Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Valley Girl Part, totally awesome Sushi!

Maybe it’s the sweltering heat, abundant strip malls, being over the hill, or the general bad rep of being home to all three, but I’ve never been a fan of The Valley. It just seems so far to drive…only to end up in the Valley.

Before last month, I’ve never had a reason to explore the joys of Studio City's Ventura Blvd before, however, in the past 6wks—since I started a freelance office gig at the Universal Studio lot—I’ve begrudgingly become a “valley girl” (but only from 9am-6pm).

At first I resisted participating in anything Valley-related—even bringing my own lunch to eat at my desk instead of leaving the lot—but after going stir-crazy at my desk, I’ve slowly ventured on Ventura…and have been pleasantly surprised.
Most of my Valley pleasure really has to do with food, because a) all my 818 area code exploring is limited to lunchtime hours and b) well, isn’t everything got to do with food?
Just the sheer sushi joint per square block ratio is impressive, doubly so when the majority are also above par and all really reasonable.

My first sushi outing was at Katsu-ya Sushi, the granddaddy of sublime strip mall sushi joints. Yum crispy-rice cakes topped with jalapeno spicy tuna, which has since been replicated at a pricier cost at more shi-shi spots including Geisha House, Koi and Yi to name a few. We also had their crab soy-paper handrolls, spicy albacore sashimi with crispy onions and artistic cucumber-wrapped, spicy tuna & avocado plate. The only miss was the ‘peanut brittle’ looking plate of fried almond-crusted scallops, which looked way cooler than they tasted. Although it’s usually celeb-central here, my visit was more filled with industry execs and studio publicists. Well worth dealing with the schmoozy atmosphere from surrounding tables to enjoy the yum, yum, yum sushi.

Also got to check out Teru Sushi a block away. My temporary coworkers are apparently hardcore regulars and plates of colorful rolls started arriving at our table without us even needing to order. From the flurry of dishes, memorable rolls included the Crunch Roll (shrimp tempura & avocado topped with eel sauce & crispy tempura pieces), something named the No-Name roll with avocado & eel sauce again, Soft Shell Soy Hand Rolls, Tiger’s Eye (salmon-stuffed squid) and the BSC (Baked Scallops over California Roll). Half the rolls are under $6 while specialty rolls hover between $10-14. The fresh fish tasted great but I also remember the delicious-tasting rice had that perfect hint of sweet rice-wine vinegar flavor and sticky ‘al dente’ bite.

With the proximity to so many great sushi spots, I became a sushi-junkie within two weeks of working at Universal. While Katsu-ya & Teru are reasonable, they’re still too pricey to feed my near-daily sushi fix. Enter Sushi Dan Rockin’ Sushi. Yes, starting with the name, Sushi Dan many things going against it (hard to trust a sushi joint that isn’t just rocking, but rockin’). I'd give it addition points off for being in a strip mall but I've come to realize everything in the Valley is in a strip mall, however, Sushi Dan’s façade is also a blah-colored, cinderblock block of a building.

Based on my friend Alissa’s recommendation, we met there for lunch. While rather low-rent, Sushi Dan is also good enough for C-list celebs (Andrew Keegan walked in right behind me and B-Lister Ron Livingston was at a table). Their lunch special has since made me a takeout regular. For $9.99, you get miso soup, 5 generous pieces of sushi (not cheapy tamago or krab meat either, but thick slices of tuna, albacore, shrimp, snapper & salmon) and a choice from their vast list of funky, ‘rockin’-style rolls. We got the Hot Nights roll (shrimp tempura topped with avocado, masago and eel sauce) and the Danny II Roll (spicy tuna in tempura seaweed and ponzu sauce). A week later, I went there again with Chaya and tried the tobiko-topped spicy tuna roll and salmon/mango rolls. There are heaps more tasty-sounding concoctions but I dream about my Hot Nights too much to stray and try too many others.

There are at least 8 other sushi spots within a couple block radius of those three places. I have two more weeks before my freelance gig is up to try them out as well before denouncing my valley girl status again.

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