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Asuka Restaurant (Westwood) - new and improved

A recent Asuka review!

I have been so impressed and satisfied by Asuka that I have been back twice in the past week (lunch and dinner). This is a long review, so to summarize: fresh seafood, creative chefs, absolutely great selection on the sushi menu as well as overall with fish, meat, and salads; all coming at a reasonable price and friendly service (the parking out back help).

Before this, I had visited on and off, the most recent being over the summer last year (Aug 06) and didn't think twice of it. The sushi in particularly was made by seemingly uninspired chefs and showed in the product.

I am originally from Japan so I am picky with my sushi, although I have readjusted my standards for American sushi. Décor, apparently, means more in America --- for example Koi and Tengu are severely unbalanced in terms of presentation versus quality of food.

Anyways! Onto Asuka! I sat at the sushi bar and the first thing that I noticed that was different was the amount of specials that were available (about 15-20). My sushi chef Aki told me that the specials change daily (even between lunch and dinner) and recommended the Live Sweet Shrimp (amaebi) to start. Beautifully plump; the sushi simply melted in my mouth. I was pleasantly surprised when the head was brought out as a tempura dish soon after with the waitress saying with flourish, "It was alive 2 minutes ago!".

Well, another testament to freshness followed with the Blue Fin Toro. The color of the fish was bright, not dull. I loved the fleshy bite (not rubbery, yes!), and of course the awesome rich, toro taste.

Another thing that was different about this "new" Asuka was the creativity of the sushi chefs. I tried the Shiitake-Mushroom sushi. I was skeptical, but it was juicy and clean tasting. I highly recommend it as a finisher! The Orange Clam was something else I tried out of pure interest and it turned out beautifully. The presentation with the obaa leaf and sprinkles of masago with lemon was great.

I also tried the Edamame-Tofu, which is "yuba" in Japanese, Kyoto based and one of my favorite childhood 'nutritious' foods and it lived up to my expectations – tasty. I gulped down the cold broth, mm...

There were so many other things I wanted to try on the menu...from what I remember there was Bonito sashimi with Cilantro and Jalapeno, Kama (yellowtail neck), Oyster half shells, etc...

Non sushi items of note was the miso soup: it looks and tastes authentic (if you let it sit, the soup gets incredibly clear at the edges with the murkiness collecting in the middle) and the salads. Also try the Japanese Shiso Beef from the Robata.

For lunch, my friend had the "Tuna Plate", which included Albacore Tuna sushi, Big Eye Tuna sushi, Super White Tuna sushi and Spicy Tuna rolls. The rolls were good, but it is hard to mess up a roll. A good sushi shop does not feature more rolls than sushi. Asuka is definitely rooted in sushi, not rolls, but the ones they have are interesting and tasty, like the Lobster Langoustine Roll. You can also always request your favorite one like I did ;).

Before I forget! I chatted with the staff and was interested in hearing that there will be more changes to come in the next 2-3 weeks, one of which will be to start serving lots of different high quality wines and sake. I can't wait. If anyone has been there recently, your comments would be appreciated; if not, you should go and taste the changes! (Btw, on a completely different note, it snowed at UCLA tonight, so if you are going soon, dress warm!)

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  1. Did they improve the decor as well? What happened? A change of ownership?

    1. funny you should mention it. We were there on Sat night and the food choices--non sushi--were far better than the average Japanese place And the joint was jumping. We enjoyed it too.

      1. Asuka is our neighborhood sushi joint and Mme Zoe and I have been pushing this place on the board for years (on and off). It truly is a gem in the concrete jungle of Westwood - OK the decor is a bit 70's but you can't beat the warm welcome of the host person, owner, waitperson and the attention of either Ken or Was the sushi masters. There is a great buzz to the room with people eating good food, well prepared, good service - water, tea, booze and warm attention from the sushi deck. Chowpuplet and I had lunch there a couple of weeks ago at the grill (?) opposite the sushi bar, delicious. Appreciate Naomi's input since she really knows Japanese foods - we are just lovers and glad to know our taste is up there. I love Friday nights, its like a big party.

        1. The chef named Aki that you mention worked for many years at our favorite local (Sherman Oaks) sushi bar, Iwata. We were heartbroken when he moved to Asuka because he was our favorite chef at Iwata and he always treated us beautifully. We have been meaning to try Asuka but it's not exactly convenient for a weeknight, which is when we eat most of our sushi. Reading your positive review will serve as a nudge to get over there one night.

          1. We enjoyed Asuka this past Saturday evening. We arrived when they opened at 5:30pm and our service was very attentive; we were never without a full cup of hot tea! I ordered from the recommended fresh fish chalkboard, went from top to bottom, and everything was very fresh. I will return for the white shrimp with black caviar (if they have it)...really different.

            I thought the prices were quite reasonable for the quality. With only tea and no alcoholic beverages, we were about $60 for two. Although we did not eat a huge quantity, we were quite satisfied and even had room for a Ditty Reese cookie! When we walked back past Asuka about 7:00pm, the restaurant and sushi bar were full.

            It might be helpful to know that they have a huge (for Westwood) parking lot with valet parking.

            1266 Westwood Blvd. in Westwood

            1. Went to Asuka once after some yoga at Yoga Works, and I remember it being decent. (This was maybe in November...) Whoever writes their specials menu must be adorable and very charming!

              After reading your review, I can't wait to go again. Thanks for your post.

              1. Aha. I found it! For some reason this wasn't coming up in the search engine.

                I would like to inform people that Asuka has indeed begun to serve wines and super premium sake. Lovely selection of the Junmai Daiginjyo; the Horin and Kubota-Manjyu are superb. I like it cold as the perfect complement to sushi.

                1 Reply
                1. re: thecharliebop

                  thecharliebop - I posted above you, having enjoyed it there a couple of months ago.

                  How was the sushi?

                2. I hope what you say is true. Asuka has been my neighborhood Sushi Bar for years and steadliy went downhill-so badly that the last time I was there a few months ago it was inedible. We always go to Sushi Masu down the street (just south of Santa Monica). Will give Asuka a try again when we move back from our winter sojourn in the desert.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Mother Hubbard

                    I have not yet been to Masu, but thanks for your vote; I have been meaning to try it, and now I will. Then I will better be able to comment on Asuka. We enjoyed it once a couple of months ago -- as I posted above -- but perhaps one visit is not enough for a positive review. Perhaps some others will chime in here and report their most recent experiences. I like the location, so I want it to be good!

                    1. re: liu

                      Hi Liu,

                      I decided to go to Asuka tonight for dinner, and am confident enough to say that I stand by the quality of their food.

                      I sat at the sushi bar and ordered from the Sushi Bar Specials while enjoying some Horin sake. Amazing variety. First thing on the list was the 'Kobe Beef & Foie Gras tataki sushi'. I couldn't be denied, and neither could anyone else sitting near me. I had never tried it, but curiosity paid off big time. It was absolutely delicious.

                      I had my old favorite, some fresh, pink Kampachi, then tried the Sea Bass sushi and the Blue Fin O-Toro sushi. O-Toro, with all its fatty splendor, is always good; but this piece lingered in such a pleasant way on my palate. The Sea Bass sushi was light with good color as well.

                      I got my vegetables from the former robata bar, which is now a yakitori bar that cooks food over a charcoal grill. I had the Japanese shishito peppers that gave a nice bite to end the meal, as well as surprisingly tasty yakitori chicken, which was clean and tender.

                      The white shrimp with caviar that you experienced sounds divine! I don't think your judgment is misplaced, and urge you (and Mother Hubbard!) to go back, at least to try that Kobe Beef & Foie Gras sushi!

                      1. re: thecharliebop

                        Hi, thecharliebop!
                        Oh, I am so glad to read your very positive review of Asuka, and I thank you for reporting the details. It confirms everything that I experienced there, and you ventured out even further to the adjacent yakitori bar for their shishito peppers -- my favorite! I could have been there with you; I love what you ordered!

                        So now I have a mission: to get there as soon as I can -- and when I do, I will definitely try the Kobe beef and foie gras sushi, along with all the other things you ordered AND everything on the chalkboard...AND yes, the shishito peppers!

                        Have YOU been to Sushi Masu in Westwood (as mentioned above by Mother Hubbard)...and if so, how do you think it compares with Asuka?

                        1. re: thecharliebop

                          Don't forget the Sushimasters - Ken (wonderful) and Wasa - very knowledgable, attentive and sweet plus the really good service for tea and saki PLUS the big hand welcome at the front by Madame and the Owner who are really hands on. Parking is good too and I love it that they open at 5.30pm for dinner and there are always people waiting - tells you something.

                    2. Finally made it for lunch. Thumbs down.

                      Started with bluefin tuna sushi, offered as "special." Huge pieces of mediocre fish. Bright red; no taste; probably treated with carbon monoxide. Texture of the rice was awful.

                      See N.Y. Times article about the scurge of subpar sushi bars - carbon monoxide treated tuna:

                      King crab roll. Mediocre.

                      Spicy tuna roll. Verged on inedible.

                      Stopped. Just couldn't order any more of this subpar sushi.

                      They also charged $1.50 for tea, a pet peeve of mine. Would have gone over better if the sushi was decent.

                      On the positive side, the bus boy was very efficient.

                      I won't be back.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: omotosando

                        Really? I think you must've went on a bad day or something. I've been to many sushi places in LA and NY, especially the famous ones and Asuka's fish quality, at least in the past year or so, has been one of the best I've ever had. I try eat there at least once a month. It's far from where I live now.

                        By the way, I believe there was a change in ownership within the past couple years or so. It was sub-par before but nowadays.