Shunji Japanese Fine Dining | West L.A., Los Angeles

Shunji Nakao's latest restaurant

We've become unabashed fans of a welding-shop parking lot in West L.A.

There we parked our car en route to a smashing meal at Shunji, a new restaurant housed in a space that was previously a barbecue joint.

It's an unlikely place to find high-end Japanese food. But once you're settled at the bar and are watching the handsomely gray-haired chef, Shunji Nakao, blowtorching the skin of a pampano fillet, or tossing raw squid and uni with truffle and squid ink, you'll forget the peculiar space and steel yourself for greatness.

There's a menu, but don't pore over it; order the omakase. Dinner runs about $90 a person, which is by no means cheap. But the full experience (click here to see a slide show) is one of the most exciting meals we've had recently.

Both French and Californian cuisines inflect Nakao's contemporary Japanese cooking: An orb of purple yam, topped with dried persimmon, is stuffed with pungent blue cheese, and seared kanpachi is garnished with a sweet sprig of arugula flowers.

Of course, your omakase might be different–but that's part of the thrill.

Shunji, 12244 Pico Blvd., West L.A.; 310-826-4737 or