Restaurant Review #28: Asuka, Westwood

Rainbow Roll

I needed sushi 'cause I had none

I haven't been doing a good job at all of rationing my money this month, except in the restaurant category, and a trip to a sushi restaurant was long overdue. Also, hot weather pretty much kills my appetite, so a light dinner of raw fish was the only food that sounded remotely appetizing.

I fought the law. . .

I followed my somewhat trusted Zagat guide here on its recommendation of inexpensive but high quality sushi. Sushi, I'm pretty thoroughly convinced, is definitely an area of life in which you get what you pay for. I probably should have trusted my gut when I walked in, because something about the atmosphere told me that this wasn't going to be the greatest sushi experience of my life. The restaurant is set up as one big room, with tables and booths in the center, and a sushi bar on each side. The overall color of the interior is orange, though one wall was painted bright green. The lighting was on the high side for a Japanese place, and it was fairly noisy.

...and the law won

The photos almost say it all, but I'll give you a thousand or so more words to complement them. Sure, some of the sushi is a little cheaper, maybe, but the portions are smaller (in the rolls, though not the nigiri), the atmosphere leaves something to be desired, and the presentation is sloppy. Granted, I have only experienced what one of their chefs had to offer, but a higher caliber place would never have hired this guy (or let him stay). I witnessed him crookedly hack through a roll with flimsy serrated knife. I was thoroughly confused. If I know better than to try to cut through seaweed neatly with a crappy knife (or to even use such a knife in the first place), surely a sushi chef should know this?

Toro (left) and young yellowtail (right)

Robbin' people with a six-gun

Rarely do I order anything that says M.P. next to it, but I decided to go for it, though in retrospect, I don't think anyone can justify charging $5 a bite for, well, anything. The toro was pretty melt in your mouth tasty, but it had a kind of funny aftertaste. I haven't had toro that many times. Perhaps it always has this taste and I've never noticed it before, but I definitely detected a bit of that. . . house taste. You know how some people's houses have this kind of musty smell that is so strong it permeates their entire life, including all the food they prepare? That was the aftertaste of this toro. Actually, it wasn't an aftertaste, so much as an end taste, if that makes sense. The aftertaste was still yummy. Odd, I know.

Young yellowtail was a special, and is supposed to be somewhat of a delicacy, I thought, but I really didn't think it tasted like much, and at only $5, it wasn't priced like it was anything special. Also, they were out of giant clam (the only non-shellfish sushi I have yet to try) (except blowfish, which I have no desire to try). It was about 10:00 on a Saturday, so I guess I can deal with the shortage, but I don't think a good restaurant should run out of stuff. Having worked in one though, I realize that kind of thing happens. However, I didn't work in a good restaurant, so....

Vegetable Tempura Roll

I lost my lunch and I lost my fun

My sushi chef's next faux pas was his inability to listen. I ordered a vegetable tempura roll, and got a shrimp tempura roll with some vegetables. I'm allergic to shellfish (this includes shrimp, sea urchin, lobster, crab, and most fake crab because it contains traces of crab), so I had to send it back. I'd like to get through a meal at a sushi restaurant without having to send back something because it has shellfish in it. Sigh. He apologized twice, but I was kind of bummed by the long wait time for the only roll I ordered. Also, the shrimp tempura roll had been this oversized creation, and the vegetables tempura roll that replaced it was about half the size--not much of an apology, even though I prefer rolls that actually fit in my mouth.

Yellowtail scallion roll

Not the best sushi that I've ever had

My friend had a yellowtail scallion roll and a rainbow roll. She liked them both, but is not as picky about food as I. The moral of this story is probably that if you are the average consumer of sushi, you will likely be perfectly happy at Asuka, and if you are more discriminating, you're better off sticking to higher caliber places.

Guess my tastebuds are done

We had to request the check, as no one bothered to ask us if we were finished. This is a common restaurant occurence, but that doesn't mean it doesn't get on my nerves. We had no problem splitting our bill between our two credit cards, however, our individual orders weren't listed, only a total, leaving us to go back to the menu and figure out how much we had each spent. Us po' folk only split bills when we've actually ordered about the same amount of food. The server who took our money asked if everything had been okay. He asked this in a way that indicated to me that he sensed my discontent, but I didn't see any point in saying, yeah, everything tasted fine, but maybe you could change your decor and get your sushi chef a new knife? so I just said that everything had been fine. We were thanked three times upon leaving, which my friend found excessive, but I didn't notice much. I don't think it's a bad policy.

Papa Papa Papa Papa-san, take me home. . .

So overall, I'd say:

Food-slightly above average
Atmosphere-Diner atmosphere is inconsistent with the sushi vibe; bad loud music
Parking-They have valet for $3, or you can fight for street parking
Service-Friendly but not sufficiently attentive
Price-a few pennies too high for the quality

Restaurant Asuka
1226 Westwood Blvd
West LA 90024
Lunch M-F 11:30-2:00
Dinner Sun-Th 5:30-10:00
Dinner Fri, Sat 5:30-11:00


Restaurant Review #27: Good To Eat, Santa Monica (now closed)

Goat cheese and candied walnut salad with dried cranberries

Note: As of October 2005, Good to Eat has closed. Damon and Pythias has opened in its place. The original review of Good to Eat follows.

Just off the Promenade on Wilshire between 3rd and 4th lies Good to Eat, an inviting sandwich shop of sorts that specializes in cheese. I have walked by here at least 200 times (scary thought), often admiring their sleepy nighttime chalkboard sign that says "Good To Eat Is Closed" and is adorned with chalk moons and stars. I feel bad for the place because it doesn't seem to get a lot of business. I worry about it going out of business because it is a small, independent place, and a very popular Panera with longer hours recently opened a block and a half away. So today for lunch I decided to finally see what was behind the chalkboard sign. I can't tell you how many places I eat at our of sheer curiosity. I have this awful compulsion to try every restaurant. Impossible in LA, I realize, but that's part of the beauty of living here.

I go in around 3:15 and receive a friendly but not obnoxious greeting from the guy taking orders. I search the menu in vain for the panini listings. I ask about the panini. I am pointed to a display case. I am now turned off. You mean my food has been sitting in a display case for hours? This can't be good. In addition to that meaning that my order will not be made fresh, it also means that it's likely to have that display case taste to it. I have an extremely delicate sense of taste--I can't put food in plastic bags because I can taste the plastic, I can't eat food out of display cases because I can taste the recycled display case air. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of Tupperware and foil. He tells me that they can make me whatever kind of panini I want. Great, a place that will do custom orders. I'm pleased.

So I decide to get a half sandwich and a half salad. But wait! They don't do that! They won't do that! It's either a soup and half salad or a soup and half sandwich. Huh? Panera will give me a half salad and half sandwich. They will make anything I want. Good To Eat is not doing a great job of winning any loyalty from me. So I go for the goat cheese and candied walnut salad, sans sandwich.

The salad is nothing to get excited about, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, except that I hate those funky weeds that always come in spring mix. The dried cranberries don't have that slightly rancid taste that too many dried cranberries do. The vinagrette dressing is maybe a tad heavy on the oil, but it's tasty, in an unoriginal sort of way. The lettuce is fresh. The candied walnuts, eh, they aren't too candied. The goat cheese is, dare I say, fluffy. It's got that nice chevre tang, and the fluffy texture is a lot more pleasant than the dense blocks of goat cheese I buy at Trader Joe's.

The menu consists of soups, sandwiches, and salads. Whatever basic lunch item you want, you can get it here. They also have a carrot cake and a somewhat sickeningly yellow lemon cake, about 20 cheeses, and several hot dishes, beef lasagna or grilled chicken. Almost everything here contains meat, which is another reason I wasn't too thrilled with the menu. Their bread comes from La Brea Bakery (good call) and they have a nice selection of Hansen's and Izzy (?) (you know, the people who make the pear soda) beverages, as well as the usuals.

I was hoping Good To Eat would be like Stroh's Gourmet on Abbot Kinney, but unfortunately, it is not. Stroh's is a lovely gourmet foodstuff and sandwich shop that I used to frequent after meeting an attractive farmer there one evening while I was being chased by a homeless schizophrenic man who couldn't get anyone to give him a haircut (could I have made that up?). Stroh's, while they also keep their food in a display case (I can't taste it though), has more interesting menu items, more enticing sandwich bread, and their restaurant space isn't half empty. Good To Eat is so minimalist that you almost think someone has come in and eaten half of their stock...until you realize that nothing was there in the first place. It's an odd feeling, like they're having a going out of business sale.

There is one long table inside with a red and white checkerboard tablecloth, and a few tables for two outside on a pretty busy stretch of sidewalk. The floor inside is bare concrete, and the walls are painted a muted red. There were approximately four people working, one at the register and three in the kitchen. The space is fairly narrow, but the ceilings are incredibly high. I got my food to go. It was quiet, minus the hum of the display cases and beverage fridges.

My salad was about $10 including tax and I could have had a fantastic Indian buffet for that price or less. Good To Eat is probably more of a place for the corporate Santa Monica luncher who is satisfied with ham and swiss cheese in a quiet environment. Yet, I have a feeling Good to Eat aspires, or once aspired, to be something more interesting than that. Though my food was not bad, I won't go back because it just wasn't interesting enough. I could have made the salad myself, easily, for a lot less. Minus the cheese selection, perhaps, this is not a foodie's paradise.

Good To Eat
313 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310 - 656-0012

Restaurant Review #26: Sushi House, West LA

Sushi House seemed like a promising-ish hole in the wall on Pico just east of the 10, next to Bombay Cafe and across from Chan Dara. On a Friday night at 8, the tiny space was almost completely full of jovial Asahi-sipping patrons. Since the joint was crowded, I kept my hopes up, but everything else pointed towards impending disappointment: excessively loud reggae music, ungodly mounds of bright pink ginger and bright green wasabi, and an overall yellowy dinginess that made it seem as if people should be smoking and definitely would have sent me fleeing had it not been for my obligation to the group I was meeting.

Our group of five had three tables pushed together for us by around 8:30. 3 of us had to face the wall, and we were quite crammed together. Future diners seeking a table stood about a foot away from us in the doorway, over which hung a crumpled paper spider. The walls were in a poor, crumbly condition, which was kind of a turnoff, but this was a hole in the wall place, after all, so I could deal. Clumps of ugly framed paintings, or worse, reproductions of bad paintings, festered across the wall.

When I ordered a sake, I naturally assumed I would get water, too, but I had to ask for it separately when my sake, and everyone else's water, arrived. In leiu of glasses, Sushi House likes to use mismatched brightly screaming plastic cups with hot pink straws. This might have been charming in the right restaurant, maybe, but it seemed too lacksadaisical here. I don't think anyone's water was refilled at any point. My sake was bordering on bad, though not as bad as the really bad stuff in my fridge at home. By bad, I mean it had that kind of repugnant alcohol taste that makes you want to squinch up your face and pucker your mouth. Like Popov vodka.

Since I wasn't hungry at all (I blame this on Entemann's for making such a damn good cream cheese coffee cake), and I was skeptical of the restaurant's ability to deliver edible sushi, I simply marked down one order of hamachi nigiri. The fact that the menu was crumpled and dirty with...dirt??? didn't exactly entice me to order more. In lieu of photos or descriptions, the diagrams of the house rolls were drawn in colored pencil with lines labelling the ingredients on the inside, like a biology diagram. Sushi was never meant to be dissected.

Surprisingly, the hamachi was pretty amazing, and generously cut. Had I been hungrier, I would have orderd more as sashimi. The rice wasn't particularly good, though--it wasn't vineagery enough, making it kind of dry and tasteless. Others at our table ordered various rolls, along with hamachi, tuna, albacore, and salmon nigiri. I got to try the albacore, which was a little too seared and had chili sauce on it. It tasted too much like tuna in a can, and the chili sauce wasn't a match at all. Does chili sauce belong on any kind of raw fish? I think not.

The spicy tuna roll was gloppy with mayo. I ate part of the inside. Mmm, slimy. All of the rolls were sloppily presented in a way that indicated that some thought had been given to presentation, but not enough. The effect was worse than if the maki had just been laid out in neat rows. Instead, they were lumped on top of each other like piles of small hippos. And the rolls with clunky cucumber wrappers in the place of seaweed were unwrapping themselves. The lab specimen sushi ingredients were probably trying to escape to a better restaurant.

No one ever came to take away our empty plates, except by accident when we were paying the bill. The bill, by the way, didn't list individual orders, but simply a total, leaving everyone to guess how much they owed. No one was paying enough attention to our table to notice that it was time to bring the check. No one ever asked how our food was. The diner to my left said that Sushi House was his favorite sushi restaurant, or perhaps Sushi King (which I haven't had the greatest experiences with, either). I'm not sure I value his opinion at all, since he was laying pieces of ginger over his nigiri. At the risk of sounding like the ditzy blonde valley girl I am not, Hello! The purpose of ginger is to cleanse the palate between different kinds of sushi, which means that, in essence, it cancels out the flavor of sushi. I hate to be snobbish about my food, especially since I was eating my sushi in bites and pulling it off the rice. But I really can't take people who put ginger on their sushi.

It was nice to eat at a non-stuffy sushi restaurant. I felt comfortable enjoying my fish as I saw fit, and didn't have any worries about offending any chefs, and the hamachi was great. But I can get unstuffy without an atmosphere that borders on trashy. Overall, the restaurant is simply sloppily and lazily run. Dive bar sushi is definitely not for me, and I won't be going back to this place.

Sushi House
(310) 479-1507
12013 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064


Restaurant Review #25: Nawab of India, Santa Monica


You look like you're lot's of fun. . .

Last night I realized that I have really been missing out. I prematurely judged Nawab of India on my first and second visits based on what now appear to be small flaws. On the first visit, I was so upset by the tamarind chutney that I ruled out the restaurant, because no way could it replace my favorite St. Louis Indian place, India's Rasoi. And since I had to find a replacement, well, I didn't want to go back. I had to move on. And I did return once anyway for the buffet, but was so disappointed that it wasn't as large as the buffet at India's Rasoi that I dissed Nawab that time, too.

However, last night, on my third visit, and after doing a great deal of Indian restaurant research last month and tasting many a mediocre samosa, I was just thrilled. The tamarind chutney was still uselessly watery, but I can overlook that. But only because everything else was superb, especially the samosas and the pickles.

I have noticed that when I write food reviews, I put off writing specifically about the food until last. (I don't compose my blog entries from beginning to end the way you, dear reader, read them.) I have a tendency to just want to say, "It was good! Go eat it yourself!" Here are my thoughts on the food itself, though.

I've got to have my way now baby . . .

Mint chutney, tamarind chutney, carrot and garlic pickles, and those flat crispy round things were on the table for us when we arrived. The waiter let us pick our own table, which I always appreciate. The pickles were very flavorful and not too spicy. They were very seedy and actually made it worth consuming carrots, which I am generally not a fan of at all. Trying to swallow nasty, dry, mouth-massacred mini-chunks of raw carrot makes me nearly gag, and cooked carrots don't do much more for me, but I ate lots of pickles. I didn't try the garlic pickles, though I would have liked to had I been going straight home after dinner. Since I was going to be interacting with people for the next 4 hours and wasn't sure what I'd be getting myself into if I bit into a whole clove of garlic, I decided against it. Ok, maybe I should have tried it anyway, but you never know when Mr. Right might tap you on the shoulder and then reject you because of your garlic breath. How 50's of me. Anyway, I kind of think pickles should test my food intensity tolerance, and carrot pickles don't. I wish they served lemon pickles, though it now occurs to me that perhaps I should have requested them. Perhaps they have them available for more adventerous diners who request them specifically. I am never a fan of those crispy wafer things, and this was no exception, but I don't blame Nawab for this.

I ordered lentil samosas as an appetizer, and lucky me, they first brought me the wrong dish, so I got to try both the potato and pea samosas and the lentil samosas. Both made me very happy. Three samosas come on a grease-absorbing doily on a small plate. They were a smaller size than usual, which made for a nice ratio of filling to crust, and also gave the samosas a perky come-out-and-play look, rather than the slightly dark and threatening vibe that large samosas give off. Wow, now I am imposing personalities onto my food! Owing to their perfect size, there were no unwanted bites of just filling in these samosas. The potato filling was smooth and moist, not starchy and dry, and the outside was a bit chewy and doughy where it should be, and fried to a nice crisp with just a bit of extra grease. The lentil samosas were bursting with the essence of the goodness that is Indian food. I think I could eat these every day with relish and abandon. Or rather, without relish--I didn't need any chutney to make the samosas more moist or more exciting. Finally, a samosa that can speak for itself.

The naan was glorious in its chewiness. Oh, joy. Not just another dried-out flimsy puffy thing, this naan had real heft to it. Yum.

Lamb. Baaaaaa.

Like a rabbit baby. . .

On a previous visit, I really enjoyed the bhindi masala (okra, tomato, and onion curry), but I wanted to try something different. I almost ordered meat, but wasn't sure I wanted a whole plate of it, so I ordered the mushroom mutter, a vegetarian dish of mushrooms and peas, and my friend ordered lamb with onions. The lamb dish was quite tasty-lamb has an interesting texture that I am unaccustomed to, since I feel guilty about eating it and refuse to order it (like veal). It was fully spiced and pretty moist, though it was a tad dry (but only a tad), compelling me to moisten it it in the scant bit of liquid swimming amidst the tumeric-tinged onions on the silver serving plate. The lamb was truly a carnivore's dish, since there was really nothing there to eat except big lamb-ball-shaped chunks of lamb and onions. If I were Jonathan Gold, would I have called it gamy? Perhaps, as I have noticed he has a propensity for that word, but having never eaten game, I don't understand what it means.

As for the mushroom mutter, it wasn't as good as the curries that drive me wild at Annapurna, but it was still top of the line. And why the dual language title? Why not call it goochi mutter? Or mutter goochi? It sounds so cool. I think I am getting tired of the vegetarian entrees at Indian restaurants. Last night, I was having a hard time ordering, because so many of the descriptions on the menu were not complete enough (i.e., I didn't know if a sauce would be creamy in a coconut cream way or a cow cream way) or they said that the dish was mildly spiced. If I'm eating Indian, I want heavily spiced, intense, mouth-electrifying craziness. Also, I don't like paneer much, or rather, I like it, but I don't want it in my curry, and so many dishes have it. How would I like my paneer? Plain, perhaps, served warm as an appetizer, dipped by me in pickley stuff. So to order, say, shahi paneer, the first Indian dish I loved, would basically be to order a plate of sauce, and that's not very exciting.

Mushroom mutter. But what is it saying?

Rice run baby rice run. . .

Ok, that's not how the song goes, but that's what I used to think it said. But now I know they're singing about records, not rabbits and rice. Losing your innocence is so hard sometimes. So the rice wasn't that exciting, but I didn't order the saffron rice, and probably should have. I don't know if it was the lack of saffron or a flaw in the rice but it didn't seem as fragrant and mouth-filling as basmati should be. And it really burns my hot little culo that Indian places in LA all want to charge me for rice. Please! We all know that rice is just about the world's cheapest food and not exactly difficult to prepare (unless you are me, and have never cooked a completely successful batch of rice).

Nawab of India's setup for some reason strikes me as very odd. Most of the tables are in one room, and the room just seems unusually open and not like a restaurant somehow. Also, 2 out of the 3 times I have eaten here, the restaurant has been so quiet that I have felt self-conscious about talking at a normal volume for fear that other diners and the restaurant staff would be able to listen to every word of my conversations. I like that I don't have to yell, but something in between would be nice. Maybe it's the green carpet that makes it feel wierd? Maybe it is. My dentist's office is also unusually quiet and carpeted in the same shade and texture.

Watch out here I come. . .

Nawab actually is a replacement for India's Rasoi, after all. They have my table cloths and booths--it's date-worthy. The menu is extensive, offering a variety of rices, breads, samosas, desserts, vegetarian entrees, meat entrees, and even seafood entrees. The prices are higher than other Indian restaurants--vegetarian entrees are around $12 and meat entrees are around $15, and the portions are smaller, and rice is not included. So that kind of bums me out. But at least I can get 15% off with my KCRW card. The Indian staff is unobtrusive, discreet, friendly, fast, and interested in whether you are enjoying your meal.

If you were wondering who Nawab is, he is "a commanding figure who led Sikhs through this dark period" and the founder of Dal Khalsa. Do I have any clue what this means? No. "By his bold example and his wise leadership, welded the Sikhs into a strong fighting force and implanted in their minds the vision of political sovereignty. He was a true embodiment of Sikh character forged by the alchemy of a fiery ordeal and enjoyed unique esteem for his courage, sacrifice and religious devotion." So I guess he was a cool enough dude to have a restaurant named after him. Several, actually. There are unrelated Nawab restaurants elsewhere in the country. Aren't you feeling enlightened?

This was truly one of the best meals I've had in months. It seems that the combination of good atmosphere, good food, and good service has become rare, but here, you can have it all--with a side of kick-ass samosas.

Nawab of India
1621 Wilshire Blvd.Santa Monica, 90403
(310) 829-1106
Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm
Sat 12pm-3pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm
Sun 12pm-3pm, 5pm-10pm

Buffet available during lunch hours.


Restaurant Review #24: Musha, Santa Monica

Chicken with yuzu

Why have I been to Musha more times than I've been to any other restaurant in LA? Most of the time, my obsessive drive to try new restaurants prevents me from revisiting even places I love, but Musha wins me over again and again. In a city where restaurants rarely bother to charm their patrons, Musha is a blazingly bright star, going above and beyond most places even before you walk in the door with friendly, always-changing chalkboard invitations like "Party all night long with Musha!"

Musha eschews one of the most ubiquitous traits of the Los Angeles restaurant scene -- indifference. Accidentally leave your leftovers on the table? They'll chase you out the door before you can drive off without them. Three-year-old about to run out the front door onto chaotic Wilshire Boulevard? Don't worry, the hostess will stop her. Forget your glasses? They'll hold on to them for you.

Pork, kimchee and assorted mushrooms

Musha isn't just another place to eat: it's a restaurant with a mission. The cover of Musha's menu says, in endearlingly imperfect English:

An izakaya is your place. And so the quality most prized in these traditional pub-restaurant
isn't artistry or creativity or even really good food. It's familiarity. Plain, predictable, even a
bit dowdy that's what "real" izakaya lovers love. No doubt Musha has disappointed some
these purists. For the message here is that izakaya doesn't have to choose between
old-fashioned and new-fangled. It can be both.

Indeed, Musha isn't the kind of place you visit just to quench your thirst and inhale a burger. It's much more restaurant than bar, owing to its small size, lack of liquor license, and well-conceived dishes.

The owner's personality and love of food shine in the menu, which is sprinkled with humor and trivia. In the salad section, it says, "About 70 years ago, Japanese people didn't have a culture to eat raw vegetable. Did you know that?" As far as drinks go, while they don't serve hard liquor, they do serve sangria, sake, and various cocktails made with soju, a sweet rice wine with a high alcohol content. (The sangria was on the watery side though, which was disappointing.)

On every visit to Musha, something hasn't quite met my picky standards, yet I keep returning. Why? This is definitely the friendliest restaurant in LA, with an atmosphere that's jovial and down-to-earth. On my first visit, I ended up celebrating the birthdays of two strangers. The staff turned off all the lights and the whole restaurant sang happy birthday as the birthday person was presented with a candlelit dessert.

The interior is aesthetically pleasing, right down to the plates and glasses. The dark wood interior gives the restaurant a warm, cozy feel. Some of the tables are too close together, though, and it can be difficult to hear because of this and the overall acoustics. On weeknights, the service is fine, but it can be turtle-slow on Saturday nights. Waits can also be quite long on weekends nights, and there's really no waiting area.

Musha's bathroom shows the kind of attention to detail the restaurant has when it's at its best. They take care of the basics, of course--the bathrooms are clean and don't smell. But then there are small drawings on the wall with a sign that says, "Please do not steal! Ask me and I will make one for you." They also have mouthwash and a stack of small disaposable cups (brilliant, especially if you're on a date). Surprisingly,most places don't seem to consider their restroom to be part of the restaurant, even though probably at least half of their diners will pass through, some more than once. The usual bright bathroom lights and stark decor tend to be a jarring departure from the rest of the dining experience.

Seared Albacore Tuna Salad

You might mistake Musha for a sushi restaurant if you didn't know better. What else could a Japanese restaurant five blocks from the beach be, you assume? But while Musha does serve sashimi, it does not serve nigiri or maki sushi and is not a sushi restaurant. Their sashimi isn't top quality, but it passes in crowd-pleasing dishes like the seared albacore tuna salad.

Pure tofu

The menu's many tofu dishes showcase the chef's appreciation of the soybean. This section of the menu is called "Tofu World" and urges diners to "Try all!!" The dish called Pure Tofu is described as "Tofu lovers!! This for you. The geniune soy milk tofu made the perfect softness, that could melt on your tongue. Served with kelp salt give you the new impression of tofu." Musha's description is dead-on. My previous two experiences with fresh tofu left a bitter taste in my mouth -- literally -- but Musha's tofu was addictive. The serving size was huge, too, especially considering that the dish was under $5. I've also enjoyed the tofu french fries, which are essentially thin strips of deep fried tofu that come with ketchup and mustard. They're heavier than regular fries, but healthier.

Yuba Shinjo: Shrimp dumplings wrapped with tofu skin, deep fried and served with tentsuyu dipping sauce

Though I have often felt not-quite-excited by what I consumed, I'm always excited by the variety of dishes. In addition to basic easy-to-please dishes like edamame, miso soup, and Musha's Fried Chicken, there are many unusual (for some diners), innovative, or intriguing dishes such as kabucha croquettes, dried stingray fin, and thin sliced beef tongue. They also have a plethora of vegetarian dishes--interesting, quality dishes that aren't made for the sole purpose of being vegetarian, but just happen to be.

The prices are definitely right, too. Dishes range from $4.80 for tofu to $15.80 for steak, but most plates are around $8-9. Depending on what you order, you might want 2 or more dishes to get full, though. Two usually does it for me, but I'm a light eater.

Shumai: scallop dumplings with vermicelli noodles and fish eggs

Musha's signature dish is a tall, thick omelette with chopped pieces of octopus and a sweet sauce (not pictured). It's Eat Drink and Be Merry's favorite dish, in fact, and one of the few dishes on Musha's menu that's big enough to fill me up.

Meals end with a complimentary diced orange or canteloupe and hot tea. On the way out, one of the male staff members gives a small goodie bag with Japanese hard candy in flavors like lychee and condensed milk to all female patrons. "Only for women!" he admonishes half-jokingly.

As much as I am obsessed with finding culinary perfection, it seems that the places I return to over and over again entice me withsuch great service and a cozy atmosphere that I can overlook slightly-short-of-perfect food. Having spent the rest of my life in considerably more down-to-earth cities than LA, this is a real draw for me. In spite of its occasional imperfections, Musha is one of my favorites, and I will keep going back.

424 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA
6pm to 11:30pm Daily
Musha's Website

Tip: Musha has a private room available that seats 10-12. There is no extra charge for the room but they ask that you spend at least $25 per person. That's about what I spend to eat here anyway, so I think this is a good deal for some privacy and peace and quiet.

Mushaboom, mushaboom. . .