In summer, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of sushi, possibly because the heat makes the thought of cooked food all but unbearable, but probably because the scents and brininess and marine richness of great sushi can make you feel at one with the sea, at least until you have to reach for your credit card - and a second credit card, in case the first one doesn't go through. In Los Angeles, where fine dining has meant uni instead of caviar for at least a couple of decades now, the sushi is swell. Here are a few of our favorites.
You will travel far, unless you happen to live in Canoga Park. You will enter what is perhaps the most nondescript of the city's thousands of nondescript mini malls. Some of the sushi will be drizzled with truffle oil; some will glitter with gold leaf. The fish will be first-rate.
22330 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. (818) 704-1459
Hide Sushi serves neither the most famous sushi in the neighborhood nor the best. But it does serve among the cheapest sushi in town in a dining room that usually seems closer to an old-line New York deli than it does to a serene temple of fish. The portions tend to be on the smallish side, and the fish can be a little ragged. You will not find obscure beltfish, giant squid or Japanese tai rushed straight from Narita to your plate. But the fish is fresh — with this turnover, it’s got to be — and the raucous atmosphere can be kind of fun.
2040 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 477-7242
Shinji Murata is a gifted chef, and his sushi melts away on your tongue like good chocolate, leaving behind just the clean smack of fish and rice vinegar. He flirts with extreme acidity, but the flavors seem to balance themselves as you chew. The sake list is short but well-priced, and includes a few bottles hard to find elsewhere in town. And you will see at least one person kicked out of the restaurant during your meal, guaranteed. Think of it as dinner theater.
11275 National Blvd., West L.A., (310) 473-7688
Of the fine sushi bars in Los Angeles, Kiriko is perhaps the least forbidding, a place where you know you can get perfect shirako or sea snail in season but still treats mackerel with great respect, where you can find all the shiso pesto and sauteed monkfish liver you care to eat but still find a half-dozen species of silvery fish you've never before seen. The great specialty of the restaurant is actually cherrywood-smoked Copper River salmon with mango, a dish that certain local sushi masters would rather die than serve. (It's their loss: The dish is stunningly good.)
11301 Olympic Blvd., No. 102, Los Angeles. (310) 478-7769
It is only when you settle into one of the stools along the sushi bar itself that you begin to notice the tiny details — the graceful curve of the handmade dishes, the marbled Spanish toro glowing like the rarest silk, the silvery glint of sunlight off an exquisitely fresh sardine — hinting that you may be in for something good. Fresh Japanese wasabi grated on sharkskin. Microscopically serrated cucumber. Chef-pickled ginger. Fan-cooled rice. Great sushi is in the details as much as it is in the fish.
265 S. Robertson Ave., Beverly Hills. (310) 358-1900
Does Mori Sushi serve the finest traditional sushi in Los Angeles? Does the staff spend as much time thinking about the rice as most of its competitors do about their fish? Is the juxtaposition of Santa Barbara uni and Hokkaido uni equivalent to a graduate-level seminar in sea urchin roe? How many needlefish is too many needlefish, or is such a concept even possible? You may prefer the sushi at Zo, Nishamura or Urasawa, but know that Mori's partisans are ready to fight you to the death.
11500 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 479-3939
What is served by Shunji Nakao, one of the original Matsuhisa chefs and founder of Asanebo, is pretty unusual for a sushi bar too — perhaps a fat, sliced sea scallop in a miso emulsion; a tangle of slivered sardines with a few drops of a soy-ginger reduction; a bowl of creamy sesame tofu with a crumpled sheet of house-made yuba, tofu skin; or an arrangement of vegetables in a bit of lightly jellied dashi. Nakao's sushi is excellent, but you can get through an omakase meal of exquisitely sourced Japanese fish here without seeing sushi at all. You expect expensive wild sea bream to be treated reverently at a sushi bar. You do not expect the same care to be taken with a carrot.
12244 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 826-4737
Sushi Kimagure Ike
This is probably the best sushi bar Pasadena has ever seen, where halibut and tai and mackerel flash beneath Ike-san's knife, sweet shrimp begin the meal alive, and you can almost always talk him into making you a crab roll. It is pretty strictly omakase, and not especially cheap.
220 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. (626) 535-0880
Relatively overlooked despite its high-profile location, Sushi Sushi is one of the most solid traditional omakase restaurants in town. You will pay for the high quality of the sushi and sashimi here. You are, after all, in Beverly Hills.
326 S Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 277-1165. www.sushisushibh.com
You will pay more than a thousand dollars for dinner for two, sometimes way more if you have expensive tastes in sake, and your experience will be directed with a severity of which other sushi chefs can only dream. The sashimi is presented on a kind of carved-ice stage and glows as if it were in a Terrence Malick movie. You will eat beef and chawan mushi and other things you may not associate with sushi because this is less a sushi bar than a kind of kaiseki restaurant, exquisitely seasonal, where you will experience translucent petals of fugu, odd crabs and delicately scented Japanese leaves when they enter their short seasons.
218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 247-8939.
Run by Matsuhisa apostates, the hidden second-floor restaurant is famous for combinations that are simultaneously odd and delicious -- Santa Barbara spot prawns with uni, say, lobster tempura, or the infamous apple pie with eel -- a inexplicably wonderful pairing of savory and sweet, melting richness and acidic fruit.