A sushi bar is a thing of zen beauty, the ultimate voyeuristic experience. Stacks of crabs and oysters, glassed-in slabs of fish, plastic containers of sea life, vegetables and pickles -- all out there in the open for you to drool over. But the counter can be equally mysterious: What is that prickly-looking thing? Why are those fish eggs green?
There are plenty of amazing places in Los Angeles to get your omakase fix -- to put yourself in the chef's hands and try all kinds of new sea creatures and interesting combinations. But that can get expensive, and fast. Looking to expand your Japanese horizons a la carte? Give one of these unique bites a try.
3. Namako at Sushi Gen
Sea cucumbers have been used in alternative medicine to help heal wounds, and ease joint pain. You can buy them in some health stores as dietary supplement pills -- or you can take your achy bones over to the sushi counter at Sushi Gen.
There the highly qualified sushi masters will slice sea cucumbers, or namako, into tiny discs and toss them with green onions and ponzu sauce. The texture is like something between snail and squid: toothsome and not at all squishy. (Thank God. Have you seen what sea cucumbers look like in life?) If you close your eyes, you might think you're eating a marinated mushroom. And if your date is up for the adventure, it's supposed to be an aphrodisiac as well -- we'll let you test that theory. 422 E. 2nd St., Downtown; (213) 617-0552.
2. Shiokara and Kanimiso at Hamasaku
For years, Hamasaku was the place where celebrities and regulars could get fancy, over-the-top rolls named after them (like the "Sarah Michelle": tuna, spicy tuna, avocado, jalapeño). But last year the restaurant hired Kyoto-born Yoya Takahashi as head sushi chef, and he's been slowly introducing classic Japanese nigiri not often seen in these parts.
Takahashi is currently making shiokara, raw squid in a salted mix of squid guts that's usually a staple of izakayas in Japan, as the bitter saltiness of it pairs perfectly with beer. It looks unusual and tastes even stranger, with a livery funk and intense brininess. If squid's not your thing, he also makes kanimiso -- crabmeat mixed with crab brains -- that tastes like a deliciously rich crab paste. It's offal for the pescatarian set. Oh, and set your Siri reminders: cod sperm season is just around the corner. 11043 Santa Monica Blvd; Los Angeles; (310) 479-7636.
1. Engawa at Sushi Sasabune
Halibut can be found on basically every sushi menu in town, but its dorsal fin (engawa) is a specialty -- and is usually available at Sushi Sasabune. The dorsal fin runs from tail to head on the halibut, the largest flat fish in the world.
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Engawa is to halibut as toro is to tuna, a cut prized for its high fat content, soft consistency and delicate flavor. At Sasabune it's served atop warm sushi rice, topped with a bit of ponzu and just a dusting of yuzu kosho, a spicy citrus paste. It is melt-in-your-mouth delicious, not at all fishy and, as far as delicacies go, cheap!! 11917 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 478-3596.
See also: Top 5 Sushi Restaurants in the Valley
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