Yep, It’s That Good: Katsuya


I don’t think I’ve seen food disappear so quickly!

This Friday is my dear colleague and friend Renee’s last day with the company (I’m so sad), so a group of us took her out to Katsuya for some drinks and great sushi, to celebrate the new chapter in her career.  Since we are all sushi addicts (we’re seriously concerned that we may get sick from mercury poisoning because we eat so much raw fish), choosing the perfect place for this soiree was a no brainer. On the boulevard that houses countless, countless sushi restaurants, Katsuya is, no doubt, a standout. And I’m not the only one who happens to think so.

If you ask any Angelenos to name the best sushi restaurant around, I guarantee you that this place will top the list. This little hole in a wall, tucked away in a shopping center in Studio City, is one of those rare places that actually lives up to the hype of being one of, if not the best, sushi restaurant in town. Sure, Katsuya’s repertoires consist more of those untraditional, “American” dishes that some sushi purists may not agree with but the ingredients are fresh and the flavor is out of this world. Anyone who experiences its popular crunchy tuna and seared albacore with crispy onion (both pictured below) will fall head over heels over this place, I’m sure of it.


The famous crunchy tuna thing


The crispy onion — the best!


Robert Roll (I have no idea who Robert is, but the roll sure was delicious)


White Fish Carpaccio with arugula and sun-dried tomatoes


Seafood Sunomono


Yellowtail Sashimi


Crab Meat Stuffed in Tuna Sashimi


Fried Green Tea Ice Cream

Green Tea Tiramisu (WOW!)

Oh, and how about some celebrity sighting for dessert? It’s not rare that you find A-list celebrities enjoying great sushi here, even during a week. But despite its soaring popularity among the rich and famous, as well as not-to rich and famous (like me), the restaurant remains dinky and unpretentious, and that’s what’s so charming about this place.

Just a note – this place doesn’t have a menu and all its daily specials are written on the board. If you’re going to dine there for the first time, it’s probably best to sit at a table where you can actually see the board on the wall, especially if you’re not too sushi savvy. The first time my boyfriend and I went to Katsuya, we sat at a counter and we could not see the menu worth a dam and struggled to order what we wanted.

Katsuya
11680 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604
★★★★★

Dude, Where’s My Food? Nobu Los Angeles

nobu-peanuts

(Excuse me, may we eat these peanuts? We’re still hungry.)

My mother always told me that Japanese food is meant to be savored with the eyes first, then the stomach. She certainly practices what she preaches because everything she prepares (even a little bento box she packs for father daily) is vibrant, playful and charming — a total visual and gastronomic treat.

My pals and I — craving something new and interesting – made a trip over the hill to check out the buzz surrounding Nobu in Los Angeles.  Located only a few blocks from the original restaurant that started the sushi revolution in Los Angeles, Nobu is the newest member of the Matstuhisa empire — and a perfect epicurean getaway for us foodies looking for a little fun in the city … or so we had hoped.

We ordered several dishes to share as suggested by our server, and when plates arrived to our table one by one, I remembered the wise words of my mother.  Dishes at Nobu were definitely a feast to the eyes.  Just a quick glance at the beautiful Toro Tartar that resembled an abstract artwork proves the pride chefs put into presentation.

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Toro Tartar with Caviar

However, what Nobu forgot was the second part of the philosophy, that it should also be enjoyed with the stomach. I understand that the majority of the clienteles in a trendy restaurant like Nobu are size 2 models and actresses, but are you kidding me?  These dishes were way too tiny!  Especially for the price we’re dishing out for these plates, we would have loved to see something with a little more substance, than just a sprinkle of chopped fish for a full order of ceviche. We ended up ordering a couple bowls of steamed rice just so that we didn’t have to make a beeline to a nearby fast food drive thru after dinner.  I was even tempted to eat those peanut-looking lights hanging from the ceiling!

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Ceviche Nobu Style

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King Crab Tempura with Amazu Ponzu Sauce (the best dish of the night!)

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Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno

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Black Cod with Miso

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Mixed Vegetable with Truffle Butter (the only dish with real substance, I thought.)

Make no mistake about it – everything served at Nobu is fresh, tasty and fabulous, and the service is absolutely out of this world (I think there were more servers than customers there!).  And Nobu Matsuhisa is pretty much a culinary God.  His ability to use traditional Japanese ingredients like yuzu and mixing it up with South American (Peruvian) touches like jalapeno is nothing less than magical.  However, the magic was lost a bit by an unsatisfactory portion. Maybe it’s just me, that I don’t have much of an appreciation for trendy, pretentious, anorexic-portion-serving dining spots, but I think I would choose the generous portion of my mom’s bento box over this fancy meals any day, thank you very much.

Nobu Los Angeles
903 North La Cienega Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
★★★☆☆

But the food alone gets ★★★★★

Best Sushi during Hibernation: Kobe Sushi

sushiI blame everything on the rain —  the traffic (which takes an hour to travel mere three miles); decrease in productivity (cold weather makes me absolutely lazy), unexplainable hunger (well, maybe that’s everyday for me)… everything. Thanks to the weeklong rain-fest in Los Angeles, I consumed extra 50 cups of hot chocolate (just to stay warm and cozy), spent extra few bucks on takeouts for dinner (who wants to go grocery shopping in pouring rain?), and spent the entire weekend in my pajamas (I can’t remember when was the last time I took shower … sorry, too much info there). It was a total unproductive, completely useless weekend for me.

What kept me alive was this lovely and friendly (and virtually unknown) Kobe sushi restaurant that I can dash to and bring food to go. Without this place, I would have just stayed in bed and starved to death. I had absolutely no desire to stand in the kitchen to cook, or put on clothes to go out to eat, so the takeout was the only option to keep myself adequately nourished as I hibernated like a bear in winter snow.

Here’s what I brought home and enjoyed at a comfort of my own home as I listened to the rain drop from the window: saba (mackerel), salmon, yellowtail and ika (squid) sushi, and a spicy yellowtail hand roll (The usual. I’m a creature of habit). I’m not a huge fan of their rolls (say no to mayonnaise!) but the nigiris are simply amazing. Although noone seems to embrace this tiny, cozy place hidden in a corner shopping center as much as I do (maybe people just can’t find the place?), trust me when I say that it offers one of the best sushis around.

Okay, time to go back to bed now.

Kobe Sushi
22984 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91367
★★★★☆

Flavor of Home: Spicy Albacore Hand Rolls

albacore-mixtureI had been away from home for the last few days and although I’d been fed pretty well during that time, my body was craving for something home-y, particularly something with soy sauce in it (I’m so Japanese). I remembered that I still had a piece of albacore that my boyfriend caught in a freezer so I decided to make spicy albacore hand rolls for dinner. It was perfect because the preparation was quick and simple, and it certainly satisfied my soy sauce and steamed rice cravings!

I absolutely adore mayonnaise and I put a dollop of the smooth, tangy mayo on pretty much anything but there’s one place even the heavenly spread is off limit and that is in a spicy fish mix. Many sushi restaurants prepare spicy tuna and other rolls by adding mayo to the fish mixture, and while it provides the rich creaminess to the overall texture, I find that the distinct flavor of the fish that makes the rolls so delicious gets lost in it. I even think it’s the restaurants’ ploy to disguise the flavor of the fish that are past the expiration date or close to going bad (I’m just saying). I think there are so many other ways to heighten the flavor of the mixture without jeopardizing its integrity.

spicy-albacoreI made mine by mixing finely chopped scallions, grated garlic and ginger, sesame oil, chili oil (ra yu), a dash of soy sauce and a bit of miso paste with chopped albacore. I smashed the albacore and incorporated all the ingredients by using the face of a knife. The chili oil should give enough heat but if you can handle more, a several squirts of Sriracha should do the job. My boyfriend is the one who recently introduced me to the idea of putting miso in it and it certainly stuck with me.
I made sushi rice by adding sweet rice vinegar to steamed rice and I wrapped the rice and the albacore with seaweed for a homemade sushi roll.

It sure is nice to be home : – )

An American Idol: Sushi Dan

a-tableI never understood why the public gets so outraged when pop stars are caught lip-synching. It seems like what people fail to distinguish is the difference between “singers,” and “performers.” For me, the Ashley Simpsons and even the Janet Jacksons of the pop world are “performers” who’s job is to entertain the crowd and not to wow them with their singing skills, so I naturally don’t put them on the same vocal standards as, say, Sarah Brightman, a songbird who makes bank on her ability to hold a tune. But that doesn’t make one better or worse than the other. Sarah can sing better than Janet, but Janet sure can move better than Sarah. They’re just …  you know … different, and it’s quite unfair to compare the apples with oranges.

For me, just like the music industry, the sushi world also has its own classifications. There are the “traditional” sushi establishments that are so hard-core that highly trained, extremely knowledgeable sushi chef will literally chop your head off with a Ginzu knife if you even think about ordering anything with mayonnaise (their names are usually Ken, Hiro, or Kaz). Then there are the “American” sushi places where cute, young sushi chefs (Peter, John, Mike — obviously made-up names) serve creative rolls and call them sushi just because they contain rice and seaweed. The truth is, the food served at both places are equally delicious in its own way, but they are two completely different genre of food and they should not be compared or be subjected to same standards.

I can see why people may think that I’m a sushi snob because I’ve only been able to find to a handful of restaurants that I think capture the true essence of the “traditional” sushi, even in this super sushi-dense San Fernando Valley.  This could be misconstrued as me being highly critical and super selective, although the truth is that I’ve been to many, many good “American” sushi places around.

Sushi Dan in Studio City, to me, is the quintessential “American” sushi establishment that serves creative and fun sushi rolls, like Shrimp Killer that has a log of cream cheese in the middle of a deep- fried, eel-sauce drenched roll. The clientale is mostly young, hip Hollywood-wannabe type and the atmopshere is busy and lively, even during lunch hours.  It offers traditional sushi menu but why bother when you can have the Yummy Crunchy and all the other interesting creations.  I was introduced to this place by my friends/colleagues only a few weeks ago, but we’ve been back for lunch already twice in a short amount of time.

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Shrimp Killer, shrimp tempura, cream cheese and cucumber inside, topped with eel sauce

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Yummy Crunchy, tuna tomato, house dressing on fried wonton skins

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Salmon sashimi

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Assortment of sushi that came with the lunch special

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Philadelpha Roll

Would I recommend this place to hard-core sushi purists (alas my boyfriend)? Probably not. But would I recommend it for someone who’s looking for some fun, delicious “American” sushi? Absolutely.

Sushi Dan
11056 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604
★★★★☆