Restaurant: Shunji [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
Location: 3003 Ocean Park Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405. (310) 826-4737
Date: October 19, 2021
Cuisine: Japanese Sushi
Rating: First rate omakase
I’ve been going to Shunji for years in its Pico Blvd location but very recently, during the pandemic in fact, he’s moved to a new space over on Ocean Park. So of course we had to go and include him in our Sushi Series of top LA sushi places.
The outside is nearly anonymous.
But inside the whole format and layout is totally different. Gone is the bigger space of tables and now there are two extremely elegant rooms with small gorgeous sushi bars. Each space has its own chef, Shunji himself in this case, and the format of the menu has been vastly simplified. No ala carte at all. Just omakase. Which is how I like it.
New Shunji was so new that all the flowery Japanese congratulation signs were still up.
Even the wood of the sushi bar is stunning.
2002 Pierre Péters Champagne Grand Cru Cuvée Speciale Blanc de Blancs Les Chetillons. VM 97. The 2002 Brut Cuvée Spéciale Les Chétillons, the original release and aged on crown seal, is tremendous. Wow. Ample, sweeping and dramatic, the 2002 is utterly captivating. Smoke, graphite, ash, apricot jam and pastry are some of the many nuances that come alive in the glass, with a top note of reduction that is very appealing. On this day, the regular release is just a touch ahead of the Oenothèque. It’s hard to say exactly why that is, but I suspect that the post-disgorgement time is optimal. This is the finest bottle of the 2002 I have ever tasted. Disgorged July 2010. (Drink between 2018-2028)
1996 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut. JG98. I had not drunk a bottle of the 1996 Krug in several years, as I had deemed the wine still in climbing mode and I am not generally in the business of drinking Krug before its time. But, a friend recently opened a bottle and I was very impressed with how the wine is evolving in the bottle since its release. The bouquet is now starting to show some lovely secondary layering of complexity in its blend of apple, peach, a touch of sweet walnut, patissière, a refined base of minerality, caraway seed and a smoky topnote. On the palate the wine flavors on the attack echo the nose nicely, with the wine’s full-bodied format sporting excellent depth at the core, still plenty of the vintage’s snappy acidity, great focus and grip and a very, very long and utterly refined finish. Though this remains quite racy structurally, I really like the point it has reached in terms of aromatic and flavor complexity and it is really not a crime to be opening bottles up at this point in its evolution, though it still has room to grow with further bottle age. A great, great vintage of Krug. (Drink between 2019-2060)
Vegetable purée. Uni caviar. Egg. This wasn’t one of my favorite dishes as it had a very distinct “Shunji” vegetal taste. Sort of a mellow carby flavor that distracted a bit from the uni/caviar.
Matsutaki mushroom Faux Chawanmushi. Winter melon. Eggs. King crab.
Halibut sashimi. Sauce of sake and salt. Shredded Plum. Very mild “salty” taste.
King mackerel. Seared skin side. Smoked with green tea. With sea salt and wasabi.
1999 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. VM 93. Bright, pale golden yellow. Pure but subdued nose shows sexy floral, truffle and balsamic hints, plus a hint of mocha. Juicy and delineated more than thick on the palate, with its strong citrus and floral flavors given cut and lift by brisk acidity. Boasts terrific energy for a 20-year-old white wine. Quite penetrating and long on the aftertaste, dominated by citrus fruits. Perhaps not quite as complex as the ’00 but this wine offers broader appeal. (the yield in ’99 was 60 hectoliters per hectare) (Drink between 2019-2028)
2008 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. VM 96. Bright yellow with a green tinge. Classic Montée de Tonnerre aromas of lemon ice, crushed rock, iodiney minerality and white flowers. floral, lemon ice, straight and classic. Tactile, juicy and utterly gripping–in fact still almost painful today. Powerful salty minerality and penetrating acidity currently dominate the wine’s lemon oil, grapefruit and floral flavors, with the wine showing a weightless impression. The dusty mineral-driven finish stains the palate and builds inexorably. (When I first tasted this wine from the barrel, I suggested that it might be the longest Chablis premier cru of the vintage.) Drink the 2010 for lunch now but hold this magical wine for another couple years, as its spring is still tightly coiled. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. The 2014 and 2010 vintages may be richer and deeper, as Isabelle Raveneau suggested to me three years ago, but this ’08 is utterly classic. (12.69% alcohol; 3.14 pH; 4.4 g/l acidity; the days were sunny but the nights were quite chilly during the relatively early harvest of 2008, which concentrated the sugars and acidity, noted Isabelle Raveneau) (Drink between 2021-2042)
Fall bonito. Nori.
Shunji at work.
Abalone sushi with liver sauce.
2006 Louis Jadot Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles Domaine des Héritiers Louis Jadot. VM 96+. Full yellow. Broad, deep and initially quite closed on the nose, this opened to show white peach, crushed stone, and fresh hazelnut and almond. Then powerful, vibrant and palate-staining, with terrific cut to the flavors of white peach, lemon, liquid stone and white flowers. Wonderfully tactile wine with an almost painful intensity. Finishes with superb cut and length. This has only 3.8 grams of acidity yet conveys outstanding balance and verve. “If we had allowed the malolactic fermentation to finish, the wine would have ended up with less than three grams of acid,” Lardiere observed. A great 2006.
2006 Bouchard Père et Fils Chevalier-Montrachet. VM 94. Aromas of white peach and crushed stone. Sweet, dense and powerful, with strong minerality giving it a strong sappy quality. The ripeness here is almost exotic, and yet this very sweet, long wine comes off as young today. I’d wait four years. Interestingly, winemaker Philippe Prost believes that the ’06s are both riper and more primary than the saline, creamy ’05s, and that they need a bit more time in bottle than the earlier set of wines.
Sweet white miso soup with shrimp in two textures and yuzu. Lotus root for crunch.
2008 Paul Pernot et ses Fils Bâtard-Montrachet. VM 94. An almost completely inexpressive but relatively high-toned nose of lemon rind, acacia blossom, ripe peach and apricot gives way to almost painfully intense full-bodied and overtly muscular flavors that offer exceptional richness on the magnificently long, mouth coating and palate staining finish that is wrapped around a very firm core of ripe acidity. Chez Pernot, I typically prefer the Bienvenues but as good as it is, and it is very good, in 2008 I give the nod to the Bâtard, if only by a nose, no pun intended. (Drink starting 2016)
Monkfish liver “pate” with toast.
Prepping for the sushi.
Shima aji (Japanese Mackerel).
Blue fin tuna.
Shirako with uni rice.
Wild yellowtail from Hokaido, 10 day aged.
Salmon Eggs (Ikura).
Artsy Japanese ceramics.
Sweet shrimp cured with kelp and dusted with botarga.
Eel. Super soft. Nice Japanese flavor.
Enoki mushroom miso.
Japanese Pears and Grapes.
Roasted Tea Ice Cream.
The wine lineup.
All and all Shunji is rather fantastic, easily in the large repertoire of top LA sushi restaurants. His move to the new location and increased focus on omakase has only improved his already great food. The meal is much more precise and orchestrated now with a natural progression of different techniques and seasonal ingredients. His very fine nigiri continues to shine. Just plain excellent.
And the whole setting is much more pleasant and calm without the bevy of tables behind you.