Although not exactly a formal dining establishment, Yanagi is certainly a more upscale alternative to the fast food-style “Rice Things” Japanese dive just across the street, where one can pick up simple rolls of pickled radish or gourd for just $2.99, or sushi combinations served with miso soup that start at $7.99.
The menu at Yanagi is fancier than that, and while its wall menu boasts traditional sushi fare such as toro, blue fin and uni, there are also a few surprises, such as furikake popcorn shrimp for $11 (six curly pieces of shrimp tempura slathered with a sweet mayonnaise sauce and dusted with seasoned seaweed bits known as furikake), and albacore sashimi with crispy onions for $14.
I notice the chef preparing salmon sushi laden with avocado and shaved bonito, and my mind flashes back to something similar I once saw at Koi Restaurant in Seal Beach. It was exactly that, salmon sushi with avocado and shaved bonito, only Koi had added white onions to it as well. (I’ve met picky sushi snobs who will only eat salmon sushi with chopped raw white onions.) I ask Yanagi's chef if he has white onions in his sushi station and am told he only has red onions. “Even better,” I say (I personally prefer red onions anyway). Then I request that ponzu sauce be added to all of this and suddenly feel very much like a picky snob myself.
Other types of sushi may be ordered: “spicy garlic tuna tataki” or “spicy garlic albacore” ($4.50 to $5 for two pieces), although in my opinion there was no spiciness at all, only a garlicky essence mixed with ponzu sauce.
The owner suggests I try the “Warm Springs” roll, an unconventional six-piece hunger-squelcher for $12.50, which features the uncommon yet delightful rice paper as a wrap, the gooey, slippery alternative to soy paper and seaweed. “Warm Springs” encases spicy tuna, imitation crab, soft shell crab, avocado, and shrimp tempura in its translucent folds, and after it is placed on puddles of spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce, it gets sprinkled with furikake as well. And why not? It’s a medley of color and flavor as it is, although after this saccharine, syrupy overload, you’re bound to want to skip dessert. Yet the desserts here, too, sound tempting: you can choose from green tea cheesecake or the ever-unusual fried plum wine ice cream.
Yanagi Japanese Bistro
2400 Artesia Blvd., Redondo Beach