Sunday, February 26, 2012

As Real as it Gets

Forget the lobster rolls most sushi restaurants extoll: this is the real thing.

For a tiny hole-in-the-wall with low visibility from the street and odd signage (the marquee simply reads “SUSHI” followed by the names of adjacent businesses “Mom & Me Spa” & “So Cal Co-op”), Tarzana’s Mon Restaurant—not to be confused with sushi train chain Sushi Mon—serves the best lobster, pure and true.

Sweet, juicy chunks of lobster claw meat peek out from a triangular projection of soy paper, flavored with sautéed garlic, trickling with ponzu sauce and oozing with spicy mayonnaise. Everything is then complemented by fresh avocado, flavorful smelt eggs and the ever-requisite spears of cucumber.

I am delighted that such an amazing hand roll, which is listed on their board menu as the “Sautéed Garlic Lobster Hand Roll” costs only $12. Not only is it the undisputed king of crustaceans, but there is plenty of meat—the owner doesn’t exactly serve it sparingly.

“I only use real lobster,” said owner Yuji Keimi with a grin, adding that many of his customers have praised him for using the real thing (too many sushi bars these days serve langostino as an alternative, which isn’t classified as a true lobster and grows no longer than three inches in length). Yuji currently offers East Coast lobster even though he actually prefers to serve Pacific lobster, which he explains is a seasonal catch.

Yuji is smart; he knows the sushi wars on Ventura Boulevard are fierce. On Mondays, Mon Restaurant even offers all-you-can-eat sushi at the bar ($25 for lunch and $32 for dinner). I want to tell him he has nothing to worry about; plenty of other places on this famous thoroughfare offer such specials but his food is so high-quality, he easily outshines his competition. But I still plead with him: Please don’t ever change this lobster roll. I revealed that a particular restaurant I used to frequent in Long Beach has taken the cheap route and what used to be a high-end lobster roll is now a deflated, sorry version of its old self—it appears to have been cut with something less expensive, like imitation crab. The bulging chunks of lobster have disappeared, and what’s left appears to be and tastes like a California Roll.

Another unique one at Mon Restaurant: the spicy baby octopus hand roll. With a filling of lettuce, spicy mayonnaise and chili oil, this hand roll literally has cutesy mini octopi tumbling out once it’s placed on a plate. The chewy critters with their little heads still attached (squeamish Americans beware!) are just slightly crispy, their tiny tentacles an integral part of the texture.

On a Saturday night, owner Yuji can be seen presiding over the sushi counter, whipping up items ordered off the menus as well as innumerable special requests—one sushi connoisseur demanded a tekka maki with chili oil, right after expounding the reasons he prefers his octopus “thinly sliced, with sea salt.” For the less experienced sushi-goers, Yuki offers fun Americanized rolls with names such as the "Lady Go-Go" roll and "Fabio" hand roll.

Open 7 days a week, this lantern-filled sushi haven has been owned by Yuji for nine years, and from what it looks like, there is plenty of prosperity yet to come.

Mon Restaurant
19463 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana

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