I had dismissed Mikomi, a sushi bar in Monrovia, as a
generic, run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant catering to small townsfolk.
Nestled among quaint shops, cafes and a movie theater, Mikomi seems understated
in appearance, an afterthought, a place where people go for simple sushi rolls.
For a time—dare I admit?—even I stopped by to grab the basic stuff while on the
go: spicy scallop rolls, spicy tuna maki, vegetable rolls (Mikomi actually makes
a pretty decent version of the latter).
But this time, something on the Specials menu on the wall caught my eye. Written in neon marker
were the words “Ghost Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll,” followed by the descriptive part
“…with ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia), $12.”
For the Bhut Jolokia (also known as the ghost pepper, or one
of the hottest chili peppers in the world) to be included in a sushi roll is
rare; Mikomi is now officially the second sushi bar I have come across that
features this fiery ingredient—perhaps it’s becoming a trend.
Ever the curious pain enthusiast, I asked the waitress if
this Ghost Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll overwhelms the majority of those who try it,
and she replied that they can make a mild version of it for me, as if I were
truly daunted. That really wasn’t what I wanted. Did it mean, then, that I wanted
I decided to play with fieriness and order the Ghostly
special, recalling a certain incident at another sushi bar in which the
ghost-pepper-infused roll was so flaming hot, I’d had to spit it out—but something told me this one was going to be less intense, perhaps because unlike
the other restaurant, this place did not provide a latex glove for effect, nor
a waiver for me to sign away my right to sue them in the unfortunate event that I
ended up with damaged internal organs.
Turns out, it was delightful. Not as painful as I’d
expected. The Ghost Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll was indeed spicy and crunchy, with
its shrimp tempura and spicy tuna mixed with a dark brown chili sauce which,
according to the chef, comprises various chilis including the infamous ghost
pepper, and slivers of white onions and a single stick of yamagobo inside that
I would have preferred more of, rather than the multitude of cucumbers which
filled out the rest of the roll. I asked the chef for more white onions—another
rare ingredient in sushi rolls; usually it’s chopped green onions or thinly
sliced red onions—and he provided a heap of diced white ones on a plate. Fried
tempura bits cover this roll, making it even crunchier.
In Mikomi’s menu, an entire list of Tempura Rolls can be found—including
the Thai Coconut Shrimp Roll, or the Fire Cracker Roll. If you’re not into the
deep-fried choices, then Baked Rolls can also be selected. From the Donburi
section, choose from Unagi Donburi, Salmon/Ikura Donburi, or the proverbial
Chirashi, the tried-but-true assortment of fish on a bed of sushi rice.
But if you really want something not so traditional, how
about the appetizer called Secret Pleasure, for $12.95? Now if mounds of spicy tuna
mixed with tomatoes, drizzled with eel sauce, dusted with tempura bits and served
on deep-fried wonton chips isn’t pleasure, then what is?
The neon-lit, over-the-top jukebox
entryway practically says it all: this is no ordinary sushi bar…it’s a loud,
rowdy and rockin’ restaurant that some might call obnoxious; most consider it
fun. Love it or hate it, this sushi bar has been a hip and happening hangout
with a party atmosphere since 1986.
Welcome to Tokyo Delve’s of
North Hollywood, a long-standing landmark on Lankershim Boulevard, where loud
noise is the norm and drunken debauchery never seems to stop. As soon as you
walk in, you are greeted by the staff with an almost overzealous welcome.
The in-house DJ and manager
leads the raucous revelry with a microphone: “When I say Sake, you say Bomb!...Sake!” And the crowd shouts out “Bomb!” in unison. This is repeated a few
times before carousers finally pound the tables with their fists, not letting
up until those mini shot glasses of sake drop into their beer glasses from a
precarious perch of chopsticks—the customary Sake Bomb move. Then they practically
douse themselves with the famous clear liquid of fermented rice.
If you want more easy access
and a munificent flow of alcohol, why not indulge in the one-gallon keg of beer
that gets placed on your table for $35.99? Other choices include sake cocktails
such as Banzai Melon, Tsunami, even Lemon Beer. The atmosphere is so chock-full
of merriment, you’re tempted to experiment with as many of these colorful
concoctions as possible, and just worry about their effect the next morning.
Although Tokyo Delve’s features
a sushi bar, its ample dining area is perfectly suited for big parties,
especially those celebrating an occasion, be it a birthday or bachelor’s party.
Don’t be surprised to see patrons start dancing on chairs here. At this party
sushi bar, buffoonery is encouraged, music—from ‘80s pop and rock to trance—never
stops pumping from the speakers, and throngs of people don’t seem to cease
pouring in, some of them already draped with feather boas and sashes, or
bedecked in rhinestone-encrusted tiaras, depending on the nature of the
celebration. On weekend nights, expect
crazy crowds and even wilder chaos, forewarns the waiter and host, who also
dances with the patrons and leads the clapping and mad moves.
For a restaurant that scores
so high for its entertainment value, most want to ask, What about the food?
Well, the Americanized menu
here isn’t just fun, it’s actually quite simple to understand with its glossy pages of
photos, and the prices are reasonable for the most part. There’s the serpentine roll known as The Dragon Roll, made to look dragonlike with eyes consisting of octopus tentacle-suckers and
pointy, plastic green foliage. The eel sauce on it is sweet, as most would agree
is how Americans like it; the selling point on this one, in my opinion, is that
the crab inside is decidedly real (despite all the hijinks, they take their no-fake-crab
policy quite seriously).
A personal favorite of mine
is the Dynamite Roll, which is made to look just like a stick of dynamite, with a
piece of yamagobo sticking out to resemble the fuse. It’s rolled in yellow
soy paper and is fully packed with pan-fried scallops and mushrooms, as well as
creamy masago-mayonnaise. In the mood for real flames? Try the Fire Ball for only $8.50, an
appetizer with spicy salmon and avocado wrapped in red snapper, and then seared with ponzu and spicy sauce on top. It’s an undulating flame that snuffs out quickly, but one that’s
displayed for effect using a foil liner and a dash of rum—whoosh!—watch as the fire dances on your plate, each flame finger
licking the appetizer bites as if to keep them warm.
Although I’m informed that the
enormous Rock N’ Roll for $12.50 is the most popular roll ordered, perhaps
because jalapenos, spicy sauce, and fried onions smothering shrimp tempura and
albacore sounds very tempting, I opted for the pretty one wrapped in pink soy
paper, the one that’s prettily named the Pink Panther Roll for $6.95. The
four-piece order, named after the fictive feline, rules with its prime ingredient—Atlantic King
Salmon, along with shrimp, avocado and smelt fish eggs. And because I like it creamy, I
ask for a side of their famous masago-mayonnaise in which to dip these half-heart-shaped
bites, more little touches that remind me why I love Tokyo Delve’s.
Delve’s is open from 6 p.m. to midnight every night except Sundays. If you're planning a party at the sushi bar on weekends,
it’s definitely a smart choice to make reservations.
It may have been a cold winter evening, but at a certain
Japanese pub called Izakaya M in Sherman Oaks, what may possibly be the hottest
sushi roll in the world was served last night, rubber glove and waiver
I found it oddly amusing that what appeared to be a rather
upscale izakaya would serve the
irreverently yet humorously titled El
Fuego En El Culo Roll. The warning on the menu said it all: “Only attempt
if you are able to handle extreme pain and heat!” Izakaya M calls it their
spicy challenge, and those who actually complete this two-part dish consisting
of a spicy yellowtail hand roll and a spicy tuna cut roll—both marinated in
their “insanely hot” sauce—are rewarded with a free glass of Sapporo, along
with the $15 cost of the dish being on the house.
According to one of the waiters, only about three out of 10
people ever make it to the finish line; the majority just can’t handle the fuego. One chef claimed he was miserable
for three days after eating it.
Certainly, it must have been my hubris and daring nature
that drove me to try it. After all, I rationalized, unlike most people, I was rather
liberal with my use of hot sauces; I had a generally higher tolerance of
spiciness than most. How bad could it be?
Upon ordering the ultimate challenge at the sushi bar, the
chef handed me a waiver that I had to actually sign—agreeing to relinquish the
restaurant of any injury, pain or burning sensations this dish may cause.
Despite the admonishment that even breathing problems may occur as a result of
the combination of the habanero, Thai chili peppers and ghost peppers mixed
into the sauce (ghost peppers are currently the hottest chili peppers that are
commercially available), I remained undaunted—and still curious enough to go
for it. I did ask the chef, however, if the waiver was drawn up for effect, or
if it was so that I actually couldn’t sue the restaurant afterwards
for bodily harm.
“Yes,” he replied curtly to the latter. And then I signed
It didn’t appear that insidious: the chopped yellowtail inside
the hand roll looked marinated, for sure, in a bloody-looking sauce, but looks
can be deceiving, as they say. While onlookers sitting next to me at the sushi
bar anticipated my reaction (one man claimed he’s been contemplating that challenge himself for several months, so he couldn’t wait to see the expression on my
face), I donned the rubber glove that was served with the roll and proceeded to take a bite…a small one. (I’ve
learned, over time, that while risk-taking can still be fun, it’s smarter to
take calculated risks. So for a moment, I brushed aside my ego, but I bit just
enough of that roll to enjoy the entertainment value of what I was doing,
knowing it would burn me on some level.)
If my audience had been seeking that same level of
entertainment in my reaction, they weren’t disappointed: I took one bite of
that hand roll, chewed it a few times, made a face, shook my head and then spat it right back out on the plate, ever the dramatic diva. The burn had
started numbing my entire mouth, and I was thankful I didn’t swallow the stuff;
for the next 10 minutes or so, I was quaffing ice water to relieve the
pain, which had made its way to my eyes, and I cried tears that smeared my eye
makeup. The chef handed me a ball of mochi ice cream to quell the fire, the
burn, the burn…and that icy cream
puff somewhat helped; it certainly was more effective than the water. My body began to shudder after the burn finally faded, and I realized it was a
natural reaction to too much ice water being taken in at once.
The man who had once contemplated taking on El Fuego thanked me for convincing him not to ever try this dish,
although he did commend me for my shot at it. “You are the bravest woman I’ve
ever met in my entire life…I take my hat off to you,” he said between peals of
laughter at my antics.
For those not brazen (nor masochistic) enough to set their
mouths ablaze, Izakaya M also has normal dishes
that are still worth trying. Although…is a Tuna Truffle Oil Pizza served on a
tortilla base normal?
And then there is also the beef tataki with ponzu sauce and
yuzu kosho, which is outstanding. On weekend nights, you will most likely find
the live stuff—fresh sea urchin, oysters, giant clams, even conch.
But for those not into sushi at an izakaya, the ones who just want casual snack food to accompany
their alcohol after work, there is a robata grill from which items like
skewered chicken livers and hearts emerge. Or how about cow tongue on a stick
for $4? For a most unusual crispy treat, how about the deep-fried miniature
octopi appetizer called E.T. Dippers? The chef explained that this dish was named after extraterrestrials because that’s what the little creatures resemble. I
thought it was aptly titled. The fun part is dipping them in the martian-hued
Clearly, the owner (who also owns the restaurant chain
called Midori Sushi, hence the M in the name of this establishment) has a sense