99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Shunji

photo by Danny Liao

The first thing people will tell you about Shunji is that it’s in a building strange even by this town’s standards, a structure formerly home to a barbecue house, which is supposedly shaped like a chili bowl but looks more like a set designer’s take on a Roswell diner. The second (and more important ) thing is that the unlikely spot is home to some of the best sushi currently available in Los Angeles. Before recalibrating this crazy architecture, Shunji Nakao had amassed a pretty amazing fish resume: He was an opening chef at Nobu’s first restaurant, Matsuhisa, and was the founder of Asanebo in Studio City. At Shunji, Nakao’s food centers around neither the Peruvian-inflected menu of the former nor the sashimi-focused menu of the latter, instead locating things around omakase. Some of this is a purist’s sushi, but some is also beautifully vegetable-focused, with occasional odes to tomatoes and mountain yam and Japanese squash. If the intensity of a dinner’s multivalenced procession of dishes is overwhelming, try lunch, when Shunji offers simpler options, which are crazy bargains if you think about what you’re getting. An enormous lobe of uni, perhaps, perched atop a tiny tower of perfectly articulated rice, a strip of nori like a debutante’s sash. Brilliant in any location.

-- Amy Scattergood