Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Isn’t She Lovely – Sushi Karen, Culver City

Isn't she lovely...
Isn't she wonderful...
Isn't she precious...
Less than one minute old...
I never thought through love we'd be...
Making one as lovely as she...
But isn't she lovely made from love.

Stevie Wonder probably wasn’t singing about a girl named Karen, but that song comes to mind when I think about Sushi Karen in Culver City. Culver City has recently revamped their downtown area, making it a pleasant area for mid-day lunches and casual dinners. Sushi Karen is just west of the downtown Culver City and sits with a nice gray painted exterior and bright neon signs (a characteristic of many sushi restaurants) and has a romantic view of Best Buy. Named after Chef Toshi’s 3-year old daughter, it’s quite a popular sushi spot for regulars, like me. Reviews on Citysearch state that Chef Toshi also selects fish from the same purveyor for Matsuhisa and Nobu but lets you keep your arms and legs intact.

JL: “Wanna eat sushi tonight?”
Me: “Sure.”
JL: “There’s this place that serves big portions of sushi and it’s good - Sushi Karen.”
Me: “Sushi Kirin?”
JL: “No, no. Sushi Karen, like the name, Karen. Stupid.”
Me: “You’re a fob and I can’t tell the difference in your pronunciation. Let’s go.”

Sushi Karen has a nice chill atmosphere. The floor exposes concrete giving it a trendy, industrial feel. It’s somewhat dark but still intimate. I believe they play downtempo. I love any restaurant that plays downtempo. The times I’ve been there, there haven’t been many patrons, but I don’t mind an empty restaurant. I don’t have to yell over anyone else’s voice to be heard.

As JL, BR and I walked in, we were greeted warmly by the hostess and Chef Toshi himself; a very polite, humble-looking man. I wanted to sit at the bar and talk to him, but it was full. Behind the sushi bar, you can see many types of sake and Japanese beer. Has anyone ever tried Orion beer? There’s also a 6" x 8" collage of the famous Karen on the shelf. We got our menus and I could tell that Chef Toshi was eager to serve his fish to us. He asked us a few times if we were ready to order. I stayed away from the regular menu and focused on his “Specials” board.

A. Sushi Karen Menu - All for love.

B. Chef Toshi - Chef really loves what he does. You can see he's superfocused making your order. Definitely talk to him, he's quite social.

C. Sashimi Salad - For $13, you get a huge plate of greens with (I counted), at least 12 pieces of fish, including salmon, yellowtail, albacore, toro and halibut. This is lightly tossed with a delicious Sesame-Miso dressing. This is my usual order along with the Amberjack Jalapeno Kanpachi sushi.

D. Spicy Tuna Salad - My copywriter JM got this and absolutely loved this. For $8.50, he got 10-12 pieces of beautifully-seared Tuna in a spicy dressing.

E. Karen Roll - BR and JL love this roll. This huge roll contains tender-cooked salmon, cucumber and avocado, all wrapped in a soy-rice sheet. Sometimes the sheet is pink, sometimes its orange. This was really tasty and filling. $13 and well worth it.

F. Spanish Mackerel - This is one of Chef Toshi's specials listed on his board. BR loves strong-tasting fish and devoured this. It's garnished with minced garlic, ginger and green onion and served with a ponzu sauce. The garnishes really knockout the fishiness of the Spanish Mackerel. $5.50 for 2 pieces.

G. Sashimi Special - I ordered this off the "Specials" board for $20. Everything was fresh, with the Spanish Mackerel being my least favorite.

H. Amberjack Jalapeno Kanpachi - Oh man, my favorite. I get this every time I eat here along with the Sashimi salad, and I'm full. Amberjack has a similiar texture and taste to Himachi (Yellowtail). Chef Toshi adds a thin slice of jalapeno, cilantro, freshly-pressed garlic and tops it off with fresh Yuzu and soy sauce. Upon eating it, your palate will get a nice kick in the ass. My eyes enlarged in delight. 2 pieces for $5.50.

I. Tempura - Good as usual.

J. Candy Crabs - As I perused his "Specials" board, I came across Candy Crabs. I asked Chef Toshi what it was and he quickly ran into the kitchen. He came back out with a bucket of orange and black crabs. For $6, you get to send four of these guys into the deep-fry ocean for a quick bath. It's seasoned with Japanese sea salt. Chef Toshi put the crab on my plate and the crab quickly put up his dukes, faster than Daniel-San could get into the "Crane" stance. I couldn't hear him, but he was probably screaming "NOOOOOOoooOOOOooOOOO, don't even think about it. Back off b*tch!!!" We saw this guy about 5 minutes later and devoured him. It was so good. The crab meat had a subtle sweetness and the legs were crispy. I almost cut my lip with the sharp claws.

I like that Sushi Karen is small. It lets Chef Toshi interact with you and make you feel at home. I’ve been here four times already on separate occasions with JL & BR, my copywriter JM and Jeni of Oishii Eats. The Chef remembers me and always says, “Thank you for coming back.” I always tell him I’ll keep bringing more of my friends back here. The reason I keep coming back here is for the Amberjack sushi. It’s so good. I have yet to try the SuperToro, which is supposed to be extremely oily and fatty, like me. SuperToro = SuperDylan.

Me: “Chef, how long have you been open?”
Chef Toshi: “Oh, for 3 years!”
Me: “So Chef, if you have another child, are you going to name a restaurant after him?”
Chef Toshi: “Ha! It’s very hard running this restaurant. We’ll see how we do here.”

Sushi Karen is a great alternative to the Hollywood/Beverly Hills sushi spots for those that live in the Westside. Chef Toshi gives you generous portions of fish, sometimes almost TOO big. But I’m not complaining. So in the following years, if you happen to see a place like Sushi Bill or Sushi Jenny… it’s probably another work of the wonderful, Chef Toshi.

To answer Stevie Wonder's question... Yes, I think Karen is lovely, very lovely.

Thanks for reading.

Sushi Karen
10762 Washington Blvd (1 block West of Overland)
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 202-0855


Jeni said...

You like Stevie Wonder...I like 9th Wonder! It's over!

Sushi Karen wa oishiikatta! Toshi-san is cool...rooking forward to more SK candy crabs!

Anonymous said...

ok, i was there. and evey word of this review is spot on. no kidding, that spicy tuna salad was awesome. light, fresh, clean. hmm, i'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

elmomonster said...

Aha! So that's what those small crabs are called; Candy Crab. I had one at Shibucho in OC and it was a wierdly satisfying, popping a whole animal into my mouth.

BoLA said...

Hmm... CANDY CRABS? Sound dericious! ;) Will have to go back to try them!!

Daily Gluttony said...

ok, did you say there was CILANTRO on the amberjack kanpachi??? i guess nothing is sacred anymore. CILANTRO DOES NOT BELONG ON JAPANESE FOOD. That's why it's my favorite type of food. Sorry. Didn't mean to take it out on you.

BTW, I once saw Stevie Wonder at LAX and I just about died it was so cool. I called my brother to squeal about it. "I just saw Stevie Wonder!!!" I screamed. To which he said, "oh. that's nice. too bad he can't see you." Jackass.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

DG, you can easily take out the cilantro haha. George Bush once saw Stevie Wonder at a convention a few years back. George gladly waved at him. Hmmm....

Colleen Cuisine said...

sawagani crabs!! (their *official* name - although candy crabs is much cuter) I love those things! I've been looking everywhere for them... thanks Dylan!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Elmo/Colleen/Bola, definitely try these things. They are not battered like your typical soft-shell crab, and fried perfectly. The 'meat' still moist inside. Beware of the claws, they can cut your lips.

I seriously wish i had a popcorn bag full of them.

Kirk said...

Hey looks like you've found a real "keeper" here! Being recognized as a regular in a Sushi Bar has its' benefits.

rick james said...

you're an f.o.b! hahaha... hilarious ednb!

he shoulda named his kid Apple..

don't forget the luggages...

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Kirk, yeah I'm happy that I've found this to be a regular spot. I'm hoping to achieve Cheers status where even the dishwashers know my name.

Ron, haha. Dude, i have a relative named Apper, I mean, Apple. Trust me, she's damn fobby.

Pirikara said...

Ahh yuzu... I visited a Japanese American farmer (Nagatoshi farms) in Oxnard last month who grows them to no end. Amazingly fresh and tasty. I ended up snagging one when the farmer wasn't looking. I'm actually on a mission to get fresh yuzu as well. Hashimoto nursery on Sawtelle can order a pot for about $150. I don't think there's thorns on them so don't worry.

Anonymous said...

I love this place. I go every week with my biz partner. Yes, the Amber Jack kicks ass. You also have to try the Crunchy Roll.
Toshi is the man! He loves his craft.
Please only tell your closest friends about this place. I don't want it to turn into a high price, trendy place. Yes, it is that good.

Kit San said...

I totally got ripped off by Sushi Karen. I ordered a sashimi salad to go after reading your blog and they gave me chunks of stale, old fish. Couldn't eat it and I wouldn't go back.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Kit San,
Sorry you had a bad experience there. There was a time I did have 'funny' tasting albacore tuna. After that, I pretty much leave it out. Which day did you go? Hopefully not a monday. I still go there and try different stuff each time.

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