Hamasaku is a Westside strip-mall sushi joint, its designation as such not lost on the many regulars who have gone for a particular sushi experience for a number of years. There’s a menu full of celebrity rolls – that is, name-saken sushi rolls with ingredient combinations made up by celebrities – and it is this menu on which Hamasaku has built its reputation. Until recently, that is. Now, you’ll have to specially ask for the celebrity roll menu should you want to order off it.
There was a point in time about a year ago where, upon first meeting other Angelenos and exchanging which neighborhoods we lived in, I stopped getting as many wrinkled noses and, “How’s THAT going for you?’s” in response to my living in Hollywood. But I still get them, to my own bemusement. It’s a revealing comment about the inquisitor, divulging more about their assumptions than I care to disprove. When it comes to drinking and the requisite clubbing, there has sprung up plenty of spots to disprove those stereotypes for a few years now (Library Bar, Harvard & Stone, The Spare Room, Sadie – three of which I can walk to, the other I can Metro to).
For awhile now, I’ve been craving sushi. Between engagements, typical and a-typical financial obligations as of late, I haven’t been able to satiate that desire. As it turns out, I simply didn’t know where to go – or had nowhere to go before sugarFISH opened up in Downtown LA a few days ago. Quality fish without the scene or price tag is a rare find, and I’m lucky to have been invited by Lele Massimi, one of the founders, to see exactly what they were up to. After all, this kind of research is expensive. SugarFISH will now be my home base.
Fish is bought dailyÂ from the fish market just down the street – a claim that the Brentwood, Marina del Rey and soon-to-be Santa Monica locations can’t make.Â Even when that market is closed on Sundays,Â Kazunori Nozawa still hand-picks each cut from the fishermen because he’s an insider (you may know that his reputation precedes him). This is the same fish that you would order for double the price at Sushi Nozawa, and here you will often have first choice of the rarest finds from the marketÂ because of this outpost’sÂ vicinity – just ask what the special is.Â Sitting at the sushi bar isn’t an option – because there doesn’t exist one. SugarFISH is able to sustain – and flourish – at these prices by cutting out the middle-man and preparing all food within the confines of their kitchen.
Perhaps you’re in the neighborhood but not in the mood to commit for the night. You want bites, not entrees – and were thinking something more elegant than bar food: The Nobu bar or lounge might be the perfect place to stop. They’ve recently made some additions to their already-popular menu – like Uni Dry Miso, Wagyu Dango Wasabi Saffron Aioli and Spanish Baby Octopus with Ginger Soy. Not to mention a brand new dessert menu. I will have to try that Suntory Whiskey Iced Cappuccino at least once!
And if you just want the best of what Chef Alex Becker has to offer you, you can always choose the 6-course omakase for $40. The first 3 courses are direct from the sushi bar followed by 2 dishes from the hot kitchen – and then dessert. Choices, choices…some of us are just more decisive than others.
Peep the new tapas menu below forÂ the full range:
NOBU COLD TAPAS
Nobu Style Sashimi Tacos with Yellowfin Tuna, Lobster, or Crab 8
Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno 9
Whitefish Sashimi with Dried Miso 9
Yellowfin Tuna Tataki with Tosazu or Cilantro Dressing 9
Oysters with Nobu Sauces (Ponzu, Nobu, Maui) 10
Lobster Ceviche Butter Lettuce 12
Nobu New Style Sashimi – Salmon, Whitefish or Scallop 8
Uni Dry Miso 12
Tiradito – Whitefish, Scallop, or Octopus 8
Kanpachi Agua de Chile 12
Baby Artichoke Salad with Crispy Leeks 7
Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa Dressing 10
Hearts of Palm Salad 7
NOBU HOT TAPAS
Wagyu and Foie Gras Gyozas 10
Scallop with Jalapeno Salsa 8
It was a February night in Palms when I joined a few other writers in a lesson on sake by none other than Sake Master Yuji Matsumoto. The featured brewer was Dassai, who only makes Junmai Daiginjo sake – pure sake (no added alcohol) made withÂ at least 50% polished rice grain.
It was my first time at Sushi Central and though I could appreciate the casual atmosphere – IÂ won’t be fooled again by the inconspicuous signage nor strip mall placement. It was all about the fish, and thanks to their good sushi that I could really and truly appreciate the sake we were tasting. I plan to return for the omakase when I get my next sushi kick.
We were graced by the presence of Kazuhiro Sakurai, the Dassai representative and 4th generation Vice President of the brewery, who flew in to personally tell us about his family’s sakes. Sushi chef Philip Yi (once a challenged chef in Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!) was gracious throughout the night and wowed us with his extremely good sushi. For starters, the slightly-smoky, ultra-tenderÂ OnoÂ (Yi’s self-describedÂ “crack” fish)Â left us eager for the night to come. Our saucers remained untouched and unused the entire night, leaving the chef full reign over our tastebuds with no adulteration by added wasabi nor soy sauce.
We started off our sake tasting with the most refined sake of the night, the 23 Dassai Junmai Daiginjo ($80) – which I thought was unusual at the time since I’m accustomed to working up to the highest quality from the low. Later, the order would make sense. The ultra-smooth sake was so clean and so delicious and went well with the yellowtail it was paired with. Light sake paired with a white fish – it was perfectly complimentary.
After that came the 50 Dassai, which was still very smooth but had a little bit more acidity since less of the rice grain was polished away. This was perfect because when paired with salmon belly sushi, it cut across the fattier fish – but the sake still had a good amount of finesse. Perfectly paired sake and sushi is a truly heavenly thing.
Next was the Saba, or Japanese Mackerel (title picture) – which is a saltier, less fatty fish and went well with the 39 Dassai – a variety which isn’t available in the United States. We also tried a very lightly-carbonated, unfiltered version of the 50 Dassai – only available Stateside and perfectly complimented sushi chef Philip Yi’s spicy tuna roll. Before this night, I had shunned spicy tuna rolls – but there was excellent tuna, very little mayo and a good amount of spice in the roll; I could truly appreciate the ingredients in this version of what is typically regarded as “filler appetizer!”