Friday, September 7, 2012

Cheers at Kanpai Japanese Sushi Bar & Grill

Fruity Albacore Sashimi
Seared Sorbet Tuna Sushi
Japanese Glass Shrimp Sushi
Japanese Scallop Sashimi with Truffle Citrus Sauce
White Fish Sushi with Black Summer Truffle
Sweet Shrimp Sushi

Kanpai!!! at Kanpai on Lincoln Boulevard

I love sushi bars. But particularly, I am fond of sushi bars that offer daily menus on sheets of paper marked with the date along with the title “Today’s Specials.” Restaurants like these give an impression of freshness, of ever-changing variety. Restaurants like these tend to cater to discerning tastes and are, therefore, a bit on the high end in price, but well worth the splurge.

Kanpai Japanese Sushi Bar and Grill of Los Angeles is such a restaurant. Even though it’s been two years since my last visit there and six years since my first tasting, Kanpai’s mercurial menu continues to amaze me. Although many of the same fancy ingredients recur, such as truffles, kombu, caviar, yuzu, and that dark brown dressing that the chef calls their “special soy sauce,” it is their seafood selection that I find really impressive.

From spotted sardine to baby yellowtail, orange clam to pike and Japanese glass shrimp, Kanpai carries breeds of fish that in most sushi restaurants are practically unheard of.

Yet for an upscale dining locale, Kanpai shows that it also has a casual and fun side, with menu items like the Sushi Pizza, and the LMU Roll (named after the nearby Loyola Marymount College) which has deep-fried sweet potato inside and is topped with eel and avocado.

Kanpai, which means Cheers in Japanese, is certainly cheerful on most nights, perhaps because the place serves more than 20 premium sakes from Japan, which most likely contributes to its incredibly boisterous atmosphere. In addition, the joint is open everyday until 1 a.m. 

Although memories of my favorite sushi at Kanpai had not yet faded—halibut with yuzu pepper, snow crab with sesame mayo, salmon with basil sauce—I was more than willing to try some of the new items I had never before seen on their Specials menu: the Fruity Albacore Sashimi for $23 (I learned this dish is fruity because it incorporates figs) and the Seared Sorbet Tuna Sushi for $8 (sweetly seasoned and oddly meaty in appearance). Even the menu dictates that both of these are a Must Try!!!

The menu also declares the Japanese Glass Shrimp sushi is a “rare item in the U.S.A.” With its dubious appearance, this delicacy may taste like shrimp, but its squiggly and soft texture has a strange melt-in-your-mouth effect that suggests something not quite shrimplike.

The Japan Scallop Sashimi with Truffle Citrus Sauce for $18 was some of the freshest scallop I’ve ever had, while the white fish with black summer truffle was inspiring. But nothing could have completed the meal better than good old-fashioned sweet shrimp, whose beheaded state was visible right on the sushi bar—rows of twitching heads and antennules, displayed as a display and as a dare (Do you dare try me?).

For the uninitiated, sweet shrimp is normally served as both sushi and as a crunchy afterthought, with the shrimp bodies laid raw on top of rice nigiri-style, followed by the heads which are deep-fried and presented with ponzu sauce for dipping. At Kanpai, the heads are plated with the sushi in their pre-fried condition as adornment as much as for effect, and then later the server asks, “Did you want to eat the heads?” To this I understandingly nod, knowing he would take them to the fryer.

Personally, it’s my style to masticate as much of the prickly fried heads as I can, but leave the unchewable parts and hardest-to-digest spiky bits behind. Kanpai!

8325 Lincoln Blvd., Los Angeles