Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Spicy tuna rolls, salmon nigiri and California maki are popular bets when it comes to satisfying sushi cravings, but sticking to the old reliables isn’t exactly the most exciting way to experience the artistry and stunning simplicity of sushi. For those looking to expand their options, omakase is an ideal choice. Meaning “to entrust” or “I’ll leave it up to you,” omakase gives the chef total control, letting the master surprise you with his or her choice of prime seafood. Generally, that means a meal of hand rolls, sashimi and nigiri that go well beyond the usual suspects. Here, Los Angeles chefs divulge their favorite Southern California places to indulge in omakase.
Executive Sushi Chef Jiro Kobayashi is known for his own six-course omakase at ROKU, so you can be sure he keeps his standards high when searching out a spot to dine on sushi during his downtime. When Kobayashi wants excellent raw fish without slicing it himself, he travels to see Chef Atsushi Yokoyama at Hanare in Costa Mesa, California. “His presentations are beautiful and the way he puts together his ingredients is very well balanced,” says Kobayashi, adding that the chef himself is “very humble and laid-back.”
Costa Mesa is also where Top Chef alum Brooke Williamson heads when she has omakase on her mind. Shibucho is the first sushi spot where Williamson experienced this style of dining and she remains a loyal fan all these years later. “I’ve always loved their ability to blend unexpected ingredients,” says Williamson, who is co-chef/co-owner of Hudson House, Playa Provisions, The Tripel and Da Kikokiko, as well as co-owner of the culinary boutique Tripli-Kit. “It’s also the first omakase restaurant I can remember going to and being blown away almost 20 years ago, so I think for that reason it holds a special place in my heart.”
Sushi Gen and Q Sushi
Executive Chef Angelo Auriana and restaurateur Matteo Ferdinandi are self-proclaimed Japanese food fanatics. And though they prefer two different omakase spots, neither strays too far from their own downtown Los Angeles restaurants, Officine BRERA and The Factory Kitchen, when it’s time to step out for sushi. Auriana regularly visits Sushi Gen, where the chef personally serves his omakase menu. Ferdinandi’s preferred place is Q Sushi, particularly because Chef Hiroyuki Naruke’s Edo-style dishes remind him of Tokyo. “From the rice to the fish, the quality of the ingredients and craftsmanship is unmatched,” says Ferdinandi.
The siren call of seafood holds a powerful sway over native New Englander Andrew Gavalla, who is chef de cuisine at Craft Los Angeles. When he gets an omakase craving, he heads to Shunji on the Westside of Los Angeles. “Not only is the sushi excellent; you can [also] opt for unique dishes from the kitchen,” Gavalla says, noting that marinated baby eel and black cod milt have been among the items he has eaten here. “If you go in with an open mind, you will truly be rewarded. If your palate runs more on the safer side, they have no problem tailoring the omakase to your food preferences.”
With sushi powerhouse Nobu Los Angeles among the lauded restaurants on Chef Miles Thompson’s culinary resume, he obviously knows a thing or two about raw fish. Thompson, who currently helms the kitchen at Michael’s Santa Monica, calls Jinpachi in West Hollywood his favorite SoCal omakase spot. “Taka-san, who is the sushi chef, is very kind, warm and generous with his talent,” says Thompson. “The nigiri are either very classic and pristine or slightly modified — for example, a salmon nigiri with a compound chile oil and chives.” It’s this subtle approach that appeals to Thompson. “I enjoy that it is not trying to change too much about a classic sushi meal but applies modern techniques and flavors to excellent rice and fish.”
Photography courtesy of Hanare, Shibucho, Q Sushi, Shunji and iStock