Wakasan showcases "Japanese charcoal cuisine" in Westwood.
This omakase-only Westwood izakaya offers an intimate dining experience with nearly unheard-of value and variety. Not every dish worked, but considering Wakasan (the owner) displays a constant desire to offer diners a fresh experience, he deserves a little leeway. Not that he needs much.
Chef Wakasan changes his menu nightly, based on market finds. No matter what Wakasan discovers, the meal costs $35 for 12 courses. Diners have no say in what they receive, but based on the capacity crowd and Wakasan’s distaste for stasis, it shows no sign of slowing in its fourth year.
Bean sprout and scallion salad was a simple palate cleanser interspersed with julienne carrots and sesame seeds.
Strands of hijiki (marinated seaweed) were tossed with julienned carrot, firm soybean curds and tiny nuggets of chicken to form a winning salad.
Wakasan’s sashimi plate was a highlight. From left to right, we received a firm cut of striped jack laid over briny marinated mackerel, three slices of seared skipjack crowned with grated ginger and silky sea scallop accented by a sliver of lemon.
A roasted yellowtail fillet was dry, but featured crisp skin and came with a compelling snowman-shaped pickled gourd.
Unripened tomato slices slathered with peppery ponzu gelée was the most avant-garde course, and the least effective,.
Steamed King crab leg was pre-cracked, which allowed for easy chopstick plucking. The nuggets of cool, sweet crab were simple but satisfying.
We each received a simmered tofu cube, a glutinous spotted purple yam cake triangle and a daikon radish slab, all blanketed with sweet miso. This dish was interesting but ultimately unsatisfying, and it was primarily due to the texture.
Sweet shrimp were expertly fried, featuring crisp sheathes and a drizzle of tonkatsu sauce. The plate also sported DIY cole slaw, including a pile of shredded cabbage, rich yellow mayo and a lemon wedge.
The ramekin of chawan mushi contained egg whites steamed in dashi. Beneath the surface, I found slices of pink-rimmed fish cake, a nugget of dark meat chicken, bay shrimp, a cut of mushroom cap and a single ginkgo nut, which was like a yellow garbanzo bean.
Murky miso soup contained spongy rectangles of fried tofu and tiny mushrooms (nameko), each less than a centimeter across.
The final savory course was a showstopper, steamed white rice topped with sections of creamy uni, explosively salty salmon roe and minced tuna.
To finish, we each drank a hot cup of black tea and a scoop of cool red bean ice cream.
After 12 courses, my tablemates were buzzing about all the different facets of the meal. Each course was seemingly simple, but the overall effect was layered and varied. Wakasan also managed to build an experience that transcended the individual components. Salads gave way to seafood, which crescendoed until the uni-salmon roe-tuna dish. Wakasan proved to be a conductor, and all eight people at the table (myself included) were interested in returning for a future performance.