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Sushi? What a fresh idea

April 27, 2006|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

THE perfect summer day unfurled between flurries of spring rain. The weather that night was balmy and scented with jasmine. Instead of braised short ribs or pasta fagioli, I suddenly felt like eating sushi.

It seemed the perfect opportunity to try Mia Sushi in Eagle Rock. Located on Eagle Rock Boulevard, north of Verdugo Road and south of Colorado Boulevard, it's set in a landscape of car repair shops, taco trucks and convenience stores, bracketed by an old-fashioned barbershop and a 76 station. The building, in fact, was once a car parts store, but you'd never know it now.

Owner Rudy Martinez has his mortgage office in one corner of the building, and when he got tired of driving to Little Tokyo all the time for sushi, he decided -- with the urging of his Eagle Rock friends -- to turn the rest of the building into a restaurant. A sushi restaurant. But this is not your typical strip mall sushi joint. For one thing, he's buying better fish. For another, Mia Sushi -- named for his daughter -- is a smart, good-looking place with an outdoor patio complete with a glass water feature and feathery bamboo hedges.

Behind the sushi bar work three sushi chefs with red bandannas tied around their brows and knives flashing, beneath a phalanx of carved wooden figures bearing glass bowls. The seafood displayed behind the glass all looks very fresh and appealing. The crowd at the bar is eclectic, to say the least, and highly convivial. Couples sit at the tables along the wall beneath carved wood bas-reliefs of the Buddha's serene countenance.

But the real appeal on this summery night is the patio in front. How many places are there where you can eat sushi outside in a garden setting? Not many. And certainly not any others I know of in Eagle Rock. Come full-on summer, it's going to be near impossible to get a seat out here.

Mia Sushi is also one of the few sushi restaurants where you'll see a manager -- along with the owner -- dolled up in a suit, as if to say they take this restaurant thing very seriously. Service from waiters in long black aprons is friendly and efficient. And the food is quite the bargain for the quality. Every dish we order is easily shared.

Fried calamari come cloaked in a lacy tempura batter. Somebody here really knows how to fry: The squid is delicate and tender, and not a bit greasy. "Firefish" (yellowtail sashimi topped, Matsuhisa-style, with jalapeno and cilantro) is excellent. This is one kitchen that knows enough not to drown the raw fish in too much ponzu. Hand-cut tuna tartare is piled on crispy wafers and drizzled with a spicy sesame sauce. My favorite, though, is the sunomono, cucumber and seaweed salad hemmed in with sliced octopus tentacle.

The sushi roll aficionado gets a lot of choices here, none of them boring, including the Mia Roll (California roll with spicy tuna and avocado on top), the Oxy (with salmon, shrimp, whitefish, avocado and cucumber) and the Mt. Washington (crab and cream cheese with freshwater eel and avocado). On principle, I do not eat any roll with cream cheese, so that eliminated the Mt. Washington right off and at least one other entry. Of course, we had to try the Eagle Rock, since we were right there. It's spicy tuna and fresh asparagus rolled up and flash-fried in a tempura batter. That one's a winner.

The straight sushi is good too, a bit larger than at some places -- which can be a virtue, or not, depending on your taste. The quality of the fish stands out, though. I've eaten in sushi restaurants with higher prices that didn't use such good seafood. Order some plain tuna, red snapper, mackerel or uni to see what I'm talking about.

At the very bottom of the menu, the very hungry can find a grilled New York sirloin or grilled free-range chicken teriyaki, not to get monotonous with so much raw fish.

For a neighborhood restaurant, Mia Sushi hits the sweet spot. Let's hope they can keep it up once the neighborhood discovers this sharp sushi place.

*

Mia Sushi

Where: 4741 Eagle Rock Blvd., L.A.

When: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; dinner, 5:30 to 11 p.m. daily

Cost: Appetizers, $3 to $11; salads and sashimi, $9 to $12; special rolls, $11 to $12; main dishes, $14 to $18; desserts, $4 to $9; sushi, $3 to $8.

Info: (323) 256-2562

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