Yes, America is a wonderful place. We take the best ideas from all over the world and “Americanize” them — sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But no one can beat us in marketing them.
And so it is with sushi. I was reminded of this at a tasting my editor invited me to at Sushi Roku in Santa Monica to try out the new high-end Japanese entrees on their menu, including some new sashimi selections. Yes, this was a first: my editor invited me to lunch. Of course, he wasn’t paying for it.
We started with octopus sashimi Kyoto style. The plate was presented like a picture, with green sauce framing the slices of octopus and radish. The taste of the herb vinaigrette includes a mild citrus flavor perfectly complementing the mild flavor of the octopus.
From there we moved to the toro nigiri — tuna belly sashimi with seaweed marinated in soy sauce. Toro is not cheap, but for $36 one could expect a lot. Although the texture was melt-in-the-mouth, there wasn’t much Toro flavor under the sauce. Still, it was very good.
The best of the openers was the albacore sashimi; a beautiful presentation with flowers on the plate. Again the strong garlic aioli hid some of the albacore flavor, but albacore is a strong flavored fish and the mix was pretty good, with a gentle garlic aftertaste.
The best dish of the day was the crispy rice asparagus, which I will return to order. This was like a tempura coated asparagus and was quite different from anything I’ve had before; it’s worth the trip.
The American Kobe meatballs for $12 with hot mustard will appeal to many, with its solid beef flavor and soft texture, but I’m not a meatball person, and I just didn’t find it very special.
The most Zen Japanese and beautiful of the dishes, sporting a price of $54, was the Wagyu Kobe beef “Toban-Yaki.” It was my editor’s favorite. This came in a dish with a hot black rock in the middle, surrounded by pebbles. On top of the rock were several sizzling cubes of beef imported from Japan. It was beautiful, very Asian looking, and very rich tasting of beef and fat with a spectacular aroma around the table. It wasn’t too long ago that Kobe beef from Japan was banned, along with other cuts, because of a food and mouth disease outbreak. The USDA approved some imports of Japanese beef late last year, including the famous Kobe. Sushi Roku is proud to offer Kobe beef once again.
The last dish was a “Mokoto Roll” which was spicy yellowtail and shrimp tempura wrapped in seared tuna in a spicy cream sauce ($18). I don’t think the Japanese would serve this. There were too many flavors, and too much mayonnaise sauce. But I know a lot of Americans like these fancy rolls.
We downed a couple of Japanese beers from one of the best Japanese beer lists in town, but when the second one disappeared in my belly I ordered a glass of Argentine Malbec, which was delicious and served in a perfect glass with a satisfactory portion — unlike a lot of Santa Monica restaurants, which I will identify from time to time.
Sushi Roku is definitely working on the quality of the food, and it’s getting quite good. It’s a hot destination, and generally too loud in the evenings for old people like me. The prices are pretty high. But for a local spot with a lot of spirit, it has clearly become one of the top destinations for good food and great drinks. And they have take out and delivery service! Who knew?
If you go
Sushi Roku Santa Monica
1401 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.