Each of Yen's Sushi & Sake Bar's five locations has its own feel. The Long Beach restaurant, with its concrete color scheme and mismatched wooden chairs, seems like some kind of industrial antique shop, whereas the downtown Los Angeles spot has the clean white look of a crayon factory that's good at avoiding accidents. But no matter the surroundings, all eyes are soon on the restaurant's fresh rolls, sashimi, and entrees. Again each location's menu differs, but in Long Beach specialties such as grilled jumbo shrimp with garlic salt or blue-crab hand-rolls mingle with charbroiled teriyaki salmon steak, and cuts of Spanish mackerel, fatty tuna, and yellowtail belly arrive on stark white plates.
The chefs at Sushi World take pride in their sushi rolls and Asian fusion cuisine, looking at their creations as not merely food, but edible art. They prepare baked blue-crab handrolls with garlic aioli and strawberry Cypress rolls behind the striking dark-granite sushi bar and send plates of orange-salsa-draped salmon carpaccio out to meet their fate in a flock of four-seater tables. From the kitchen also comes tempura green-tea ice cream wrapped in the same kind of chocolate cake prizefighters are wrapped in after winning a match.
Gonpachi fashions its menu of authentic Japanese fare and Edomae (Tokyo-style) sushi from locally sourced ingredients, as well as authentic foodstuffs purchased from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market. Gonpachi hand-pounds its soba noodles daily from buckwheat flour threshed and milled on the premises. These freshly noodled noodles can then be served chilled with a dipping sauce as seiro ($8) or in a hot broth as kake soba ($8–$9). Gonpachi in Beverly Hills also practices the slow-cooking robata-style, preparing delicacies such as Chilean sea bass ($6) and bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes ($3) over the gentle firelight of a traditional oak-charcoal pyramid. On the other end of the cooked spectrum, sushi fans can trap spicy tuna rolls ($5) between the bamboo chopsticks in their hands or the insect pincers on their faces. Chopsticks also protect hands from the flavor explosion of the dynamite roll ($16).
A breathtaking 21 stories above downtown Los Angeles, Takami Sushi & Robata Restaurant gives guests views of the glittering city lights below. But Executive Chef Stan Ota’s gaze, however, never leaves the chopping boards and plates in front of him. Each maki roll and fresh-seafood dish he creates is born out of a lifetime of experience spent cooking Japanese- and French-style food. His cooking has garnered recognition from many trained palates, including British food critic Jay Rayner who put Ota’s restaurant on his list of where to find the world’s best foods.
In addition to seafood such as lobster rolls and lemon-albacore rolls, the extensive menu boasts a wide selection of fine robata, from filet mignon to baby lamp chops. Beyond these printed offerings, Ota also performs a feat of Japanese cookery called Omakase–which translates literally to “I’ll leave it to you”– improvising a five-course menu based upon the fresh-market ingredients gathered that day. To compliment meals, Ota puts an equal amount of thought into his cocktail list, which features exciting blends of liquors and spices. These drinks include lychee-infused mojitos, white-tea-rose martinis, and the Serrano kiss, spiced gin and lime with muddled Serrano chili.
Diners might default to tapas bars when seeking out small plates, but there’s one more term that should be added to their search: izakaya. This is the name for Japanese eateries that churn out “pub-style small plates,” according to the Los Angeles Business Journal; Itacho is one such eatery. Its menu is filled with shareable options, such as steamed clams in an asari-butter broth, seaweed marinated with vegetables, and agedashi tofu, deep-fried cubes that dip into flavorful sauces or into customers’ pockets should they want leftovers. The reviewer from the Journal also lauded the restaurant’s simple-yet-tasty selection of sushi, and, after finishing her meal, said, “[my] only regret is that [I] have not sampled more of the menu.”
When one steps inside, Geisha House "can feel like another planet," says the Los Angeles Times. A self-described "surreal, high-class brothel," Geisha House pays homage to Japan's late-night history and adds modern twists such as backlit neon panels in sultry shades of red and pink. A curved mezzanine grants a bird's-eye view of candlelit tables crowned with specialty rolls full of burdock root, tempura flakes, torched lobster, and other adventurous ingredients. Chatter emanates from a 50-foot sake bar serving the Japanese rice liquor straight or poured into specialty cocktails, sips of which flank bites of carpaccio, mongolian lamb chops, and udon noodles in fragrant broths. A lively dance floor invites diners to remember the simple joy of motion and lets method actors cast as sprinklers fit in.