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EATS: in and around the Valley | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Handsprings With Your Sushi?

Restaurant offers excellent food sauced with theatrics.

June 04, 1998|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At Sushi on Tap, an oddball but thoroughly pleasing new Japanese restaurant in Studio City, Noh meets the California roll.

As we walk through the front door of this minimalist restaurant, composed most notably of concrete blocks and a parquet tumbling floor, one of the waitresses is already doing a wild number on a Korg electronic synthesizer keyboard, while a traditionally made-up Japanese Noh dancer is doing handsprings across the dining area.

Soon the entire staff, waitresses and sushi chefs alike, is tapping furiously to atonal, avant-garde music. Think of "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk," with a little sea urchin sprinkled in. Should we be surprised? Probably not overly. In a culture that has spawned the best-selling Jerry Springer home video, this restaurant can hardly be termed shocking. It is unique, anyway, until the first imitators appear.

What actually shocked me about this place was the quality and freshness of the fish. The restaurant is on a stretch of the Boulevard already home to Sushi Nozawa and a handful of other first-rate sushi restaurants, so an accomplished kitchen is a necessity for any Japanese restaurant around here that plans to compete.

The menu is eclectic. In addition to sushi, there are two types of Japanese noodles, udon and soba, prepared in salty broth with various toppings, and also a menu section called swingin' salads, not to mention several colorful appetizers and even a few desserts.

I began a meal one evening by ordering from the specials blackboard, which is next to the stage end of the sushi bar. First to arrive at the table was the specialty hand roll called sweet and sour tempura roll, a terrific finger food. For the dish, sushi rice is rolled with lightly battered shrimp, the flying-fish roe known at a sushi bar as tobiko, nori seaweed and spices. You can order it two ways, in a long cylinder or already cut into bite-size pieces.

Then came the menu's delicious freshwater eel sashimi, delicate pieces of sweet, meltingly tender broiled eel atop tiny mounds of rice. The dish was so good that I decided not to point out that this was not sashimi at all but in fact a form of sushi. Oh, who cares?

There is much more. Agedashi-dofu is cubes of deep-fried tofu immersed in a soy-flavored dashi (broth). The cubes are lightly breaded around the edges, then topped with slivers of seaweed and katsuobushi, shaved bonito flakes that quiver strangely and unappetizingly when placed on anything hot.

I like that Sushi on Tap serves casual noodle dishes that allow you to slurp away to your heart's content. Pity that the noodles are generally overcooked.

"Sansai soba" means the buckwheat noodles come topped with wild mountain veggies such as ferns, bracken and wild mushrooms, and it is quite good. Have your udon curry nanban style, as it is eaten in the city of Osaka. That means with chicken in a spicy yellow curry sauce, and one needn't be self-conscious about the slurping.

Just wait for the music and dancing to start, an event that occurs approximately at hour intervals. Then, no one will hear you anyway.

Sushi on Tap, 11056 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Lunch Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Sunday-Thursday 5:30-10:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30-11 p.m. Parking in lot. Beer and wine only. MasterCard and Visa. Dinner for two, $25-$42. Suggested dishes: eel sashimi, $8.50; black cod yuuanyaki, $9; agedashi-dofu, $4.50; mackerel sushi, $3.50. (818) 985-2254.

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