357 E 1st StLos Angeles, CA 90012-3901
When we first moved to Echo Park, years ago, and started exploring Little Tokyo in earnest from the tips of its izakayas to the toes of its grottier village sushi bars, we fell in love with the sushi chef at Sharin, located at 357 E 1st Street which now houses Toshi. D swears the chef from Sharin is his late Grandpa Nat's Japanese doppelganger. We used to go eat his inexpensive simple well prepared sushi, chat about Grandpa Nat and his love for Skipper, and drink cold sake under the watchful smile of the older gentleman chef. Long gone, but the neon fish remains, the restaurant looks much the same and there is still good food to be had here now under the moniker Toshi Sushi.
The second to the last time I ate at Toshi was just a few weeks ago on a break from a day in court with our attorney. The three of us sat at the bar and all ordered the sushi/sashimi lunch special plate. I was a little astounded our ex-football star tall blonde and hunky all-American (read blonde hair, blue eyes) attorney would be so adventuresome. The plate was generous and delicious. We gobbled down the chunks of tuna, albacore sushi, squid sashimi and other interesting bits and pieces until we were full as ticks before heading back to work. Thrilled with my lunch, I was excited when Tony C, that deliciously entertaining and outspoken rat over at Sinosoul, suggested a group omakase at Toshi. Also in attendance were Mr. FST, Hahn from Hungry Hungry Hahn, and Nancy of The Wander Kind. Some of the table started with beer. I started with cold sake, above.
The first dish, an amuse bouche I think the server said, was fermented mountain yam with wakame. Mountain yam from Japan is served raw, and takes on a mucilaginous texture when grated. Here, it is served slightly fermented in a sweet tasting vinegar with wakame, the slightly thick soft type of seaweed typically found in miso soup.
Next out, a beautiful trio to titillate our taste buds. Barely a bite of marinated tuna. Yummy, this makes an appearance again a little later.
Baby squid in a dark sauce, slightly sweet. Ponzu, maybe, with grated ginger.
And the ubiquitous but wonderful oyster with ponzu, ginger, chives and tobiko.
In ascending order: mackerel, tuna and hirame sushi. The hirame served with a strip of shiso for flavor. I used to detest shiso. Loving the flavor of raw fish in all its incarnations I thought shiso took over the flavors completely. However, after my culinary tour through Little Saigon with Chef Danhi, I developed an interest in shiso and its botanical relatives due to their importance in cooking throughout Asia. Here, I make Nobu's tempura uni wrapped in shiso and it was delicious. Uni and shiso work together beautifully.
Requisite miso glazed broiled fish. I don't know what kind of oily fish this is. It looks too dark to be sea bass or black cod. Tony?
Other things I do not know: the name for a large plate with a smorgasboard of different delicacies served in a Japanese restaurant, the molar mass of nitroglycerin, the name of my future puppy. The salmon was fresh, fatty and melted in my mouth.
Above, see thin slices of Wagyu beef on foil, and underneath is a layer of ice cubes. Not a fan of the beef over ice cubes. They made the beef super über très cold, and a little hard. The fat was too cold to melt in my mouth the way it should, and it made something that was most likely intended to be a highlight on the plate seem just meh.
A beautiful raw Spanish mackerel resided in the middle of the plate, cut into bite sized sashimi pieces running along the spine, with the tail curled decorously toward the head and entwined in radish curls. Tony asked the server to take back the carcass of said fish and fry it up, she initially said no, and apparently the chef redirected her to retrieve the remains and he did indeed fry it up for Sinosoul.
Not really interested in eating this myself, I do appreciate the whole animal approach to eating.
Basket of tempura'd octopus, lovely. Glad they sat this right by my hot little hands.
And as I started to get full of food, sake and great companionship out comes a large plate of sushi. One.for.each.of.us.
Wonderfully fresh uni, succulent mackerel, fatty salmon and tamago there at the back, cooked egg beribboned with shiso. Top right, hirame reappears with its thin strip of shiso.
The above doesn't look marbled enough to be toro, and I cannot remember what it tasted like. I might have been full and pawned it off on Mr. FST.
I missed snapping a pic of a winning clam miso that was our last savory course prior to tea and an intense green tea ice cream that would make angels sing. Sometimes at the end of a long meal I end up a little overserved alcohol-wise or overserved food-wise and my commitment to documentation wavers. Let me assure you that this was a wonderful meal that ended even more elegantly than it started. It was well worth the $44 per head price tag, even if there wasn't room at the sushi bar to chat with and interrogate Toshiko Seki-san.
LA Times reports that Toshiko Seki is a trained in Japan 30 year sushi chef veteran who previously cut, diced and rolled in New York at Azuma and still runs his own sushi catering business, Sushi Catering Toshi. Almost exactly a year ago, LA Times Daily Dish reported on Toshi's opening and Seki's simple classic approach to sushi. Other reports in the year since the grand opening have been overwhelmingly positive. Here, and here, and here (although is most of this gushing Sinosoul?).
I will definitely be back to Toshi with the same frequency I have been pursuing, about once every three months or so. I might not cave again on the omakase, but I am keen to try the chirashi (my ultimate favorite sushi offering) and look forward to another opportunity to drop in for a lunch special.