Asanebo ~ a taste of Japan in L.A.
May 22, 2012 § 2 Comments
It’s always tricky to find a “good” restaurant in a new city. I’ve lived in Colorado for almost 20 years after growing up in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. L.A. no longer feels like home, but it’s actually taken most of those years for me to adopt Boulder, Colorado. In part, because all of my family and now my two grownup kids live on the West coast, and in part because I really don’t like being cold in the winter. But I finally appreciate the quiet beauty of snow and the break winter provides for me from garden chores (which start to feel like chores by late fall).
Back to restaurants… I haven’t eaten raw fish sushi for a year or so, one of the foods I avoided while under treatment for cancer. Chemotherapy in particular degrades a patient’s immune system so that it’s difficult to fight any type of infection including food-borne illnesses. I also gave up raw milk, but couldn’t go so far as to cook my eggs until their yolks were firm (I feel safe about the farm eggs I get). So a couple of days ago I happily Googled “best Los Angeles sushi restaurants” to look for a treat for ourselves and my parents. I also checked with Siri on my iPhone and since we didn’t want to drive too far, decided on Asanebo in Studio City which is still in the valley. My dad translated “asanebo” as “asa” = morning, “ne” = “sleepy” and “bo” = guy, or morning sleepyhead. What a funny name for a restaurant! We learned from the waitstaff, that’s the nature of the chef owner who started Asanebo over 20 years ago.
We’re greeted by the sushi chefs behind the bar, “irashaimase” please come in! Although my husband and I usually sit at the sushi bar, we all wanted to sample Asanebo’s seasonal menu so we sit at a table instead. A waiter gives each of us “oshibori”, a small warm wet cloth for our hands. Initially we feel a little pestered by a series of different servers asking us what we’d like to drink. But once we decide and are served, we’re allowed to explore the menu. We settle into a nice rhythm of beautiful and delicious small plates, preceded by a small selection of very fresh and well-prepared sushi (that I forgot to photograph).
Can you read the restaurant’s name branded on the side of the “tamago” (sweet and savory egg sushi)? The first small plate is lightly poached slices of scallop and asparagus in broth; the salty salmon roe complements their sweetness. Hmmm… I forgot to get a picture of the perfectly blanched and seasoned cold sugar snap peas.
Who would expect that a platter of fresh pickles could be such a hit with their seasonal beauty and variation in sweet-sour-salty crunchiness. Only eat the cubes of miso-marinated bamboo shoots and not the pretty garnishes!
Even the deep fried dishes taste delicate and light; the fast and hot cooking method highlights the main ingredient well. We shared sweet corn cut off the cob and gathered together by crisp tempura batter, along with a small bite presentation of tonkatsu-style Iberian pork with the traditional shaved cabbage and drizzle of salty and sweet sauce.
The shrimp and fish mousseline-filled squash blossom served warm with rings of sweet onion and yellow heirloom tomato was a bit of a misfire for me; the mousseline was overcooked to the consistency of a bouncy fishcake, but probably seemed proper to a traditional Japanese palate. The martini glass gave an elegant and elevated presentation for a concasséd and reassembled Japanese Momotaro tomato and chilled lightly dressed blue crab salad with shiso garnish.
Finales included asparagus wrapped with calamari, quickly tempura-fried then presented on dipping sauce and topped with grated watermelon radish. This dish was a sleeper; its appearance belied the contrasts in flavors and textures the seasonal fresh ingredients provided. Lastly we shared my parents’ favorite Japanese fish preparation, a very traditional miso-marinated grilled black cod. The red-tipped spike is a garnish of pickled ginger shoot.
This meal was a nice reminder of the great eating experiences we enjoyed in Japan three years ago. And although rich sweet desserts are not customarily part of a Japanese meal, somehow we managed to put away a crêpe filled with strawberries and vanilla ice cream at the end.