Things to know about Sushi | Bar:
It’s a sushi speakeasy. There is no signage out front, and there is a “secret” passageway in order to reach the sushi bar itself.
It’s not traditional. The servings are inventive and whimsical.
It’s fun. We had a great time, and are already looking forward to our next visit!
Sushi | Bar represents another acquisition for Chef Phillip Frankland Lee’s burgeoning Encino empire. I wasn’t sure how much experience Chef Lee has had in the sushi arena, but I’ve never had a bad meal at any of his restaurants before. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything sushi.
Without further ado, let’s go inside!!!
One enters through Woodley Proper. When you are greeted by the barman and identified as a Sushi | Bar guest, you are given a token for the “Irasshimase!” cocktail (actually a 5 yen coin), and offered the first drink of the night…
Tozai Typhoon… Suntory Toki whisky, Tozai Snow Maiden nigori sake (junmai), ginger syrup & lime juice. Suntory time!
Drink in hand, we were shown to the labyrinthine backroom which houses the sushi speakeasy itself!
Menu of offerings for the night, on display…
Amuse: Sunomono, with pickled cucumber, gari (sweet ginger), and fish cake “noodles”… Whets the appetite!
West Coast Oysters… A hama hama oyster, freshly chucked and served with charred “Rice Krispies”, Calvisius caviar, and whipped nigorizake (unfiltered sake), served in a masu (square wooden box)… There was a beautiful brine taste from the oyster, accentuated by the fermented rice, and a lasting saltiness from the caviar trailing off. Super! This was paired with Chiyonosono sake…
Chiyonosono (junmai ginjo, from Kumamoto Prefecture)… Sweet, yet dry enough to not overpower the nigorizake espuma of the oyster dish.
Bluefin Tuna & Krasnaya Ikra… Honmaguro sourced off the coast of Spain, prepared in a pseudo-gunkan style toasted nori sandwich, accompanied with avocado mousse, cured “ikra” (salmon roe, as the Russians would pronounce it I suppose), topped with negi (scallion). Texture nuances galore in this one bite, and boy, did this piece of nigiri deliver!
Japanese Yellowtail… Hamachi belly (lightly seared) with sweet corn pudding, topped by sourdough breadcrumbs (made by Margarita Kallas-Lee) and slight nikiri & wasabi. Again, contrasting textures and flavors provide for a new way to enjoy hamachi.
Otokoyama junmai… This was meant to pair for pairing with the Hamachi, as well as the next dish…
Bluefin Toro… Honmaguro o-toro (again, lightly seared), thinly brushed with kuromitsu (black sugar) and a bit of pineapple edge, then again scorched, was then served with shoyu and wasabi - Excellent! By this time, it becomes clear that part of the menu is based on playing with non-traditional contrasts.
Peruvian Scallop… Hotategai from Peru, which featured two sauces: Nuoc cham (Vietnamese fish sauce vinaigrette) & leche de tigre (Peruvian ceviche marinade)… The sourness of the vinaigrette was tempered by the sweetness of the scallop, with a bit of kick from the leche de tigre - A winner!
Red Seal of Shimoda… Suntory Toki whisky mixed with port, lemon, smoked honey (very smoky and intriguing), and crushed pomegranate seed - The entire concoction was then shaken over ice and poured into an ochoko (ceramic sake cup). The rim of the ochoko was also encrusted with the same matcha salt which was to be used for the next dish. As for the name, Shimoda is famous for being the first port in Japan to import whisky.
Mexican White Prawn… Botan ebi (soaked for 72 hours in chermoula), cooked on a wood-fired grill. Added then was matcha salt (mixed with dehydrated kombu & shiitake), lemon, then served with shoyu & wasabi. This is a dish that closest resembled one of my favorite shrimp dishes at Providence, and brought back memories of the wondrous gambas in San Sebastian. Marvelous.
Chef Wasu wields the torch for the next dish!
Spanish Octopus… Whole baby octopus, stewed overnight in sofrito of garlic & pineapple and garlic, then garnished by tare, charred. Finally, it is doused with a smidgeon of lemon juice. Hauntingly smoky and tender!
Oolong-Lo… The name of this cocktail involves a play on words from the traditional Japanese oolong iced tea, the oolong-hai. However, here the water is not part of the equation; rather, the oolong tea leaves are steeped directly into the shochu. The cocktail is then finished with a ginger syrup foam and an edible starflower. This was a stiff, yet beguiling mix.
Canadian Salmon Belly… In this preparation, the fatty sockeye belly was briefly torched (skin-on). Preserved lemon, shoyu & wasabi provided the topping. Emphasizing the contrasting texture theme of the meal, white shrimp tartar instead of rice served as the base! Absolutely delectable!
Smoked Albacore… Bincho maguro, covered with Himalayan rock salt, topped with roasted garlic puree, all wrapped up in a nigori-treated nori shell, which was then polished with fried onions, shoyu, wasabi & negi. Too many flavors, but I’d definitely have another piece if given the chance.
King Crab Dynamite… Tarabagani (Russian king crab) leg, rouged with beet mustard, and then caramelized with heat. This was then coated with rock salt, quinoa, and sprayed with lemon juice. Wow! This was truly the rock star of the evening.
Muddy Lychee… Squeezed lychee and crushed raspberry, muddled into umeshu, with shochu then poured along with cava, and garnished with fresh sage. Sparkling and refreshing!
Wild Japanese Escolar… Also known as the butterfish, our escolar was seared briefly, then finished with cured ikura, jackfruit slice, negi, then served with shoyu & wasabi. This was the softest escolar I’ve yet tried, with just a hint of appropriate oiliness. The jackfruit provided a counterpunch of crunchiness to the bite. Nice! (This was a very suitable dish meant to substitute for the Maine Lobster Body, which was not available that night.)
Bone Marrow… Roasted oxtail marrow, with rock salt, shoyu & wasabi. Unconventional, and yet startling in how flat-out tasty this was! It’s akin to the richest bite of gorgeous gyu-don, plain and true.
Koshihikari Echigo Lager… Simple, yet so right with nigiri. Served in a masu container. Best of all - Free refills the rest of the night!
Bluefin tuna… Akami (lean tuna) zuke, aged in traditional Edomae fashion, and yet topped with a most non-traditional daikon & ginger puree. It’s a fantastic bite, nonetheless.
Foie Gras & Santa Barbara Sea Urchin… The murasaki uni received the torchon treatment with brown sugar, matcha salt, sweet-and-sour onion, negi & a dash of lemon. There is so, so much going on in the palate when one bites into this invention - Licorice, crunch, delicate sweetness. You just have to close your eyes, chew slowly, and enjoy the ride!
Santa Barbara Sea Urchin… On the outside is Santa Barbara uni, with a “marshmallow” of bruleed yuzu, and on the bottom is shoyu-marinated avocado, rolled in puffed amaranth. Silky meets nutty. Crazy.
Jellyfish… The kurage was topped simply with negi and yuzu juice. Crunchy goodness!
Dry Aged Ribeye… Slightly seared wagyu, aged 21 days, brushed with nitsume and garnished with wasabi. Incredible.
Toasted Brown Rice Ice Cream… With saffron-yuzu sorbet, topped with crushed pistachio & a sprinkling of matcha powder. Dessert time!!!
Our mixologist works his magic…
Matcha “Digestif”… Matcha, with hot sake (Seikyo Omachi junmai daiginjo) instead of water, yuzu * plum wine. Super boozy, but a very “cozy” drink to have for the cooler weather outside.
We were then shown a rare bottle of the 2016 Yamazaki “Sherry Cask”. If we weren’t so tipsy by then, we’d have indulged in a shot for sure…
To our young, energetic, and adept dream team for the night: GOCHISOSAMA DESHITA!!!
I have to admit - I initially had my doubts about sushi coming from any kitchen of Chef Phillip Frankland Lee, but this was a solid meal through and through. The staff focused on us having a great time, but yet never lost sight of staying within the theme, with precision-guided, thoughtful bites. Go into Sushi | Bar with an open mind, and definitely get the cocktail pairing.
Sushi | Bar
16101 Ventura Bl.
2nd Floor (within Woodley Proper)
Encino, CA 91436