visual smorgasbord that is Bara Chirashi ($34) - served at lunch only, this is Hamasaku's beautiful take on the classic chirashi, where cuts of fish and other seafood are 'scattered' (the literal meaning of the word chirashi) with veggies and egg over a bowl of sushi grade rice.

And it's not all looks - there are treasures to be found with every bite from sea urchin to briny bursts of salmon roe, to yellow tail, snapper, bits of tamago (egg omelette) and other deliciousness.

The portion may not look gigantic, but an average sized person would definitely leave satiated without ordering anything else for lunch.

Then there is the unique dish I dream of and now crave on the weekly: Uni Udon Carbonara ($20) udon, uni, butter, shallots, shiso, seaweed, lime zest, egg white.  Definitely a contender for Best Drama of the year in terms of presentation - waves of sea foam like egg whites awash over a half sea urchin shell, crested by two orange tongues of uni for powerful contrast.

I love the skillful balance of levity and decadence here: the airy egg white counters the substantive bites of fresh, springy udon noodles in rich, creamy yet somehow still light and clean tasting carbonara sauce below. 

Definitely one of my new favorite uni dishes in LA, and one that I wish would be served not only at dinner (as I would happily feast on this three meals a day if I could).

As mentioned earlier, Hamasaku's specialty rolls are not ones that sushi lovers would find unpalatable: the Asylum roll ($25) for example, with toro, lobster, avocado, asparagus, cilantro aioli was fresh, only lightly sauced and delicious.  Is it the best sushi roll I've had in the area?  Not by a long shot - I would head to Kiriko down the street if looking for high grade rolls - but I would say Hamasaku exceeded expectations, and is a good option for client or group meals, where you need the whole experience package of upscale ambience, good variety of options for people who may have different levels of preference for level of raw / austerity in their sushi.

And speaking of variety, Hamasaku also offers charcoal grilled skewers at affordable prices: I'm a fan of the Duck breast robata yaki ($4) with yuzu kosho, and they also have everything from chicken to salmon skewers. 

Many Japanese restaurants focus more on the savory, so that when it comes time for dessert you are often faced with standard mochi  or ice cream or some combination thereof. 

I love that Hamasaku offers a delicious Green Tea Budino, that is so smooth and flavorful, I would count it amongst the reasons to return to Hamasaku soon.

One other thing of note, they do have counter seating, and I appreciate that the staff are very solo diner friendly, as someone often in need of places to have dinner while waiting for rush hour traffic to die down.  And you never know who you're going to meet the next seat over, and I don't just mean celebs: on my last visit, I met an awesome UCLA doctorate professor who often dines there solo as well, and had an enlightening conversation about chemistry and diet.

All in all, a great spot for power lunching, and solo dining. Despite the stars.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience -  6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 



11043 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025
Ph: 310.479.7636
Parking: valet, in attached strip mall open air parking

Look for reservations, and points, at OpenTable

Hamasaku Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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