Shunji's Whim

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 shunji-ns.com

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    Our first course was jellyfish salad with cucumber, radish and scallions.

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    Barely cooked vegetables--yellow squash, lotus root, purple carrot, okra, turnip, sweet potato, burdock root, green bean and orange carrot--served cold.

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    The cold, gazpacho-like tomato soup was full of warm grilled shrimp and shaved frozen foie gras.

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    A duo of seared kanpachi and octopus salad with roasted sweet peppers and cucumber, garnished with arugula flowers.

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    Tuna tataki with spicy radish, scallions, raw garlic and ponzu sauce.

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    Raw squid and uni dressed in squid ink and black truffle--the ultimate surf-and-turf. Nakao suggests tasting the seafood on its own first, then mixing in the raw quail egg.

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    Hama Hama oysters are fried in a seaweed-speckled tempura batter.

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    The last cooked dish was a tender piece of poached cod served in broth with enoki mushrooms and greens. Three sushi preparations followed, concluding the meal.

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Shunji 12244 Pico Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90064 310-826-4737

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