This month Saveur dedicated an entire issue to Los Angeles’ food. I’m a native Angeleno so obviously my bias toward my hometown is strong. I do believe LA is a great food city. However, when it comes to restaurants, New York city spanks LA, unequivocally, with the fervor of Ben Affleck in Dazed and Confused.
This is simply because of proximity. In a few short days and even shorter blocks, I ate a world of first class food with service and ambiance to match.
As Spanish food is at the center of the culinary universe right now, so too was it the center of my trip to Manhattan. I had both sides of the spectrum; a luxurious lunch at Mario Batali’s Casa Mono and a quick bite at the exquisite marketplace/cafe Despana.
One of the standout meals was surprisingly on Valentine’s Day. Normally the worst night to go out to dinner in America, we opted for Sakagura, a less traditional, less romantic restaurant.
This izakaya located in the basement of a big midtown office building is a gem offering outstanding sake, small plates and fresh fish.
Our secluded table in the big Japanese-adorned room was quiet and peaceful on a night when we knew others were suffering overbooked, prix-fixed menued catastrophes all over town. We started off with a gift bottle of sake, Daishichi Minowamon, which was an immensely kind gesture by our New York city family/friends.
The first dish we ordered was the FLUKE CARPACCIO : Thinly sliced Fluke Sashimi Drizzled with Olive Oil Topped with Plum Paste, Salmon Roe and Shiso Leaf $10.00. This was a great, light starter. The plum paste was a nice, subtle added touch.
ONSEN TAMAGO : Soft Boiled Egg Topped with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe in Cold Soup $9.00. This was the highlight of the night. The broth was superb, egg was perfectly cooked, the roe was salty and the uni was sweet.
MENTAIKO : Spicy Cod Fish Roe Imported from Japan $7.00. Another standout. The texture and flavors are so rich, but not overpowering. Great balance, great color.
EBI STICK : Deep fried Shrimp Roll with “NORI” Seaweed and Oba Leaf Served with a Miso Sauce $8.50. Simple and effective with perfectly cooked shrimp and no grease at all.
YUBA SHUMAI : Minced Pork Dumplings with Shrimp and Lotus Roots Wrapped in a Thinly Bean Curd Sheets Served with “Ponzu” Japanese Citrus Sauce $8.00. These look terrible, with the thin bean curd skin exposing the visually unappealing innards. The flavors, however, were spot on. From an aesthetic perspective, using only shrimp might make these nicer to look at.
BUTA KAKUNI : SAKAGURA’S SPECIAL Stewed Diced Pork $4.50 (Per piece). This was a weak dish. Too saucy, bland.
SANMA ONIGIRI : Cooked Rice Balls with Shiitake Mushroom, Pickled Radish and Mountain Vegetables Wrapped with Whole Baked Pike Mackerel [3pcs] $9.50. Another miss, the rice balls were huge, the fish was too pungent and it was a cumbersome mess.
Sea Salt Chocolate sorbet $6.00. I can say nothing bad about savory sweets.
They also have a miniature sake and sashimi set for dieters.
So without Momofuku, without Corton, without Motorino, without Boulud- without any of the places that really make New York stand out, it still brought its A-game. Luckily the Gold Standard on Sunday will remind again how great LA is, and I can go back to saying it’s the best food city in America.