Friday, December 27, 2013

We Welcome Su Viche Sushi Bar in Sylmar

Head Chef Jose Presents the Mexican Roll
Spicy Octopus Hand Roll
Special Hand Roll with Cucumber Wrap
Spaghetti Hand Roll
Sylmar Roll

Mi Viche, Su Viche

Su Viche certainly doesn’t sound like the name of a sushi bar. But as you approach the large edifice located in a strip mall in Sylmar, the smaller words that read “Sushi Bar” on their signage become more visible. Then the raucous crowd inside (it may have been a Friday night, but I’ve heard this place has been jam-packed daily since its grand opening four months ago) begins to cheer while watching the large flat-screens which play football nonstop, their cacophony intermixed with the Mariachi music that issues from overhead speakers.

And then I understood: the name is a play on the words sushi and ceviche, otherwise known as the Latin American dish of raw seafood marinated in citrus juice; perhaps the first part of the restaurant’s name hints at the possessive adjective in Spanish.

Head chef Jose attests to this as he expounds the origins of the restaurant’s name, while chopping and mixing up bits of spicy octopus, which he then presses into a hand roll wrapped in crispy dark green seaweed.

I ask what his favorite item to make is and he graciously explains that it’s not about what he likes…it doesn’t matter what he likes; what matters is that the customer likes the sushi specials he whips up.

Case in point: one of my dinner comrades suggested that Jose draw upon whimsy and create something totally spontaneous. Jose rapidly threw together some random ingredients—hot shrimp tempura and cold spicy tuna laid upon a bed of avocado slices—which he then swirled into a cool wrap of cucumber (no rice in this one!) to be presented on a plate with pride. I pointed at the thing, aghast as I practically said with a whoop: “I’ve never seen a hand roll wrapped in nothing but cucumber before!”

I had seen, of course, cut rolls encased in cucumber wrap, each piece stuck with a decorative toothpick to hold the coarse covering in place; but definitely never a hand roll—and one without rice, to boot. I can never seem to contain my excitement when something new in the sushi sphere—an odd ingredient, any unusual idea—strikes my fancy, for I always think I’ve seen all there is to see….

The sauces here are often a heady effect of multiple combinations—dollops of Sriracha sauce, splashes of ponzu sauce, squirts of eel sauce, chili oil, sesame oil; a sporadic shake of the Shichimi bottle.

The Mexican Roll, for example, is a spicy doozy: it’s a hefty spicy tuna roll covered with spicy imitation crab, Sriracha, jalapenos and cilantro leaves.

Does the Spaghetti Hand Roll actually look like a hand roll filled to the brim with spaghetti? You be the judge as you gaze upon this $5.95 specialty item containing chunks of spicy salmon, strands of imitation crab, spiky cuts of cucumber and sprinkle of green onions.

If you really want to gorge yourself, there’s the All You Can Eat price of $23.99 for lunch, $26.99 for dinner. During this hour, you can order anything from clam sushi to the Spicy Tuna Volcano roll.

Su Viche Sushi Bar (now called Xevichez Sushi Bar)
14117 Hubbard Street, Sylmar

Note: Su Viche Sushi Bar has changed its name to Xevichez Sushi Bar

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sushi Maki: Florida's Tasty Solution to Sustainable Sushi

MSC Cali Ocho Roll 
Chicken and Waffles Roll
Budda-Cane Roll with Sugarcane Soy Sauce
Chili Garlic Edamame

"Delicious Fishes, Positive Vibes & Healthier Lives"

I thought I’d seen it all.

The ingredients in sushi rolls, as I have mentioned in blogs past, often vary by geography—macadamia nuts can be found inside sushi rolls in Hawaii; I have seen chunks of mango served in Rio de Janeiro’s version of the California Roll; in Georgia, I have encountered caramelized Benton’s Bacon Rolls whose smoky rich flavors blew my mind. And let’s not forget Florida’s maki with the obligatory deep-fried alligator tails.

So while I expect to come across the most unprecedented sushi ingredients traveling from place to place, I was nevertheless delighted to discover plantains being used as an ingredient in Sushi Maki’s “MSC Cali Ocho” Roll, dubbed “Miami’s answer to the California Roll.” While the imitation kanikama krab was still present, in place of the standard cucumbers and avocado were plantains, a staple in some tropical parts of the world and often considered a close cousin of the banana. Atop this roll sat smelt fish eggs and “mango and guava ginger puree,” which resulted in pure sweetness in the fruitiest sense for this special dish.

The MSC Cali Ocho Roll is a $7.50 specialty item, and is marked as such with MSC’s blue fish logo (the acronym stands for Marine Stewardship Council, the world’s leading third-party certification and eco-labeling program for sustainable seafood). Sushi Maki is proud to serve sustainably-raised salmon, MSC certified sea bass, kanikama krab and all-natural chicken.

Most Sushi Maki locations feature a certain over-the-top sushi roll called the “Chicken and Waffles Roll,” featuring maple mayo, bacon bits, and crispy chicken fingers. Each bite-size square piece of waffle is tucked between pieces of the cut roll—both practical and elaborate in presentation. According to management, this is actually quite a popular roll, not just because of the novelty but for the taste and combination of such familiar flavors.

There is also a $12 “Budda-Cane” Roll, which is presented in the shape of a fish—or is that my imagination?—and contains shrimp tempura, avocado, mango, spicy mayo and sugarcane soy sauce.

Just for fun, why not order the quirkily named “Two Timing Tuna” Roll? Or try the Sushi Tacos, served with salmon miso and spicy tuna, for $2.75 each (or three for $8).

Even the edamame at Sushi Maki is no ordinary appetizer: this restaurant spruces up what would otherwise be a plain snack with toppings like chili garlic sauce; there’s even a lemon pepper edamame for those who like it mild.

For non-sushi eaters, Sushi Maki offers Pad Thai and Wok Fried Rice on the menu. Or, perhaps, they can always request the Chicken and Waffles Roll.

Sushi Maki
11531 SW 88 St., Miami, FL

14491 S. Dixie Hwy, Miami, FL

2334 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, FL

5812 Sunset Dr., Miami, FL

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Groovy Sushi at Sushi Groove of Salt Lake City, Utah

Ono Black Eye Roll 
Ono Black Eye Roll (Tasmanian Sea Trout, Tempura
Serranos, Mango, Topped with Blackened Ono, Avocado,
Sockeye Salmon, Green Onion, Roasted Ponzu Sauce)
Hebi (Shortbill Spearfish) Sushi
Coco-Calypso Dessert Roll Served with Nutella Ice Cream
Coco-Calypso Dessert Roll (Tempura-Fried Sushi Rice
and Seaweed Wrapped Around Pineapple, Kiwi, Papaya,
Chocolate Chips and Graham Cracker Bits)

Groovy Sushi in Salt Lake City, Utah

A good sushi bar in Salt Lake City, Utah? Hmm.

One man in the city told me, “I wouldn’t try the sushi in this town. Too far from the ocean for me. I’m from California, so I’m very snobbish about my sushi.”

I am from California too, but I’m the adventurous type.

My adventurous spirit paid off at Sushi Groove of Salt Lake City, a local sushi bar that boasts a tagline, “Fresh Cuts Daily.” With colorful, cartoonish sea creature logos and graffiti-style artwork on its menu and a marquee that promotes its nightly deejays and live music, Sushi Groove bills itself as one of those hip and modern, Americanized sushi bars that features a fun and rowdy atmosphere—with affordable prices (the sign reminds you of “$2.50 Tuesdays,” when hot sake, edamame, and some of their nigiri are only $2.50 an order).

Like most sushi bars, Sushi Groove has a menu that separates everything into categories: Starters, Side Orders, Salads, Basic Rolls (such as the California Roll and the Philly Roll, or the Spicy Tuna or Unagi Rolls). But pertinent to its name and in keeping with its theme, the special rolls here are called “Groovy Rolls,” with names like “Maui Wowi,” “Jersey Devil,” “Pineapple Tango,” and, of course, “Groovalicious.” Some of their more unique ingredients include strawberries (in the “Groovalicious” Roll it’s paired with cream cheese), pineapple (served with coconut shrimp if you want to do the “Pineapple Tango”), and marlin, a fish not so commonly found in most of the sushi bars I’ve visited. But to each state its own, as fish and sushi bars vary by region: in Florida, for example, conch and fluke are frequently found on sushi menus; in Louisiana, crawfish are common.

If you love rice, you can indulge in a Rice Bowl—there are eight choices here, with prices ranging from $7.95 for a Teriyaki Tofu Bowl to $10.50 for a Mixed Seafood Bowl. There is even a Mandarin Pineapple Teriyaki selection, with a choice of beef or chicken with vegetables over rice. If you eschew rice, then perhaps you can opt for a Riceless Roll: there are three choices in that section, from Mount Fiji to Cucumber Crisp and Lip Smacker, the latter as high in price as $16.50, but how often can you get tuna, crab, mango, avocado and strawberries wrapped in marlin instead of sushi rice, and topped with eel sauce and tobiko?

Sushi Groove’s Specials, listed on a chalkboard wall menu, is even rendered with colorful chalk. I opted for the Ono Black Eye Roll for $14.95, because I was drawn to its ingredients of Tasmanian Sea Trout, tempura Serranos, mango, avocado, blackened ono, sockeye salmon, and green onions, with roasted ponzu sauce to finish it all off. This creative roll was not only fresh as the marquee promised, but the unusual ingredients all married together perfectly in my mouth—and there was certainly a crunchy, spicy kick to it because of the tempura-fried Serrano chilis. It’s a gargantuan, eight-piece roll that fills you up quickly.

I also tried the hebi, another fish I had never even heard of, as nigiri; I learned hebi hails from Hawaii, and is also known as shortbill spearfish. Although it tasted fresh, hebi in my opinion is a bit plain. I requested a side of the roasted ponzu sauce in which to dip the hebi, which gave it some more flavor.

Perhaps because it’s such a groovy place, Sushi Groove is well-known for its uber-creative Dessert rolls, which look identical to sushi rolls but actually contain no fish at all. The tempura-fried rolls, wrapped with sushi rice and seaweed (or soy paper), contain fruit, Macadamian nuts, even graham cracker, depending on whether you choose the Caribbean Cheesecake or Coco-Calypso, which are both $7.95.

Both Dessert Rolls contain pineapple, kiwi and papaya, and are drizzled with mango sauce and then served with your choice of ice cream (raspberry chocolate, nutella, chocolate fudge, or the tried-but-true vanilla). While the Coco-Calypso Dessert Roll that I chose didn’t contain strawberries like its counterpart, it did feature chocolate chips and crushed graham cracker, and it was “Coconut-Tempura-Fried,” which meant there were chopped up coconut bits mixed in with the tempura batter before it got thrown in the fryer. The result? Heaven on Earth. I loved the crunchy texture, the coconut-tinged batter, the hot exterior mixed with the cold bite of ice cream, the sweet juicy fruit and hint of chocolate, the crisp cracker texture commingled with it all.

Much attention to detail is paid to everything at Sushi Groove, but it’s obvious they take their desserts very seriously.

I may have chosen the off-season to visit Salt Lake City (famous for its powdery white snow and winter ski season), but I did note that some of the names of Sushi Groove’s sake choices paid tribute to its winter wonderland: the unfiltered Snowflake Flight Sake for $9, Snow Beauty Junmai Nigori ($8 for a small serving or $40 for a bottle); and the cold sake named Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo ($9 for a small, $45 a bottle).

It’s clear Sushi Groove is a sushi bar that wants its patrons to have fun—enjoy good food with music, appreciate art…and don’t forget the Dessert Rolls.

Sushi Groove
2910 Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, UT

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stop for Sushi on Sawtelle Boulevard

Habanero Roll
Yellowtail Hand Roll with Truffle Oil 
Aburi Salmon Belly and Aburi Yellowtail Belly Sushi
Wagyu Beef Sushi

Give Sushi Stop a Go

Think you can’t afford good sushi these days? At Sushi Stop, the sushi war continues. With an eye-catching menu that reads “All Items $2.75 (excluding market price items),” Sushi Stop combines the casual style of Sushi Mac (where patrons order from a glossy picture menu that indicates everything is $3 a plate) with the high quality of other bargain sushi giants such as Gatten Sushi and Kula, which feature their dishes on running conveyor belts.

On the wall, a sign declares the daily market price on tuna ($4.10 during my most recent visit), which is subject to change; Sushi Stop proudly informs customers that tuna sushi is sold at the market price so the restaurant can keep serving the freshest fish everyday.

Of course, even when you upgrade from the $2.75 items to the $5.50 specials, you still find yourself with pleasant portions and fine cuts of fish, such as the six-piece Whitefish Carpaccio Sashimi or Seared Peppered Tuna Sashimi with garlic ponzu sauce. There is even Seared Albacore Sashimi with crispy onions. And again at the quirkily odd price of $4.10, the wall menu indicates that hand rolls are available with Cajun Crawfish, Baked Blue Crab, even Hawaiian Poke Tuna.

At first glance, it was the Habanero Roll that reminded me the most of Sushi Mac’s famous “Dynamite Mac,” a baked California roll laden with an oven-blackened blanket of spicy mayonnaise; the only difference was in the dollops of red chili sauce on top and hidden baby shrimps beneath the spicy mayo at Sushi Stop. Despite its name, the Habanero Roll wasn’t especially spicy in my opinion, at least not on a habanero level.

The real winners were the Yellowtail Hand Roll with Truffle Oil; as well as the Aburi Salmon Belly sushi and Aburi Yellowtail Belly sushi with yuzu kosho and ponzu sauce, all for $2.75. For those unfamiliar with the term aburi, Sushi Stop literally defines it for you. On another sign on the wall, patrons can learn “aburi” means flame-seared, with a blowtorch used to partly sear the fish, “creating a perfect balance of raw and cooked sushi, and adding a great smoky flavor.”

To my delight, there is even the single-piece sushi featuring buttery Wagyu Beef, also for $2.75. Ponzu sauce trickles from this one, and the crown of chopped green onions perfects it.

With multiple locations in the Southland, it is definitely worthwhile to give Sushi Stop a go.

Sushi Stop
2053 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles

2222 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles

5917 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles

17547 Ventura Blvd., Encino

Sunday, May 26, 2013

TORO Sushi Bar and Lounge of Pasadena

Super Diablo Roll
Greenbay Roll
Moun-10 Roll
Happy Ending Dessert

Eat, Drink and Socialize at TORO Sushi Bar and Lounge

If you want awesome sushi, cool cocktails and a fun atmosphere, then TORO Sushi Bar and Lounge in Pasadena is the place to be. On weekend nights, party on the patio or in the ultra-posh lounge, where loud music blasts and drinks like the Torojito are served.

Having trouble Finding Nemo? Then why not order the cocktail named after the character? If the Pomegranate Martini sounds ordinary, then how about a Cucumber Mintini? With a wide range of cocktails, beer and sake, the bar is ready to serve patrons after—or before—the indulgence at the sushi bar.

One of the most popular sushi rolls at TORO? Not just the Diablo Roll, but the Super version. For $15, the Super Diablo Roll ups the ante, taking the Diablo Roll up a notch by adding tempura langostino to its base—shrimp tempura, crab and veggies—and finished off with unagi sauce and Dynamite sauce. At such a whopping size, it’s ideal for sharing—unless you want all the sweet fried gooeyness to yourself. 

Or you can go with the owner’s favorite, otherwise known as the Greenbay Roll. Salmon, avocado and thinly sliced lemons cover this roll of scallops, crab and vegetables. For diners who happen to be Lakers fans, there is even a Magic Roll called the #32. With spicy crab, shrimp, avocado, cream cheese and jalapenos, this special roll is wrapped in eggroll skin and then fried, then covered with sweet eel sauce.

Called the “Moun-10” Roll after the freeway exit of TORO’s other restaurant in Ontario, this specially named roll features spicy tuna, avocado, seared salmon and ono. A unique “Shiro-Miso” cream sauce and pieces of fried garlic sit on top of the Moun-10.

During Happy Hour, appetizers and drinks range from $1 to $7. Not bad, considering the variety—from edamame to Tuna Tataki Carpaccio. Order the “Ontarioll” for $6 (it’s a California Roll topped with white fish tempura and avocado). Or, for $7, you can order the “Roll of the Week,” but it’s a secret—you must ask a server or sushi chef to find out what it is, or just allow yourself to be surprised.

Whatever your experience, make sure you have a “Happy Ending” at TORO Sushi. Served tempura-style, the “Happy Ending” is a super sweet dessert served with the proverbial whipped cream, chocolate syrup and a cherry on the top.

TORO Sushi Bar and Lounge
2675 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

1520 N. Mountain Avenue, Ontario

Monday, April 22, 2013

For Those Who Love the Spicy and Crunchy

Ghost Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll
"Secret Pleasure" Appetizer

Ghost Peppers Make an Appearance at Mikomi

I had dismissed Mikomi, a sushi bar in Monrovia, as a generic, run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant catering to small townsfolk. Nestled among quaint shops, cafes and a movie theater, Mikomi seems understated in appearance, an afterthought, a place where people go for simple sushi rolls. For a time—dare I admit?—even I stopped by to grab the basic stuff while on the go: spicy scallop rolls, spicy tuna maki, vegetable rolls (Mikomi actually makes a pretty decent version of the latter).

But this time, something on the Specials menu on the wall caught my eye. Written in neon marker were the words “Ghost Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll,” followed by the descriptive part “…with ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia), $12.”

For the Bhut Jolokia (also known as the ghost pepper, or one of the hottest chili peppers in the world) to be included in a sushi roll is rare; Mikomi is now officially the second sushi bar I have come across that features this fiery ingredient—perhaps it’s becoming a trend.

Ever the curious pain enthusiast, I asked the waitress if this Ghost Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll overwhelms the majority of those who try it, and she replied that they can make a mild version of it for me, as if I were truly daunted. That really wasn’t what I wanted. Did it mean, then, that I wanted pain?

I decided to play with fieriness and order the Ghostly special, recalling a certain incident at another sushi bar in which the ghost-pepper-infused roll was so flaming hot, I’d had to spit it out—but something told me this one was going to be less intense, perhaps because unlike the other restaurant, this place did not provide a latex glove for effect, nor a waiver for me to sign away my right to sue them in the unfortunate event that I ended up with damaged internal organs.

Turns out, it was delightful. Not as painful as I’d expected. The Ghost Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll was indeed spicy and crunchy, with its shrimp tempura and spicy tuna mixed with a dark brown chili sauce which, according to the chef, comprises various chilis including the infamous ghost pepper, and slivers of white onions and a single stick of yamagobo inside that I would have preferred more of, rather than the multitude of cucumbers which filled out the rest of the roll. I asked the chef for more white onions—another rare ingredient in sushi rolls; usually it’s chopped green onions or thinly sliced red onions—and he provided a heap of diced white ones on a plate. Fried tempura bits cover this roll, making it even crunchier.

In Mikomi’s menu, an entire list of Tempura Rolls can be found—including the Thai Coconut Shrimp Roll, or the Fire Cracker Roll. If you’re not into the deep-fried choices, then Baked Rolls can also be selected. From the Donburi section, choose from Unagi Donburi, Salmon/Ikura Donburi, or the proverbial Chirashi, the tried-but-true assortment of fish on a bed of sushi rice.

But if you really want something not so traditional, how about the appetizer called Secret Pleasure, for $12.95? Now if mounds of spicy tuna mixed with tomatoes, drizzled with eel sauce, dusted with tempura bits and served on deep-fried wonton chips isn’t pleasure, then what is?

414 S. Myrtle Avenue, Monrovia

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tokyo Delve's of North Hollywood: One Rockin' Sushi Bar

Tokyo Delve's 
Dragon Roll
Dynamite Roll
Fire Ball Appetizer
Pink Panther Roll

Tokyo Delve's: The Ultimate Party Sushi Bar

The neon-lit, over-the-top jukebox entryway practically says it all: this is no ordinary sushi bar…it’s a loud, rowdy and rockin’ restaurant that some might call obnoxious; most consider it fun. Love it or hate it, this sushi bar has been a hip and happening hangout with a party atmosphere since 1986.

Welcome to Tokyo Delve’s of North Hollywood, a long-standing landmark on Lankershim Boulevard, where loud noise is the norm and drunken debauchery never seems to stop. As soon as you walk in, you are greeted by the staff with an almost overzealous welcome.

The in-house DJ and manager leads the raucous revelry with a microphone: “When I say Sake, you say Bomb!...Sake!” And the crowd shouts out “Bomb!” in unison. This is repeated a few times before carousers finally pound the tables with their fists, not letting up until those mini shot glasses of sake drop into their beer glasses from a precarious perch of chopsticks—the customary Sake Bomb move. Then they practically douse themselves with the famous clear liquid of fermented rice.

If you want more easy access and a munificent flow of alcohol, why not indulge in the one-gallon keg of beer that gets placed on your table for $35.99? Other choices include sake cocktails such as Banzai Melon, Tsunami, even Lemon Beer. The atmosphere is so chock-full of merriment, you’re tempted to experiment with as many of these colorful concoctions as possible, and just worry about their effect the next morning.

Although Tokyo Delve’s features a sushi bar, its ample dining area is perfectly suited for big parties, especially those celebrating an occasion, be it a birthday or bachelor’s party. Don’t be surprised to see patrons start dancing on chairs here. At this party sushi bar, buffoonery is encouraged, music—from ‘80s pop and rock to trance—never stops pumping from the speakers, and throngs of people don’t seem to cease pouring in, some of them already draped with feather boas and sashes, or bedecked in rhinestone-encrusted tiaras, depending on the nature of the celebration. On weekend nights, expect crazy crowds and even wilder chaos, forewarns the waiter and host, who also dances with the patrons and leads the clapping and mad moves.

For a restaurant that scores so high for its entertainment value, most want to ask, What about the food?

Well, the Americanized menu here isn’t just fun, it’s actually quite simple to understand with its glossy pages of photos, and the prices are reasonable for the most part. There’s the serpentine roll known as The Dragon Roll, made to look dragonlike with eyes consisting of octopus tentacle-suckers and pointy, plastic green foliage. The eel sauce on it is sweet, as most would agree is how Americans like it; the selling point on this one, in my opinion, is that the crab inside is decidedly real (despite all the hijinks, they take their no-fake-crab policy quite seriously).

A personal favorite of mine is the Dynamite Roll, which is made to look just like a stick of dynamite, with a piece of yamagobo sticking out to resemble the fuse. It’s rolled in yellow soy paper and is fully packed with pan-fried scallops and mushrooms, as well as creamy masago-mayonnaise. In the mood for real flames? Try the Fire Ball for only $8.50, an appetizer with spicy salmon and avocado wrapped in red snapper, and then seared with ponzu and spicy sauce on top. It’s an undulating flame that snuffs out quickly, but one that’s displayed for effect using a foil liner and a dash of rum—whoosh!—watch as the fire dances on your plate, each flame finger licking the appetizer bites as if to keep them warm.

Although I’m informed that the enormous Rock N’ Roll for $12.50 is the most popular roll ordered, perhaps because jalapenos, spicy sauce, and fried onions smothering shrimp tempura and albacore sounds very tempting, I opted for the pretty one wrapped in pink soy paper, the one that’s prettily named the Pink Panther Roll for $6.95. The four-piece order, named after the fictive feline, rules with its prime ingredient—Atlantic King Salmon, along with shrimp, avocado and smelt fish eggs. And because I like it creamy, I ask for a side of their famous masago-mayonnaise in which to dip these half-heart-shaped bites, more little touches that remind me why I love Tokyo Delve’s.

Tokyo Delve’s is open from 6 p.m. to midnight every night except Sundays. If you're planning a party at the sushi bar on weekends, it’s definitely a smart choice to make reservations.

Tokyo Delve’s Sushi Bar
5239 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood