11500 Pico Boulevard (at Gateway)
West Los Angeles, CA 90064
Final Elimination Week, no. 4
We sat down at the far end of the sushi bar at Mori Sushi in front of a tiny Japanese sushi chef of an elf, and ordered green tea. My hot tea was served in the traditional gnarled earthenware cup, but his bright neon iced green tea came out in a pitcher, to pour at his leisure. It’s not your ordinary green tea service here. It’s a pitcher.
We looked over the menu, and though little things caught my eye here and there, we were sitting at the sushi bar for a reason. Omakase. Except octopus, he mentioned. He doesn’t eat octopus. The chef pointed at the deep purple coil of tako, shook his head in understanding, then began.
He really was a tiny magic elf. From the top of the case he carefully picked up what looked like the love child born of a three-way orgy among horseradish, ginger, and an anorexic pineapple. It was fresh wasabi root, the reason why I had chosen to come here to Mori Sushi on my last supper. He was very deliberate, yet delicate with his movements. Place the root on the side of the work surface. Place the grater in the middle of the work surface. As if in a holy, ritualistic ceremony, he rubbed his hands softly together, picked up the root, placed it against he grater, then stopped. Something must not have been absolutely perfect. He put the wasabi back on the right side of the work surface exaclt where it had been seconds before. He repositioned the grater. As if to give 100% attention to every detail, he does one, and only one, thing at a time. Perhaps even as he grates he holds his breath, stopping every once in a while to allow himself to inhale. He gathered the grated wasabi into a little pile next to his work surface, much paler and a slightly different texture than the paste I’ve seen squashed down into a little messy mound on my sushi plate everywhere else. We had no shoyu sara. We had nothing on our tiny wooden trays except some pale pink ginger. Wasabi, shoyu, seasoning was all to be well under the control of his bare hands.
His right hand disappeared for a moment, then he softly clapped his little elfin hands in some magical spell. A tiny gleaming white opal of rice appeared as if out of thin air. The rice never left his hands, never touched the countertop, until a sparkling colored gemstone barely covered it, and with just the lightest wave of his magic wand of a brush, he dabs a special soy sauce in a finishing touch. He presented one piece each on our plates in a silent “ta-dah!” I was mesmerized. Perhaps, too, I looked somewhat perplexed, so he leaned over the case and with a voice that was at once soft and confident, “tuna,” then “toro.” They were perfect.
The rest was the exact same ritual done over and over in perfect performance by this magical elf. It was rapid-fire sleight-of-hand as he worked the rice and fish and yet, he seemed slow, exacting, and meticulous. A single piece of sushi would appear on my plate, and at first, I asked him what it was, in order to prepare my palate, perhaps even to brace myself. He quietly identified it in both Japanese and English, in a way that almost sounded like a dare to not love it. But I loved it every time, and by the end, I had abandoned caution, trusting him enough that I didn’t have to know what it was first before eating and enjoying it.
This is where I must stop, because I lose the power to comunicate. I have no words to describe each fish after the tuna and toro. Every single piece had brought me to speechless.
Okay, I’ll try.
When we first sat down, he had told us that the kanpachi was the best. My first time with baby yellowtail, and it was delicious.
He told me the Japanese name of the next one, but I couldn’t hear him. It was Japanese barracuda, so delicately grilled that both the flavor of the fish and the smoky taste on the tiny criss-cross pattern on the flesh was in perfec
Aji is among my favorites. It is Spanish mackerel – a bit stronger, oilier, fishier than the others. It was just right for me.
He pulled out a small rectangular plate of three prawns from the case. He lifted the plastic wrap, pulled one prawn away from its bedfellows, and lay it on the table. I did a double take. The prawn was still alive, its antennae waving in a final desperate attempt to signal for help. I watched in horrified fascination as he slaughtered the prawn there on his work surface, carefully wiping his hands of the roe (for it was a she-prawn), then placing the glistening amaebi along the rice. I felt a momentary evil wash over me looking at the victim, but it passed in about three seconds after I ate the amaebi whole.
He disappeared into a back room again, and when he came back, they were scallops, seared with tiny criss-crossing grill marks on top and bottom, a deep slice through along the latitude, then placed to envelope the rice on either side. The scallop was faintly sweet, faintly smoky, and incredibly delicious. That was the end, I couldn’t have anymore.
But we did. We ended with fresh fruit – cantaloupe, mango, and Asian pear (the server called it melon, but I’m certain it was pear). They were so sweet and strong in their natural flavor, I was slightly taken aback. There are certain things, like an apple, that taste less like apple than something artificially flavored, like an apple martini. Or a strawberry that tastes pale compared to strawberry Jell-o. There was no mistake that this is cantaloupe. This is Mango. This is Asian pear. Weird. I didn’t know fruit could shout at me like that.
It doesn’t sound like much - eight pieces of sushi. It wasn’t eight orders equals 16 pieces, but eight pieces total. It was enough. Watching him grate fresh wasabi, then put so much perfect energy into creating each piece, then tasting every single emotion that was there in the fish, I was spent. I doubt my senses could have taken anymore.
My last lunch working for "them." I doubt my sanity could have taken anymore.