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THE REVIEW

Sushi, via New York

Manhattan import Bond Street has sultry good looks, and plenty of room at the sushi bar.

April 16, 2008|S. Irene Virbila | Times Restaurant Critic

THE idea that an outpost of Bond Street, Jonathan Morr's fashionable lower Manhattan sushi bar, was slated to go into the new Thompson Beverly Hills hotel, seemed redundant, to say the least. Maybe a decade ago when the original Bond Street opened, sushi may have seemed less an everyday thing in New York. But why import a sushi restaurant that few Angelenos know? And one that's not tops in its class?

We already have a thriving sushi restaurant culture, thank you very much, and, in fact, two of the country's best known sushi chefs, Masa Takayama of Masa's and Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu, cemented their careers right here in Beverly Hills. Bond Street chef Hiroshi Nakahara, who moved to L.A. for this venture, developed his style at the original Bond Street in New York. (There is also one in Miami Beach.)

Angelenos know and revere good sushi. And it's not as if there is a shortage of chic sushi restaurants such as Koi or Katsuya where the scene trumps the food. So any upstart from the other coast has got to be gorgeous and very, very good to make an impact in this city. And it better have its act together right off the bat, because the trendoids that Bond Street presumably seeks to attract are notoriously fickle.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, April 16, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Sushi restaurant: Some editions of today's Food section review of Bond Street restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills had the wrong cross street. It should have said Crescent Drive.

In transforming a former ugly duckling of a Best Western hotel into the sleek Thompson Beverly Hills, designer Dodd Mitchell has achieved the right sultry look. You'll feel like James Bond, or at the least Austin Powers, threading your car (make it a sexy one) through the narrow gap between the hotel and the Ferrari dealership next door to the valet stand beneath glittery ring-shaped chandeliers. Out front, a long black leather sofa holds a trio of sophisticated-looking women in black sucking on cigarettes and punching numbers into cellphones: Hello? Bonjour? Moshi moshi?

The lobby is on the very cozy side (as in smallish) but outfitted with contemporary sofas and low tables for drinks. At the far end of the room is a modest bar built into a corner. In front of a blazing gas fireplace, a stunning communal table made from a slice of what looks to have been a giant old-growth tree, is set for dinner.

After checking in with hostesses who diligently scour their reservation book for your name, you'll be led to a long, skinny dining room with a sushi counter at the end.

Only nobody is sitting there. At this new Bond Street, the seats at the sushi bar are not the coveted ones. Why sit in the glare of the kitchen with your back to the room where nobody can see you? Especially not if you can snag one of the booths that line the long outside wall. But bring a posse: They're generous enough to seat five or six with a couple of chairs pulled up in front. And if you're just four, you're not getting one.

On my last visit, the doors behind the fireplace were opened up, and I discovered there's an indoor patio back there. This is appealing primarily because it's somewhat quieter than the main dining room. Here, I could talk.

If you could look in the window from the street, the scene inside would mimic the one in the recent film "Into the Wild, " in which Emile Hirsch's character passes by a trendy restaurant and looks in to see all the young guys suited up and coiffed, swirling Cabernet and flirting with women. He imagines himself there for just a minute. Nah.

Where's the wine?

Getting that glass of wine can be challenging, though. One night a friend orders up a Manhattan and the rest of us order wine. His cocktail comes right away, but our wine is missing in action. The waiter comes back many minutes later, explaining that the manager had to open up the wine cellar.

We could have eaten dinner by the time the wine arrives. And we had ordered the special bluefin toro tataki roll ($28) at the same time, but that's still nowhere in sight. We add a few more dishes to our order, and these come out first. The kitchen is backed up on the rolls, our waiter tells us, meaning more people are ordering sushi than anything else.

Tables are close enough together that you can get pointers from another table on what to order without having to ask. Just observe. That might get you tempted by the seaweed salad or one of the sushi rolls (pretty but dull).

After several evenings at Bond Street, I have a radical suggestion to make: Stay away from the raw fish and stick with salads, vegetables and main-course seafood and meat dishes. Your meal won't be inexpensive, but you won't come away as outraged.

This is a restaurant where sashimi comes two slices per order and where truffle butter, foie gras, pork belly, tarragon oil and other tricks of the new sushi chefs' trade embroider many dishes. Scallop carpaccio, for example, arrives looking very like an albino apple tart on an icy granita. "It's calamansi citrus granita," the server whispers as he sets the plate in front of us. This sounds as if it could be very delicious. Until I take a bite and find the raw scallop slice is funky and the granita is achingly sweet. I want to scrub off my tongue.

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