Hello, Chanko Shabu and Izakaya in Las Vegas, Nevada

While my friend Dani was in town this past weekend, she had a list of places she wanted to visit, one of which included a nice restaurant in Chinatown. Unfortunately, it was an extremely popular spot with walk-ins only and the wait time was about two hours, so instead, we drove a mile west and went to Chanko Shabu and Izakaya.

Overall, my experience was pretty “meh,” with the good dishes being counteracted by the bad dishes.

Dani ordered shabu-shabu with spicy pork broth, Mugifuji pork, assorted vegetables, garlic chili, and house special sauce. I tried some of her meat and vegetables, and it was my second favorite dish of the meal.

I usually don’t like all-you-can-eat “cook your own food” restaurants because the service is (sometimes, intentionally) slow so they limit the amount of food you end up being able to eat. However, because this was an à la carte experience unlike many other shabu-shabu restaurants, that downside wasn’t relevant. The upside, however, was relevant, because restaurant food often comes out too salty, so by being able to cook the meat ourselves, we were able to limit the saltiness and allow the rich flavor of the meat to stand out.

Something we ordered that is not pictured here was Japanese fried oysters with tartar sauce, from the agemono menu. They were fairly traditional and straightforward, and were exactly what you’d expect from fried oysters.

Similarly, I also ordered some baked green mussels from their hot appetizer menu, which were also exactly what you’d expect from baked green mussels.

My next dish was tako wasabi, i.e., raw octopus. This tasted great and the texture of the octopus was very satisfying, but I think they overdid it a bit with the wasabi sauce, because my nose was stinging every time I took a bite. I took some of Dani’s rice to mitigate some of it, which made it taste a lot better, but the intensity was still pretty strong.

Next up was a quarter dozen of Pacific oyster with ponzu, scallion, wasabi, and ikura. It wasn’t anything particularly revolutionary or orgasmic, but the portion size of each piece was pleasantly large and they tasted straightforward and refreshing, which made it my favorite dish of the meal.

I also ordered two plates of kushiyaki. I wanted to get an A5 wagyu skewer, but they said they did not have any left, so I decided to try yakitori instead, which is a mixture of chicken and vegetables. I received two skewers, one of which was saliva-suckingly dry, and for the other, it tasted like they some­how managed to put more chicken fat than actual chicken on the skewers.

I also got an Angus beef skewer. I originally didn’t get the dish when I first ordered it, so I asked about the missing plate, and the waitress brought it out near the end of our meal. I only got one skewer instead of two like I did with the chicken, but I didn’t bother asking about it, because it was horrible.

The meat was cooked beyond well-done so it was unchewably tough, it had a very gamey smell to it, and the only way to make it remotely palatable was to dunk it into Dani’s shabu-shabu broth to attempt to tenderize it a bit.

I wouldn’t necessarily say the restaurant was high-end, but the pricing wasn’t exactly on the cheap end either. The shabu-shabu was nice, and the raw dishes weren’t bad, but because of the hard misses with the quality of the skewers, I can’t really recommend this restaurant.




Hello, Anima by EDO at the Gramercy in Las Vegas, Nevada

I love going to tasting menu restaurants. Sometimes referred to as “chef’s choice” or “omakase” in Japan, this meal option allows me to make only one single decision at the beginning—to order the tasting menu—and then the chef handles the rest.

Although I have my fair share of experience, I still don’t consider myself to be a food expert, so any chance I have, I am happy to let the professionals make the decisions for me so I can learn more about taste complementing, dish presentation, and flavor storytelling, among other culinary concepts.

When I meet up with friends, I usually let them pick the restaurant. I am probably the least picky eater alive, and I am quite literally willing to try any food that would be served at a restaurant (at least in the United States), so no matter what they pick, it’s an easy “yes” from me. This lets my friends se­lect a restaurant with food they like at a price point that is comfortable for them.

This time around, I was the one tasked (or burdened, depending on how you look at it) with selecting a restaurant. To make it even more challenging, the friend with whom I was going to dinner subscribes to veganism. It is extremely rare to find a restaurant that offers a vegan tasting menu, but I came across one in the Las Vegas Valley: Anima by EDO. She ordered the vegan tasting menu, and I ordered the regular version.

Our amuse-bouche was a beetroot dish. This was a complimentary hors d’œuvre and was not part of our tasting menus, but I assume they gave us beet­roots because she had ordered the vegan option, and the restaurant wanted to accommodate in a “lowest common denominator” kind of fashion.

Hilariously, my friend hated it, and I ate both portions. It literally felt like I was a rabbit.

The first dish of my tasting menu was Kaluga caviar and eggs. The caviar was placed atop some bottarga espuma contained in an eggshell, and below the whip was a creamy mixture of egg yolk and trout and salmon roe. I am very disappointed that my camera decided to focus on the spoon instead of the food in both photos I took of this dish, but I still had to include a shot because of how amazing it was.

I don’t know if it was because I had just finished eating the blandest beetroot I have ever had, but the caviar and eggs was an insane explosion of flavor. The caviar had the rich flavor that you’d expect from caviar. The espuma added a nice fluffy texture, but because of the strength of the other flavors, it didn’t throw off the overall profile at all. The inside was incredibly creamy, but did not leave any kind of greasy aftertaste.

I feel like I might have eaten this too quickly, as it was just an overwhelming assault of orgasmic flavors on my taste buds the entire time. It was also un­believably salty, which I usually do not like, but the salt did not bother me. Salt is great for enhancing flavors, but if there is too much salt and not e­nough base flavor, the salt just feels like it is pickling the inside of your mouth. Because the caviar, roe, yolk, and cream was so flavorful, the salt had a lot it could work with, so the enhancement effect was on overdrive.

I think I can comfortably say that this is one of my top few favorite dishes I have ever had in my entire life.

On the vegan side, my friend’s appetizer was farro and haricot vert with green apple and almond topped with cilantro vinaigrette.

According to the menu, my next dish was supposed to be salame rosa with sunchoke gremolata and chamomile maple syrup. Unfortunately, now that I am organizing my photographs and thinking back, I never received this entrée.

Instead, I went straight to the third dish, Hawaiian tuna sashimi with roasted bell pepper escabeche and balsamic pearls.

I wasn’t a big fan of this one. The escabeche basically tasted like regular salsa you’d find at Whole Foods Market in which you’d dip your tortilla chips while watching American football with your buddies. It was far too sour, which overpowered the tuna to the extent that I couldn’t really tell that I was even eating tuna.

The second dish for the vegan menu was very interesting—it was green tartare made from zucchini, avocado, and green bell pepper topped with a drizzle of pistachio vinaigrette.

Next up for me was a caprese salad with tomato gelée, balsamic gel, textures of basil, and tomato sand. I’m usually not the biggest fan of tomatoes and will generally only enjoy them in moderation, so when I first received this dish, I was a bit concerned at the large quantity of tomatoes. However, when I started eating, all my worries were dissipated.

The tomatoes were cooked so a lot of their sourness was subdued. The large tomato in the center of the plate was hollowed out in the middle and con­tained the gelée, which had a deep, rich flavor. The tomato sand added an earthy grit to the texture of the overall dish, and the cracker had a bittery burnt taste that rounded everything out.

Eating any of these components alone would have been underwhelming, but eating all parts together, in rotation, little by little, made this one of the best salads I’ve ever had.

Back to the vegan side, dish number three was a garden vegetable salad with asparagus, eggplant, bell peppers, frisée, and romesco.

For my normal tasting menu, we were done with the introductory dishes and started getting into the main courses. As a transition dish between the ap­pe­tiz­ers and main entrées, I was served artichokes tempura with a side of Manzanilla olive hollandaise and pear mostarda.

Tempura usually leaves a greasy aftertaste and the oil stays behind on your fingers, but this chef somehow managed to batter and deep fry the artichokes in a way that didn’t have either of the previous downfalls of fried foods. It wasn’t just straight-up artichokes, though; from what I saw, it looked like the artichoke bracts were delayered, then secured in some sort of flour-based wrapping.

The sauce was unlike anything I had tasted before, and I think the sauce was secretly supposed to be the true star of the dish. The tempura was good, but not crazy in flavor, which I think was intended, because it gave a great base on which the sauce could be applied.

Next for the vegan tasting menu was oven-roasted celery root with truffle vinaigrette. You may notice that the presentation on this dish is a lot worse than the others… and that’s because this was one of those “prepare at your table” dishes.

The waiter brought out a pre-cut celery root standing upright, pressed down on it with a spoon to spread it out, cut open a pouch of truffle vinaigrette, and poured it on top. If I were to put it nicely, the waiter was still learning how to do his part, and hadn’t quite built up the skill and experience yet to stop the root from sticking together and the vinaigrette from clumping up.

Flavor-wise, it was fine. I like cooking with truffle-infused olive oil at home (during the rare times that I do cook), and this dish tasted like what I im­ag­ine it would be if I were to just drink out of the olive oil bottle.

For my main entrées, I was served two pasta dishes. The first was squid ink spaghettini with lump crab, uni, pomodoro, and calabrian chili. Eating this reminded me of the first dish, in that it was just a constant explosion of amazing flavor.

You would think that mixing this many different strong ingredients would just create a jumble of weirdness, but that surprisingly didn’t happen here—I was able to consciously extract and savor each individual flavor, depending on what I was searching for with my taste buds. To top it all off, the texture of the spaghettini was amazing, with a satisfying balance of softness and chewiness.

The second pasta was oyster mushroom raviolini with dried figs, chestnuts, and porcini mushroom espuma. I didn’t really have any lasting thoughts about this raviolini, apart from the fact that it was just a solid, well-rounded, delicious raviolini dish. There was nothing notably special about it that I could detect, which, in itself, might have been what was special about it—it was a very “comfortable” dish to eat.

It was time for the grand finale: Washugyu steak.

Washugyu is a special type of wagyu beef cross-bred with Black Angus. Wagyu beef is known for its stunning marbling, which is the even distribution of intramuscular fat across the meat. This restaurant’s Washugyu dish was served next to some burnt onion with koji marinade and alongside a round of bordelaise sauce.

In my opinion, this was actually the worst dish, and I am mostly just confused at it. The meat was cooked blue rare on the inside (which is fine for me, but unusual to serve to the general public in that state of doneness without receiving a special request for it). On the contrary, the outside was burnt (not just charred, but actually burnt).

When I cut into it, the inside had little to no marbling that you expect from wagyu. It wasn’t particularly tender, and it had none of the melt-in-your-mouth texture you expect from wagyu. I could barely taste the steak in general because my taste buds were pummeled by the scowl-inducing bitterness of the badly-burnt crust.

To wrap up the tasting menu, the final dish was the dessert of the day, crème brûlée. The caramelized sugar on top was fun to crack, the custard on bot­tom was smooth and delicious, and the ratio of the two was nicely balanced—overall, a nice, well-prepared crème brûlée with no frills.

Often, restaurants will try to stand out by crafting very creative dishes that aren’t found anywhere else. Also, often, these attempts end up being a huge hit-or-miss—the restaurant either comes up with an innovative and iconic dish, or it creates some gimmicky Frankensteinian entrée that makes you won­der how it got past quality control.

Anima by EDO is not only a great example of the “hit” in that scenario, but one where it has “hit” multiple times in a row. It serves boldly creative dishes that I have never seen before, and they are amazing. (As a side note, I find it ironic that the one dish that I think they messed up—the wagyu—is a fairly common and “boring” dish to begin with anyway.) It’s not often you come across some food where you think “wow, this is new,” and Anima by EDO managed to give me that eye-sparkling joy four times in a single dinner.

As for the vegan tasting menu, although I’m not a fan of vegan food because I think you miss out on way too much breadth of flavor by cutting out all animal products, I’m still impressed that Anima by EDO managed to come up with seven different interesting gourmet vegan dishes for a seven-course tasting menu. I, of course, would never have it for myself, but if you’re vegan and are sad about the lack of high-end restaurants that make top-tier vegan dishes, then this is a great option.

I’m split in my opinion about the cost. The price of my normal tasting menu was lower than expected, and I think it is very budget-friendly. On the other hand, I’m surprised that the vegan tasting menu’s price was close to mine, and I think the vegan one more closely resembles a high-end luxury restaurant price. This is what we paid:

Chef’s tasting menu (8 courses)  $  80.00
Kaluga caviar and eggs add-on course  $  18.00
Chef’s vegan tasting menu (7 courses)  $  75.00
Tax (8.375%)  $  14.49
Gratuity (20%)  $  34.60
Total  $ 222.09

If you’ve been consistently reading my blog, you know that I don’t hand out praise often and only do so when I think it is genuinely deserved. With that being said, I think I am absolutely justified in my overall very positive review. If you’re in the Las Vegas area and want to have a nice dining experience without the chaos and inflated prices of the Strip, I definitely recommend Anima by EDO.




Hello, Gladstone and Shoreline Park in Long Beach, California

Ever since arriving in SoCal after the most recent leg of my road trip, I haven’t really been getting out to do much. I’ve gone on a few out-of-town trips since then, but while in SoCal, I’ve mostly just been staying put indoors—a stark difference from going on tourist activities, hiking, and exercising at the ho­tel gym during my travels.

When I do go out, though, it’s usually because someone invites me to do something. Prompted by one of my friends and former co-workers, I de­cid­ed to head over to the downtown Long Beach area near the convention center to make a visit to the aquarium.

Unfortunately, it seemed like there was an event going on and there was an unusually high volume of tourists in the area, so the aquarium didn’t have any walk-in tickets available, and the next open time slot wasn’t for another few hours. Instead of waiting, we de­cid­ed to stop by a restaurant and walk around the bay.

The restaurant we chose was Gladstone’s. They started us with a very large portion of free bread.

As the appetizer, I ordered a half-dozen oysters. The size of each oyster was unexpectedly small, so the portion size wasn’t very satisfying. But, at the very least, they didn’t pre-season the oysters and instead put all the sauces on the side, so I was able to eat the oysters plain and enjoy the deep, rich, un­tar­nished fla­vor of just the oysters themselves.

My friend ordered a Caesar salad with chicken breast.

For my entrée, I selected Hawaiian swordfish.

I feel like it’s difficult to prepare swordfish in a way that makes it particularly unique, but I feel like this restaurant still did a decent job at it. The sword­fish tasted like normal swordfish, and the texture was great—it was a good mixture of firm and tender that you expect from nicely-cooked swordfish. However, the uniqueness came from the rice, which had a subtle but noticeable tang to it, which was well balanced by the slight bitterness of the broccolini.

Here are some shots from Shoreline Park and the surrounding areas near the restaurant:




Hello, Shiro’s Sushi in Seattle, Washington

After recovering from my week of travel in the San Francisco Bay Area, I took a trip to the Seattle Metropolitan Area again to visit some friends.

While there, I met up with my friends Doug and Dani and went to a sushi restaurant for an omakase experience. There weren’t enough reservation slots a­vail­a­ble for actual omakase with the chef, so instead, we booked a seat at the regular tables for a chef’s choice four-course sushi meal with 19 pieces of as­sort­ed sushi. We also ordered a few appetizers.

Just as a disclaimer, this is my first time using my new camera for close-up macro shots since getting my old camera stolen while in Oakland, California; as a result, some of these photos are a bit blurry while I get accustomed to some of the settings, though I am already progressively getting better.

The first course consisted of albacore tuna from Oregon, shima aji (striped jack) from Japan, kanpachi (amberjack) from Japan, madai (sea bream) from Ja­pan, and kurodai (black snapper) from Greece.

After our first course, two of our appetizers were ready. The first was black cod kasuzuke broiled with Shiro’s original recipe.

The photo makes it look a bit small, especially because I accidentally angled the shot in a way where not much of the fish is in focus, but it was a sat­is­fy­ing­ly large filet. It tasted great—it was so tender that just poking at it with chopsticks made it fall apart, and the texture was fantastic.

The second appetizer was assorted vegetable tempura. Because it was something that was fried, it felt a little out of place eating it between fish courses due to the oils bringing out more of the “ocean-ey” taste in raw fish. It would have been nice if it came out first or last, but we still had plenty of ginger to cleanse our palates before the next course.

The second course had six pieces: katsuo (bonito) from Japan, botan ebi (sweet shrimp) from Alaska, sawara (king mackerel) from Japan, hotate (scal­lop) from Japan, Atlantic salmon from Canada, and sockeye salmon from Alaska.

The shrimp nigiri also came with a shrimp head. I wanted to seize the opportunity to get a picture of my head next to the shrimp’s head… though the pho­to didn’t really turn out as interestingly as I had hoped.

The actual botan ebi was delicious—it was thicker than most oth­er shrimp I’ve tried, the flavor was stronger and richer than usual, and the texture was very satisfying.

Adam Parkzer holding up a shrimp head next to his own head

Our third and final appetizer came out—Shiro’s chawanmushi, steamed egg custard with shrimp, chicken, whitefish, shiitake mushroom, and mitsuba leaf topped with Hokkaido sea urchin and salmon roe. It had a lot of flavors going on at once, but most of them were complementary. As you can prob­a­bly guess, the sea urchin was my favorite part of this dish.

The third course was called “Bluefin Tuna 4 Ways,” and as you’d expect from the title, it was four different variants of bluefin tuna—one akami, one chū­toro, one otoro, and one prepared in a special way with a marinade.

The otoro, or the “wagyu of the sea” as some people call it, was as melt-in-your-mouth as you’d expect from tuna belly. The specially-prepared and mar­i­nated tuna was also surprisingly tasty; tuna is generally known for having a fairly basic, simple, and straightforward taste, but the marinade added in a nice bit of supplementary flavor to the fish.

The fourth and final course was negitoro (chopped fatty tuna) from Mexico, uni (sea urchin) from Santa Barbara, unagi (freshwater eel) from Japan, and tamago (egg omelet).

Although sea urchin is one of my favorite types of sushi, my favorite out of this particular lineup was actually the freshwater eel—it was a lot more fla­vor­ful and tender than what I usually expect from eel.

The tamago was very disappointing. It wasn’t prepared traditionally; there were no layers of egg, and it resembled a dessert more than it did actual ta­ma­go that you’d expect from a sushi restaurant.

After we were done with our appetizers and tasting menu, the waiter brought out a special order menu in case we wanted a second portion of anything, or if we wanted to try anything we didn’t get to taste during the four-course meal. There was one item on that list that I had never had before and that I had also never seen on a menu before, so I figured this would be a great opportunity to try it: ankimo, or monkfish liver.

It tasted very similar to kani miso, often nicknamed “crab brains.” Kani miso is not actually entirely brains—it’s just a mixture of the crab’s organs and oth­er innards. The texture was also very interesting, and difficult to describe—it was both firm and supple at the same time; both powdery and solid at the same time; both dry and pasty at the same time.

Although I probably wouldn’t go out seeking monkfish liver at a restaurant as one of my top dishes, it was actually pretty good. The unfortunate part is that it seemed to be a bit pricey, and apparently it is also only seasonally available during the winter according to the waiter, but if this is included as part of a “pick your own” kind of sushi experience (like revolving sushi or something), I would definitely have it again.

Dani and I wanted to split a Shizuoka matcha ice green tea, but they ran out, so we just drank water. I also wanted to try the mizu shingen mochi—rain­drop jelly served with kinako (soybean powder) and brown sugar syrup—but they didn’t have any of that left either, so we passed on dessert.

Here is a breakdown of what we paid:

Chef’s choice four-course sushi meal ×3  $ 255.00
Black cod kasuzuke  $  18.00
Assorted vegetable tempura  $  16.00
Chawanmushi  $  20.00
Ankimo ×2  $  26.00
Tax (10.25%)  $  34.34
Gratuity  $  75.00
Total  $ 444.34

Overall, I thought this was a decent restaurant, especially considering that the price per person of US$85.00 is a bit less than what you’d probably expect from a high-end sushi restaurant.

For me personally, I think the chef could have done more with flavor storytelling. I feel like the objective here might have been to give a unique, stand­alone character or “plot” to each course, so each “category” of sushi was able to have its own plate. This is definitely a valid way to do it, but it was dif­fer­ent than what I was expecting going into this—I was hoping for a bit more flavor micro-progressions piece-by-piece, as opposed to going purely off macro-progressions.

With that being said, a side effect of this above point is that, I think this restaurant would be especially good for sushi beginners. None of the nigiri pieces from the four-course meal were particularly adventurous or pungent, and I think one of the only “hit-or-miss,” “love it or hate it” items was the sea urchin. Having each plate broadly categorized by theme is also probably less “chaotic” for someone who just wants to have a good time eating good fish.




Hello, Pomet in Oakland, California

My third restaurant reservation during my trip to the San Francisco Bay Area was at Pomet on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, California. The previous two restaurants I went to were both omakase experiences, so I added in an American restaurant to mix in some variety into the roster.

We started our dinner with four appetizers, the first two being two different kinds of Tomales Bay Miyagi oysters. The first pair had Fuji apple cider mi­gnon­ette and sansho, and the second pair was roasted with Shared Cultures urfa chili miso… at least that’s what the menu said.

I’m a big fan of raw oyster, so it’s probably not a mystery that I like the actual fla­vor of oyster. Unfortunately, both of these dishes had over­whelming fla­vors that completely masked the oyster, and I could barely tell that I was even having oysters.

The first was sour, as you’d expect from the mi­gnon­ette; I would have much rather preferred the mi­gnon­ette to be served on the side, but instead, the oysters were drowning in it. The second was greasy and almost cheesy, and the flavor completely conflicted with the oyster.

Our third appetizer wasn’t much better. We ordered the San Pedro yellowfin tuna mixed in with smoked mushroom tamari koji and a medley of citrus.

For me, this was no better than a glorified miniature overpriced poke bowl. The tuna was fleshy, the ratio of fish to fruit was way too low, and I almost couldn’t even distinguish the flavor of the tuna from the fruit.

The presentation of the dish was also incredibly disappointing. Using the greens as a bed, ornating the citrus in alternating types around the edge, and having the tuna in the center would have probably made the dish pop a lot more and allow people to realize that they actually got the tuna they ordered.

Once we got to the fourth appetizer, I started enjoying the food—it was smoked Zuckerman potatoes mixed in with trout roe beside house-made ranch and black garlic sauce.

The trout roe was an add-on, and I do not recommend getting it—none of it stuck to the potatoes, so the roe was basically just left behind every bite and accumulated at the bottom, and the richness of the ranch overwhelmed any roe flavor anyway.

As for the rest of the dish, the potatoes were cooked nicely with a crispy crush but soft center, and the sauces had strong but clean flavors that nicely complemented the potatoes.

For my main course, I ordered the McFarland trout with Rancho Gordo beans, carrots, and mustard.

The fish was nicely cooked, but my favorite part of this dish is how clean and “natural” the rest of dish tasted. There wasn’t too much seasoning, so the beans, carrots, and other vegetables were able to shine through and add their own flavors to the fish, creating a “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” effect.

My friend got a Liberty duck confit with noodles, sweet potato, nettles, and herb salsa. I only had one bite of her dish, but my assessment of it is the same as my dish—the chef let the core ingredients do most of the work, so it had a clean flavor without being disrupted by excessive or in­tru­sive sea­son­ing.

For dessert, my friend ordered a chocolate crepe cake with Wonderful pomegranates. This is the same friend who joined me at Utzutzu in Alameda, California who had just celebrated a birthday last week, and this restaurant also added a candle to her dessert.

My dessert was a satsuma creamsicle pie. I thought it was a fairly normal slice of pie, though I do appreciate that they added some sort of sear to the top of the whipped cream, which added a nice contrast of flavor to the fattiness of the cream and pie.

To end our meal, we each got a complimentary slice of Asian pear.

Here is a breakdown of what we paid:

Tomales Bay miyagi oysters with Fuji apple cider mignonette  $  10.00
Tomales Bay miyagi oysters with Shared Cultures urfa chili miso  $  12.00
San Pedro yellowfin tuna  $  14.00
Smoked Zuckerman potatoes with trout roe  $  17.00
Liberty duck confit and noodles  $  25.00
McFarland trout  $  30.00
Chocolate crepe cake  $  12.00
Satsuma creamsicle pie  $  12.00
Service charge (20%)  $  26.40
Tax (10.25%)  $  16.24
Total  $ 174.64

This is much cheaper than the omakase restaurants we went to, but I think it was proportionally less food and less special of an experience.

One thing I want to point out—there is a 20% service charge, in lieu of gratuity, which is mandatorily added to your bill. Also note that the sales tax is charged after the service charge (which is not customary, as gratuity generally does not get taxed), so in practice, this restaurant requires you to tip 22%. I’m sure you can negotiate this down if you’ve had a particularly bad experience, but I accepted this stipulation when I made a reservation, and I had no problem paying it.

Pomet apparently has a great reputation and is allegedly considered one of the best restaurants in Oakland, but based on my experience, I think it’s sort of a hit-or-miss. The entrées were excellent, and the potatoes and desserts were good, but the oysters and tuna were a big miss. I don’t know if my per­cep­tion is a bit biased simply because I had just finished eating at two high-end sushi restaurants, but I think my analysis is still fairly sound with re­gards to the seafood dishes.

The reason we got so many starters is because there were actually more appetizers than entrées, and the starters were presented far more prominently on the menu. Pomet had an extremely limited entrée menu with only six dishes total: two vegetarian, two duck (one with noodles and one without), one trout, and one short rib. Based on this observation, we assumed that this is one of those restaurants where you’re supposed to order a bunch of different starters so that you can try out a wider variety of foods.

Overall, I’d still recommend this restaurant, as long as you avoid the seafood dishes. I think this restaurant’s specialty is being able to prepare American-style dishes in a way that emphasizes the underlying flavors of the ingredients; their specialty is definitely not seafood. In fact, I wouldn’t be sur­prised if I found out they intentionally tried to cover up the taste of the tuna and oysters under the premise that those who like seafood would go to a real seafood restaurant, and that people who show up at Pomet are probably there for foods more friendly towards traditional American palates.

This concludes my short “high-end restaurant crawl” in the Oakland area for this trip (the other days, we went to regular restaurants, cooked meals ourselves, or got take-out). This was my first time going to some nice restaurants in a while, because when I’m traveling alone, I usually prioritize con­ven­ience over luxury; it was pleasant having a companion for a week so I had a good reason to do things I wouldn’t otherwise bother planning.




Hello, Utzutzu in Alameda, California

For my second omakase experience during this trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, I went to Utzutzu on Park Street in Alameda, California.

After a bit of an underwhelming experience at Delage the night prior, I was hoping that Utzutzu would be different and meet or exceed my expectations.

After doing a bit of research, I noticed some information online that implied Delage and Utzutzu may be related in some way, but that information was a handful of years old. Considering how quickly restaurants can change (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic from the past few years), I think that the two spots may have split and underwent new management—Utzutzu had a completely different feel to it than Delage, and Utzutzu resembled a true, traditional Japanese omakase experience.

The entrance to Utzutzu is inconspicuous, and I wouldn’t have been able to find it if I didn’t keep an eye out for building numbers—it is up the stairs and around the corner above a consignment shop called Mommy’s Trading Post. The restaurant is fairly small, with a little waiting area near the entrance and a seven-seat bar for diners who can watch the chef prepare their meals while they enjoy their food.

The first course of the night was a pair of appetizers—kinpira gobo and black goma asparagus. Kinpira gobo is a traditional Japanese dish made from braised burdock root and carrots sprinkled with sesame seeds; the asparagus dish was cooked and seasoned with black sesame paste.

Both appetizers were great—they had the perfect amount of zest to get your taste buds going, but was still subtle enough that it allowed the deep, rich flavors of the vegetables to shine through.

The second dish was nanbanzuke. This one was made with Scottish sea trout that had been sitting for eight hours inside the vinaigrette with a medley of vegetables so it can fully absorb the flavors. The trout had maintained its structure throughout the soaking process and was firm on the outside, but fell a­part in my mouth and was extremely tender when I started chewing.

Similar to the appetizers, this dish also had a nice, sharp flavor to it that gently tingled my tongue, but it wasn’t uncomfortably sour. I noticed that this was a recurring theme throughout this particular omakase experience—this chef did an amazing job properly diluting sauces so that there was no single taste (sourness, salt­i­ness, sweetness, etc.) that overwhelmed the true, underlying flavor of the ingredients.

A big part of omakase is being able to have an interactive experience with your chef and watch your next course being prepared. Utzutzu’s layout made this very easy—each diner was within about two meters of the chef throughout the whole meal, only separated by a thin, clear cough guard at face level. The chef personally hand-delivered each piece of nigiri through an opening at the bottom of the panel.

The first sequence of nigiri had nine pieces, and all of them were great. The size of each cut of fish wasn’t generous, but it was still a very satisfying a­mount. The ratio of rice to fish was excellent, and it also seemed like the chef might have been actively changing the portion size of rice, depending on the intensity of the fish, in order to properly complement the flavor.

Along with our omakase experience from the chef, we also had the convenience of having a comedy show on the side. My friend and I took up two seats, and we had two other parties as our dining companions who had booked the same reservation slot: one group of three elderly friends, and one group of a young couple celebrating their anniversary.

I personally didn’t notice this because I was too focused on capturing photos, enjoying the food, and taking notes, but my friend told me that the elderly diners were subtly making fun of me for how I seemed to be taking everything so seriously. From that, plus their very casual attire, I imagine they weren’t the most familiar with fine dining (which, to be clear, I have no problem with; I think it’s heartwarming when the elderly go out to sophisticated experiences that they might not have been able to enjoy when they were younger). I did have a brief interaction with them near the end of the meal, which I’ll cover later, and they were all very pleasant people.

The actual funny part, though, was the younger couple. The man seemed to love sushi, but the woman notified the chef that she doesn’t eat snapper and mackerel because they taste too fishy (which, to be clear, snapper does not have a strong fishy taste, and in fact, it is often recommended for sushi be­gin­ners due to its milder flavor).

The solution here would have been to not go to omakase, considering that this completely defeats the purpose of omakase (which, translated from Ja­panese, means “I’ll leave it up to you”), but of course, the chef wanted to be respectful of her wishes and tried to accommodate. Not only did we have red snap­per, but we also had two types of mackerel—regular mackerel (Scombridae) and horse mackerel (Carangidae)—so he ended up substituting them with more basic options, like tuna and salmon roe. More on this later.

The final piece of nigiri in this half of the meal was this mysterious orange fish. Based on its taste, I am 99% sure it is salmon, but my friend insists the chef had called it some complicated name that she had never heard of before.

The following course was sumiso-ae with octopus and cucumber. Again, this had the same theme as the previous dishes prior to the chain of nigiri—the sauce was tangy and noticeable, but was still smooth and complementary enough to the rest of the ingredients that it felt like I was eating well-seasoned raw octopus (as opposed to just a sour salad).

Next was chawanmushi, or Japanese steamed egg custard. The inside contained mushrooms and a gingko nut, and the outside was topped with a piece of sea urchin. Contrary to what you’d expect from custard, this Japanese steamed variant was not sweet at all. Instead, this entire dish was a constant flow of different kinds of umami coming from all four main ingredients.

The quality of the uni was also fantastic—it had a strong and prominent uni flavor that wasn’t diluted or faded, and it had the amazing, soft, buttery tex­ture that you expect when rolling it around on your tongue and then pressing it up against the roof of your mouth.

After the brief intermission, we returned to nigiri for a second round. This next batch was a bit more untraditional; the nigiri from the first half covered different kinds fish that you’d probably expect from a sushi restaurant, while the second half allowed the chef to mix in a few more creative pieces.

One of the pieces I particularly liked was the scallop. Usually, I’ve seen scallop sushi served as nigiri in a more circular shape (considering that is the o­rig­i­nal shape of the scallop), or diced and placed on top of rice inside a circular gunkan maki roll wrapped by seaweed. Instead, this chef cut the scallop in half hor­i­zon­tally about 80% of the way through, allowing it to open up and rest on top of the pillow of sushi rice like a little tent.

He seared the top of the scallop with a flame, giving it an ever-so-tiny tinge of charred bitterness. However, it was so subtle that it didn’t actually fully register in my mouth as bitterness, and simply enhanced the cooked taste of the scallop with a new flavor dimension.

This second round of nigiri was the chef’s opportunity to have us try some non-fish options as well. As you can see from above, one of the pieces was o­kra with bonito flakes. He also served us some wagyu beef.

He crafted the pieces of wagyu in front of us directly out of a cut of steak, and we were able to see the stunning marbling, iconic of high-grade wagyu. Af­ter preparing a piece for each person, he lined them up and seared the outside with the same flame he had just used for the scallops a few moments pri­or. This added a perfect sear to the outside and rendered just enough fat that it brought the beef to the melt-in-your-mouth status you expect from wagyu.

Garnished lightly with some subtle sauce and topped with a few circular cuts of scallion, the wagyu nigiri was a pleasant flavorful change-up from the fish and seafood that made up a majority of the line-up.

People say that one of the best ways to determine the skill of a sushi chef is to try their tamago, or Japanese rolled omelet. I believe the rationale behind this is that cooking a basic egg dish like this tests whether the chef has strong fundamentals and a solid foundation upon which they can base the rest of their cooking (as opposed to having to rely solely on gimmicks). I’ve heard similar things said by Western chefs with regards to scrambled eggs.

Without exaggeration, this was the best tamago I have ever had. It ascended to a level where I’m not really even sure how to describe it. It tasted like amazing tamago, but with some extra magic sprinkled in on top of that.

After the chef finished serving us six pieces as part of the second round of nigiri, he asked us whether we had any special requests. By the way that it was communicated to us, I was under the im­pression that this special request would be the final item of the second chain of nigiri. My friend and I both like sea urchin, so we requested for the chef to craft something for us made from sea urchin.

The chef made each of us a special piece of uni gunkan maki loaded with sea urchin and carefully held together with seaweed. The tension of the sea­weed was so perfect that, upon placing the maki in my mouth and biting down, the wrap burst and created a single, big popping sensation that made it feel as if I was eating a humongous piece of roe with uni inside. The uni was somehow even better than the uni in the chawanmushi from earlier, though that is most likely because I just really like uni and that was the singular dominating flavor of the gunkan maki.

After getting the bill later, I discovered that this was not in fact the final piece of the second round of nigiri, but rather, an add-on service for US$18.00 each. That wasn’t that huge of a deal, though; that is pretty pricey for one piece of sushi, but the quantity of sea urchin in each gunkan maki was sat­is­fy­ing, and the market price for sea urchin of that quality can climb pretty high. All things considered, it wasn’t an unreasonable price for the value we re­ceived.

But… remember the couple I mentioned earlier who had the anti-mackerel woman? Well, sometime during her meal, she changed her mind and decided that she wanted to try the mackerel nigiri. When it came up during the regular rotation, she had gotten a slice of standard akami tuna instead as a sub­stitution. Now that she had an opportunity to request something specific, she requested mackerel.

She didn’t spit it out or anything so I guess it was fine, but the hilarity here is that, if you think about it, she technically used a special re­quest for akami tuna, prob­a­bly one of the most simple, basic, and inexpensive sushi options (considering that the mackerel she just ate was the equivalent of the regular nigiri course, so the “extra” piece she got was tuna).

If my receipt said “sea urchin” or “uni,” it would be clear that the special requests are charged specific to what you order, but the receipt simply said “nigiri add-on,” which implies that it is just a flat fee for the add-on service. I almost felt bad for her for paying US$18 for a piece of tuna nigiri, but then I remembered that she came to omakase, the entire point of which is to allow the chef to tell you a story through food, and interfered with him… so in­stead, I took her clown show as a nice form of entertainment while I had my meal.

As the experience came to an end, we were served some akadashi. The waiter let us know that the soup was boiled with the heads and bones of all the fish that we had eaten to extract their flavor, as a way to try and minimize waste and get the most value out of as much of the fish as possible.

For dessert, we were served mango shiso sorbet. The friend who joined me for this dinner had celebrated a birthday the week prior, so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to mark on the reservation that we were there for a birthday, just in case they would do something special for her. We didn’t get any free cake or an occasion discount anything, but they did stick a candle in her sorbet and gave her a little sign that read “Happy Birthday.”

Our reservation companions—namely, one of the elderly men from the group of three—noticed the candle and began singing the Happy Birthday song to her, with everyone else joining in shortly afterwards. She blew out the candle and it made for a nice conclusion to the dinner.

Here is a breakdown of what we paid:

Omakase ×2  $ 290.00
Special request nigiri add-on ×2  $  36.00
Tax (10.75%)  $  35.06
Gratuity  $  50.00
Total  $ 411.06

This obviously is not a small amount of money, especially considering the extra add-on service, and it was more expensive than the omakase at Delage, but I still think this was very worth it, and I’m very glad that I went.

Sometimes, great chefs will begin raising their omakase prices higher and higher, and after a few hundred dollars per person, the price sort of becomes arbitrary. In other words, you aren’t going to notice that huge of a quality difference between a $300-per-person meal and a $400-per-person meal, and at that point, the pricing is generally determined more by how much the restaurant can get away with charging while still keeping their reservation slots full.

With that being said, Utzutzu is not like that, and the pricing here is still within reach and reason for a lot of people. I highly recommend it if you are look­ing for a special experience to celebrate a special event or occasion. I also think it’s a great place to check out if you’re just in the area and are com­fort­a­ble splurging on a nice, high-end meal.