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Sep 10, 2010 01:57 PM

Geisha House - Très Ordinaire

Okay, I’ll preface this review with the disclaimer that I was taken out to eat at Geisha House by a visiting European travel/food writer and so, mercifully, I did not pay for this meal.

A free meal at an overrated, passé sushi spot – how bad could it suck?!

Well, it didn’t completely suck, but it certainly was a mediocre experience that is worth deconstructing.


Geisha House opened in 2003 and is reportedly co-owned (still?) by Ashton Kutcher. A key scene from Knocked Up was filmed there, as well as scenes for the TV show Nip/Tuck, Entourage, the reality show Tori & Dean and, I think, also The Hills.

Firstly, the resto is a lot smaller than you’d think. On a Thursday night at 8.30pm, it wasn’t even half full. It’s also absurdly dark. You can barely read the menu and once I spotted a few things I wanted to sample, I stopped trying to decipher it in the gloom.

On the mezzanine balcony a female DJ was spinning. The music selection was embarrassingly dated, full of the cheesiest 80s songs. Okay, not ‘Kenny Loggins Footloose’ bad, but close. Lesser Madonna tunes, M.A.A.R.S. ‘Pump Up The Volume’ – tracks like that. Not retro-cool or ironic, just really unfashionable.

Our four-person booth’s table was really tiny. They also serve the food on that oversized, cheap thick china (I pity the waitstaff who have to lug that stuff around), so when they brought out four miso soups in big square soup bowls on their own saucers, we had to stack and stow the little plates we were going to be dining on later.

A large platter of rolls and long plate of garlic edamame (delicious!) arrived when we were still finishing our soup and the guy just stood there while we stopped eating, shuffled everything around and somehow found room on the tiny table. Really? I almost asked for a side table but knew that’d be a waste of time.

Also, I had recommended Katsuya Hollywood over Geisha House (for a good example of ‘Cali-American sushi’ for her European-based readers) but my rec was overruled. Too bad. I would describe this food as being a desperately pale imitation of Katsuya’s fare.

The Miso soup came in three varieties; crab, mushroom and tofu. I got the crab and it was standard, if a little flavorless, miso – no crab flavor whatsoever in the soup – with a long crab leg sticking out of it, sliced open. It was a little fiddly to get the crab out of its shell, but not impossible. Underwhelming.

The garlic edamame ($6? — not sure…) comes heaped on a long platter smothered in sauce and sesame seeds. It was good and garlicky, but the dark, sticky sauce was messy and sweet. Too sweet.

The Baked Crab hand roll ($10) came out as a fat log, not a hand roll. And so why does a kitchen send out two fat rolls to a table of four without cutting them in half?! Hearty, delicious, if a little under-seasoned, and made with real crab. My SO reckons the Baked Crab hand roll at Katsuya (which tastes baked and is rich with mayonnaise) is fake crab. I refute this allegation. Does anyone know?

Miso Cod ($19): easily the weakest version of this simple dish I have eaten. The fish was very tender and nicely cooked, but it lacked that grilled, lightly charred effect on the miso glaze because the fish served was more tinted than glazed with miso marinade. It was also way too sweet and kind of ‘blah’.

One roll I quite liked was the Geisha Lips ($15 ), which is a multi-fish roll that uses thinly sliced cucumber in lieu of rice, jazzed up with pea sprouts. I opined that it was a low-carb roll for starlets, which prompted my European colleague to quip, “Geisha Lips are good for the hips.” Witty!

I am not sure what other rolls were ordered, but one had jalapeno and spicy tuna, and another had a sauce that tasted like ketchup that no one was impressed by.

I ate a lot of those garlic edamame and got to take half the platter home.

I requested a dry cold sake and the one recommended was good. It arrived in a glass carafe with its own reservoir of ice that kept the sake cold but not diluted. Genius!

So, all in all this dining experience was not a major disappointment, just utterly forgettable. I am glad I finally tried Geisha House to see if it was truly overrated and passé (it was) and I’m relieved I didn’t have to pay a dime.

Geisha House

6633 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

(323) 460-6300

Open: Mon-Sun 6 pm – 2 am

Katsuya Hollywood
6300 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

Geisha House
6633 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028

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  1. That is why I avoid eating with European Travel Writers. They end up taking me to tourist spots and then say things like "Geisha Lips are good for the hips". At that point, I probably would have walked out.

    Quel Dommage!

    3 Replies
    1. re: bsquared2

      Oh, I actually loved that witticism.

      I don't wanna sound like I'm bitching too much about an admittedly stylish free meal. It's gratifying to know firsthand that my impressions of this place were spot on.

      1. re: bsquared2

        I still can't tell if you are joking. You probably would have walked out?!!? Just got up and left?!?!!?!!

      2. I ate there once several years ago and found the food absurdly expensive and just plain unimpressive. However, I haven't liked Katsuya either. Though, to be fair, I've only been to the LA Live and Glendale locations. I just don't need a manufactured "scene" paired with my raw fish.

        Katsuya Hollywood
        6300 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

        2 Replies
        1. re: girlplusfire

          Actually my fave sushi (next to Mori, which I can't afford) is Katsuya's place Kiwami. Excellent sushi, superlative service and unpretentious decor.

          Mori Sushi
          11500 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

          Katsuya - Brentwood
          11777 San Vicente Blvd, Brentwood, CA 90049

          Katsuya Hollywood
          6300 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

          11920 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

          1. re: Maxmillion

            I do like Mori Sushi. Not a big fan of Katsuya. I know people like it , but it is a little too Hollywood for me. My favorite sushi W of La Cienega is Hirozen. But I heard they are closing.

            Mori Sushi
            11500 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

            8385 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048

            Katsuya Hollywood
            6300 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

        2. I'm sure your European writer friend will read your post. She will probably consider one of two courses of reflection. She might reconsider taking your advice in the future, or she may feel that she knows her readership well enough to know that this place is exactly what they are looking for. This place is a night club disguised as a sushi bar. I'm sure most show up after 9PM, aren't too concerned about what they eat or drink, and are probably at least equally if not more so interested in who else is doing the same.

          9 Replies
          1. re: bulavinaka

            Yeah, I was thinking the very same things... I'm sure she knows her readership.

            I'm just wondering, tho -- putting myself in her shoes. If set off on a trip like this, aren't you pre-disposed to write a glowing review? After all, you are the one who chose to focus on that particular venue. It's not as if she3 had the time or the budget to try, say, three sushi places, three steak places, three Mexican breakfast places and then deemed one the best of the best...

            (see earlier post -- )

            1. re: Maxmillion

              My general complaint with a lot of 'travel journalism' is that they can take the easy way out. Southern California is blessed with some amazing Japanese restaurants and they picked Geisha House? It's like stories that mention Pinks as the best hot dog. It's the easy way out.

              I was impressed that the NYT wrote about Starry Kitchen in an article about food Downtown.

              If I had a European Travel Journalist in town, I would probably take them to East LA, KTown or Thai Town. Maybe Little Saigon or Gardena if they had the time. IMHO, that is where things are happening in the LA food scene. You might not run into Lindsay Lohan (to me would be a plus), but you would get the essence of a very exciting food scene.

              Geisha House Restaurant
              2773 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA

              Starry Kitchen
              350 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90071

              1. re: bsquared2

                Wait, Pink's isn't the best hot-dog in LA?! Okay, I'm only being mildly facetious. I am not a hot-dog aficionado by any means, but the two times I've eaten Pink's Hot Dogs (mind you - at a function, *not* after queuing for an hour or so) I was very impressed with the chili.

                From the perspective of a foreign travel writer, I believe that Pink's *is* the go-to place for an LA hot-dog as you might actually spot a star or, at the very least, have an amusing encounter with some colorful Hollywood types.

                1. re: Maxmillion

                  In every city, there are the tourist places and the places where the locals go. I've traveled all over the world and I've probably been to a place that was mentioned in Lonely Planet, but the locals would laugh at.

                  Locals don't go to Pink's. Tourists who like Rosie O'Donnell and Jay Leno do. If you went to these places looking for Hollywood-types or movie stars, you will be sorely disappointed. It's been many years since Orson Welles ate 50 of them in one sitting. I grew up here. There was never a line there until they got on TV. Good for them. They were very smart.

                  If I had a European Travel Writer in town, I would take them to Park's BBQ. To me, that sums up LA these days. Really good ethnic food.

                  Park's BBQ
                  955 S. Vermont Ave, Suite G, Los Angeles, CA 90006

                  1. re: bsquared2

                    "Locals don't go to Pink's. Tourists who like Rosie O'Donnell and Jay Leno do."

                    Let's see. I was born and raised here. I owned a small business on Melrose Ave. down the street from Pink's for 7 years. I went there a lot. Does that make me a tourist, or what exactly? And for the record, they have very good spicy polish with chili, cheese and onions. Yes the lines can be crazy. And I don't go then. But there is nothing wrong with Pink's (other than being too damn popular).

                    1. re: Servorg

                      I went to Pink's after going to clubs many years ago. I'm old school enough that I used to eat at Oki Dog on SMB! There was never much of a line at Pink's until they started getting featured on TV. Not faulting that. A good publicist can be a good thing.

                      Just keeping things in perspective. Not saying Pink's is bad. Just that I wouldn't wait in those lines. And that if you asked the people in the lines, I would bet most of them are tourists.

                      My main complaint is that when covering LA, people don't dig very deep.

                      Oki Dog
                      860 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

              2. re: Maxmillion

                >>I'm just wondering, tho -- putting myself in her shoes. If set off on a trip like this, aren't you pre-disposed to write a glowing review? After all, you are the one who chose to focus on that particular venue.<<

                So true. I just hope she has the integrity to publish an honest review of the place. Something about how it's not about the food, but the scene. The place will do for folks who aren't so discerning about food, but more about the supposed scene at a place that happens to serve food.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  Maybe Euros (from the perspective on the other side of the Atlantic) actually like the food/ambiance of Geisha House.

                  For example, I know lots of Taiwanese and Japanese tourists really like Lawry's , Olive Garden, Fogo de Chao, and Souplantation.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Lawry's is a great place to bring out-of-towners!

              1. re: mc michael

                hahaha -- I wish! They went to WP24 the next night and I was so envious! From what I've read, that place does sound quite spectacular.

                900 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015

              2. I went about six years ago and also found it forgettable. I vaguely remember some spicy tuna on crispy rice that was edible, but definitely not the best I've had.

                Having been dragged to some very bad meals by out-of-town friends (like a horrific meal at Yamashiro, for example, and a mediocre brunch at Doughboys), I have to say - I don't get it! Why would somebody who doesn't live here insist on going to some terrible place that they heard about rather than taking their local friends' advice about the truly great restaurants this city has to offer? It's baffling.

                1999 North Sycamore Ave., Hollywood, CA 90068

                5 Replies
                1. re: aching

                  Not everyone (i.e., non-Chowounds) goes to a restaurant for the food.

                  Some go despite the food because the scene is so, well, scene-y.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    "Not everyone (i.e., non-Chowounds) goes to a restaurant for the food."


                    Just kidding - theoretically, I can accept that that is true. However, on an emotional level, I just can't understand it. Why not have a great meal and then go to a scene-y bar or club? Why bother eating at all if it's not good food? Oh well, more for the rest of us, I guess. Just please don't make me eat at Yamashiro again! =)

                    1999 N Sycamore Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90068

                    1. re: aching

                      Then, of course there are those people who will say to us: "What? Why would you go to a restaurant just to eat???"

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I don't go JUST to eat - I go for the experience, and the quality of the experience depends on many factors, including service, ambiance, decor, and sometimes even the scene - but I do consider the food to be the most important factor. If others don't, that's cool - but I'm going to put my foot down in the future!

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      LOL, just saw this article link on Eater and it made me think of this discussion (albeit sort of in reverse):