Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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

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