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Soft-Shoe Sushi 

Tap with your tuna in Studio City

Wednesday, Jun 24 1998
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Sushi on Tap is a stylish sushi bar in a Studio City mini-mall, a tap-dance-themed place with bright posters on the walls, tap documentaries flickering silently on the video screens that dot the room, and saccharine versions of jazz standards floating out of the speakers overhead. The three sushi chefs, knives flashing in what seem like spotlights, look like a dance troupe in their tight tees and flowing pants, all dancer's musculature and balletic grace.

In the time it takes to sip a glass of green tea, the chefs are out from behind the bar and into the dining room, bouncing up a hardwood aisle that bisects the room and onto a small, gleaming patch of floor that doubles as a stage. The restaurant's hostess materializes behind a synthesizer, powering out a mutated version of the power riff from the Beatles' "Come Together," as slithery a vision of the song as anything from the early Residents, distorted, loud, majestic and ineffably tinny. The chefs, in tap-equipped wingtips, stomp a weirdly incongruous Bojangles counterpoint to the metallic moans of the keyboard, twirling, hopping, unison-kicking like a chorus line from a Carol Burnett special, and just when you think the scene couldn't get any stranger, a waiter jetes out from the kitchen and improvises a solo, a bounding, swaying peyote vision of Gene Kelly's dance with the sailor mouse in On the Town.

As the chefs finish to great applause, the stink of scorched eel begins to fill the room. The chefs rush back behind the bar.

The patrons of topless shoeshine stands in the early '60s, Tom Wolfe once wrote, invariably commented on the excellent quality of the shine. And Sushi on Tap customers no doubt regularly remark on the excellence of the restaurant's cuisine.

But frankly, you probably wouldn't go to Sushi on Tap for the food. The tuna sashimi, a deceptively simple dish that is more or less the test of a sushi chef's aesthetics, seemed not so much sliced as hacked into irregular blocks, and arranged haphazardly against a rude mountain of shredded daikon like discarded scraps of wood on a building site. (It is apparently easier to train tap dancers to make acceptable sushi than it is to train accomplished sushi chefs to dance.) The shrimp on the shrimp sushi were overdone; the eel cooked to a frizzle. The piers of rice themselves are dry and underseasoned, crumbling before most people can manipulate the sushi into their mouths.

The sushi rolls tend to be a little on the clumsy side too: the lumpy California rolls (served rice side out); the mayonnaise-intensive spicy tuna rolls; and a peculiar variant of a soft-shell crab roll, with a deep-fried claw-bearing leg protruding several inches out of either side of the roll, making the thing look like an exotic, nori-bodied Beetleborg from space.

But although the selection of fish is about half of what it might be at places like Nozawa and Iroha just down the street, and the chefs may be more skilled at soft-shoe than sushi - you are more likely to engage the guys behind the bar in conversations about Savion Glover than about the provenance of the freshwater eel - the seafood at Sushi on Tap is actually quite fresh, and the preparations unobjectionable. If, like the vast majority of the customers, you come with a group, sit at a table instead of the bar, and order soba noodles, tempura and sushi assortments, you will probably leave happy.

Especially when the chefs leave the bar again, careen about the stage area to the rhythms of a sweetened recording of Cole Porter's "Let's Do It," and collapse back behind the bar, giggling as you probably did after your eighth-grade talent show.

11056 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 985-2254. Open for lunch Tues.-Fri. noon-2:30 p.m.; for dinner nightly 5:30-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. till 11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $16-$30. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.

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