If there is one, but only one, restaurant that perfectly represents this heaven-in-hell that I call “home,” it is not Urasawa, no, not Providence, neither Spago, nor Pizzeria Mozza, because we are talking not about the “most expensive” restaurant in LA, no, not the “best” restaurant in LA, neither the “most well-known” nor the “hardest reservation” in town.
No, if there is one restaurant that reflects the uniquely LA combination of every quirky, eccentric, eclectic, curious little, or big, thing about this mosaic of cuisines, cultures, lifestyles, landscapes, and tastes, the utter LA-ness of LA, it is…
I know. Sushi Roku? Have I lost my effin’ mind?!
Honey, I lost my mind months ago. Keep up!
Sushi Roku is one of those places to which I would never choose to go for a whole host of reasons most of which have to do with the concept of pseu-shi, but given circumstances that are beyond my control, e.g. a farewell luncheon for a co-worker, I will go, but not without a very vocal qualification that I am only going because I have no other choice than to be excommunicated from my job as a team hater. I find myself at Sushi Roku more often than I would ever care to admit (twice in the last thirty days), and thus, have learned to love to hate Sushi Roku, in the same way I have learned to love to hate LA. I live here because my family lives here, but truth be told, I can’t really imagine living anywhere else.
The fact that Sushi Roku serves pure, puportedly unadulterated protein alone makes it quintessential LA. No other single food, except perhaps tofu, could beat out sushi as the cuisine of choice in this city of angelic waifs. The sushi is about one third the quality of what it costs to order, not that quality matters. No one eats it anyway, do they?
What Sushi Roku is really about, then, is “the seen.” And “the scene.” The first time I ever tried Sushi Roku, I went to its only location at the time, Hollywood. I just about fell out of my seat at the elbow-to-elbow bar trying to subtly stare at Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro (yes, it was that long ago). I was at once curiously fascinated and astonishingly horrified, both because Dave Navarro had on more makeup than the woman who would go on to become the cover girl for Max Factor, and because I had just eaten a lobster burrito disguised as a sushi roll. The monster was drizzled with mayonnaise (the lobster roll, not Dave Navarro).
My recent returns to Sushi Roku – once for drinks at the bar, once for lunch – have been to the Santa Monica restaurant, in a choice corner location facing the Pacific Ocean. LA is about Hollywood, but it’s also about sprawling out from the beach to Pasadena, and if we’re getting technical, then weekends in Vegas as well. Though it doesn’t have the same exterior that suggests something of a Japanese fishing village hut as the Hollywood restaurant, the interior of the Santa Monica location is a similar, though slightly more subtle, mashup of sleek, modern Asian and zen by way of nature – dim atmosphere with lots of points of light in the form of candles or small paper wall sconces, dark, glossy wood furniture, polished concrete, and of course, the requisite bamboo and stones.
“Sushi” is in the name, but it seems an afterthought with the sushi bar tucked away in the back corner. The bar is up front, and the choice dining room seating is in the front glassed-in atrium. With the feel of patio seating, you can watch the people passing by on Ocean Avenue, but more importantly, you are protected from the elements indoors, but still have an excuse to be seen “Hollywood,” sporting your designerista sunglasses. Never mind that if you’re eating dinner, it’s nighttime. You know how bright those candles can get.
Lunch was in said “patio” dining room, which is, for the bit of bashing I gave it, quite pleasant. We had edamame on the table to keep our hands busy while we looked over the menu and pretended to care about all the work-related things under discussion. We ordered several other dishes to share as starters for the group, then our individual lunch orders. No doubt that the Tuna Sashimi Carpaccio was beautifully presented, like a fishy stonehenge of garnet flesh, though slightly over accessorized with unnecessary fried garlic chips that were bitter. The tuna wasn’t bad, but I avoided the Sesame Soy, opting instead for a custom blend of wasabi and soy sauce.
My actual lunch was something of a disappointment, though not that I expected otherwise. When Mixed Sashimi Salad came to the table, I was confused and asked the server if there had been a mistake. No, the rusty orange flood on the plate was the ginger vinaigrette that apparently, Sushi Roku doesn’t use as a normal dressing to dress salad greens, but creates a moat around the food. It didn’t taste bad, and I am certainly fond of sauces and condiments, but the fish and greens were both lost to the excess. The fish wasn’t enough to balance the glass of umeshu I had ordered on the sly, so I added a Spicy Tuna Handroll. The tuna was spicy, and I do love the added touch of a little sesame oil to
the mix, but the fish had been mixed a little too hard, rendering it a mealy mess.
Others in the group enjoyed their lunches, or at least, that’s what they said since it was on the company. I have resigned to visiting Sushi Roku after work for the bar. The bar scene isn’t particularly fun, nor is the clientele all that pretty, but it is a bar after all. If there’s Citron and soda water, it’s good enough for me. And an occasional bite of sushi or sashimi from a generous stranger to keep dirty flirty sobriety in check isn’t bad either.
1401 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401