The notion that sushi is an art, both in its meticulous construction and finished form, is a cliché — but one that gets a Happy Hour reprieve at the recently opened Kimuya Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in Santa Monica (formerly known as Hakata). The bonus, other than those $1.50 pints and generous sushi bites, is that if you sit at the bar closest to the parking lot entrance, you'll notice a half dozen impromptu ink sketches behind sushi chef Matthew Han Cho's station.
“Why do you keep looking at him and not me?,” joked the head sushi chef when we kept staring at those black and white ink drawings of mountains and full moons. To our amateur eye, they were an endearing combo of calligraphy-inspired classic Edo period designs, but we were admittedly biased by the edible (sushi) art — and those $1.50 all-night pints.
We ordered a $14.95 pitcher of Asahi before realizing that Kimuya is offering such great beer deals (sushi and bar-area only) for its “grand re-opening” months, one of those “TBD” lengths of time like furniture liquidation sales: $1.50 pints of Kirin and Sapporo, $2 Asahi and house sake for $1.50.
Unfortunately, neither the waitress nor sushi chef mentioned the deal, although the bright red laminated sign was right under our noses. No matter, as the sushi and even standard beer prices here are substantially less than they were at Hakata. On our visit, the sushi was also noticeably better than before, as were the occasional tasting gifts from the chef.
This is still an everyday “value” neighborhood sushi bar — in other words, the sort of place to go for the standard sushi offerings (tuna, yellowtail, flying fish roe; all $3.50 to $4 for two pieces and the portions of fish were very generous). Uf you're a “creative” roll person, there are plenty of chubby big guys here, although we couldn't bring ourselves to try those named after neighboring institutions (the “UCLA” roll had some rather imaginative ingredients, to put it kindly).
Stick to the straightforward sashimi and sushi — and beer — and Kimuya is one of the best all-night Happy Hour sushi deals West of the 405. Not keen on the beer side of the deal? There is also a “grand opening” $27 sushi bar-only special that allows you to gorge on as many menu items as you can stomach. (Is “all-you-can-eat” oxymoronic when it comes to sushi?)
In other words, you'll have plenty of pennies leftover to buy Cho, the artistically inclined sushi chef, a $1.50 pint. As for his drawings? “No, I don't sell them, they're just drawings,” he laughed. Yeah, visual art (and sushi) dollar value perception remains a very personal thing.
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