What's that in my yellowtail roll?
Dining options in downtown Santa Monica are limited. Not that restaurants aren't plentiful, but good restaurants? Good restaurants that are open for lunch? Well, that's another story. So we decided on Sushi Mon, formerly known as Shige, formerly known as Shabu 2. That's a big warning right there, I know, but I like the space, and I like sushi. There have to be limits on how bad sushi can be when the nearest ocean is within walking distance. However, the board in the window lists such blasphemies as the Rolls Royce Roll, which includes tomato. Who puts tomato in sushi? I went in skeptical, but hopeful.
The light yellow walls weren't the greatest idea, but otherwise the space is great--bright and airy during the day, slightly hip at night, with plenty of room to space out the tables. You can sit at the square sushi bar in the center of the room, at a table next floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows, or in a dark booth off to the side. Small, shimmery mother-of-pearl tiles decorate much of the area around the bar. The floor's perimeter is lined with smooth oval stones and green plants between the tables and the windows.
Didn't I order scallop nigiri?
I used to really like this kind of sushi. I loved creative rolls oozing with cream cheese and mayonnaise (hopefully not at the same time). I remember being thrilled with something called a firecracker roll at the defunct Mon Sushi at 6th and Wilshire. It was so huge I could barely fit it in my mouth, let alone chew it. Yes, the similarity in the names of these two restaurants is suspicious, though since "mon" means "gate" in Japanese, maybe it's not that suspicious. If I were opening a restaurant, I wouldn't name it gate of anything, but a quick Google search will show that restaurant gates to India, China, dragons, and even London are quite common.
Sushi Mon quickly showed me how much my tastes have changed--an experiment I've been meaning to try for a while now. I think that something happens as you eat more sushi. You get more used to the concept and texture of raw fish. Your mouth transforms its perceptions from "eew, I can't believe I'm chewing this" to "mmm, what's next?". And that's when you stop being able to enjoy, or even tolerate, the presence of mayonnaise or spiciness in your sushi.
Suspecting that my mouth had undergone this transformation a while back, I ordered conservatively--yellowtail roll, scallop nigiri, albacore nigiri. But at Sushi Mon, there's no such thing as ordering conservatively. With few exceptions, the fish is doused or mixed with something, even when it shouldn't be.
First of all, I've gotten really accustomed to yellowtail rolls containing nothing but yellowtail. Most places specify if they add even scallion to your roll. I'm okay with scallions, but what was the reddish-orange stuff in my roll, and why did the chef think he could add that (and scallions) without my permission? Thankfully, the roll tasted fine, though the rice was too sticky, making it hard to swallow.
The scallop "nigiri" was truly alarming though, and I would have sent it back if not for the knowledge that I would be able to make a spectacle of it in my review. First of all, what the hell? I didn't order a boba fish roll. Where is my slice of smooth, succulent scallop? Secondly, you can't give a person with a shellfish allergy something with unexpected ingredients without setting off serious alarms in her head. The waitress confirmed that it didn't have any crab, and I picked off a tiny scallop with my chopsticks. The taste took me back to the salad bar at Foley's (out here it's Robinson's May), where I used to eat occasionally as a child. Remember when department stores had restaurants? The sweet mayonnaise flavor made Sushi Mon's scallop mess taste exactly like salad bar seafood salad. Scary. I left most of this on my plate.
The albacore was almost good. There was nothing wrong with the fish--at least, not that I could taste after it was smothered in condiments. Everyone knows that a brush of ponzu and a dash of the orange stuff (probably what was in my yellowtail roll, someone please tell me what this stuff is) is a great complement to albacore, but the rice shouldn't be soaked and sitting in a small puddle on the plate. And onions? I didn't order a salad, man. With so many toppings and so much sauce, it was impossible to eat the albacore properly--with my fingers, fish side down-- and not make a mess.
Finally, there's the issue of the lemon garnish. Can you imagine going to Sasabune and being given a wedge of lemon to use indiscriminately?
I didn't take advantage of the marvelously priced lunch specials because all of them came with the above five pieces of nigiri: white tuna, pepper-seared tuna, albacore, regular tuna, and salmon. Since I don't like tuna (except albacore) or salmon (I ate too much last year), the combo was out. The specials are a great deal though: you pick your price range, from about $10-15, then pick one of the roll concoctions from that category--and there are plenty of choices no matter what price suits you.
Rolls Royce Roll
If you think this is ridiculously huge, you should have seen some of the rolls I saw served to other tables--rolls that occupied an entire round plate. The Rolls Royce Roll, one of about 70 crazy sushi experiments you can choose from, is an eight-piece California roll topped with a formidable mound of seared albacore and tomatoes tossed in spicy orange mayo. Is it the size that is supposed to be reminiscent of a Rolls? Because it wasn't the quality of the ingredients (or the price!). It was better than my salad bar scallop roll, but as much as I love tomatoes, I don't think they should ever cohabitate with my sushi. Some of the pieces of seared albacore consisted only of the seared part, which seems thoughtless and which my friend wasn't fond of. The presentation was kind of sloppy and unappetizing.
The service was attentive at the beginning, but nonexistent once our food came, and it took a long time for the bill to arrive. There wasn't even anyone in sight that we could have flagged down. I've noticed in the last couple of months that this is a problem at many restaurants. The busboy refilled our water regularly, though.
The website I found through Google lists only a Las Vegas location, but has too much in common with the Santa Monica location to not be related. The Sushi Mon website for the Santa Monica location though has a .net address though--don't get the two confused.
If you're a sushi novice or a fan of mayonnaisey American concoctions, you probably won't find much fault with Sushi Mon, and the lunch special prices are killer--the Rolls Royce Roll plus five pieces of nigiri were only $10, and the quality of fish was perfectly acceptable. If you have been eating at top-notch places like Nobu and Kiriko though, do yourself a favor and keep eating there.
401 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401