Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Hand Roll-Centric Bar at Kazu Nori of Downtown L.A.

Kazu Nori in Downtown L.A. 
A Very Fun and Casual Hand Roll Bar Serving High-Quality Food
Friendly Chefs Present Hand Roll After Hand Roll
Toro (Fatty Tuna) Hand Roll: All Nozawa-Style
Salmon Hand Roll
Halibut Sashimi with Special Ponzu Sauce
The Popular Ozeki One Cup Sake

Kazu Nori: Not Just A Hand Roll Bar

It’s just a hand roll bar…or is it?

Kazu Nori of Downtown L.A. prides itself in being “The Original Hand Roll Bar,” as their menu states, otherwise known as a place that serves mostly the hand rolls made famous by none other than Kazunori Nozawa, the man behind the “Sugarfish by Nozawa” restaurant chain. Nozawa, who retired in 2012 after working as a sushi chef for 47 years, still oversees his Sugarfish empire, as well as Kazu Nori, his latest addition to “Nozawa Land.”

So let me get this straight: apparently, there’s a sushi bar, sans sushi (nigiri, that is) and sans cut rolls (maki), but which specializes in hand rolls (temaki) and serves alcohol. At the bottom of the menu, you see that sashimi is available (halibut or salmon only); and given that it’s overall a simple menu, it’s no surprise that the only seafood served in hand rolls here are Bay Scallop, Salmon, Blue Crab, Lobster, Toro and Yellowtail. Another twist? Only for orders to go are cut rolls available (a separate To Go menu features cut rolls from three set menus and an a la carte list).

At the hand roll bar, a large square structure that almost fills up this entire tiny space, you can choose from three set menus (three hand rolls for $10.50, four for $13, five for $17.50). Hand rolls can also be ordered individually (as low as $4 for the cucumber hand roll, a refreshingly plain item in a sea of seafood-filled cylindrical projections; and as high as $7 for the one with lobster in it). Each set menu includes a “Daily Hand Roll” or “Daily Cut Roll,” which switches between toro and yellowtail.

At Kazu Nori, fans of Nozawa can look forward to enjoying the same legacy of high quality and freshness carried on today by Sugarfish locations, and for years by Sushi Nozawa. And though this is a much smaller, more modest version with a limited menu, at Kazu Nori you'll find the same marriage of crispy seaweed with warm, perfectly seasoned—almost sweet—sushi rice. But unlike the fine dining vibe at Sugarfish by Nozawa locations, the atmosphere here is casual, and therefore hand rolls are the emphasis, as they can be speedily wrapped, as opposed to time-consuming cut rolls and nigiri.

Each hand roll is placed on a sheet of what appears to be tan-hued butcher paper, which serves as some sort of placemat and plate at the same time. Pop music emanates and random sushi bar mates converse—rather easy to do, given the friendly ambience and affordable alcohol ($5 for a Sapporo, $6 for an Ozeki One Cup Sake).

I have always been a fan of hand rolls because the seaweed is guaranteed to be on the outside, which means you're in for a crispy bite and you get to taste the seaweed first—at times a nice change from the "inside-out" cut rolls many sushi bars make, with the sushi rice covering the exterior of the roll and the seaweed tucked inside. At Kazu Nori, the hand rolls are slender, neat and clean, not overflowing with sauces and condiments, not overburdened with extra chunks of fish. They are standardized in shape, like tapered cylinders, and the chefs here don't fuss over sealing the flap with a stipple of sticky sushi rice or making the hand roll look like an ice cream cone, as is the style of some chefs at various sushi bars.

Kazu Nori also maintains the same service charge of 16% as does Sugarfish by Nozawa; a gracious reminder of "Please, no tipping" follows the service charge note on the menu. After your hand roll overload, bring your check to the cash register by the front door, as this is the easygoing style at Kazu Nori which, fortunately for us, happens to be an affordable place with high-quality food.

Kazu Nori
421 S. Main St., Los Angeles

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MoonCat Japanese Sushi Bistro in Monrovia

MoonCat in Monrovia
Chef's Special: Spicy Tuna Roll with Shrimp Tempura,
Eel Sauce, Spicy Mayo and Fried Onions on Top
Lime Albacore Roll with Pink Soy Paper, Mango and Apple Puree
Shabu Shabu Beef Sushi
Scallop Hand Roll with Tobiko

By the Light of the Moon...

MoonCat Japanese Sushi Bistro is one of those quirky, rinky-dink places with a whole lot of personality: not quite a sushi dive, but not exactly a fancy restaurant either. As you part the blue Noren curtains and enter this tiny space—and I mean tiny, as in five-seat sushi bar tiny—you are greeted by Lucky Cat figurines, colorful decanters, and the obligatory outbursts from those who work here as they try to out-bellow one another in welcoming their guests.

But what MoonCat (formerly Moondog’s, a hot dog joint) lacks in space, it makes up for in great taste and enthusiastic service, so even on a weeknight it can get packed, as patrons linger on inside (socializing and watching the flat screen TV mounted in the corner) or enjoy sushi al fresco, dining by moonlight at tables on the sidewalk.

If you’re lucky, you happen to be there on a day when the ever-rare (at least on the west coast) conch sushi is available ($4 for the two-piece nigiri), and if you’re really lucky, Chef Naoya may just be there, whipping up a random, off-the-menu special—such as a spicy tuna roll covered with chopped-up shrimp tempura smothered in creamy spicy mayonnaise, eel sauce and dark, aromatic, fried-to-a-crisp onions.

This sushi bar’s homespun charm can be noted even in its miniature notebook-like menus with covers of idyllic images; these menus suggest starters like Popcorn Lobster for $7.50, or “specialty sashimi” such as Ceviche for $13 or Yellowtail Jalapeno for $17.

To tantalize you, Chef Naoya presents a little appetizer comprised of vegetables and fried lotus chip in a roasted sesame sauce. And if you want more exotic sauces, try ordering the “Lime Albacore” roll ($12), which features a unique mango and apple puree on a roll with spicy tuna, imitation crab, pink soy paper, slices of lime and bits of colorful fried noodles.

For something else that’s unusual, try the "Shabu Shabu Beef" sushi for $6. It’s unusually tender and sweet, and embellished with toppings such as green onions, momiji oroshi and ponzu sauce. And if you want something authentic, how about the Aji Fry (fried Spanish Mackerel), panko-crusted and served with Tonkatsu sauce?

For such a small place, MoonCat’s possibilities seem boundless.

MoonCat Japanese Sushi Bistro
108 E. Lime Ave., Monrovia

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Kudos to Sushi Karen of Culver City

Crunchy Roll
Lobster Roll
Kanpachi Jalapeno Citrus Sauce
Freshwater Eel Sushi
Jumbo Scallop Sushi with Yuzu

Sushi Karen: A Love Affair

Culver City urbanites love Sushi Karen.

For a little over a decade, locals have turned this sushi haven—named after the daughter of owner and chef Toshi—into a regular hangout, and you can hear the patter as they confer at their tables about everything from the trifles of daily life to the tenets of sushi dining.

Ever the self-appointed arbiter elegantiae, I immediately mind the menus and assess the ambience here: What type of sushi bar is this? Is it traditional, Americanized, fusion? Is it trendy and pretentious, or serviceable and quaint?

Sushi Karen, as it turns out, offers both traditional and Americanized sushi, and while there seems to be a slightly snooty air about some of its patrons, the restaurant feels generally welcoming to newcomers to this corner of the world. Neither flashy nor pretentious as Westside establishments can sometimes be, Sushi Karen is where highbrow meets casual in a comfortable setting. The prices are also fairly reasonable considering the location, and it’s a rather small place with a 12-seat sushi bar.

Chef Toshi lightly banters with the regulars as he serves the favorites with fervor: the Crunchy Roll, with shrimp tempura, avocado, colorful rice cracker bits, garlic mayo and eel sauce for $13; the baked Lobster Roll, with avocado, yamagobo, mayonnaise and masago, wrapped with both seaweed and soy paper (a great way to combine contrasting flavors but a rarely used technique) for $17; and the Kanpachi (Amberjack) Sashimi with Jalapeno Citrus Sauce for $15.

The food here is fresh and simple, and the sauces, although not fancy, make the sashimi and the sushi rolls resonate with sufficient flavor without being overpowering. Try the monkfish liver sushi, which comes with the standard toppings—ponzu sauce, green onions and momiji oroshi, otherwise known as spicy grated daikon radish. Indulge in the yellowtail belly sushi, which, albeit served plain, is buttery and clean. The freshwater eel is perfect, baked crispy and lightly brushed with sweetness; and the jumbo scallop sushi is plump and flavorful with its sea salt, lemon juice and yuzu seasonings.

From Sushi Karen’s kitchen menus, you can choose from appetizers such as Glazed Marinated Black Cod or Asari Clam Soup; for dessert, there’s Mochi and tempura ice cream. And for those who thrive on that potent potation made from fermented rice, there’s quite a myriad of Japanese sake here as well.

Amid the burgeoning new age eateries and noisy bustle of the Culver City dining scene, Sushi Karen seems to serve as a refugefor those busy urbanites who are simply looking for a modest sushi joint they can call their own.

Sushi Karen
10762 Washington Blvd., Culver City

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Sushi One Spot" Hits The Spot

Sushi One Spot of Rancho Cucamonga
Foothill Roll
Ocean Blue Roll
Yellowtail Belly Sushi
"John" Special (Deep-Fried Wonton Skin with
Assorted Fish and White Onions)

"All You Can Eat" Special at Sushi One Spot

Sushi One Spot of Rancho Cucamonga is indeed the only spot you need to hit if you want to satisfy some sushi cravings…and with an all-you-can-eat price of $23.95 daily (except during lunch Monday through Friday, when that price drops to $19.95), it’s tough to beat.

At Sushi One Spot, the “All You Can Eat” includes the rolls and unique items on the “Specials” side of the menu, as well as uni and halibut sushi (the latter two may only be ordered one time per customer, and only during dinnertime, should you choose the all-you-can-eat option).

I am usually skeptical of sushi bars that offer an all-you-can-stuff-in-your-face-in-one-hour package. Generally speaking, something’s usually amiss at places that prompt you to pig out at a discount. Perhaps the quality just isn’t there; perhaps the sushi rice isn’t properly seasoned; or maybe the chefs serve rice-heavy sushi rolls so that you load up on carbs instead of fish.

Sometimes, all-you-can-eat sushi joints serve rather ordinary rolls and just list them as special rolls on the menu, then everything arrives drowning in eel sauce and spicy mayonnaise, under an avalanche of deep-fried bits of tempura flakes or stuffed with too much cucumber. Patrons that frequent these types of places, then, tend to be those who are overly concerned with “getting a good deal” and mighty portions, rather than diners who actually care about taste and standards.

For dinner one night at Sushi One Spot, I decided on the “All You Can Eat” deal not just because two of the special rolls that appealed to me on the menu—the Foothill Roll and Ocean Blue Roll—would have cost $13.95 each a la carte; but for a restaurant that just opened three months ago, Sushi One Spot appeared spotless: an extensive, gleaming sushi bar with multiple chefs bellowing their greetings and eager to serve; an energy thrummed, and the place, already popular, was duly packed. The service here is also impeccable; the waiters cater nonstop without being pesky, as they briskly breeze past carrying platters of such whimsical-looking creations that you can’t help but inquire. “Oh, that’s the John,” one server replied when I asked about the plate of deep-fried wonton skins topped with a medley of chopped fish and white onions. (This four-piece item on the “Specials” side of the menu, known as “John,” is $8.95 a la carte.)

As loyal Yelp fans might have noticed, at least during the grand opening of this restaurant, there was much fanfare—perhaps they no longer had the dry ice that was served with salmon sashimi for one foggy effect, but they still had some pretty ornamental platters that I’d seen online. I requested, for presentation’s sake, that my Foothill Roll be served on a glittery hot pink butterfly-shaped plate, and so it arrived that way, the green of the wasabi tobiko on jalapeno slices and red dollops of Sriracha hot sauce contrasting nicely against the fuchsia hue. Inside this roll sits quite an interesting mix of ingredients: perhaps imitation crab may sound ordinary, but pairing imitation crab with cilantro, cream cheese and yellowtail certain makes things more interesting.

Then there was the Ocean Blue Roll, which I requested because I’ve never seen a spicy tuna and yamagobo roll that gets topped with slices of octopus and jalapeno, as well as slices of lemon (rind and all, for that extra zest).

The chef even suggested he could serve me half a roll (four pieces instead of eight) so that I could taste even more varieties without getting too stuffed to keep ordering. And so I had four pieces of a house favorite, the “One Spot” Roll—a combination of tuna, white tuna and salmon, wrapped in soy paper and avocado and then served with chili oil, ponzu sauce, masago and green onions. The halibut sushi was delightful with the garlic ponzu sauce I requested, as was the order of yellowtail belly sushi, which the chef chose to serve with a tasty mixture of soy sauce, chili oil, lemon juice and real wasabi.

For those who want the basic rolls and nigiri, look to the back of the menu and you'll find the standard rolls, such as the Philadelphia, Caterpillar, and Rainbow. (Sushi One Spot does introduce something they call the Canadian Roll on this list, which is simply a roll with salmon, avocado and cucumber.) Choose from nigiri ranging from ono to sweet shrimp. Appetizers, also included in the "All You Can Eat," can vary from gyozas to takoyaki.

The sushi rice here is excellent, the fish fresh and the creativity spectacular; I was almost shocked that such upscale fare could be served at such a nominal price.

The “All You Can Eat” lunch price of $19.95 is honored Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All day on Saturdays and Sundays, and during dinnertime on weekdays, the “All You Can Eat” deal is currently $23.95. Children under the age of 7 may eat for $14.95.

Sushi One Spot
10990 Foothill Blvd., Rancho Cucamonga

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Irori Sushi of Marina Del Rey: An Intimate Dining Experience

Sunken Tables at Irori Sushi
Salmon Blue Crab with White Truffle Oil and Ponzu Sauce 
Bluefin Burrata Sashimi with Balsamic Reduction
Kanpachi Caviar
Filet Mignon Uni with Spinach, Red Wine Sauce 
Shooter with Yamaimo

Get Comfortable at Irori Sushi of Marina Del Rey

Irori Sushi creates that certain magic that occurs when traditional Japanese cuisine blends perfectly with a daring twist of fusion, combining a medley of exotic ingredients along with familiar Americanized flavors.

Situated in a shopping complex in the seaside city of Marina Del Rey, Irori Sushi makes sure you feel right at home with their “no-shoes” policy (you are asked to remove your shoes and place them in a cubbyhole right as you enter). And should you happen to not be wearing any socks as you awkwardly tiptoe in, don’t worrythe hostess will hand you a pair of black nylon ones, which look like the little try-on socks you don at a shoe store…the better to protect their delicate tatami floors, another fine feature of this relaxed and intimate dining experience.

You can choose to sit at the sunken sushi bar—the hostess lifts the legless, light-as-air chair so that you can position yourself on what is essentially an elevated floor in the establishment before she tucks the cushioned faux-chair underneath you—or you may want to sit at one of the many sunken tables, which seat three to eight people, depending on the size of the table or whether the table is designed against a wall.

One of the most popular plates here is the “Salmon Blue Crab,” which is shaped like a sushi roll, but without using rice or seaweed. Quite simply, it’s a special item that features blue crab and avocado wrapped with salmon sashimi and then topped with white truffle oil, ponzu sauce, micro arugula and miniature edible flowers. It’s $24 for this six-piece wonder that will leave you in awe for hours.

For a nontraditional approach to bluefin tuna, you can choose between the Bluefin Burrata Sashimi (with Burrata cheese, Balsamic Reduction, yuzu and kai salt) and the Bluefin Delight Sashimi (with a creamy miso-based Nuta sauce, mirin and brown sugar). Both plates cost $28 and come with six pieces of the coveted bluefin. It may be a matter of personal taste, but the Bluefin Burrata blew me away, particularly the way the rich Italian cheese coalesced with the tart balsamic.

Although the "Kanpachi Caviar" dish was fresh and the citrus flavor resonated with me, I found it to be a bit of a misnomer, for part of the name was actually referring to lime caviar, or the tiny gelatinous balls bursting with lime flavor, rather than fish eggs, as I’d thought. (I’ve only seen something similar one time, and that was the lemon caviar served with king crab at the now-defunct Kumo of Hollywood, although on Kumo's menu, it had specified “lemon caviar” and “orange caviar.”)

Taking my taste buds to a whole new level, I ventured to order the “Filet Mignon Uni,” which came with spinach, red wine sauce, balsamic glaze and grated shiso. The chef briefly seared the entire dish with his torch. The result? A rather curious dish with a woodsy pungence. The spears of asparagus (as well as the sauces) actually added a lot to the flavors, offsetting some of the gamey taste that might occur when you pair raw sea urchin with rare filet mignon.

Drawing upon a photo a fan of Irori Sushi had posted online, I asked the chef to make me an oyster and uni shooter with some good ol’ yamaimo—otherwise known as the white Japanese mountain yam—sticking out of the shot glass. Trust me, it makes a good chaser, and beats most super saccharine post-sushi desserts.

Irori Sushi
4371 Glencoe Ave., Marina Del Rey

Friday, May 30, 2014

Sushi by Culinary Students at Bistro 31 of Santa Monica

Yellowtail Carpaccio
Spicy Salmon Bowl with Sushi Rice
Salmon Onigiri 
Kimchi & Tuna Roll 
Spicy Salmon Tartare with Salmon Roe

Bistro 31 Knows Sushi...And Onigiri Too

For student-prepared fare, the sushi at Bistro 31 is actually quite stellar, and offers a contemporary twist to the artistry and nuances of this Japanese delicacy.
Operated by members of The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California, Los Angeles, Bistro 31 is a Zagat-rated restaurant that is open to the public, offering a cuisine that fuses Asian, French and California flavors—at an affordable price.
As such, you might occasionally find the Yellowtail Carpaccio located next to Cold Somen Noodles with Shrimp on the menu; or happen upon Spicy Salmon Bowl with Sushi Rice on the same page as an entrée called the Traditional Korean Bibimbap.
The newly introduced Salmon Onigiri, listed as a Thursday special, may be ordered with Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass….Show up the following week, and the items have been replaced by Kimchi & Tuna Roll, and Pulled Pork Banh Mi, as the menu may vary from day to day.
The Salmon Onigiri, at its induction, cost a mere $1—a whopper of a deal for three balls of sushi rice, grilled salmon and seasonings, topped with shaved bonito and paired with spicy pickled radishes. Two weeks later, the tester-item price had been marked up to $3, still a steal for a trio of scrumptious rice balls so chock-full of salmon; this time, they were slightly larger, and cheekily garnished with cilantro.
With its cooked tuna and spicy pickled cabbage, the Kimchi & Tuna Roll seems to simultaneously suggest Korean and Japanese food—albeit highly Americanized, with the white fish baked and the Kimchi attenuated in pungence. All the same, it makes a unique sushi roll traditionally encased in sushi rice and seaweed, served with wasabi and ginger.
The sushi rice here is well-seasoned, most notably in the Spicy Salmon Bowl, where it was paired perfectly with avocado and shredded seaweed (the unexpected pickled cucumbers and leafy greens in the bowl were a nice surprise). For only $4, the serving was fairly hefty and satisfying.
Were it not for its manageable prices and location—in a building filled with classrooms—you may not know this was an establishment run by culinary arts majors; during lunchtime, the place can be seen catering to companies that share the same business park. Here, future restaurateurs and employees learn everything from the art of plating to customer service. It is professional and smooth—down to the fresh bread brought to your table and the suggestions of dessert: will it be a Caramel Walnut Brownie or some Deconstructed Cherry Pie? How about the French Macaroons with Bavarian Cream, for $2?
Lunch prices generally range from $3 to $7 per item, though you might start with the $1 Miso Soup. For dinner, expect fancier dishes such as Pan-Seared Day Boat Scallops for $15; or, for those who fancy a bird, Bistro 31 has been known to serve a Modernist Chicken Cordon Bleu for $11.
Business hours may vary by quarter, but the restaurant is generally open three days a week, from about 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, and for dinner from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.
Bistro 31
2900 31st Street, Santa Monica

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sushi Ran: For Bay Area Aficionados

Zuke Chu Toro (Red Wine Cured
Medium Fatty Blue Fin Tuna)
Kasugodai (Baby Red Snapper)
Kamasu (Seared Barracuda) with Myoga ginger 
Soft Shell Crawfish Roll

Sushi Ran of Sausalito

Sushi enthusiasts of the Bay area need look no further than Sushi Ran, a posh gem in Sausalito that serves top-tier traditional Japanese sushi and Pacific cuisine. To feast here is to indulge all your senses—the pampering ambience relaxes you while the visual banquet entices. There’s lively chatter at the sushi bar, as well as on the wine bar and patio side of this joint.
Restaurateur Yoshi Tome, who has owned Sushi Ran since 1986, flies in freights of seldom-seen victuals from various parts of the globe, and is careful to serve only sustainable tuna. While a number of items hail from the world famous Tsukiji Market in Japan, this sushi bar also features selections from Canada, Hawaii, and even Tasmania, from which their Umi Masu (Ocean Trout) arrives.
Most of the chefs—and restaurant patrons—may likely suggest the Omakase Tasting, which for $39 per person includes seven varieties of nigiri culled by the chef, paired with umami soy. If you wish to choose your own sushi after the chef’s selections, you can order from the replete menu—or, ask the chef to continue to surprise you.
Newcomers take heed: the sushi here is priced per piece. The McFarland Trout may start at $5, but a single bite of the Miyazaki Wagyu beef chomps you out of $12.75. Both regular and fresh wasabi are offered: the fresh wasabi is automatically served with an omakase order, but if you want some extra, it’s $2.50 more.
My chef’s caprices on this busy weeknight led me to tastings of zuke chu toro, a “red wine cured medium fatty blue fin tuna,” brushed with sweet sake and soy sauce and then torched and splashed with lemon. The result? Heaven in a bite, a burst of flavors that reeled me in as it sent me over the edge. And that was followed by kasugodai, baby red snapper that according to the menu was “cured with bamboo leaf.”
The consistently soft melody played only slightly off-note with the introduction of the chewy, sinewy hobou, a sea robin served with kinome, or, according to the chef, “a type of prickly ash, a woody aromatic herb.” Albeit a little hard to masticate, the flavors abound in this one.
Then there was the tobiuo, or flying fish with umami tobiko, which drew me back into familiar waters, and then the tasty inada, or wild young yellowtail. The exotic kamasu (seared barracuda) kicked it up a notch, especially because it was coupled with a certain ginger called Myoga. And to wrap up the seven-part wonder, there was the ocean trout, from down under.
Oh, but I couldn’t help but request the Soft Shell Crawfish Roll, a soy-paper-wrapped delight I have never seen elsewhere. Served with a wedge of lime, along with umami tobiko, spicy crab, asparagus and shiso, this unique roll ensconces the red critters with their miniature claws pointed heavenward, as if a supplicating gesture…at least until you stuff an entire piece of the roll, softish claws notwithstanding, into your mouth.
Also from chef Taka Toshi’s menu, there is the top-selling Crunch Roll, which combines eel, avocado, tempura flakes, spicy crab, aonori powder and shrimp for $18.
On the other side of the menu, from the kitchen of executive chef Scott Whitman, there's the popular Vietnamese Shaking Beef, which melds sweet onions with tiger lily buds and a lime-pepper dipping sauce. And let’s not forget the oft-ordered Smoked Hamachi Tataki, which offers the refreshing ingredient of Ruby grapefruit, which is then contrasted with a yuzu black pepper sauce.
To guarantee seats at this sushi hotspot, it is advisable that you book about a week in advance.

Sushi Ran
107 Caledonia Street, Sausalito 

Monday, March 3, 2014

It's Time for Some Shooters

Quail Egg Shooter at Kabuki
Viagra Shooter at Miyako Sushi
Oyster Shooter at EMC Seafood & Raw Bar
Oyster Shooter: Complete with Quail Egg,
Sea Urchin, Salmon Eggs, Chives, Shochu

Rainy Day? Shoot it!

What does one do on a rainy Sunday? There’s the usual for the hoi polloi: television, grocery shopping, chores. I decided to vanquish the commonplace and go on a tour of shooters.

Ask for a shooter in most sushi bars and they might not know what you mean. Ask for a shooter in certain—not necessarily high-end—restaurants, and the chef may ask you, “What kind, the Quail Egg Shooter or the Oyster Shooter?”

Although I am not an avid fan of the generic chain restaurant known as Kabuki, there are a few things the place does right, and one of them is offering relatively inexpensive dishes. Kabuki’s version of the Oyster Shooter, like most of their items, is passable and to the point: oyster served in a shot of spicy ponzu sauce, $4.50. Or, just “Shooter” for $1.75—quail egg in a shot of spicy ponzu sauce. Kabuki throws in masago, green onions, and red chili sauce, which is what makes their shooters spicy. And for some added flair: a light sprinkle of the airy, silky strands known as shaved bonito. The fact that the shooters here are alcohol-free may contribute to the low-cost factor (although, I am sure, you can ask the chef to customize it by adding alcohol or various other items).

Of course, there are some sushi restaurants that mix both the oyster and the quail egg in one shot, perhaps adding cold sake and sea urchin to it, then renaming it something quirky like Viagra Shooter, as does Miyako Sushi in Glendora.

Incidentally, Miyako Sushi is the only sushi bar I have seen that has such a specific shooter menu. If you want quail egg (uzura in Japanese) in it, it’s $2.95. For a shooter with oyster (kaki) inside, it’s $3.95. Upgrade to uni, also known as sea urchin, and it’s a $5.95 shot. The Viagra Shooter, which combines all three, costs $7.95. (Perhaps this one was appropriately named because oysters have long been thought to be an aphrodisiac food?)

I decided on the Viagra Shooter, and watched as the chef filled a stylish martini glass with sake, which was soon diluted by ponzu and a driblet of Sriracha sauce. He then tossed in the most popularly used garnishes for quail egg and oyster shooters: masago and green onions. After dropping in the seafood, he added a final touch: a slice of lemon, perched on the rim.

Shooters are fun. In my opinion they are sold as a novelty—in social gatherings, they often start as a dare among friends and end with peals of laughter. Does one shoot it and swallow the contents all at once, just like a shot? Or does one sip—because whoa, it might either be too spicy or strong in liquor flavor—while scooping the edible parts into one's mouth, so as to be able to chew the contents and actually enjoy the seafood essence?

I chose to sip, and then with my chopsticks, I plunged into the murky depths of the brown liquid to dredge up an oyster here, a piece of sea urchin there, feeling like a kid playing with her food while she eats. Finally there was nothing left but little green and orange floaty bits that swirled in the micro sea of spicy sake and sauce.

Although not a sushi restaurant, EMC Seafood & Raw Bar of Los Angeles introduces a bit of Asian fusion to some of their courses, and presents a pretty version of the Oyster Shooter. For $8, this one is plated rather nicely, and it’s up to you to add the ingredients, making it even more fun. Ponzu and Tabasco sauce arrive in a shot glass with shochu, a distilled Japanese beverage; and upon a bed of ice: a cracked-open speckled quail egg (so you get to see what it looks like before you plop in the mini yolk), an oyster on its half-shell laden with uni, salmon eggs, chives; a wedge of lemon. This is one shooter that is both tasty and fun to look at: seemingly lighter on the brown ponzu sauce, the see-through shot glass offers a clear glimpse at the heap of gooey ingredients like no shooter I’ve ever experienced. This is also the only place in which I've ever had an oyster and uni shooter followed by a plate of uni pasta, as if a chaser to my shot. 

In my research, I've seen variations in the components for the proverbial "Oyster Shooter," from Japanese ingredients like yamaimo and furikake, to more American flavorings such as horseradish, Worcestershire and cocktail sauce. Some recipes even call for vodka in place of sake or shochu—that is, if you desire to include any alcohol at all. The only limit, it seems, is one's imagination.

3539 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

Miyako Sushi
1836 E. Route 66, Glendora

EMC Seafood & Raw Bar
3500 W. 6th Street, Los Angeles

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Go's Mart is Sushi Divinity

Kimme Tai, Triggerfish, Kelp Halibut, John Dory
Regular Toro, Kawagishi Toro, Bluefin    
Shirako (Fish Sperm) 
Seared Shrimp, Japanese Shrimp (Gunkan-Style)
with Truffle, Santa Barbara Uni, Live Scallop
Seared Octopus, Baby Abalone, Giant Clam
Lobster Sushi with Truffle

Don't Pass Up "Go's Mart"

You’d never guess it from its exterior or its name, but Go’s Mart of Canoga Park is actually where one dies and goes to Sushi Heaven. Although it’s quite literally a hole in the wall—tucked in a strip mall on Sherman Way between a pizza joint and a massage parlor—it’s where Chef Go executes sushi wizardry with finesse; you start to feel as though you’re on another planet as Go serves the freshest and most unusual fish (flown in weekly from the renowned Tsukiji fish market), topping them off with premium seasonings—from sea salt to truffle oil and caviar, even decorative flakes of gold.

“No soy sauce,” he commands contemptuously as he serves his artistically, beautifully rendered Omakase (Chef’s choice) creations. “Already very salty.” For those who dare to defy him, a small jug of soy sauce does sit in front of you on the sushi bar.

The journey via Chef’s Choice may begin with a platter of various whitefish (he instructs that the order in which to enjoy the nigiri is from right to left; you’ll notice that there is an ascending order from lightest to boldest flavors). My plate of whitefish featured Kimme Tai, Triggerfish topped with Triggerfish liver, Kelp Halibut and John Dory.

Reminiscent of the style in which Chef Mori of Mori Sushi serves various tuna, Chef Go may then present a plate of Bluefin, Kawagishi Toro, and Regular Toro, although Go's style is to add many a flavorful flourish on top.

The most unusual item I encountered was Shirako, or as Go explains it, "Fish Organs." (I later learned that Shirako is also known as fish sperm!) What appeared as curly pasta in whipped cream formation was actually a seared, yuzu-seasoned concoction that tasted nutty and fishy at the same time. It was delightfully...different, and decidedly pertinent for a pricey sushi odyssey. 

Frequently, the items written on the dry erase board menu change, ranging from Live Tako to Holy Cow (he explains this is Wagyu Beef sushi). Or, when in season, Hair Crab may be listed. There is even Sucker, which is simply Octopus Tentacle.

The items scrawled on the dry erase board serves as the only menu in this joint, sans prices. (Expect to pay about $80 to $200 or more per person for Omakase, depending on when you call it quits; or opt for the a-la-carte option, where you pick only the items you want.) To be blown away by the freshest and the best selections, some of which are not even on the menu, I recommend the Omakase. Or live not so dangerously and choose the Blue Crab Roll or Salmon Skin Roll, which are also written on the board in a strange juxtaposition with the more exotic-sounding Kawagishi Toro and Shima Aji.

To admire more of the seafood before it goes under the chef’s ostensibly wieldy knife, perhaps you can ogle what’s in the giant refrigerated glass display box that faces you when you first enter this small orange-painted space (Go’s Mart used to be a Japanese grocery store about a decade ago, which perhaps also explains the name).

The sushi bar at Go’s Mart seats about 10 people only, and the restaurant does not take reservations. Tell your friends all about it, and advise them not to balk at its unconventional appearance, for this place is sushi divinity.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12pm-3pm, and 5:30pm-9pm; Sundays 12pm-7:30pm

Go’s Mart
22330 Sherman Way, Canoga Park