The sky is blue, we're all going to die, and Los Angeles has the best sushi in America. Some truths are immutable; even an email chain forwarded by your unhinged uncle wouldn't claim otherwise. While L.A.'s sushi dominance is recognized as fact, our focus (and therefore the focus of many sushi-seeking visitors) tends to be on the very high end and the sleek, populist mini chains. Really, the most functionally wonderful aspect of L.A.'s raw-fish wealth is in our commonplace, strip-mall sushi joints. We may take it for granted, but quality, everyday sushi restaurants are a fantastic luxury.
Take Soregashi, for instance, which opened in a strip mall at the corner of Santa Monica and Highland in August. Amid L.A.'s insane sushi wealth, Soregashi is almost unremarkable, a tiny spot that specializes in chirashi bowls and soba at lunch, and sushi and izakaya-style small plates at dinner. The breadth of choice offered in terms of raw fish is not anywhere near as wide as that of somewhere like Shunji or Kiriko. The room is basic and small. There isn't much here that you couldn't get at many other places. Yet there's a careful, quietly thrilling focus on quality, and if Soregashi were located in almost any other city in America, it likely would be hailed as extraordinary.
Soregashi is owned by a couple of veterans of the L.A. Japanese food scene, chef Shinji Sugishita and manager Tsuyoshi Kawada. The two met while working as chef and general manager, respectively, at Yabu in West Hollywood, which closed last year. They began searching for a spot in which to open their own restaurant, and fate delivered them the space in the Hollywood strip mall that used to be Itacho, which was a homecoming of sorts: Coincidentally, that exact location of Itacho is where Sugishita got his start as a chef in the United States after moving here from Kyoto, where he was originally a potter.
At Soregashi, the two owners have a straightforward aim to present Japanese food as authentically as possible. "Lots of places here serve California-style sushi and Japanese food," Kawada says. "We are trying to make very simple food, very Japanese."
While there aren't any crazy dynamite rolls on the menu, this also isn't one of those cultish places with a chef who yells at you if you order incorrectly or put wasabi in the wrong place (though he will occasionally instruct "no soy sauce!" for certain fish). It's a neighborhood restaurant, and many of the customers are there to order straightforward tuna and salmon rolls, and might not even notice the dish of fresh matsutake mushrooms perched at the end of the sushi counter. You won't find them on the menu, either, but if you ask, a cook will lovingly pick one out and carve it up into a teapot of dobin mushi, a light, steaming dashi broth flavored with shrimp and ginko. A small wedge of sudachi comes on the plate next to the teapot, and you're invited to lift the lid and squeeze the fragrant green citrus over the top of the dobin mushi, giving it a brightness that lifts up the delicate blond-wood flavor of the mushrooms. It's a highly seasonal dish — matsutake is only available for a short time each year, as is the yuzu-like sudachi — and it speaks to the type of experience available at Soregashi if you're willing to look beyond the obvious.
Each night the specials menu lists the less common fish that Kawada and Sugishita have found that morning at the market, and if you order the sushi omakase, you'll get a taste of most of them. (If you're looking to avoid bluefin tuna, you should mention this before the omakase begins, as it will undoubtedly feature the endangered fish if you don't.) During one such meal, I had some of the mildest, most supple shima-aji I've ever encountered, and a bite of aoyagi clam that popped with soft sweetness.
Sugishita's rice is more savory than much of what is served in L.A., and careful attention has been paid to its temperature and texture.
The dishes that fall more into the izakaya style of dining are worth exploration as well. There's an insanely rich braised Kurobuta pork, and crispy Jidori chicken. Sugishita is making his own silken tofu, which comes topped with an intense dashi gelee and one sweet morsel of crabmeat. Shrimp shumai also are made in-house, and are far more delicate and flavorful than most.
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There's so very much amazing sushi to be had in Los Angeles, and I'd be lying if I told you that Soregashi was among the most thrilling Japanese restaurants in town. Yet the food here is carefully and seriously prepared, and far more affordable than omakase available at the temples of sushi we all tend to lionize. Those places are wonderful, and I'm immensely grateful that we're rich in our choices at the high and low ends. But access to the unassuming but serious middle is one of the great joys of living in Los Angeles. Soregashi is a particularly fine example of that wonderful, immutable truth.
SOREGASHI | Two stars | 6775 Santa Monica Blvd., #3, Hollywood | (323) 498-5060 | soregashi-la.com | Lunch: Mon.-Fri., noon-2:30 p.m.; dinner: Mon.-Sat., 6-10:30 p.m. | Small plates, $3.50-$14.50; sushi starting at $5.50 for two pieces | Sake and beer | Lot parking