Restaurant Review #103: Hamasaku, West LA

Hamachi and uni

My friend Melanie of Daily Guilt has 101 goals, and one of them is to eat something she finds disgusting. So when she asked for ideas when we were out at Hamasaku, I suggested monkfish liver or sea urchin (uni). She chose the sea urchin, which I could blessedly bow out of trying due to my shellfish issues. Apparently, sea urchin is very runny and oozy, kind of like a fried egg. I told her that being Hamasaku, it was probably high quality uni, so if she didn't like it here, she wouldn't like it anywhere.

Almost all of Hamasaku's fish is excellent. I say almost because they don't do anything much with their octopus or giant clam (eaten on a previous visit) but then, it's hard to do them well. Giant clam is so unexpectedly crunchy that the experience seems to be more about texture than flavor, but since it doesn't have much flavor on it's own, I'd like to see a chef do something about that.

Likewise, octopus is quite chewy, but a dab of wasabi and soy sauce just isn't the right combination to enhance its flavor. The hamachi (yellowtail) is excellent though--I prefer the clean, pure light pink cuts of fish, as they're more tender than the cuts containing dark red (sorry, but I don't understand the makeup of fish well enough to explain this any better). The albacore also looked delicious, but I didn't order it myself since my roar roll had albacore.

Roar roll

What distinguishes Hamasaku from the myriad other sushi restaurants in LA is its incredibly lengthy list of innovative (some might say blasphemous) rolls. As I mentioned above, I don't do shellfish, so for me, it's easy to choose. What roll doesn't have shellfish? Then, most of the things that don't have shellfish have spicy tuna, which I hate, so those get eliminated. This leaves about four options: the roar roll (albacore, apple, crispy tempura bits, and some kind of dark, sweet sauce); the yellowtail submarine (yellowtail wrapped in cucumber with some tangyish mayo-like sauce); the Elizabeth roll (mango, cucumber, asparagus, and apple wrapped in rice paper); and the candy roll (tempura scallops, cucumber, and a mayo-based mustardy sauce with rice on the outside). I think there was also another vegetarian roll, but I can't remember. Maybe I should start taking notes (but for me, eating out is first about fun, even if I'm reviewing). A lot of the rolls are named for stars, like the Sarah Michelle Gellar roll. Is that a combination of ingredients that Sarah is particularly fond of, or what one chef thought she would taste like if she were a sushi roll? Hmm.

While most of the regular sushi menu and the lunch and dinner plates are on the website, this list of rolls is not, unfortunately. Since I'm incredibly indecisive, it's almost a good thing to have most of the options taken away from me. I haven't attempted to order one of the shellfish rolls sans shellfish (most rolls contain multiple kinds of fish, meaning there would still be plenty of substance to a roll that left out the crab) because I don't want to risk it. Hamasaku does have a bare minimum of vegetarian options, meaning that I wouldn't choose this restaurant if I were a vegetarian, but if I found myself eating here at the behest of my fish-eating friends, I wouldn't go hungry.

On my past two visits, the roar roll had been a big winner, but this time it fell short. The albacore was cold (oh, how I hate when my food just came out of the fridge) and the sauce seemed different--thicker and more dominant, when it didn't need to be.

Japanese Jewish Pizza, Part II--yes, that's really what it's called

I wanted to venture into the hot dishes this time, so I ordered the Japanese Jewish pizza. As you can see, it really is presented like a pizza, and the flavors of ricotta cheese, avocado, black miso, smoked salmon, and yellowtail (I think) and a very thin, cracker-like crust are meant to taste pizza-like when eaten all at once. Unfortuantely, it's quite difficult to get this concoction into your mouth all at once without making a mess, because there's no gooey mozarella to glue the ingredients together. I settled for eating it piece by piece, but I wasn't that into it. I just don't care for smoked salmon anymore, and I think it has too strong of a flavor for the other mellow ingredients that comprise this dish.

The Elizabeth Roll

Personally, I really like seaweed, and a roll isn't a roll without that seaweed flavor, so the Elizabeth roll really wasn't for me--but that's why I didn't order it. My friend must have enjoyed it though, because it was gone before I remembered to ask her if I could try a bite!

Candy roll

The candy roll was my favorite item of the night--I discovered that tempura scallops make a decent substitute for fried shrimp (says the girl who hasn't touched a fried shrimp in years). I think this roll could have benefitted from some mango, to add tang to flavors that otherwise were pretty similar (scallop, tempura, rice) but overall the dish was very good.


The prices are a bit steep here--the multi-ingredient rolls range in price from $15-21. When I went here for my birthday, I had sake and all the sushi I could stuff in my rather small stomach for $83 (tax and tip included)--so consider that a maximum for an average eater drinking Geikkikan (the sake seems incongruous with my eating and drinking habits, you might think, but in some ways my food habits are not so high-end). On this visit, however, I only consumed about $50 worth of food. The rolls may be pricey, but at least they're filling.

I've always had the same friendly female server, and the service has always been truly top-notch. The food arrives swiftly, and I never feel like our table has been forgotten about, whether it's time to order, time to get my water refilled, or time to pay the bill. I would recommend making reservations a few days in advance if you'll be eating here on a weekend night, especially if you want to eat at a peak time and you don't want to have a time limit on your table.

Although this is supposedly a restaurant that lots of celebrities eat at, it doesn't feel pretentious or snooty (not that I would recognize them--I know so little about pop culture that sometimes I question my nationality).

There's free valet parking (hey, it's West LA), or you can try your luck at street parking if you hate handing over your keys as much as I do (sometimes the valet will let you park your car yourself, though).

By the way, if you're plotting to kill me, shellfish won't do the trick. (Who do I think I am--Veronica Mars?)


11043 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Website (warning, plays music)
Their website has a partial menu and some fantastic photos of the restaurant's interior.

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