Critics’ choice: New discoveries in sushi

Shunji Japanese Cuisine, Hecho, Ichimura at Brushstroke

Shunji Japanese Cuisine Los Angeles

“Shunji is not an ordinary sushi bar,” said Jonathan Gold in the Los Angeles Times. Tucked beside the Santa Monica Freeway in a modest 1930s building designed to look like a chili bowl, it’s become “the newest darling of the local raw-fish cognoscenti” not because of its location but because of its veteran chef. Shunji Nakao has “commanded a following for decades,” and in his new home he’s demonstrating why. Shunji offers two tasting menus, starting at $80, that change regularly. “You will probably be served an impossibly luxurious concoction of julienned raw squid, squid ink, sea urchin, and black truffles.” And you will surely enjoy a sashimi course, the fresh grouper or albacore occasionally brushed by Nakao’s blowtorch to add a touch of char. But Nakao is an artist “whose most famous dish is something he calls tomato tofu,” so it may be what he does with a bowl of vegetables that you’ll remember most. Green beans, okra, carrots—all arrive in an arrangement as controlled as an Isamu Noguchi sculpture, with each component “cooked or not cooked to the point where it expresses its optimal sweetness.” 12244 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 826-4737

Hecho San Francisco

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“What a difference a chef makes,” said Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle. I’ve never understood why Hecho thinks diners would want to drink tequila with their sushi, but I had to give the place another chance when they brought in Sachio Kojima. For years, Kojima “produced the best sushi in the city” before a family matter prompted him to sell Kabuto Sushi A&S and move out of town. Now he’s returned and is front and center at Hecho, “performing the ballet of slicing fish, forming rice, cutting garnishes, and arranging his handiwork on platters,” just as he did in his previous kitchen. His walu—“three thick, even slices of the snowy, velvety white fish”—is simple but stunning. The hamachi collar was grilled to perfection; the flesh melted in our mouths. Nigiri is equally well crafted, with loosely packed grains of firm rice and a slice of fish so generous that it’s difficult to eat in one bite. I still don’t know why I’d want a margarita with nigiri, “but with Kojima in the kitchen, I’m beginning to warm to the idea.” 185 Sutter St., (415) 835-6400

Ichimura at Brushstroke New York

Tiny, almost-hidden restaurants are a “longstanding tradition” in Japan, said Pete Wells in The New York Times. So when celebrity chef David Bouley created this 12-seat sushi bar in the back of Brushstroke, his year-old Tribeca restaurant, he and chef Eiji Ichimura told almost no one. Ichimura creates sushi in the Edo-mae style, which was developed in Tokyo’s street stalls before refrigeration. The sushi is made with fish that often has been cured in salt or vinegar, or stored in soy sauce, and its flavors are unusually strong. Soy-marinated trout roe on top of tofu skins are “so soft they barely hold together during the trip from bowl to mouth.” A slab of tuna-belly sashimi had been chilled for several days, giving it a flavor that’s “unusually sweet and rich.” The restaurant may gets its own entrance door one day, but it won’t have a sign. “You’ll just have to know it’s there. And now you do.” 30 Hudson St., (212) 513-7141

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