Friday, August 26, 2005

Wabi Sabi Yummy in my Tummy

Sushi. The great Californian obsession. Out here in the land of granola, we worship at the alter of raw fish, and the Japanese people know it. And boy do I love them for it.

My first experience with sushi was in Ohio. Really. I was in my last year of college and my friend Aleks convinced me to go to the local sushi place to try "sushi." I put it in quotes because I don't think what I ate qualifies as sushi. Even though I'd grown up in California, sushi was still foreign to me at that point, so I didn't really think things through when I agreed to eat there with her. Being far far away from the ocean, close only to a body of water that had caught fire from polution my freshman year, Ohio is not exactly the right place to try eating raw fish. So I suppose it's wise that she ordered a California Roll for my maiden sushi voyage, ironic for many reasons, not the least of which is it's the redheaded stepchild of the sushi world. Fake, cooked krabmeat and all. But I didn't know that, and I thought it was disgusting, which worried me immensely. What kind of foodie was I if I didn't like sushi? I swore that I would teach myself to like it. But I gave myself a break and decided to try again when I returned to California.

My first experiences were timid at best. I retried the California Roll, liking it only a tiny bit better now, but only when it was made with real crab. I liked most of the cooked sushi, unagi being my favorite. Mmmm, that teriyaki sauce is good. Then I started to branch out, tasting the different rolls, then different sushi, and ultimately progressing to sashimi. Now I am a fairly adventurous sushi eater, conservative by some standards, daring by others. But most importantly, I love sushi. I love sitting at the bar and watching the sushi chefs work their magic. I love ordering them beers and seeing what kind of special treats they'll bestow upon me. I love chopsticks. I love wasabi. I love the whole sushi experience.

Los Angeles is riddled with sushi restaurants. It's home to Matsuhisha, one of the most expensive sushi restaurants you can find, like at least $100 per person expensive. But cheap and sushi should not share space in the same sentence. Because cheap and sushi usually mean food and poisoning will follow. So I usually budget about $50 for my meal, knowing I'll eat well. Also knowing I can't eat out like that too often. So the other night, feeling like we deserved a treat, my boyfriend and I went to a place called Wabi Sabi and got our $50 worth. Plus some.

Wabi Sabi is a trendy little place on Abbot Kinney in Venice. Abbot Kinney is named for the man whose brilliant and crazy idea it was to replicate Venice, Italy in Los Angeles. Thanks to Mr. Kinney, we have beautiful canals decorating Venice, CA, now clean and scenic next to million dollar homes. Venice is an artist and hippie enclave. Abbot Kinney is the backbone of its unique vibe.

At night, the Abbot Kinney strip becomes one of the hipper places to be on the Westside. While we waited for a table at Wabi Sabi, I marveled at the outfits artfully gracing the lithe figures of the tragically hip people waiting alongside us. Sometimes I wonder how they have the time and energy to dress themselves so perfectly. Occasionally I wonder if they wear the same perfect outfit every night. But I digress. Once seated, I scanned the menu which featured both sushi and Asian bistro-type dishes from the kitchen. A dazzling array of options, both my eyes and my stomach wanted it all.

We started with the shrimp potstickers. (Pictured above with orange sauce.) They looked like raviolis to me, but they tasted like potstickers. The sauce was quite good, sweet and savory. I would have like a bit less sauce so I could taste the fresh shrimp whose flavor peeked through a bit, but it still tasted delicious. Then we began our array of specials for the night. The first was the halibut with citrus dressing. (See fish with yellow flower.) So delicious and light, it was tangy and lemony with a strong wasabi spanking at the end. Yum. Then we enjoyed the albacore sashimi (pictured above with pointy shaped fish) and the garlic tataki, (pictured above, kind of dark, sorry), and both were amazing and delicious. I felt like they could do no wrong. Every dish they brought us was better than the first. We wanted to try a few more of their specials, but it seems that other diners had the same idea and we were out of luck, so we chose a few other options. My boyfriend loves toro, so after dining on the best toro I've ever had, we selected a toro roll with green onions, (we'd already eaten the last toro sushi), and Japanese mackrel, since they were out of Spanish mackrel, one of my personal faves. Both were superior, leaving me sated and blissfully happy, especially since I'd grown incredibly hungry during our walk to the restaurant and subsequent wait for a table.

Normally at the end of a sushi meal, I'm not interested in dessert. But tonight we decided to take a peek at the dessert menu. I was surprised by the options, particularly because none featured green tea ice cream, the usual staple. After a bit of negotiating, we decided to try the chocolate fudge cake with hazelnut ice cream. And it was good. So good, I thought it was out of place at a sushi restaurant. But I just went with it, eating more than my share since the boy is a savory, not a sweet person. Dense, brownie-like, and oh so chocolatey, the cake was one of the better chocolate cakes a restaurant can offer. I know they're popular and reasonably easy to make, but it's shocking how often restaurants get it wrong. So it was that much more exciting that Wabi Sabi got it right.

In my haste to discuss the food, I've neglected to mention our unexpected dining partners, the couple sitting next to us at the bar. He was a macho, loud-talking, opinionated nutball, and his girlfriend was a prissy dieter who would only live in LA or Florida. At one point during the meal she told him that he had to stop dating other women, or he was going to lose her. Straight up now tell me is it gonna be you and me together, or are you just having fun. Paula Abdul style. His comment when she left for the bathroom after dropping that bomb was, "Do you ever know when you've really fucked something up big time?" They were fascinating.

To sum up, the food here is fantastic. Everything was uniformly great. Service was good. Present, but not overwhelming. Our placement at the counter left a little to be desired, since we were up against the wall and I didn't have good access to the sushi chefs, but the chefs were attentive regardless, and the food made up for it. There is a wait for a table if you don't have reservations, but it was only 30 minutes on a Saturday night, which isn't that bad, especially in Venice which seems to move in its own time zone. It was an expensive meal, over $100 for the two of us. But we ordered a lot of special sashimi, which was pricey and so worth it. Overall, I highly recommend Wabi Sabi. If you go, ask to sit at the counter, and hope you get some delightfully weird neighbors.

1637 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291


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