Sunday, August 3, 2008


Kushiyu, read the sign in a ritzy strip mall on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana. I didn’t know what the word meant. Driving past the plaza, I caught that word in a flash and thought of passing it up. There were other restaurants up ahead I hadn’t yet tried…why turn around? Kushiyu…

Something made me turn around. It was a pain to do so, considering it was rush hour, but I decided to be spontaneous, and curiosity got the best of me. Besides, I thought, the goal is to finish sampling every darn sushi bar on my favorite thoroughfare (known also as Sushi Row), and if this turns out to be one I haven’t yet tried, why not?

From the outside, the restaurant looked deserted—dark windows, with no neon-lit OPEN signs. I parked and walked up to press my face to the window, feeling like a desperate shopaholic waiting for a store to open. Sure enough, from what it looked like on the inside, chefs and waiters were milling about, preparing to start the night shift. One of the workers sat slumped against the sushi bar, his face buried in his arms as he gathered his bearings to begin the work night. I sympathized; the anticipation of long work hours ahead was always taxing, no matter how enjoyable the job tended to be. Getting into work mode requires some emotional transitioning.

Another sign indicated they would not be open for another half hour: it was presently 5 o’clock, and I was not patient. But I had established it contained a sushi bar, and from the trendy, upbeat design of the place, I had a feeling the menu would not disappoint. I could lurk nearby, kill time, stalk my sushi....

At 5:25 I walked into Kushiyu to use their bathroom, just to get in there that much sooner—now the anticipation was unbearable! Finally, I sat down for the long-awaited feast.

As soon as the chef handed over the standard wasabi and ginger on a not-so-standard leaf (I asked if it was banana leaf and he said “no, it’s tea leaf”), I knew I had chosen right when I chose to turn the car around and then wait, however impatiently, for this little sushi gem to open up. I love details. Whether it’s a little rock upon which to rest your chopsticks, or a real flower floating in a glass cup at the sushi counter, fancy flourishes always add a touch of class….

Then there were the menus: not one or two, but five in all if you include the drink list! There was the narrow-slip-of-paper menu (your standard sushi bar checklist); the daily menu that read "Today's Specials," complete with a date in the corner so that you knew they printed a new one everyday; the kushiyaki menu, also on a narrow sheet, featuring all their a la carte skewered meats and veggies; and a formal-looking menu book, which named countless kitchen specials.

With so many choices, I wasn't sure whether to be impressed or a bit confused. But it was hard to keep from going crazy by ordering everything that sounded good.

I decided right away on the “Half-and-Half.” Not only did the item sound interesting: half crab, half spicy tuna with jalapeno-marinated tobiko (flying fish eggs) on crispy rice; but it was reasonably priced at only $4.80 for two pieces.

This unique concoction turned out to be amazing. The chef had added a few ingredients which were not listed in the description, as they tend to sometimes do: resting upon each bite-sized piece were a shiso-leaf (mint leaf), a white bulbous baby onion (pronounced “lakio” in Japanese, according to the chef), and a sliver of red chili pepper. I plucked off the shiso--I loathe mint--but everything else was perfectly palatable, as evidenced by my moaning at the sushi bar (my habit whenever a heavenly morsel meets my tongue). Fortunately, most restaurants are loud enough so that my moans are usually drowned out.

Unlike most sushi restaurants, Kushiyu features a barbecue grill front and center, located smack dab in the middle of their wrap-around sushi bar so that patrons can see and smell the smoke and flames. Skewers of seafood, chicken, mushrooms and vegetables may be ordered from the “Kushiyaki” menu. I consulted the chef, who I imagine by now is secretly growing tired of my endless questions, and he explained that the word "kushi" means “barbecued” in Japanese. I decided to try the double-skewer dish of shiitake mushrooms, which were served with a wedge of lemon that wonderfully enhanced the dish’s grilled taste. I moaned again, this time a little louder.

But a gastrogasm didn't occur until a rendezvous with The Lime Roll, which might as well have been called The Mother of All Sushi Rolls. Salmon and lime lovers watch out: this ingenious combination might have been discovered long ago, but never has it been served like this! Inside the roll sit deep-fried tempura salmon. Wrapped around the top of the roll: layers of avocado, raw salmon slices and pieces of lime (rind included! This is the part that really brings out the lime flavor), all capped off with asparagus bits and salmon eggs. The presentation alone blew me away...the taste made history in my book. At $13.50, this roll seems a bit pricey, but the eight-piece roll is filling and a must-try.

Lastly, I opted for the odd-sounding Seafood Tempura Combination Roll, a dish that involved deep fried shrimp, scallop, salmon and Chilean sea bass rolled in soy paper with spicy mayonnaise and…fruit soy sauce?! That last part of the description confounded me…perhaps it was a misprint. The chef admonished me ahead of time of the extremely fruity taste of this sauce, which only intrigued me further. But I figured at $8.50, the roll wasn’t an expensive experiment, so it was worth a shot. I told the chef I was going for it, explaining I like dishes that are “different,” and he nodded. Fair warning.

Sure enough, the goopy brown sauce which surrounded the roll in a smile-shaped streak was banana-sweet and…something else…I asked my umpteenth question for the ingredients to this “fruit soy sauce” and was informed it was a medley of bananas and something like peaches (the chef was either unsure or reluctant to impart his secret). I assured him I liked the roll, and he smiled accordingly.

I think he knew he’d hooked me: I’d definitely be coming back for more.

Kushiyu is located at 18713 Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana, between the cross streets of Crebs and Yolanda. Their phone number is 818-609-9050.


Anonymous said...

Hi Diva! Are we not supposed to reveal your true identity? I almost typed your first name before thinking wise of it.

This place sounds delicious. I'm not big on the raw bits but the lime roll sounds really good. Honestly I don't think I've ever had tempura salmon. I must try it next time I'm out.

Unknown said...

Oh my God we are going here Lady!