Monday, July 22, 2013

Go fish

Click all photos to "embiggen"
Go San, the itamae and sole proprietor at Go's Mart, places before you a dish with an array of perfect sashimi.

"Beautiful," you say. "So, tell me what this is."

"Fish!" he exclaims, and laughs uproariously.

A moment later, he relents and tells you that this dish compares two different fish - ishi tai, or rock snapper, its pale almost translucent flesh lightly blushed with color, and hirame kobujime, or kelp halibut. Overlaid with a sliver of black truffle, a shaving of yuzu zest, a shred of green scallion and a dab of green chile, each piece was meltingly good, popping with the flavors of the seasonings. I love halibut, but here the snapper was my favorite, with a sweetness that lingered on the palate.

Go's Mart is that thing of legend, a "hole-in-the-wall" treasure; a drab little place wedged between a massage parlor and a Papa John's pizza joint in Canoga Park. At the back of the little store, which sells soda and rents Japanese videos, is a reefer case flanked by a short, eight-stool sushi bar. Yet it's a magnet for gourmets. On July 10, Go's Mart was listed as one of Jonathan Gold's twelve favorite sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, and earlier this year it was among the LA Weekly's list of 99 essential restaurants. 

If you look at it from the front, it's hard to know why. If you go in, sit down and eat, it's obvious.

When my son and I first came in, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, Go San plunked a little bowl in front of us with something green in it. "Use the soy sauce," he said, pointing to the little ceramic jug. It was an amuse-gueule of Chinese broccoli with bonito flakes and sesame, pressed together so that we had to tease it apart with our chopsticks, letting the bitter greens sop up the sauce and then linger on our tongues. We sipped Sapporo beer from icy cold ceramic mugs, and waited in anticipation for what was to come next.

Click to "embiggen"
The whitefish sashimi was followed by an extraordinary offering I can only describe as a "flight" of tuna sashimi. From right to left in the photo, from lean to luscious, blue-fin tuna, baby toro, chu-toro (or belly tuna) and finally, o-toro, the fattiest, most unctuous tuna, here garnished with daikon threads and a sprinkling of real gold leaf.

Doused in a bit of soy, each bite was fantastic, and the progression from super-lean with its garlic chip and snip of chive, to the meltingly soft and swoon-inducing o-toro was a wonderful journey to embark upon.

Go San seems to like this idea, to serve a succession of bites of fish that are similar and yet variations, so that you can taste the subtle differences.

Next we had an assortment of nigiri-sushi, all whitefish, starting with red snapper, then John Dory, butterfish and snapper. Each with a slightly different garnish to bring out its character.

Go San's nigiri are compact, and I like them that way because it's easy to eat them in one bite, as traditional etiquette dictates. Many Los Angeles sushi bars serve huge nigiri that I have to bite in half to manage, but Go San's are just the right size.

This was followed with an assortment of shellfish. From upper right to lower left, pink sea scallop, king crab legs, seared blue shrimp, and what Go San called "Santa Barbara peanut butter."

"What?" - oh, of course. Uni, or sea urchin. Not to everyone's taste, sea urchin is a soft-textured morsel that tastes elementally of the sea itself.

The deep-fried head of the shrimp was served separately, with some soy and shredded daikon. You could crunch it right up.

By this time, we were feeling happy. Go San had another treat in store.

Fresh ikura, or salmon roe, served in a small dish with a bit of soy and sesame, to spoon up. The little amber fish eggs glowed like wee cabochon jewels, and popped gently in my mouth, releasing salty-fishy fluid. My son said that it was like the most skillful of modern "molecular" cuisine in feel - only it was completely natural!

This was the end for me, completely satisfied, but my son went for one more bite - ankimo, or monkfish liver, which is first steamed before being sliced for sushi.

Go San has been here for over 16 years, quietly serving up some of the freshest and most skillfully composed sushi in Los Angeles.

It's not for everyone. Go San can be quirky with his wry sense of humor. The decor is non-existent - let alone uninspired. The prices are astronomical - as justifiable as they'd be at any great itamae's place, but some people would prefer getting a finer ambiance for their money.

Me, I just like knowing what mastery lies hidden behind a nondescript storefront in Canoga Park.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Wow, that looks incredible.

"Unctuous Tuna" - Band name!

smalltownme said...

I love the idea of sushi flights.