Yamakase: 20 Courses in Private Dining

Lets face it, having coffee meetings can be so de rigeur. I say food is cushion for the pushin’! And if you’re in luck as I was, to have a business meal at Yamakase, you’ll find those coffee meetings are just a thing of the past. Yamakase is a Japanese, invite only restaurant, run and operated by the esteemed Japanese Sushi Chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and business partner (and lover of all things Food) Stan Liu. Apparently, Mr. Yamamoto’s clients follow him, like I followed my dental hygienist from Beverly Hills to Santa Clarita, like Hansel and Gretel followed… You get the idea. He has loyal fans.

Yamakase is marked by a non-descript window nestled on a little shopping street in Culver City. The sign doesn’t even say open. It seats about 11 people and the dining experience is as authentic as it gets. The feel of the restaurant is an intimate, private sushi kitchen with Chef Yamamoto preparing the evening’s prix fixe meal according to what’s fresh on the market, his culinary mood, your dietary needs and a sophisticated palate that is a mixture of French and Japanese fusion.

There’s nothing pretentious about the kitchen and everyone gets a front row seat to watch the culinary action. On hand is a server, a kitchen assistant and Chef Yamamoto.

This was like a Japanese chilled salad, prepared earlier that day for exactly the number of guests expected to dine.

Many of the dishes were so well comprised, it was difficult for me to detect what many of the ingredients were. Here’s a chilled soup with an imported Japanese root vegetable and truffle garnish.

Thousand year old Peruvian salt from the mountains of Peru? Yes, that round thing is salt and he’s shaving it with a specifically purposed knife. The Salt Block was a gift from a customer that’s been in Chef Yamamoto’s possession for decades.

I wish I had written down all the dishes, but I wasn’t expecting there to be…twenty courses.

This sushi was so fresh, the fish was alive only a half hour earlier. I missed the presentation. More truffle garnishings.

Poached Quail egg?! Who poaches something so small?

Oysters from Spain?

There’s that poached quail egg. Poaching makes a huge difference on the egg’s density.

I know you think this is tofu. It’s not. It’s chicken. He hand strains whole chicken into that cube thing. He wouldn’t reveal his methods but I’ll tell ya this did not “taste like chicken.”

Chicken stuffed Gobo Root.

Abalone.

This was the most tender Abalone I’ve ever had. I believe he said he cooked it for about six hours. I’ve never really understood the love for abalone, but now I get it.

Here he is making mince meat out of eggplant.

This was such a mixture of flavors. Homemade basil sauce, eggplant, pine nuts….

He then began serving sushi.

I’ve never had freshly barbecued eel. Here he is putting it on the bbq skewer. What I didn’t know is that most restaurants buy eel already pre-barbecued.

He sets it over the flame for a few minutes and it is perfectly crisped with a tender interior.

SO SIMPLE AND DIVINE. Served with just a dab of yuzu.

And that’s when the restaurant’s lights went out!

While he waited for an electrician, I normally expected the conclusion of our meal. But for Chef Yama, he went into like Hyper Chef mode. Candles were lit and we marched onward….

Thus began Chef Yamamoto’s improvisation for the rest of our now, romantically lit dinner. He brought out his freshest sushi and began to serve course after course of sushi.

Nothing was served with wasabi and soy sauce.

The rice was a perfect temperature. If you’ve ever had perfect rice for sushi, you know the temp I’m referring to – it’s like a warm hearth.

After awhile, the sushi started to photograph the same in the dim light, so I stopped my picture taking. I ended with a cucumber hand roll.

It tasted like a palate cleanser the cucumber was so crisp. The sea weed was so delicate, you could bite it clean through. I tried to see what brand he used, but I could have swore he grew it in his “backyard.”

Over dinner, the consultant I’m working with skyped in another associate, which would seem weird at most restaurants, but this was strangely doable in a private dining establishment. I ended up having to leave to prep for an early work appointment the next day while my dinner companions continued on. It was a more than three hour food fest and I missed out on…more courses and homemade gelato?

Chef Yamamoto was like the MacGyver of Japanese cuisine, but definitely with a precise sophistication and a culinary style quite uniquely his own. His palette is light, fresh, very contemporary with discerning standards for organic and point of origin imports. Dinner was so surprising and memorable.

He even gave me two organic chicken breasts packed ON ICE to take home with me! Dude was trying to seduce me, I know it. I always feel like the chicken in America is so bland and processed (compared to chicken in Taiwan which has real flavor!) and I was curious where he buys his chicken boobs, so he gave me a couple to take home and then invited me to shop with him at the market. At um 5.30 am….

I don’t expect every meal at Yamakase is normally a twenty course set (I think the unexpected blackout put a little twist in things), but I imagine you’ll never have the same meal twice here. So if you’re lucky enough to get on the invite list (thanks Jason!) have a business meal here. Skip the coffee. Take the Fish. And armed with every pitch that ever popped in your head since the day you became alienated in fourth grade,  accompanied with the perfect three hour meal, they’ll never know what hit them.