It started with a cool idea, and now includes a famous actor in its portfolio. It is what is being called ‘Fancy Schmancy Dining’. It simply is about going out to a nice restaurant and having a meal that could threaten one of the best dining experiences of your life; and making plans to do just the same every few months.
Actually, it more or less started with months of sharing stories about some great meals we have had over the years. A small group of people in the same office-ish area here at JPL told stories about steak dinners, fancy meals, and other culinary experiences. Then it became ‘wouldn’t it be neat if …’ Then a plan. It sounds easy, but there is a big factor holding us back that is more of a challenge here than would be anywhere else.
Los Angeles is arguably one of the great culinary cities in the world. Sure, it doesn’t have the regional influence of a Rome or Paris, nor does it have the more intense culinary competition of a New York; but what LA lacks in focus, it picks up in variety. LA’s restaurants tend to offer every type and ethnicity of food in the world; sometimes crossed over and fused into other new twists and ideas. Any place else I lived before meant that if I wanted a fancy schmancy meal, it meant one or two or three places to go to. It’s a laundry list here, and that’s only counting those places that they make TV shows about.
The trick, also, is finding the friends daring enough to do this kind of thing. Mostly from a cost aspect. We aren’t talking about $10 blue plate specials. The first one we did included a steak that cost $140 … that’s the steak alone, not the fixing, appetizers, and dessert (which we got). People doing this with us are made well aware that they have to budget in advance and let the horses loose when they walk in the door. It also means to be daring with what you eat. The goal is to swing for the fences, and while these places are expected to be far from striking out you will have to eat and experience things you normally wouldn’t. Case in point is the adventure we had last week.
The meal was omakase sushi meal. This is essentially a personal sushi experience. Now, I know some of you, sushi is exotic enough, but this takes it to its normal/legal limit. It’s a multi-course menu — primarily nigiri sushi (fish placed on rice) plus sashimi (fish only) and handrolls (fish & rice wrapped in seaweed) — and it features many of the more adventurous sushi items that dedicated sushi eaters have come to appreciate. All of it prepared by a master chef right in front of us. In total there were twenty-one (21) courses lasting just over 2 hours. They included some pretty common sushi fish like albacore tuna & scallops, to more luxurious bites like lobster & salmon caviar, to the incredibly exotic. Our meal started with Jellyfish in a vinegar sauce … that’s the start. Fresh Octopus (with a beautiful bit of sea salt on top), ruby snapper, monkfish liver pate, and deep water kenmedai. We even got two of the most sought-after sushi. Toro Bluefin Tuna which is meat from the bluefin’s belly that is extra fatty and rich like the most tender of beef; and Uni which is (get ready for this) the egg sack from sea urchins which is best thought to be fish butter. Dish after dish of exotic, rich, and perfectly prepared sushi.
Of course, the experience of such a meal is important, and watching Chef Fujita was the experience. He boasted about his knives that were more than 30 years old, and showed skill with them that seemed classic, controlled, and elegant. He bantered about where we were from, what we did, and what we liked. On the website, his resume reads like someone who was way too important to serve the likes of us, yet he did so with the grace and commonality of a master. Yet when we asked him what he was having for dinner that night, his answer “Double-Double” … The guy was going to In-n-Out burger. Said he does that most nights of the week. Much of this, I was unaware of. I just knew the sushi was going to be good, if not great.
One other thing I wasn’t aware of was what was going on down the bar from me. The experience happened in a special room at a larger restaurant. To be intimate, the whole meal is set up for only 10 people. Well, there was 8 of us in the group, so they allowed two more to be with us. They arrive late, and sat at the end, but were mostly quiet through the meal. I didn’t know it, but my friends who could see who it was were sharing whispers and texts to confirm who it was. Only when we got up near the end, did I get a good look. It was James Franco. Oscar-nominated for 127 hours, Tommy Wiseau impersonator in the Disaster Artist, seen in multiple Judd Apatow movies like Pineapple Express, This is the End, and the TV show Freaks & Geeks. Yeah, I had Sushi with a movie star.
So, to answer the question if this was one of the best meals of my life … well, no honestly. It was good, even great. In the end, 21 courses were about 3 more than I was able to handle and could have called it after the monkfish liver pate, if not for high expectations for the sudachi sorbet. The good news is that we have an aggressive plan for 2019 to bring in a few more great experiences including a culinary experience in New Orleans in January. Yet this was a good enough experience to keep swinging for the fences.