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Sushi Supreme

At Hide, plenty of succulent selections are in bloom at reasonable prices--and you don't have to eat raw fish.

April 09, 1998|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Skies are always blue and cherry blossoms always in bloom at Hide Sushi restaurant in West Los Angeles. This rather startling sunny panorama appears on panels that mask the lighting overhead. Otherwise, the restaurant is a plain, serviceable spot with good sushi and a few basic Japanese dishes at low prices.

Hide (pronounced HEE-deh) has such a dedicated following that you must resign yourself to a wait. On a weeknight, it took almost 40 minutes to get a seat. You sign in on a board, mark whether you prefer the sushi bar or a table, then join the line. Some pass the time drinking Japanese beer. Some bring books or magazines.

One woman clutched a magazine with actress Kyra Sedgwick on the cover, apparently unaware that just three tables away sat . . . Kyra Sedgwick. It's the sort of place where the well-known can disappear into the dressed-down crowd. A handsome soap star was at the sushi bar that same night, but my companion, who pointed this out, could not recall his name. So much for fame.

As for food, Hide does very well with a small menu that includes several sushi combinations and a separate sushi card for those who want to order a la carte. Sushi orders range from $2 to $4.80, with top-of-the-line toppings such as fatty tuna and sweet raw shrimp at market price.

Photographs mounted by the door show the sushi combinations, so there is no mystery about what you will get. I chose one called simply "mix," which contained three nigiri sushi topped with shrimp, halibut and tuna; two fried tofu puffs stuffed with sweet-tasting rice mixed with black sesame; and nori-wrapped rice rolls that contained sweet omelet, spinach and another vegetable that neither I nor the waitress could identify.

If your tastes are more exotic, go for monkfish liver or jellyfish sushi from the a la carte list. Catalina roll--clam, avocado, cucumber and fish roe--has the highest price listed, $4.80. (The night I asked for it, Hide couldn't get the proper clams, so it wasn't available.) Herring roe on kelp sounded interesting but had an odd bitter flavor that I didn't like. On the other hand, an unassuming gourd roll was quite wonderful. The filling was dried gourd shavings (kanpyo) that had been cooked and sweetened.

Raw scallops were quite pleasing, although the sweet sauce made them rather gloppy to eat. To avoid disaster, I ate the scallop chunks first, then the rice underneath. Spicy tuna roll is as spicy as a tuna roll can get, says my dinner partner, who has tried this one at various sushi spots. The yellowtail with scallions was innocuous in comparison, and freshwater eel was pleasantly sweet and tender.

Hide does a marvelous vegetable salad that can relieve the intensity of an all-sushi meal. It combines radish sprouts, slivered pickled daikon, cucumber, carrots, dried bonito and sesame seeds. You splash this with citrus-flavored ponzu sauce.

That curious broiled seafood appetizer listed on most menus as "dynamite" is here called by its Japanese name, kai yaki. Try the combination of jumbo clam, scallops, mushrooms and tiny crunchy fish roe. Hide makes the mayonnaise sauce oddly sweet, as if to echo the sweetness of fresh seafood.

Although sushi is Hide's specialty, you can have a very good meal without a shred of raw fish. The tempura and teriyaki combination seems like an endless parade of food for $10.30. First there is miso soup with tofu cubes, then a plate of freshly fried tempura that includes shrimp, eggplant, bell pepper, asparagus, zucchini and a sweet potato. Little dishes of cabbage pickle and sweet-sour cucumbers (tsukemono) come with this, and rice too. Teriyaki arrives afterward, on a black plate decorated with romaine and cut fruit. Hide's beef is so juicy and tender that you will relish this dish even if no longer hungry. There's chicken teriyaki, too, if you prefer.

Be aware that you will have to pay in cash. Signs announce this policy, but think of the embarrassment of dropping in for the first time armed only with a credit card. Oh, and if you like those cherry blossoms overhead, it may be possible to acquire some of your own. The West Los Angeles Japanese American Community Center can supply cherry blossom trees, according to a notice posted on the front window. The notice expired last August, but perhaps it will be recycled this summer.

BE THERE

Hide Sushi, 2040 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 477-7242. Open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.; closed Monday. Cash only. Beer. Validated parking in lot next door or street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $16 to $30. What to Get: Sushi combinations, kai yaki, beef teriyaki, vegetable salad.

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