Friday, May 30, 2014

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as a Thursday special, may be ordered with Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass….Show up the following week, and the items have been replaced by Kimchi & Tuna Roll, and Pulled Pork Banh Mi, as the menu may vary from day to day.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

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