The original Hamasaku restaurant opened a dozen years ago in a West LA strip mall, and soon became popular with Hollywood power brokers and celebrities, naming sushi rolls for regulars like Robert Pattinson and Christina Aguilera.
So, it seemed a bit surprising that owner Mike Ovitz chose The Point in sleepy El Segundo for its second location. The restaurant took over the space recently abandoned by the Shophouse, and christened it Umi by Hamasaku.
It becomes less surprising when you learn that their wildly inventive and talented chef, Yoya Takahashi, was chef de cuisine at Sashi in Manhattan Beach. Those of you who remember Sashi as fondly as I do will be happy to know that, in the intervening years, Yoya has only gotten better.
Umi by Hamasaku features high quality, sustainable seafood, traditional and modern izakaya; various sushi preparations; and a $50 omakase that includes a starter, two sashimi, ten pieces of nigiri and a handroll.
The dining room is lovely and light; a dozen or so blonde wood tables with clean spare lines, an open kitchen and a small raw bar. I dined on a Sunday evening, and the restaurant was full without feeling overcrowded. There were several couples, but also two large families with small children. I'm not sure if it's the lovely fabric banners suspended from the ceiling that buffer the sound, but it was nice to dine in a room where I could enjoy a conversation without shouting.
The restaurant serves a selection of Japanese beers, sakes and a few wines by the glass, but I opted for the house yuzu lemonade, a not-too-sweet drink with a refreshing lemon-tangerine flavor.
We started with a selection from the raw bar including a few plump oysters, some excellent firm, red shrimp and a New Zealand Cloudy Bay Clam, thick and fleshy and somewhat intimidating in size. But I found the flavor salty and briny, well complemented by a couple drops of their daikon vinaigrette.
Next up was the Japanese Caesar salad, which cleverly mimics some of the flavors of a traditional Caesar, with none of the same ingredients. The crunch here comes from frisee lettuce and slivers of cucumbers and purple radish, while the croutons are not croutons at all, but warm silky squares of tofu. The salt and umami of the dressing is achieved with bonito—a dried, fermented, smoked tuna. A few tomatoes for tang and avocado for creamy balance and it was easy to see why this dish has quickly become a South Bay favorite.
Two of the most popular izakaya dishes arrived next, in sizes perfect for sharing. The spicy tuna crispy rice here is not the tired mainstay you find on every Japanese menu, but a clever build-your-own deconstruct. The crispy rice is formed and fried into a playful pile of 'tots,' served side-by-side with a spicy Hawaiian tuna you add yourself—a little or a lot.
The other was a roasted cauliflower, bite-size and al dente, topped with what I first thought was a pink sauce, but on closer examination was crème fraiche with almost microscopic dots of red mentaiko, (salted cod roe).
Finally we finished up with a selection of four nigiri: salmon, tuna, halibut and barracuda. Generous portions, perfectly cut, on a bed of rice that held together without being gummy. All were outstanding quality, but the revelation here was the barracuda, which was something new to me. Chef Yoya torches the skin (it is served skin on) before serving, imparting a warm smokiness. It put a smile on my face, just like the tiny smile tattoo Chef Yoya sports on his hand, just above his thumb.
Umi by Hamasaku at The Point is located at 860 S Sepulveda, El Segundo; open lunch and dinner daily. For more information call (310) 524-9980 or visit UmibyHamasaku.com.