Centrally located on the southeast corner of Overland Avenue and Palms Boulevard in a small, unassuming shopping center, Sushi Central is a real find for any true sushi lover.
The owner of this small, unpretentious BYOB (no alcohol sold on premises) establishment is Phillip Yi, a Korean-American who grew up both in Hawaii and Washington. Do not let this dissuade you from visiting his exceptional restaurant. Chef Yi, formerly the director of the California Sushi Academy, is extremely well-versed in the traditional Japanese art of sushi, and he demonstrated his superior knowledge of the subject at a recent visit for lunch.
We opted for the popular omakase, or “chef’s special,” due to Yi’s formidable reputation and clear ability to choose the best fish for that given day.
We were not disappointed. Before deciding on the omakase, we had already ordered the premium blue crab rolls, which were absolutely fabulous with a generous helping of high-grade blue crab wrapped in a nori seaweed hand roll.
Next came one of the best pieces of saba mackerel I had ever eaten, and truth be told, I have had quite a few. Chef Yi mentioned that he had picked up a particularly fresh and delicious cut of saba at the market that day, and it truly was a superior and delicate treat.
Then came two delightful, small pieces of tai, or sea bream. The first was kurodai, or black sea bream, hailing from the waters off Greece, while the second was standard high-grade tai from Japan. The kurodai was very fresh and clean tasting, masterfully seasoned with a hint of yuzu citrus and soy sauce. The Japanese variety was similarly fresh and very delicious, clearly carefully chosen at the morning market by Chef Yi.
All pieces at the restaurant, it should be noted, are delectably seasoned by the chef himself, who astutely chooses not to use too much rice in his sushi preparation. This allows the sushi aficionado to enjoy the fish more, and also allows one to watch the calories. Chef Yi, it seems, believes in the “quality over quantity” approach, which I’ve always appreciated.
After this, we enjoyed botan amaebi, or large sweet shrimp, prepared in four stages. The first, rather unique stage was a very small shot glass filled with the liver, heart and brain of the shrimp in a light sauce. To our surprise, it was really good! Next came the sushi itself; large, slightly crunchy and very lavish, this sweet shrimp from Santa Barbara was exceptional in quality. Then Chef Yi prepared a bracing miso soup, and flavored the broth with the lightly fried shrimp shells. Finally, he served the shrimp heads themselves, deep fried and deliciously extravagant.
After this, Chef Yi made a wonderful aburi ika, or flamed squid, that was also very good, followed by a nice piece of bigeye ahi tuna from Hawaii. As he indicates on the menu, Chef Yi does not serve honmaguro, blue fin tuna, at all in his restaurant due to overfishing. This of course is admirable, but could slightly disappoint those hard-core Japanese sushi enthusiasts who worship the bluefin at all costs.
The aji, or horse mackerel, from Japan was again outstanding, seasoned lightly with ponzu and ginger, and the final, very generous dish of uni sea urchin from San Diego was probably the best I have ever tasted anywhere in the United States.
Prices at Sushi Central are commensurate with those in most high-end establishments, although perhaps a bit less justified in this location and without a liquor license. We paid $65 per person for a very fine and extensive meal. A normal menu offering could easily be selected for more like $25 per person. Customers are encouraged to bring their own beverages.
All in all, Sushi Central is a fantastic, first-rate establishment that I would whole-heartedly recommend to those in search of a quality sushi experience without the attitude so often accompanying the revered art.
If You Go
3500 Overland Ave., Suite 100
Los Angeles, Calif.
Spencer Hecht is a professor of Japanese literature in Japan, and is in Los Angeles for a few weeks visiting his parents.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Chef Phillip Yi’s name.