AT METLOX, an upscale mall in downtown Manhattan Beach, a little girl runs circles around her father on the grass next to the sleek water sculpture. Couples sit at cafe tables in the middle of the courtyard, talking and smoking. Two women with long, tanned legs are sprawled on chairs inches from an outdoor fireplace, oblivious to anything but their conversation. The outdoor terrace at Petros is packed and you can catch the occasional cry of "Opa!" from the Greek restaurant's dining room.
Meanwhile, across the courtyard, the new Sashi Sushi + Sake Lounge is under siege by the beach set checking out the new kid on the square. On a weekend night, it's very close to mayhem, though the staff members keep their cool. The dramatic fuchsia-lit bar looks like the waiting area at an airport when a flight has been delayed for hours.
A clutch of lucky folks lounge on the outdoor sofas; more would-be sake sippers wait at the door. Yet the place isn't overbooked: The wait is just 10 minutes when we show up for our reservation.
Sashi is touted as the project of Makoto Okuwa, who worked with Japanese Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. The promise of something more than the usual Japanese fusion restaurant-lounge got me into my car. Open the menu, though, and it's more of the same. It's not too original, but then neither are the menus at Koi, Katsu-ya or Takami Sushi & Robata Restaurant. Sashi is simply giving the trend-loving crowd what it wants.
The menu proposes hot and cold appetizers, robata grilled items, sushi and a slew of wacky sushi rolls wherein the taste of the fish is cleverly disguised by a motley crew of ingredients. My group samples up and down the menu -- yellowtail with jalapeno in a lake of ponzu sauce, jidori chicken "cigars" (like mini spring rolls), sweet miso calamari tempura, sushi and rolls. Most of it is ordinary, at least at this point.
The two best items we tried were the black tiger prawn tempura in a fiery wasabi sauce and the robata special that night, a chunk of yellowtail collar. Our lobster toban yaki arrived, twice, with the claw laid nicely on top of the lobster shell, but with only a bite or two of lobster inside an otherwise empty tail. As soon as we pointed out the second occurrence, however, that lobster came swiftly off our bill.
For dessert, you can have a brownie topped with green tea ice cream and then saunter over to the front courtyard to take in the sea and stars.
Sashi Sushi + Sake Lounge, 451 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach. Lunch, 11:30-a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner, 5-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat., 5-10 p.m. Sun. Full bar. Lot and street parking. Appetizers, $5-$14; salads, $7-$20; soups, noodles and rice, $6-$24; sushi, $5-$18; sashimi, $12-$38; main courses, $12-$28; desserts, $8-$12; corkage fee, $30. (310) 545-0400, www.sashisake.com.
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