Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sashi Puts the Sizzle in Manhattan Beach Japanese Cuisine

Sashi Sushi + Sake Lounge, the Japanese sushi and small plates restaurant in Manhattan Beach from Chef Makato Okuwa, has a reputation for being as much about the scene and the booze as about the food, due to its location, size, crowd and menu.  Call it the Koi of the South Bay, with more approachable prices.  I was pleasantly surprised on a recent visit by the quality of the food.

Several friends and I worked our way through a healthy amount of the menu and enjoyed what we ate.  There were several innovative takes on traditional dishes, beginning with the often ordinary edamame.  At Sashi, the edamame is served two ways: with Indian spices and with sea salt.  The edamame is served in a serving dish with two bowls, which made for an attractive plating. The Indian spices was my favorite of the two as had a little kick.  This little touch signaled to us that Chef Okuwa was looking to put his own stamp on dishes we were familiar with and was comfortable being creative.

The Shishito Peppers (above) were sauteed in a Schezuan sauce topped with dried bonito.  While not up to the level of Josef Centeno's shishito pepper dish at The Lazy Ox Canteen, this was a fun and tasty dish with several textures.

The Yellowtail with Jalapeño (above) was a winner. Thinly sliced yellowtail sashimi was topped with sliced jalapeños and Sudachi soy sauce. The jalapeños were a strong flavor component to this dish (when are they not?) and the sashimi was of high quality, with a silky texture.

The robata dishes we had were the weakest component of the dinner.  The spicy tuna and crispy rice was a pleasant iteration of a dish that I've had many times in different restaurants.

The standout dish of the meal was Spicy Miso Chilean Sea Bass, which was steamed Chilean Sea Bass with Moromiso served on sauteed baby bok choy and shaved ginger (below).  The fish was perfectly cooked and the sauce had some of Chef Okuwa's signature spice.  Ever since Matsuhisa put its miso black cod on the menu at his eponymous restaurant two decades ago, versions of the dish have appeared all over the world.  The chef took the traditional trope of miso marinated fish and made it his own with the spicy broth.  Okuwa does not shy away from heat and this dish was well composed with all the ingredients: fish, broth and bok choy, playing their parts in making a cohesive dish that was superior to the sum of its parts.

One of the last dishes we had was the Hot Rock “Wagyu” made with Snake River Farm wagyu short rib and cooked "Tableside" on a sizzling hot stone (below).  High end bbq indeed.  The meat cooked very quickly on the intensely hot stone and it was fun to have tableside preparation.  This dish was more fun than noteworthy flavorwise.  It was fine, but not memorable tastewise.

All in all I was very pleased with my meal at Sashi and would return when in the South Bay. I had previously judged the restaurant based on its appearance as all about the scene and while that it is still a large component of Sashi, Chef Okuwa is turning out some high quality dishes and it would be a shame to miss out just because  it looks like more of a place to begin an evening of South Bay revelry than a spot to have thoughtful cuisine.

Note that Sashi is having its 1st Annual Hanami (Cherry Blossom) Festival on Sunday March 27th from 4 - 8 pm.  Tickets are $40. Info here.

Sashi Sushi + Sake Lounge: 451 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach. Phone: (310) 545-0400.  Website:

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