Spend an hour or two at Shibumi, a dark, friendly spot in DTLA run by Chef David Schlosser, and you may find yourself lost in thought, deeply contemplating several things you once took for granted. You will encounter flavors and textures that seem curious or exotic on the first bite, only to find yourself with a primal craving for them minutes later. Schlosser has a way of making the magical seem like the most natural thing in the world.
To give just one example: I have had shiso peppers before in my life, many times. I have enjoyed them, asked about them and re-ordered them. But in the course of our basic omakase service, we got two dishes in a row that gave showcased shiso as if it were a basket ingredient in a food competition, and I found myself thinking about it a different way. A simple dish of cucumbers stuffed with shiso leaves was followed by bamboo topped with a shiso miso, both of which paired curiously well with the Toki Japanese whiskey highball I was working on. The first bite was an eyebrow raiser, not quite what I was expecting but not unpleasant either, with the shiso serving as a dusky counterpoint to the salty cucumbers. But by the time we finished the bamboo dish, I felt like I had found a new go-to spice as essential and unavoidable as garlic. How did I get this far in life without having experienced this, in quite this way, before?
And this is the beauty of an omakase menu – you’ll get things you would never think to ask for or pick from a list of options. The pickled gourd that adorns our plate of perfectly-cooked beef has to pickle for two years before it can be served, and one’s first reaction might be to say “sounds like a lot of fuss for a bloody condiment!” Then, you bite into that beef, with that gourd on top of it, and it’s undeniable – yes, this was the right thing to go with it, two years appears to be the right time to have pickled it, neither more nor less. There is nothing else you would ask for in its place. With every one of these unexpected but pleasing touches, Shibumi induces surrender to its uncompromising vision.
But while the preparations are precise and sometimes complex, the desired effect is serenity, with the satisfied smile of the diner who has just felt some unpleasant part of life melt away in a drizzle of pickled plum irizake atop a delicate slice of sea bream sashimi. We’ve had miso soup with tofu floating in it for so long, how has no one ever thought to replace the tofu with an egg custard before? It liquefies in the mouth under the slightest pressure, and gives a new, satisfying makeover to a classic.
When we are presented with a Raindrop Cake for dessert–a large, transparent circular jelly adorned with soybean powder and black sugar sauce–I have to laugh out loud. It is the trippiest, most whimsical thing I think I have ever been served in a restaurant. Digging in, making sure to get all the components in a single bite, it comes through–this IS exactly what a raindrop would taste like if you could bottle it up and put it on a plate. It’s adorable, high-concept, perfectly executed, and it works–a light, refreshing, not-too-sweet conclusion to a meal that has built up in intensity over considerable time. It is like being served something out of a dream.
If you’re prepared to bring a sense of adventure to dinner, and place yourself firmly in the hands of a chef with a singular vision, in the hopes of ending up in a place you haven’t been, this is currently one of your best options in town. Book a seat now, and do sit at the bar, a magnificent piece of wood transported here from New Orleans. Japanese Kappo-style dining invites interaction between the customers and the chef, and it’s a pleasure to get into things here.