Craig’s Birthday Dinner at Mori Sushi

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It’s a bit of a struggle for me to spend a fortune on sushi. Don’t get me wrong; I really like sushi, but I’m perfectly happy eating the $12 sushi sampler at Jinpachi for lunch in West Hollywood. Craig, on the other hand, is a major sushi enthusiast. He loves the stuff and, if given a choice between an elegant eight-course meal at a palace of fine dining like Le Bernardin or Jean-George vs. an omakase dinner at a well-regarded sushi restaurant, he’d pick the sushi every time.

This year, I pulled a fast one. The only thing Craig loves more than sushi is camaraderie. So I made a reservation for four at Chi Spacca, telling Craig we’d be joined by our good friends Mark and Diana. The restaurant really didn’t matter, did it? Plus Chi Spacca is supposed to be amazing? “Sure, whatever,” said Craig, and then he pulled a fast one. A day later, he caught the flu and I had to cancel the reservation.

When he got better, his birthday had passed and we hadn’t gone out to celebrate (that’s a tradition in our relationship). So I promptly began doing research about L.A.’s best sushi places and I found the whole thing overwhelming. Jonathan Gold has his list. L.A. Weekly has its list. I didn’t want to spend our down payment on a house for dinner, so after lots of Googling and cross-checking the lists, I settled on Mori Sushi on Pico ($125 for omakase).

After nabbing a reservation, I told Craig that there was one thing we had to do before going, something I was embarrassed we hadn’t done already. “What’s that?” “We have to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”

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That assignment was actually quite a treat. The movie’s a moving account (as you probably know) about Japan’s most revered sushi chef; a man who sees as much wisdom in a perfect piece of fish as any scholar might find in an ancient scroll. What the movie emphasized was the idea of balance; sushi is about the right portion of rice with the right portion of fish. But all of those elements–the rice itself, the fish itself–can take a lifetime to fully understand. The movie set the stage for the wonderful dinner that was to come.

Confession: this happened a month ago (Craig’s birthday was February 2nd) so I really can’t identify everything that we ate. I do remember that we sat at the counter (the late Steven Shaw once said: “There are two types of people who eat at a sushi restaurant: those eating at the counter and the tourists”) and that our sushi chef (whose name I don’t recall, he wasn’t Chef Mori) chatted with us the whole time and made our sushi right in front of us. It was as much a performance as it was a meal.

To start: a perfect square of house-made tofu.

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Then this plate of whole fried smelt, and two other lovely preparations involving fish and house-made items (Mori Sushi is known for making most of its ingredients in-house, including some of its soy sauce):

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This brothy concoction with shellfish:

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And then the sushi started to come piece by piece. It was all scrumptious; the most unusual piece was the silver-looking one. That’s needlefish, which had a very firm texture. Otherwise, here it is all at once:

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(Oh, this one’s squid. The knife-work is remarkable.)

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This one’s uni:

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Dessert was simply ice cream with something drizzled on top and tea.

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The meal, I have to say, was quite lovely; especially after seeing Jiro. One of my favorite things about dining out is how transportive it can be. This meal was like a roundtrip ticket across the Pacific ocean; the ritual of it, the attention to detail, the intimate interaction as the sushi chef watched us eat his work, it triggered the same feelings you get when you’re in a new city in a new country where the customs and language aren’t immediately clear, but you’re so grateful for the opportunity to learn. Thanks, then, to everyone at Mori Sushi, especially our sushi chef who–based on our conversations–loves American baseball and pizza:

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And happy birthday, Craig.

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