Right around this time last year, I ate dinner at Musha in Santa Monica for the first time, and blogged about it. I clicked back into The Delicious archives and re-read what I wrote about Musha. It totally made me chuckle. The highlight of my post was the "personal ad" in the ladies' room.
That year-old post about Musha - it also made me *sigh*.
In the grand scheme of a delicious life, a year is not long, but at blog speed, a year is like an eternity, and so very very very much can happen. Change. Transformation. Evolution. You start to capitalize your sentences. You take a lot of pictures. You use a lot more words. And when you read your blog today as compared to a year ago, you wonder, "What on earth was I thinking back then?" And then..."What on earth am I thinking now?!"
A year ago, I cared a lot more about going out with friends, enjoying myself at a restaurant and just being with everyone. I would remember the funny moments, try to forget the embarassing things I did because I drank too much, and if I could put a few words together, I tried to blog about the experience. But the most important was always just going. A post on a blog was always a possible, but not always assured, by-product of going out to eat.
But now? Oh, oh, oh the here and now. Blogging now. Blogging has become its own animal. It is no longer merely a by-product, but it is the beginning, middle, and end. Blogging is the mise en place, the step-by-step process, and it is the final product, sliced, plated, sauced, garnished and served with a smile. And what was once a cursory introduction about the atmosphere, a few details about the food, and a couple of sentences about the good, the bad, or the ugly service, punctuated by dark, blurred snapshots is now paragraph after paragraph of...myself.
I have become so very personal in my posts, recalling childhood food memories, referring to friends and family, bemoaning my daily, petty, mundane, unimportant trials and tribulations, and writing about how food and restaurants affect me personally, emotionally, psychologically (or psychotically, as the case may sometimes be). It’s almost like therapy, and I wonder how interesting it really is, if at all, to anyone else other than me.
I have always believed food to be an emotional experience, and have been skeptical about simple, objective restaurant reporting. And yet, I find myself struggling, trying to find the right balance between one extreme of plainly listing menu items and prices and the other extreme of allowing a garnish of parsley to stir up a memory of that one time, back when I was four years old, living in San Antonio, and going to People’s with my family and trying to eat the pretty curly vegetable on the buffet and...and...and...holy-oh-my-smokes, by the time I’ve gotten to the end of the blog post, I’ve delved so deeply into my silly psyche that I understand why curly parsley makes me *shudder*.
There’s a lot more I could write about, details of how The Delicious Life has evolved in this way over the period of a year. That in itself could be a series of posts, but I will save that all for another day, and just try to focus on the parade of food that saved my sobriety at Musha.
Musha is tiny. The storefront is probably no more than ten feet across, and no matter what day of the week it is, there are at least a few people waiting for tables who have overflowed onto the sidewalk because the “waiting area” just inside the front door is about as big as a Welcome mat.
There’s a small bar up front, though it doesn’t appear that people ever actually sit at the bar. But there is a bartender back there, pulling bottles of Asahi, Kirin or Sapporo from the glass front door refrigerators with a white, backlit top panel. They are the kind of commercial refrigerators in a Mom and Pop convenience store for self-serve sodas that also seem to be the hallmark of Japanese and Korean restaurants. I guess the refrigerators would take up too much room back in the kitchen.
A walk-in wait could be 45 minutes or longer, but we had a reservation so we were ushered to our table right away. It’s a short sashay through the dining room that’s really no bigger than the living room in my apartment. It's decorated in the same, comfortable, casual way. It’s crowded with a lively mix of customers, some pairs with heads bent across their table in conversation, some groups with heads thrown back in happily buzzed laughter. To catch up with the atmosphere, we asked for a carafe of sake before our butts even hit the chairs.
Musha calls itself an izakaya, which, in the purest sense, refers to a Japanese pub or bar with the primary purpose of serving drinks, but also serves small plates of food, presumably to keep patrons from falling over in a gleeful stupor too soon. Usually, the food is simple, traditional, and easy to serve and eat with drinks, parallel to Americans’ traditional bar foods like Buffalo wings and French fries. Musha, however, is not tradtional. Musha is foodie-forward, with a touch of sass. Dishes are a creative combination of Japanese ingredients, ideas, and presentation with some decidedly non-Japanese adaptations.
Our server pops up to take our order, and when I say “pops up,” I mean he has the look and the shiny happy energy of a Japanese anime character, as it always seems to be the case for servers in Japanese restaurants. He’s young, tall, lanky, with darker skin and a 10 o’clock shadow on his face. His hair is wildly spiky with purposely uneven highlights, and he talks in short, fast clips that sound like I should be reading English subtitles to Kanji-filled cartoon bubbles that appear
over his head. We haven’t quite looked at the menu yet, which doesn’t change much from season to season, and apparently, it remains the same from year to year, even the funny English translations and misspellings that, if they were done on purpose, I wouldn’t be surprised. We started with the nasu kani, a Japanese eggplant stuffed with crab, and could you leave one menu with us so we can keep ordering? “Sure, sure!” and he sprung off. I want to say his name was Yoshi-toshi-okie-dokie-san-tokki.
When Yoshi came back with the nasu kani, we ordered a couple more dishes to keep him busy. The nasu kani is a cold appetizer, presented beautifully on a ceramic plate, but still looks like whoever put it together was talking to me in rapid-fire, high-pitched, Japanese peppered with mini-bursts of giggles. That’s what it looked like to me, so please, don’t rain on my parade by telling me that the cook speaks Spanish. Or Korean. LOL!
The rest of the meal went the same way. When Yoshi bounced back with a plate or two, we ordered one more along with a large beer or another sake, and he’d take away the empty plates on the tiny tabletop. We tried the locally famous fried chicken jokingly identified as “MFC” on the menu, fried shrimp doused with a creamy sauce (The Colonel's popcorn shrimp?), yakitori, and broiled saba (mackerel).
The tofu “fries” were served with condiments made to look like ketchup and mustard, but were a sweet and sour sauce and that ubiquitous Japanese kewpie mayo that must be laced with crack, for how else do you explain that no one in Japan except the highly respected sumo wrestlers, weighs in like Paula Deen.
You would think we were a birthday party or a group of hipsters pre-Holly Trolley for the amount of food and drink we were ordering, but it was just two of us. Either we were crazy or drunk. Or crazy drunk, because we kept on ordering. We thought about trying the risotto, which is served from an enormous wheel of Parmesan that gets wheeled out on a cart tableside with TGIFriday’s flair. The risotto is stirred into and scraped from an ever-widening, ever-deepening crater in the center of the cheese. “Is risotto too heavy?” so instead we went with beef – totally logical in a sake haze.
Beef is done in the style of Japanese yaki niku restaurants. The server sets up a tiny charcoal grill on your table, slaps down a plate of raw beef, and it’s up to you to do the cooking. It’s fun, but I highly recommend doing this open-flames activity earlier in the meal when sake-beer-sake-beer-sake hasn’t yet numbed your sens-abilities to distingiush “That’s hot, I shouldn’t touch it” from “Oh, how cute! (touch) Oh, s--t! That is effin' hot!”
At Musha, you cannot expect an apple pie a la mode to be a simple apple pie a la mode. YoshiToshiOkieDokie brought out a ceramic plate with a poached apple and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream that certainly looked harmless enough. An evil grin crept up over Darth Yoshi’s face. He threw his head back and with a high-pitched cackle of an insane Japanese waiter, he brandished a tiny blowtorch. Ok, so that’s not entirely true. It was a pretty big blowtorch. The blowtorch emitted some crazy “ssshhhrrrssshhh” sound and in a few seconds under a crazy cartoonish blue flame, Yoshi had bruleed the apples right before our very eyes. The dessert wasn’t too bad, but there was more fun in the spectacle than the taste.
Somewhere in the course of our eating, drinking, laughing and chatting with our table neighbors, we got up a couple of times to go out front for a “break” to get some “fresh air.” It must be usual, since Musha has small chairs set up on the sidewalk behind a tiny wooden fence. The atmosphere, the menu, the food, the service, and even little details in the bathroom like entreatises in the ladies’room for not stealing the artwork, make Musha feel less like an izakaya and more like a h
yperactive stirfry of Iron Chef and the Cartoon Network, garnished with pink peppercorns.
It certainly wasn’t thought-provokingly personal, but my Musha experience was absolutely deliciously vicious fun.
424 Wilshire Boulevard (between 4th and 5th Streets)
Santa Monica, CA 90401