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Japanese, Please

May 03, 1987| Compiled by Steven Smith

If you're after more than sushi, these rather exotic, recently reviewed restaurants would be happy to oblige. KYOTO SUKIYAKI (15122 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (213) 321-1647.) Despite its shopping mall location, Kyoto Sukiyaki manages to be quite Japanese. There's a dimly lit, sing-along piano bar, so for serious dining shut yourself up in a quietly elegant tatami room and close the fusama (sliding panel). For $35 a person you can have a deluxe kaiseki dinner, with 11 courses. For starters there's an elaborate, unusual dish, a star of tofu marinated in coffee. Sashimi of red snapper and tuna is first-rate. A large broiled steak in a sizzling dish is served cut up and accompanied by a baked potato and broccoli. The remaining courses are also quite good, especially the deep-fried souffle of shrimp and egg in a tofu basket and sea eel with cucumber. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. V, MC, AE. Full bar. Lot parking. Dinner for two, $40-$70.

MATSUHISA (129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (213) 659-9639). Matsuhisa may be new, but it's already developed a loyal following. Many dishes show a South American influence (plenty of garlic) as well as a healthy imagination. Kelp-wrapped raw salmon stuffed with cucumber and garlic is remarkable. A sashimi of pompano is delicious. One of the best experimental plates is hot sea urchin with shiitake wrapped in a spinach leaf and served with a light lemon sauce. Another interesting combination is raw bay scallops with flying fish roe and mayonnaise, served in a hollowed-out orange. There's also the omakase, or "chef's choice," which might include the excellent three-color somen , pink, green and white noodles served in a miniature basket. Open for lunch Mon.-Fri, dinner daily. Reservations. V, MC, AE. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $40-$60.

NORITAKE (2732 Sepulveda Blvd., Torrance, (213) 539-3227). This small restaurant specializes in kappo done in the kansai style of western Japan. It also serves spectacular kaiseki, the kaleidoscopic dinners that typify Japanese creativity (and which must be ordered in advance). The decor here is white and simple--but the kaiseki is stunning. On our visit, the most impressive course was zensai, a marble slab with an array of jewel-like appetizers atop it. Then came mushimono ("steamed things"); sashimi (yellowtail, giant clam and halibut served in an iceblock) and nimono ("stewed things"), a stunning covered dish of sea eel and burdock root. Yakimono ("broiled things") consisted of stuffed salmon brought sizzling on a foil-covered stone. The remaining courses were no less wonderful. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. All major credit cards. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, $25-$40. ( Kaiseki prices must be decided with the chef).

TSUKUBA (2212 W. Artesia Blvd., Torrance, (213) 538-4828). This pleasantly claustrophobic restaurant--which resembles a little bamboo box--offers a numbing number of menus and specialty items. Tsukuba offers a choice of set courses with fugu (blowfish) starting at $39.50 a person (two-person minimum). Also featured are seasonal rarities like suppon (a kind of turtle) and dishes using matsutake , the costliest and most delicate of Japanese woodland mushrooms. Seiro-meshi , rice and glorious accompaniments steamed together, is served year-round. Kani no yoshinoni is whole braised crab generously laden with shiitake and a rice sauce. A deep-fried flounder is light, fresh and crispy. There's also tenderly fried soft-shell crab and a succulent braised eggplant with miso paste. Open for lunch and dinner daily. V, MC. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, $25-$75.

SEAFOOD SHOW RESTAURANT (50 Centerpointe Drive, La Palma, (714) 670-0137). The dining room is attractive and cozily expansive. The menu is divided into American fish dishes (including chicken or steak in combo plates), mesquite-grilled fish and Japanese fish dishes. The seafood here is very fresh, especially the lobster tail and the crab claws. The American side of the menu isn't bad: the Cajun prawns are fresh, a little salty and mildly hot. The grilled seafood salad is delightful, with various lettuces topped with a collection of seafood in a plum-flavored vinaigrette. Notable on the take-out menu is chakin sushi , a ball of sweetened rice topped with a tiny shrimp and wrapped in thin sheets of sweetened egg. Open for lunch Mon.-Fri, dinner daily. Sunday brunch. V, MC, AE. Full bar. Lot parking. Dinner for two, $25-$40.

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