Saturday, October 4, 2014

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

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