Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gettin' Creative with Sushi...

“What’s so creative about your sushi?” It was a question I had actually asked over the phone back in 1997, when I first discovered the Santa Monica restaurant. Its name, after all, was Creative Sushi.

The waitress had no idea what I was asking, and after much drivel, I thought I’d better just go and find out for myself.

Back then I was still a fairly new inductee to the world of sushi, so the rolls there were some of the most creative I had ever seen up until that point: Calamari Tempura Roll, Crab-Wrapped Cucumber Roll with Ponzu Sauce, Asparagus Special Roll with Avocado Sauce….

Nine years have passed since my last visit to the artsy beach city sushi bar, but I never forgot that avocado sauce. Today I still love that chunky verdant dip rendered of avocados and mystery ingredients undivulged by Masa, the Japanese sushi chef behind all the inventive flavors.

“That is top secret,” he chuckled when I asked him to reveal the method to the mixture. “I cannot tell you or you will make it yourself.”

Why do they always think that?

I took in the ambience, still in shock that so much time had gone by. The restaurant still looked the same—funky décor and nature motif in the dining area; kitschy knickkancks behind the sushi bar; fish-themed artistic doodles by customers and autographed photos of celebrities hanging from the wall; and of course, chef Masa, who was still there and looked like he had hardly aged at all. The photo-album-style menu, as I remembered it, contained pictures of most of the dishes, next to their names and prices. (The prices were notably higher since my last visit—but hey, it’s been almost a decade.)

I ordered the Asparagus Special Roll with Avocado Sauce for $14 straight away. Unless you stare carefully at the photo of the roll, or ask questions, you may not learn until it is in front of you that it is actually a roll with asparagus and real crab on the inside, with avocado and masago on the outside. The sauce brings this roll to life; it is tart and tangy and just a tad salty, as if a smidgeon of soy sauce is part of its secret.

From a small board menu that sits on the bar, I ordered yellowtail sushi with “jalapeno lemon sauce” for $6.50, along with tuna sushi with “garlic black pepper” for $5.50. The fish was fresh in my book; the jalapeno lemon sauce is really more lemony than spicy, while the garlic flavor trumps the black pepper essence on the tuna nigiri.

The Spicy Shrimp Boat for $14 will leave an impression long after your meal, and not just because of its chili oil aftertaste. Devoid of rice and seaweed, this unconventional dish of four capsized shrimp—with their cargo of real crab mixed with a spicy creamy mayonnaise sauce and chili oil, green onions and masago—is one of my favorites.

One particularly interesting dish, known simply as “Creative Sushi,” is actually a plate of “box” sushi, usually shaped with a special rectangular mold that presses the rice and fish together into a block before it is sliced into smaller rectangular pieces. This self-titled special, which consists of a mid-layer of nori and a top-layer of tuna, salmon and yellowtail demarcated by cucumber bits, comes with a soupy sweet dressing—sort of like a creamy eel sauce. Both regular and wasabi-flavored masago speckle the rice, which add more flavor as well.

I told Masa I’d be back again soon…“It won’t be another nine years,” I promised.

Creative Sushi
2518 Main St. Santa Monica
(310) 581-9753

Note: Creative Sushi has closed down

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