Sushi Roku Pasadena (PAINFULLY verbose!!!)
Hey folks! I haven't posted in a while, as I am getting ready for a move to Napa i.e. packing, finding a place, etc. Too many interesting food experiences to relate them all, but here are my impressions of sushi roku, where I had lunch last week. This is a long write-up, so bear with me.
Sushi Roku in Pasadena is a smallish place with a very "white-boy Zen" look to it-stylishly Oriental decor that is somewhat cheesy and artificial in my humble opinion. Mom and I wanted a sushi lunch, and having never been to Roku we decided to give it a whirl. We sat at the sushi bar and uttered the magic word-omakase-and the chef Kimo quickly went to work. I was extremely impressed by Kimo-san. As our lunch progressed we learned that he had been a sushi chef for thirty five or so years, owned his own restaurant for about twenty years, had retired, got bored, and went back to work at a place where he could "do his own thing". Kimo-san is an awesome talent and Roku of Pasadena is very lucky to have him.
The meal started with some apps-a wonderfully light but pungently flavored fresh bamboo salad followed by what may have been the best morsel of the meal-a dense cube of salmon mousse topped with salmon eggs, wrapped in shiso leaf and dressed with a sort of whipped sesame and sake concoction. This bite was so complex-minty, fishy, salty, sweet, nutty-hard to explain really but very, very tasty. Next came an array of sashimi (and sake), which included fresh Japanese snapper, Halibut wing (very intriguing), something like a yellowtail toro, and some really vibrant Spanish mackerel. To wind up the sashimi phase of the meal we were served a very opulent portion of diced tuna and avocado, garnished with asparagus spears and pickled plum. Throughout the meal we received gentle coaching from our benevolent chef-no soy sauce with this one, eat this first, then this, this is good with sake, have some ginger after this one, use this ponzu etc. I really appreciate this kind of thing-it shows a genuine interest on the part of the chef in our enjoyment of his food. The raw fish was followed by a nice bowl of Ikara clams in a salty miso broth (surely the saltiness was from the clams which were steamed open in the liquid), sort of mundane really but a nice transition before some other cooked items. Next came what was probably the most exotic dish of the meal: broiled abalone with abalone liver and guts sauce as he called it (a brownish goop made from the minced innards of the shellfish cut with some sake and a touch of soy). While the dish looked down right nasty, it was remarkably delicate and subtle-not at all salty but with a mysterious briny character none-the-less. The thin strips of abalone came parked aboard a thick cylinder of seaweed wrapped rice way too big to be a one bite piece of sushi-a mini abalone-don I called it, to the delight of the master. A blow-torched piece of toro the size of a small steak was the next item, followed by some ceviche and the obligatory plain sushi, which rounded out the meal.
Overall, I would rate the sushi I had as exceptional. But all of this came at a hefty price-the bill with two sakes (the most inexpensive of the premium sakes) came to a little over two hundred dollars. Not a bargain, methinks, but not at all so expensive that I felt ripped off. Perhaps the most annoying part of the meal was that the host/manager kept coming over to us to compliment us on our order (which we had nothing to do with, actually, we just asked for a no-restriction sushi omakase and let the man do his thing). At one point, as I was commenting on our sushi-masters considerable skill, the host overheard us and proceeded to go into a litany over how Sushi Roku had the best sushi bars on the west coast. Hmmmmm, well let me just say thats a big effin claim, one with which I do not agree I think. Joachim Splichal eats here all the time you know (like Im supposed to be impressed) and he is the best chef in the US. I couldnt let that go by and I replied well, I dont know about that, I think Patina is highly over-rated and possibly the most inconsistent restaurant of its kind in LA. The host panicked and asked me to lower my voice. The Patina group is sitting right behind us he whispered-I turned to see them glaring at me. I stand by my comments I retorted, loudly enough for them to hear. The host asked in a hushed tone, are you a food critic?
No, I said, calmly sipping my tea, Im a chowhound. He didnt know what the hell I was talking about, but the guy next to us looked over, smiled, and raised his cup. I wonder. . .
Overall, the meal was great, but was no bargain. My experience at Roku proved that it all depends on the chef. Roku is not my kind of place, really, but Kimo-san was a force to be reckoned with.
Well, that is all I guess.
Peace and Grub everyone.
It's funny, Justin, I had sort of a similar experience at the Sushi Roku in Santa Monica. I live in New York, though I'm a native Angeleno who returns often. I had never eaten at any of their restaurants, and just walked in off the street. We didn't order omakase (my husband didn't feel well, and in fact didn't eat at all), but I was fortunate enough to fall into the hands of a marvelous sushi chef who took the trouble to steer me toward certain wonderful dishes. I have the impression that Roku-bashing is kind of hip, but with my one and only experience, I was very impressed. I think I posted about it; it must have been a year ago or so.
By the way, it sounds like the dense cube of salmon mousse you had could have been ankimo--monkfish liver. It has exactly that flavor and texture. Do you think it could have been? Also, I didn't find your post painfully verbose, just pleasantly verbose.
>>No, I said, calmly sipping my tea, Im a chowhound. He didnt know what the hell I was talking about, but the guy next to us looked over, smiled, and raised his cup. I wonder. . .<<
This is beautiful. Justin, Napa's gain is indeed our loss. I've really enjoyed reading your posts...please come back to visit and tell us alllllll about what you eat.
Justin, thanks for the vicarious meal!
I just had a quite-good sushi dinner last night at my neighborhood joint, Saito's. (Highlight: an astonishingly tender hoku (sp?)clam salad with sesame dressing.) AND, it's only ten in the morn. But your post made me hungry for more.
Guess I'll content myself with your description for now. Sushi (unlike, say, tacos) is definitely a category where there's a price-to-quality relationship. But there's a limit...