Restaurant Review #23: Shige, Santa Monica (now closed)

I've given myself permission to not write about all of my dining experiences, since I want to keep both eating out and blogging as play, not work (at least until I become a famous restaurant critic). This was supposed to be one of those nights, hence, no photos. However, I feel particularly compelled to write about this place because I think it is mysteriously overlooked and underrated.

Located on the happening corner of Santa Monica Blvd and 4th street, I have walked by this place multiple times a week since back in the day when it was named Shabu 2. I am curious and slightly troubled by the restaurant's name change. How do you say Shige? This is not a word most Americans know how to pronounce. Does that make it trendy, or a pain in the ass? (Ever notice often those two things go together?) My guess is that the owner didn't want people to think the restaurant solely did shabu shabu and thus attract a wider clientele (it seems to have trouble with this).

I've always wanted to try it, given it's convenient location, sleek interior, and sushi menu, but since there never seem to be any patrons, I took that as a sign that someone knew something I didn't, namely, that the food was bad. Maybe the problem is simply that it's slightly off the Promenade, hence out of tourist range, and not as prestigous as other area Asian places. However, I read a little orange paper sign in the window one afternoon that said the place was run by sushi chef Shigenori Fujimoto, who worked at Matsuhisa for 11 years. How could this place be bad? So I ended up eating at Shige on a whim when I got to Rocca too late to be seated on a Friday night.

There were maybe 5 other tables occupied, which is pretty slow for a Friday, but maybe not so bad for 10pm. To be safe, and because I had gorged myself on Butterfingers that afternoon, I only ordered one roll, a yellowtail roll, of course. It was fresh and yummy, and had I not been so full, it would have convinced me to order more sushi. It wasn't exciting enough to convert my friend to raw fish, but alas, not everyone can appreciate the finer things in life (Sushi, California, Me). I also ordered some teriyaki beef kebabs (this was the beginning of my cow cravings). They were on the pink side, like most people eat their meat, but surprisingly this did not turn me off. They were pretty good, but a little on the chewy and too-big-for-my-mouth side, and my first bite had a glob of fat on it (this is why I originally stopped eating meat), though the rest of it was more carefully groomed. I also had a hot sake, which was good in a standardly good way. Any sake that doesn't burn going down or taste like rubbing alcohol gets the thumbs up from me. My definition of smooth is probably different from the wine connoiseur's, but who cares? I'm the one who was drinking it. Give me a couple years and I'll probably be an obnoxious wine connoiseur, too.

My friend ordered the shabu shabu chicken, or whatever the dish is actually called, which I was glad for since that was kind of the point of the restaurant, and uncanilly appropriate since we had watched Lost in Translation the week before. Shabu shabu, for those of you who don't know, is where the restaurant brings you a plate of raw meat and vegetables which you cook briefly in boiling water and then dip into sauces. It's kind of fun, but meat cooked this way tastes like nothing and thus relies completely on dipping sauce for flavor. I wonder, could they marinate the meat beforehand to make it more exciting? Or would the boiling destroy the marinade? My overall feeling about this dish coincides with Lost In Translation's sentiment: what kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food? I'm not into fondue for the same reason. I'm hungry, and I want my food, cooked, now! Unless it's sushi, of course. Shabu shabu is especially troublesome for me, the girl who does not cook meat. I'm afraid of poisoning myself by undercooking the meat, so I invariably cook it to death instead. Unless it's on my Foreman grill, which has timing instructions for different types, cuts, and weights of meat, thus allowing me to eat properly cooked meat with less fear of death.

The three (!) servers we had ranged from professional but indifferent to so friendly as to be a bit obtrusive. Though the kitchen closed while we were there (as almost always happens when I dine out, since I never got back on American time after living in Spain, and have no desire to), we didn't feel pressured or rushed to leave.

The restaurant has a choice of tables, booths, or bar seating. We chose a booth, and it was dark, roomy, and cozy. Though the booth was dark, the restaurant overall has fairly high lighting (not too high, just not what I'd call romantic). The restaurant is nice and quiet, though not overly so, since it's not too crowded. This makes it a nice weekend night spot, since most places in LA are bursting and reservations made well in advance often a necessity. I like Shige's sleek metallic decor (see link with photos at the end of this review).

Though I would not go out of my way to eat here again, that decision has more to do with my obsession with trying new restaurants than anything else. I enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere, and I could see myself coming back at some point. I did find myself recommending Shige to a friend the other day to steer him away from Todai. Overall, I'd say that for good sushi near the Promenade, or the next time you find yourself trying to make impossible last minute dinner plans on a Friday or Saturday night, give Shige a shot. This is also a good choice when you want sushi but your friends want cooked meat, since the menu offers plenty of both. Park in the Bank of America lot (4th between Arizona and Santa Monica) for $5 if you can't find street parking--the extra $2 is worth it to avoid parking garage chaos.

401 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA
http://www.usmenuguide.com/shige.html (for restaurant photos)

1 comment:

Janet said...

Nice review. I particularly appreciate the parking info (so rare for a review to pay attention to such details).

I can see someone not appreciating raw fish, but it's hard to imagine someone not appreciating you--especially when you introduce them to new things... this is why boys suck.

I also like how you point out that this is a good place for both meat-eaters and sushi-lovers. Now maybe I can get some of my more carnivorous friends to eat out with me...