The Robata Bar is part of a group of highly successful restaurants that includes the Sushi Roku chain and the Boa steakhouses. In fact there is a Sushi Roku in Santa Monica located just next door that shares the Robata Bar’s kitchen. So management knows what it’s doing.
Out-of-town visitors love the location near the beach and there are several above-average restaurants nearby. Boa Steakhouse across the street, Ocean Avenue Steakhouse almost next door in case you get a craving for oysters, and Misfit less than a block away immediately come to mind.
There’s a young, good-looking staff, some with attractive tattoos, and I like having the napkins on the table, where you can take as many as you need.
But wait. If you look at the reviews on the web you see a chain of complaints about management, service, and prices.
I don’t find the prices outrageous as so many others do. The last time I was there I shared a lot of dishes with a friend. While she had a $7 bottle of sparkling water, I had a Kirin draft beer for $3. What kind of crazy society do we live in now where water is twice as expensive as beer? Anyway, we spent $48 on six different plates, which seems reasonable to me for an upscale place.
The ambiance is pleasant, if a bit cramped, but that gave me a chance to talk to the people right next to me. And I’ve always found the service pleasant, although it’s true that the employees seem to spend more time talking to each other than to the guests. One unexpected pleasant feature: the music in the background (where it belongs) playing softly.
And I liked having three sauces on the table: ponzu, spicy mustard, and sweet ginger. Ditto for the flavorful vegetable skewers including the not-to-spicy grilled peppers. The most traditional skewer dish, chicken with onion and eggplant, arrived hot and did not disappoint.
But the meat and fish dishes were not as good. The skirt steak was over-marinated, losing any beef taste. The filet with fois gras and asparagus didn’t taste fresh. In fact most of the dishes relied on sauce and the marinade for flavor, especially the seafood dishes — that is just the opposite of the Japanese Robata concept, famous for serving very fresh foods that produce the fresh flavors of the products.
What we have here is a Japanese fast food place with a nice ambiance, excellent drinks, good but expensive sushi, and average skewers.
But the Robata Bar can be a good choice if you order the excellent sushi from the Sushi Roku next door, thereby avoiding its overcrowded, noisy ambiance.
The Robata Bar offers a good selection of cocktails, and to wash down the sushi there is an excellent list of Sake by the glass or, for between $20 and $190 you can select from the bottle list, among the best on the Westside. Also, Kirin, Sapporo, and Asahi Super Dry are available on tap.
If You Go
1401 Ocean Avenue
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