Friday, October 26, 2012

Starring Sushi of West Hollywood at Ari-Ya, UMAI

Albacore Jungle with Sauteed Onion, Jalapeno, Garlic
Baby Lobster Special Roll
Baked Crab Hand Roll
Rock Shrimp and Eggplant Appetizer

Featuring Two of West Hollywood's Best Sushi Bars

In the heart of West Hollywood, two particularly fabulous sushi bars known as Ari-Ya and UMAI practically host their own Halloween parties every year. And each year, as all the fun-loving freaks and colorful characters come out of the woodwork in droves for the spooky season’s festivities, these two establishments—located on Santa Monica Boulevard, which gets shut down for the annual Halloween street party—overflow with such convivial carousing and creative costumes, you feel for a second as though it’s almost too crazy…even by West Hollywood standards.

Although their menus may be altered on this specific holiday night for the sake of efficiency, on regular days, the sashimi plate known as the “Albacore Jungle”—piled high with sautéed onion, jalapeno and garlic—can be requested at Ari-Ya for $16. A chef tells me another popular dish is their $16 Baby Lobster Special, which is a spicy tuna roll covered with langostino and then drizzled with sweet eel sauce and laden with green onions on top.

Ari-Ya offers a baked crab hand roll for $7 that’s simply to die for: one bite and you are suddenly able to come to terms with all that’s wrong with L.A.—the traffic, the congestion, the cost of living—because at this very moment, as the spicy creamy mayonnaise, avocado and fresh real crab melt in your mouth, the perfectly seasoned sushi rice harmoniously coalescing with the soy paper, it dawns on you that this is one of the things that is just right about living in the Southland: being close to food like this.

Just for fun (and when is it not for fun in WeHo?), you have a choice between the Superman Burrito and the Tempura Burrito, both wrapped with soy paper and containing a base of sushi rice and avocado. (I am informed by the chef that the Superman version is more popular, as it contains spicy tuna and baby lobster, whereas the Tempura Burrito has shrimp tempura, asparagus and imitation crab).

If you happen to stop by during lunch, the “kitchen special” menu may catch your eye—appetite-satiating portions are served at reasonable prices starting at $9.99, and the choices range from black cod misoyaki to grilled albacore steak, all served with miso soup and salad. For $4 more, you even have the option to add mixed tempura or a sushi roll (the standard spicy tuna, California, or Shrimp Tempura roll; or perhaps the mysterious-sounding one called the Crunch Ari-Ya).

For those curious to try an unusual appetizer at Ari-Ya (and don’t mind a hot dish and an inundation of spicy mayo—which I don’t), I recommend the Rock Shrimp and Eggplant special, which is as tasty as it is unprecedented (at least I’ve never stumbled upon such an unusual marrying of ingredients thus far in my Japanese restaurant journeys).

8730 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

Note: As of 2014, Ari-Ya has been replaced by a sushi restaurant called NORI

In the Spirit of Halloween: UMAI of WeHo

UMAI of West Hollywood
Picasso Roll
Inazuma Roll
Albacore Extreme Sashimi
Seared Salmon Sushi with Salmon Eggs and Shiso

UMAI Sushi of West Hollywood

Less than half a mile away, UMAI features even funkier creations such as the Picasso Roll, a deep-fried roll without rice, meaning the spicy tuna, salmon, snow crab and grilled asparagus inside are wrapped directly with seaweed and then lightly tempura-fried. For years, the entire concoction was presented on top of vividly colorful sauces made of citrus, bell pepper and jalapeno; I heard that these days, eel sauce and ponzu sauce have at times been the substitute (and yes I wholeheartedly support that we Picasso Roll fans clamor to get our tricolored sauces back).

The Inazuma Roll, for $16.50, is another one of my old favorites at this joint, frankly because I’m a huge fan of the toppings: slivers of multicolored bell peppers mixed with red onions and a thick, zesty ginger sauce. The roll itself is a seared tuna-topped monstrosity, with spicy shrimp and avocado tucked inside. It’s headily indulgent as well as healthy: a rare combination.

If you dig albacore served sashimi-style, why not go for the Albacore Extreme for $17? For a seared fish dish can seldom go wrong when it’s smothered with crispy fried onions, roasted garlic and sesame ponzu sauce.

Another winner (I special-requested this off-the-menu version): the seared salmon sushi with sesame sauce, garlic ponzu and eel sauce, upon which glistening ikura sit, adhered by sticky dollops of Japanese mayonnaise. At first glance, the green bits sprinkled on top may appear to be chopped green onion, but they’re actually minced shiso, which lends a refreshing contrast to the rest of the roll’s flavors.

With extensive outdoor seating and holiday-appropriate décor already set up at UMAI, it’s easy to see this haunt is getting well-prepared for one of its busiest party nightsas it is, after all, a WeHo Halloween tradition.

8935 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood