Playa Vista’s neighborhood sushi bar gets high marks for quality, quantity and ambiance
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
One of the iniquities of mining towns of the American West was the company store — the sole source of all groceries and sundries for people living far from anything else. Workers were lured to remote towns with the promise of high wages, but found out only after they arrived that prices were even higher. In a pattern that continues at gas stations at the midpoint of long highways, the proprietors set the prices where they will and give the absolute minimum of service.
I had half expected that Sweet Fish, one of only two restaurants in the established residential west end of Playa Vista, might take advantage of their relatively captive audience the same way. Instead, when we arrived I was agreeably surprised by both the ambiance and the reception — the people were unpretentious, the atmosphere relaxed. The menu was fairly standard, with a few minor variations on popular rolls, but the specials board had a few interesting seasonal items.
It can be hard to tell how expensive a meal at a sushi bar will be because some places have modest-looking prices for minuscule items. We received our first clue about Sweet Fish even before the first piece of fish arrived. I had ordered what was described as a shot of Otokayama sake for $8. Had this been a standard shot glass it would have been rather overpriced, but instead it was a small juice glass — at least twice the size — and full to the brim. We also ordered a small bottle of Mio, a refreshing sweet sake that is very reminiscent of Prosecco. If you enjoy sweet sparkling wines, I strongly suggest that you do the same.
We ordered tempura and a variety of sushi items and salads, and we were slightly surprised when the tempura showed up first — that’s traditionally one of the later items. (Then again, miso soup is generally served last in Japan while in here it is first, so the traditional rules are rarely followed.) The tempura — three large prawns and an array of vegetables — were in a batter not quite as crunchy as I’ve had at specialty places, but it was crisp and suited the shrimp, carrot, green beans, squash and zucchini.
We also ordered a monkfish appetizer, salmon-skin salad, Bentley roll and tuna-stuffed shiitake mushrooms, and they arrived as the sushi bar had them ready. The monkfish appetizer was actually monkfish liver, called ankimo, but often just translated as monkfish because so many Americans resist anything called liver. It is prepared by a process that involves rinsing it with sake and steaming it, and the result has a velvety, smooth texture and slightly fatty richness. Here it was served with a dash of white sesame seeds, shaved scallions and shredded daikon, along with rather more sweet vinegar sauce than necessary — I like my ankimo just as it is, so will ask for sauce on the side next time.
I don’t know whether the Bentley roll was named after the British car or a customer, but the combination of spicy tuna, avocado and seared salmon with sesame dressing and sweet sauce had enough textures and flavors to be interesting. Modern sushi often ventures into spicy, sweet and creamy combinations that obscure the fish underneath the sauces, and though I might have liked this dish with a bit less sweet sauce it was still in balance.
The flavors were well calibrated in the salmon-skin salad, and the portion was unexpectedly large — rather than the dainty dab of greens we expected, we were presented with a meal-size pile of greens topped with radish sprouts, freshly seared salmon skin and bonito shavings.
Whoever first realized that salmon skins could be used in a salad was a genius. When fresh-seared they have a delightful crispness, and there’s always enough meat attached so you get some of that rich meaty flavor. The bonito shavings and radish sprouts added a mild salty seafood flavor and pepperiness to the miso-dressed salad, so there were plenty of elements to keep us eating.
The tuna-stuffed mushrooms were served over the same mix of greens but were rather less compelling — the chopped fish in the mushroom cap had an unexpectedly dry texture and muted flavor. Whether this order had been accidentally overcooked or it was supposed to be that way, it was the only item of our meal that failed to please. We had plenty of food with the other things we had ordered, enough that we skipped dessert and still took some salmon-skin salad home.
Our lavish meal for two with sake ran $93, which is modest for the quantity and quality on display.
Sweet Fish has the feel of a traditional neighborhood restaurant, even though that neighborhood is a planned development rather than something that just happened organically. It’s worth a visit even if you’re an outsider, and that’s a compliment I didn’t anticipate giving.
Sweet Fish Sushi Bar & Restaurant 3020 Pacific Promenade, Playa Vista (424) 228-2298 sweetfishsushi.com