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Urasawa, the Ultimate in Sushi

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Weddings and Bar Mitzvahs aside, how many meals get planned over a year ahead of time?

Well, that's about how long LAist has been planning on going to have what is rumored to be the city's ultimate sushi experience at a tiny little place with a big price tag: Urasawa.

For months and months now we've been sampling sushi at various joints about town, getting a taste for what makes our taste buds sing or scream. Our palate has changed from blank and naive (fancy rolls, anyone?) to slightly more refined (omakase at some highly-regarded sushi bars), and recently we knew we were ready to take on the place that foodies and fanatics gush about. The threads on Urasawa on the Chowhound board alone are enough to point someone towards the place's barely-marked door. So we checked our bank account (the meal has one price: $250 per person) and made our reservation (they seat 10 people per night) and we were on our way.

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It was an experience in dining we know we'll never be able to forget. Emphasis on experience.

We arrived at the Two Rodeo Drive building at 6 p.m., then rode the elevator to the second floor, where we were ushered through the curtains and a sliding wood door into the tiny dining room. We were the first to arrive that evening, and were seated front and center at the bar; it's impossible to resist the urge to stroke that baby's butt smooth surface and let out an appreciative "oooh." The staff are extremely gracious and attentive, and took care of our beverages right away. We then met the celebrated sushi chef Hiro-san (pictured, bottom left), who asked our names and wrote them down, and called us by name the whole evening, which was such a delightful and personal touch. This was particularly resonant when he was chiding us on procedure or the finer how-to's of some dishes and pieces; here etiquette reigns supreme, and Hiro-san is serious about his delivery and your proper enjoyment of his fine food.

A trip to Urasawa means something in the environs of thirty courses, each individually prepared, explained, and presented. A series of appetizers begin the meal, and establish a regimented tasting order; more subtle tastes first, and as the courses progress the tastes become stronger as your palate adjusts. The level of detail is extraordinary, from the tiny shreds of citrus zest adorning a glass full of a vegetable and soy you're meant to drink like a shot, to the folds and curls of real gold leaf that shimmer atop a mound of crunchy and vibrant ikura (roe) that tops an egg custard punctuated with uni (sea urchin) and tiny shrimp (pictured, top left). Most of the items are flown in several times a week directly from Japan and reflect the best of the current season; what is served in August will most likely not be seen in April, thanks to Hiro-san's firm belief in only giving his customers the very best that can be had.

It is almost impossible to adequately convey each and every moment of the over four hours-long meal, although highlights for us easily include the stunning sashimi course (red snapper, toro and spanish mackerel) served on a hand-carved ice block adorned with tropical flowers (pictured, top right), the toro (fatty tuna) you sear yourself on a hot stone, the foie gras, real kobe beef and king eel you cook shabu-shabu style, and piece after piece of nigiri sushi that you are held accountable for eating within ten seconds of it being set before you, grasping the piece gently between thumb and forefinger and placing it in your mouth fish side first and eating it all in one bite (Sweet shrimp sushi pictured, bottom right). After a much needed break, when we continued to socialize with some of the other guests, we were ready for dessert, of which our favorite was the cold sesame pudding and the hand-whisked green tea.

It was hard to leave Urasawa. After so many hours (and, yes, so many dollars) you feel a certain entitlement of residency, not to mention a powerful bond shared with those fellow diners that you surely have been talking with the whole night. Remarkably, not once were we feeling too full, just steadily sastisfied, and mindful of the pace (you can tell Hiro-san to slow it down, which becomes for many an absolute must towards the later half of the night). We really enjoyed Hiro-san's philosophy of service and quality, his gentle nature, and his funny stories (Janet Jackson leaving when she was told she couldn't get a spider roll there, Ricky Martin's manager pleading on the phone for Hiro to include a "spicy tuna roll" in the evening's menu).

We tried to get down all the dish details, but the language/accent barrier did make some of it difficult; we have a list we've constructed to the best of our ability of just exactly what it was we had:

1. The "shot" was a soy/vinegar concoction with a special "vegetable" that sounds like "liver."

2. Eggplant with shiso and miso and baby shrimp with cucumber and plum paste.

3. Egg custard with uni and shrimp topped with Ikura (special ikura) and gold leaf. This was like drinking the sea... amazing.

4. Abalone with miso

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5. Sashimi on carved ice: toro, spanish mackrel, red snapper

6. Snapper in yuzu sauce with snow peas

7. Freshwater eel grilled with citrus and a pickled onion

8. Toro seared on sizzling rock (got scolded here for our cooking skills--so fast! so much to do!)

9. Shabu shabu with green onion, kobe beef, king eel & foie gras.

Sushi courses: (Some may be missing)

"Medium" toro
Seared Toro
Bluefin tuna
Giant Clam
Littleneck clam
Kohada (Japanese herring)
Japanese Mackrel
Eel (warm)
Sweet shrimp (live then headed, served in two portions, picured)
Shitake mushroom

Redbean sorbet
Sesame Pudding
Green tea
House tea

You can see photos of our meal here.

Sushi, in general, is not necessarily everyone's cup of tea, and we don't urge anyone who isn't serious about the stuff to take this plunge. But if you are up for it, we assure it will surely be an experience--yes, the ultimate sushi experience--that you will never forget.

218 North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills
(310) 247-8939

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