I admit it, I’m an addict. Friends and clients know I “sushi quest” several times a week in effort to find local restaurants with the highest ROI, as determined by (subjectively) gauging the freshness, taste, variety of the fish, ability to make modifications (with or without additional charge, with or without attitude) for the total price. Clearly pleasant service, convenience and cleanliness of the establishment factor in as well.
#1Cost-saving tip – go for lunch or a late afternoon, or for happy hour. At these lower volume times, many restaurants offer heavily discounted specials. Call ahead if you’re trying a new place as many have odd hours, such as only being open for dinner, or closing on Sundays or between the lunch and dinner.
Another measure of a restaurant: what level of service do you get as a single diner, dressed uber –casually, as I am typically in spandex en route to or from the training studio, in off-peak hours? Pushing boundaries and surprising people are rewarding hobbies. The smart waiter should know, often the best tippers are in disguise. One who acknowledges their order is complicated, but delivers her request politely and patiently, likely waited tables at some point too. Meeting or exceeding those high expectations with a pleasant attitude, is graciously awarded.
Cheers to those who will make your order as requested, a few favorites in the Los Angeles area:
Haru, 480 S. San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048 (818) 334-2961 (a block from Beverly Center) http://harusushicafe.com
The couple who owns the restaurant, Nicky and Haru herself, always greet customers, remember returning customers and are clearly passionate about their cuisine (and relationship marketing)! Nicky will substitute brown rice in place of white rice without charge, or attitude, and make any other emendations you request. Plus, they use all fresh organic vegetables in their sushi and salads, the latter which start with ample portions of mixed greens, not that miserably non-nutritive iceberg lettuce sauced in dressing we’ve all shamefully choked down. In contrast to many places with fish this fresh and a menu this elaborate, their prices are quite reasonable. Clearly, the best value: Lunch Hand Roll Special – 3 hand rolls: eel, California and spicy tuna, organic salad and miso for $10.50! Nicky has no problem making mine without mayonnaise, brown rice instead of white, switching the California for a second spicy tuna hand roll and putting the salad dressing on the side. My favorite roll is definitely one of the healthiest too: Haru’s Cucumber – salmon, yellowtail, spicy tuna, and avocado roll wrapped with cucumber. Customers may dine in or outside under an umbrella…sunscreen it and you’re ready to go…we’re all here for the sunshine, right?!
Luckyfish. 338 N Canon Drive, Beverly Hills 90210; (Between Brighton & Dayton Way).
If in Beverly, this place has the cute conveyer belt gimmick reminiscent of Tokyo (yes, I’d like to go), where revolving colorful plates indicate the price of the item. Points for shaded outdoor seating, no points for putting a plate you touched back. Tip – just like Whole Foods, watch the chef make it before you pick up something from the belt to ensure freshness, same goes with the to-go meals plates at the front. Luckyfish is good for dates or a client meeting as the music is not overbearingly loud as in many sushi lounges. Note – these are small plates. Where prices look like half what you would pay elsewhere, you’re getting half the roll, etc. What really puts them on my list, is that with small plates you can grab a few pieces of different exotic rolls rather than committing to the whole enchilada, er, roll. Again, super for sharing with a small group or if, like me, you enjoy rolling solo in the late afternoon with an appetite for variety.
Sake House, 401 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401 310-576-7011
Great fusion sushi and attentive and polite service. 4-7pm and 10pm-12am fantastic happy hour drink and sushi specials. Loving the Sexy Roll – cucumber roll with raw salmon & a sweet sauce. Get brown rice and sauce on the side and you’re set. My favorite in the area, because you can always get a table, despite the great location just blocks from the beach. Plus, you don’t have to scream at your friends over very loud music in contrast to Ma’kai and the like.
Pearl Dragon, 15229 W Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 (310) 459-9790 www.thepearldragon.com Pricey, as always you can save bucks at the Happy Hour from 4-7pm, especially on Mondays when the house special, Makimoto Roll is ½ price. The Surf & Turf roll must be tried, with shrimp & asparagus tempura, avocado wrapped in seared rare filet mignon, topped with garlic & chopped white onion, it converts nine of ten “Meat and potatoes” guys to sushi-friendly. Nix the tempura, you won’t miss it.
Hama Sushi, 213 Windward Ave. (on circle) Venice, CA 90291 310-396-8783 http://www.hamasushi.com Very pricey but really cool surf vibe and very very fresh fish. The Orange Blossom, thinly slices of white fish served top of orange slices and cilantro dressing, and Smoke Albacore roll, slow-smoked albacore rolled in soy paper, avocado, cucumber and tobiko served with spicy mayo and ginger dressing, are unique and delicious. Next time I plan to request the Spicy Tuna Tortilla come in a soy paper wrap vs. the tortilla. You know it’s great when you’re already planning the next time.
Whole Foods Wins the speed award obviously as you can get it to go. It may or may not be national yet, but here in LA they’re making a few cucumber wrapped rolls standard in addition to brown rice rolls, which I know I enjoyed in DC. Brown rice rainbow (with aforementioned substitution for that miserable crab stick) and the Double Salmon roll are my favorites. Lastly, remembering we’re enjoying raw fish, I highly recommend you ask the chef to make your request while you wait rather than pick up the packages in the display. I have zero confidence that the roll was just made, despite the chef’s most insistent plea, and am willing to wait a moment for my health benefit.
And…if in DC, you must visit my friends at Momiji who used to see me three or more times a week. Penny runs the house, Min serves and Andy runs the upstairs bar and patio open during warm months. All employ the welcoming enthusiasm for their food and their new and returning guests (remembered by name) you’ll enjoy at Haru in LA. The rolls are exquisite and you just can’t beat the Lunch Maki Combo – salad , miso and two rolls for $10 or three for $12. I’m also completely entranced by the Capital Roll, which encloses tuna, salmon, yellowtail & white tuna in a fresh white seaweed wrap and topped with smoked eel as well as the Sweetie Roll, in which spicy salmon is stuffed inside and topped with tuna & white tuna, served with a sweet miso sauce & avocado. Each is beautifully arranged, and they happily leave sauce on the side and leave out the tempura flakes for picky b*tches like myself. I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks…
Momiji 505 H St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (202) 408-8110 www.momijidc.com
Also worth mentioning in DC, Mate 3101 K St NW, Washington, DC 20007 (202) 333-2006 www.latinconcepts.com For years, I enjoyed pre-gaming on weekends or hitting happy hour during the week. The expansive happy hour sushi and drink menu kept me coming back with clients and friends. Only downer, you won’t find a grain of brown rice or cup of green tea.
Hope this is helpful. I plan to develop a more thorough guide so that my clients may dine finely without sabotaging their diet. Shoot me an email at email@example.com if you own a restaurant or bar in LA you would like reviewed and added to my “NICE” list, or are a patron in need of healthy recommendations on any menu and how to order those items.