Kabuki Japanese Restaurant
Howard Hughes Center
6081 Center Drive, #203 (@ Sepulveda)
Los Angeles, CA 90045
When I read restaurant “reviews,” I always find myself with my head tilted to one side and one eye squinted even more than it already is as an Asian feature. It’s for better focus. That’s a figurative focus because I have a mild case of self-diagnosed ADD and a literal focus because, well, they say eyesight is one of the first things to go.
The quasimodo-like posture while reading is for concentration, but also reflects a bit of skepticism. I never know how much I can trust the “professional” restaurant reviewer I am reading. Part of trust is built on similarity of opinion. It is often the case that we instinctively trust others who share the same opinion as the one which we trust the most, our own. Do the reviewer and I have the same taste? If not, should the difference in taste influence my interpretation of his review? My superficial, meet-the-press answer is obviously “Of course not,” but I know that when he gushes about fish sauce at the Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall in BFEast LA, shallow down inside, I question his taste and already have a bias against him because most Vietnamese food is nasty to me. “I can’t trust this guy! Vietnamese food is nasty!”
Obviously, that makes no sense, but food, like love, is never rational. That’s why I trust Jonathon Gold, even though, you know, he eats weird stuff.
A bigger part of the trust question is about integrity, or rather, how pure is the motivation behind the reviewer’s writing? We already know there’s not supposed to be, but oh, ye of too much faith, there is, a tiny bit of politics in publications that are supported by advertisers. Is the restaurant critic being paid to write for advertisers? Is the critic being paid off by the restaurant? Is he not writing completely honestly, just to make it interesting because we all know that it is so much more fun read a hater? Do I ask too many questions?
These questions are always at the back of my mind. Am I skeptical? Cynical? Are these two words actually synonymous? Sure, I care about the restaurant and what to make sure that it’s getting an objective, fair judgment, but what I am really doing is studying, analyzing, and evaluating. Ultimately, I am measuring myself againt the professional. Could I…? Is it possible…? Could I throw away my comfortable, glamorous life of non-existent paychecks for a life that probably pays even less and be… a professional restaurant critic?!?!
I daydream about being a professional, I do. Okay, so actually, I fantasize about getting paid, but then I snap out of it when I find myself asking, “Are you bloody mad, girl? Who the f**k do you think I are?” Now try not to hear it in your head, but for some reason, that voice in my head is a schizophrenic hybrid of Gordon Ramsay and Timbaland. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
There are 12,384 reasons why I could never successfully pursue my dream of leading the glamorous lifestyle of a restaurant critic; 12,385 if “I am too afraid of rejection and failure to ever try” can be counted as a solid reason, and not just a general realization after a year of blogging-as-therapy. However, let’s make this post easy by addressing a single issue: that which we mentioned in the latter, i.e. integrity. To be more precise, let’s focus on those reasons which are directly and specifically related to aspects of the job of “critic” itself, rather than general deficiencies that may or may not affect my (unlikely) career in food writing, like, oh, say, writing ability! Let’s not say “Sarah has no writing ability” just to salvage whatever browned bits of hope we can from the rest of my dreams that have been seared into a hot, crusty, carcinogenic mess, okay?
The dining public may forgive lack of technical training, relevant restaurant experience, and culinary expertise, but there is no way on Gordon Ramsay’s good Earth (Gordon Ramsay is God, you know), that it would ever tolerate a critic who not only eats a free meal, but eats a free meal from a restaurant that she has already tried and chastized out blog.
What I am saying is…
I can be bought (-en).
When Kabuki Restaurant invited me to dinner, I was a little surprised, given that I had written less than favorably about their Howard Hughes location before. In fact, I sent the link of that lambaste to them. The representative said she had read about my previous negative experience, but that if I came in and tried the new! and improved! menu, I would love it. Such brazen confidence deserved a "Re-he-he-heally?" but I agreed to dinner, stipulating that my accepting their invitation was in no way a guarantee that I would write about the restaurant, nor that if I did, that the post would be flattering. Apparently, I can be bought-en because Kabuki has just bought their way into The Delicious Life!
However, no one, and I mean no one, can buy a Delicious endorsement with raw fish, hot cock, or Tyler Florence. You read me, Pepsi? Your diet soda ain't got nothing on Diet Coke. I don't care how many millions of dollars you transfer into my PayPal account which I can send you if you want. Email me!
To be fair, Kabuki's food wasn't horrible. No food is ever so horrible to me that I can't ingest it unless it's rancid, rotten, or truffled. The sashimi starter was pleasant, though I have to admit that my first thought upon seeing it was "sloppy seconds." It was a fancy presentation of the end pieces that fell off the cutting board. The two sashimi orders, <
span style="font-weight:bold;color:rgb(51,0,153);">albacore tuna and hamachi, were generous. But I'm getting to that.
Generosity is awesome for Red Cross, Goodwill, and Claim Jumper, but "more" is not necessarily better at the sushi bar. I've noticed this trend in sushi of placing large, thick slices of fish on rice. As much as I love the taste and texture of raw fish, I have found these veritable bricks too overwhelming, particularly on nigiri sushi. I have always and still prefer fish that fits like a smart hat rather than a heavy halibut pashmina draped over rice. I was a little grossed out by the white mucus on the hirame, but that's just me and my thing with mucus on fish.
Kabuki gets credit for kani sushi. Rather than "krab," the seafood equivalent of string cheese, they use real crab, and prove it by garnishing the endzone of the long serving plate with the crab leg shells. Again though, the ratio of flesh to grain was grossly unbalanced.
A broiled fish (this is horrible, but I can't remember what kind of fish it was; I am inclined to say mackerel because that's the only kind of broiled fish I would order, but the picture looks like black cod) held promise, but again, it was just too much on several levels, literally. For a meal that is enjoyed as delicate bites of many small things, there was too much fish, so much, that there were two layers stacked on top of each other. The fish was cut into slices that were too thick, and was far more oily than I have ever tasted, even on hamachi kama. The swamp of sauce in which the bottom layer bathed was unnecessary. The fish alone with a small bowl of rice could have been a very generous meal. Sans sauce, of course.
I ate the spicy tuna roll. It wasn't very spicy. In fact, it tasted very similar to the spicy tuna roll I ate for work-at-my-desk lunch at least three times a week from the sushi express place in the 3rd Street Promenade food court.
I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm just saying.
As good or bad as the previous parade of dishes were, none of them prepared me for the ugly, ohmydearGodinHeavenhelpus beast that came next. From its overturned dome shape, it might have been called a Seafood Bombe, or rather, a bomb. The outside, made of spicy tuna that had been broiled or baked, transformed what would have been so much better as raw fish, into a cat food shell.
I actually had no idea what to expect when we cut into it. Was it just a hollow dome? Would it be a solid mass all the way through? What sick filling could they possibly have put inside? It was filled with crab and avocado. Had it not appeared as though slime-secreting Jabba the Hut was spilling his saucy, crabby entrails all over the sacrificial cucumber altar, I would have taken more than the obligatory molecule to taste. I couldn't stomach any more of the gore.
I am not sure what we were doing by ordering a final California roll, which was ironically, probably one of the better California Rolls I've had. Perhaps the idea was that something so utterly mundane and familiar as a California Roll would erase the taste and sight of what we had just experienced from our memories.
Unfortunately, I always carry a camera.
There is no way I can, in good conscience, endorse Kabuki. I understand that there are some certain circumstances under which people would choose to eat there - convenient location off the 405 at Howard Hughes, half-price sushi - but they are not circumstances under which I would eat there. (I mean, come on. Half-price sushi?) In fact, the only circumstance under which I would eat at Kabuki is no-price sushi, and since I've done that now, I don't ever have to go back. Not even for Kabuki's pretty in pink lychee cocktails.
Hey, if you can't trust me as a restaurant critic because I can be bought-en, at the very least you know I'll never drink a pink cocktail.