The Place: Sushi & Kushi Imai, 8300 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (323) 655-2253
The Hours: daily 5:30-7:30
The Deals: $1.00 house wines, house sake, and Sapporo draft; $4 Sapporo pitchers; reduced prices for premium sake, sushi, and appetizers
Turn the page to see what we thought.
The Digs: Located in a strip mall at the crossroads of the Miracle Mile and Beverly Hills, Sushi & Kushi Imai shares an often crowded parking lot with the usual suspects of shopping center tenants -- a dry cleaner, a salon, and a Coffee Bean. Inside, the decor is also pretty standard, with a typical sushi bar combo of tasteful gray walls, low lighting, and a smattering of Japanese paintings. There is also a hand washing station against one wall, which while convenient and attractive, can make the people seated at the table right beside it feel a bit like bathroom attendants. "Your towel, sir?"
But what separates this fish-and-skewer joint from the rest of the pack is that there are two long wooden bars here: one for sushi and one for drinking. And as the happy hour progresses and folks at the latter get a little rowdy, their feeling of conviviality spreads throughout the restaurant with the occasional conversation erupting among tables.
The Verdict: We don't know about you, but our expectations for a $1 glass of wine, even at happy hour, are pretty low -- Carlo Rossi low. But Sushi & Kushi's house white was remarkably dry and tasty, meriting a second glass. The hot house sake was an equally pleasant surprise, and $4 pitchers of Sapporo need no interpretation. This is a good place to get tipsy with haste.
It's also a good place to eat lot for cheap, with an extensive happy hour menu that includes a smattering of standard rolls (averaging $3.50), nigiri ($2.88-$6.00 for two pieces), and sashimi (between $5.50 and $15.00 for 5 pieces.) While the sushi won't send you into a fish-induced reverie, for the price, this is very solid stuff.
Kushi options include a Jidori chicken skewer for $1.50 and kobe-style beef for $6.25. Though the yakitori sauce is a tad on the cloying side, the meats are tender and well cooked, and for a single skewer, the portions are generous. In addition to tempura ($4.75) and edamame ($2.40), there is is a menu of twelve special appetizers for three bucks. The sheer quantity of these cheap options is initially thrilling, but they don't so much deliver. The miso-marinated grilled mackerel just exacerbates the fish's natural oiliness, and while the tofu in the soft shell crab agedashi has a creamy soft interior and the crab is flavorful, both quickly lose their crisp fried exteriors, creating strange floating flotsam in the dashi broth.
But if the true test of a happy hour is how happy you and your wallet feel when the hour (or two) is complete, Sushi & Kushi Imai makes a good showing, especially if you stick to the namesake dishes and the bargain booze.
Overall Grade: B