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Raw Power 

Yummy protoplasm, just as nature intended

Wednesday, May 26 1999
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Bu San

When you land a sushi-bar seat at Bu San, the chef will ask whether you trust him to choose the sushi. Your answer should be yes. You will probably start with three hulking slabs of tuna sashimi, then cured salmon in sheets as big as an entrée portion at La Cachette, artfully draped over little piers of rice. The chefs are fond of fishing big prawns out of the tanks, letting them nip at your nose a bit, then deftly beheading them in front of you before taking them back into the kitchen. They reappear later as sushi, sprinkled with their own roe and flying-fish eggs, garnished with the spiky heads, which are deep-fried until they're as crunchy as potato chips. Raw squid, luxuriously creamy, with a small bit of crunch at the center, taste alive. Almost alarmingly so. 201 N. Western Ave.; (323) 871-0703. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, about $40. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.

 

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Ostioneria Colima

Colima is a perfect spot to kill a hot Saturday afternoon, slurping fresh oysters -- only $10 a dozen -- and drinking cold cans of Tecate from the supermarket next door. Chase your beer with tostadas de ceviche, thick, fried corn tortillas spread with a chopped salad of marinated raw fish, onion and shredded carrot, sharp with the tang of vinegar, mellow with toasted corn, sweetly fishy in an extremely pleasant way, dusted with fresh cilantro -- it goes with Tecate the way Roquefort goes with Sauternes. Then order camarones rancheros, the best entrée, and you'll get a dozen meaty shrimp sautéed with crisp green peppers, swimming in a light, buttery tomato sauce touched with garlic -- the minimalist kind of thing Angeli's Evan Kleiman might scour fishing villages for if she specialized in Mexico instead of Italy. 1465 W. Third St.; (213) 482-4152. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $6­$20. Lot parking. No alcohol. Cash only.

 

Living Fish Center

It wasn't until we looked at the prawns leaping about the dimly lit tank, and at the plates of half the customers, that we figured out what this restaurant's specialty might be. I said a couple of words to the waitress. The chef came out from behind his counter and dipped a hand into the tank, rippling the still, clear water until a number of prawns sprang up to nip at his fingers. He plucked the liveliest specimens from the water and brought them back to his station, where he quickly removed their shells. A few seconds later, the prawns were presented on a mound of crushed ice, heads intact and very much alive. I bit into the animal, devouring all of its sweetness in one mouthful, and I felt the rush of life pass from its body into mine. It was weird and primal and breathtakingly good, and I don't want to do it again. You may want to try the fish soup or the Korean sashimi instead. 4356 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 953-1740. Open Mon.­Sat. 1 p.m.­mid. Dinner for two, food only, $15­$45. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.

 

Marouch

Order the combination dinner meza here: smooth, cool hummus, dressed with a splash of olive oil, garnished with a pine nut or two; the tart Lebanese thickened-yogurt "cheese" labneh, served with sprigs of mint; the pounded paste of veal and bulgur-wheat kibbe, either raw, as kind of a Lebanese steak tartare, or formed into vaguely Sputnik-shaped capsules and deep-fried around a ground-beef forcemeat. The bitter herbal bite of tabbouleh, chopped parsley tossed with soft kernels of bulgur, is in sharp contrast to the richness of baba ghanoush, essentially hummus with roasted eggplant in place of the garbanzo purée. Fattoush, the best version around, is a salad of sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes, spiked with crunchy chips of toasted pita bread, sprinkled with tart ground sumac berries and tossed with a lemony vinaigrette. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd.; (313) 662-9325. Open Tues.­Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $14­$22. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.

 

Seafood Strip

At Seafood Strip -- the best Taiwanese seafood place in town -- it is possible to eat something very much like a Japanese meal, starting with a large sashimi platter, impeccably fresh though not quite up to the standard set by sushi-only restaurants such as Shibucho or Sushi Ko, and moving on to whitefish fillets floating in a fine Japanese-style miso soup, or grilled fish with soybean paste. Then again, while there are plenty of deep-fried dishes here, they have nothing to do with tempura. Instead, Seafood Strip offers crunchy, thick-battered cubes of tofu that you daub with a sticky, garlicky soy; chewy fried cuttlefish balls that spurt hot juice; tofu-skin oyster-leek rolls strong with the muskiness of cooked oysters; fried cuttlefish, with a pepper-salt dip, that taste like the world's best calamari. There is a crunchy, sweet salad made from shredded jellyfish, more delicious than it sounds, and a vividly flavored appetizer of cold, sliced boiled goose. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 212, San Gabriel; (626) 288-9899. Open daily 11:30 a.m.­3 p.m. and 5 p.m.­3 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $22­$45. Beer and wine. Takeout. MC, V.

 

Shibucho

You may have experienced your own perfect fish in a Japanese restaurant -- a sushi bar is a great place for cheap epiphanies -- because raw, impeccably fresh fish needs no seasoning more elaborate than a few drops of soy sauce and the pleasant aftertaste of pickled ginger. Take the pressed mackerel sushi occasionally available at the Little Tokyo sushi bar Shibucho, fish lightly sweetened through long marination and gilded with a transparent, crunchy sliver of kelp, a slumbering bouquet of fish oils that springs to life on the palate. The snacky kinds of sushi are superb here, salmon-skin hand rolls sharp with pungent gobo root, sushi rolls stuffed with Japanese pickles, sushi of sweet shrimp. And the sashimi is very fine, artful even: streaky slices of fat tuna; rich, little clams; cool slabs of ankimo (monkfish liver) that is more or less the foie gras of the sea. 333 S. Alameda St., top floor; (213) 626-1184. Dinner daily; lunch Mon.­Sat. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12­$60. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, V, MC. (Also at 3114 W. Beverly Blvd.; 213-387-8498.)

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