Entering BiMi Restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles, I was at first a bit apprehensive. These days there are so many similarly designed generic, and mediocre sushi bars in town, that the experienced Japanese restaurant-hand tends to get slightly jaded.
Fortunately, BiMi is the exception. Although the décor was rather pedestrian, the owners have gone out of their way to create a pleasant, courteous and professional atmosphere. More importantly, both owners (Mr. and Mrs. Kunemoto from Yokohama, who previously operated a noodle shop and Japanese style bistro or izakaya in the area) are on-site, a critical factor in maintaining high standards. And the standard of quality is very high. In the background some jazz was playing, then Beethoven.
Although the restaurant is stocked with several excellent varieties of Japanese sake, my guest and I opted for the premium all-malt Yebisu, a rich, hoppy, refreshing brew highly prized in Japan.
Our first dish, the slightly seared, spicy albacore with crispy onion appetizer, was very good. Garnished with a sesame oil-infused seaweed salad, Japanese daikon radish, and shiso mint leaves, the slices of fresh fish were accented nicely by the combination of the red pepper seasoning, vinegar-soy ponzu sauce and the crispy fried onion topping.
Next we had a wonderful piece of big-eye maguro tuna that was particularly tasty. With this first piece of sushi, immediately we noticed the interesting nature of the chef’s unique shari, Japanese sushi rice. The owners explained that their shari, unlike that of many other establishments, was served only at room temperature and that the hint of warmth rising up from the rice into the fish intensifies the flavor.
The following piece of tai (red snapper) flown in from Japan was even better. Served with a small shiso leaf which was placed between the rice and fish, the extremely soft and delicate flavor of the snapper was balanced perfectly with the rock salt and lemon seasoning, used in place of soy sauce.
The marinated kohada (gizzard shard), albeit slightly less remarkable, was also delicious. Seasoned with grated Japanese yuzu citrus, a favorite among gourmet chefs in Japan, each restaurant’s kohada serves as a kind of barometer of quality of the shop for hard-core aficionados, and although this writer has had better, BiMi’s kohada was very good
The ankimo (steamed monkfish liver) with ponzu, was next. Although not as rich as some and lacking slightly in flavor, it was fresh tasting and lighter than usual.
Next, we enjoyed a superior piece of uni (sea urchin) from Santa Barbara. The freshness of this sublime dish was unsurpassed, and the flavor was truly exceptional.
Finally, we finished off the feast with an equally phenomenal piece of ikura (salmon eggs) marinated in a delicious homemade dashi (Japanese fish stock). My dad immediately noticed how different this ikura was from what he is normally served. This is because of the very complex marinade, called dashi. The owners explained that their particular brand of dashi was made at the shop first thing in the morning. Their hard labor did not go unnoticed.
All in all, BiMi is a great restaurant that, although a bit pricey, I would not hesitate to recommend to any sushi lover in Santa Monica. It is particularly inviting because it has the customary Japanese dishes one expects to see in Los Angeles County, but also a number of specialty dishes, such as “corn tempura” and “creamy rock shrimp” that give it some variety.
M. Spencer Hecht, Ph.D., is a professor of Japanese culture and literature at Yokohama College, Japan. He is also the son of Daily Press food and wine critic Merv Hecht.