Kabuki Japanese Restaurant
Howard Hughes Center
6081 Center Drive, #203 (@ Sepulveda)
Los Angeles, CA 90045
It was a Saturday afternoon. My phone was flashing green and when I flipped it open, it said “mom’s cel.” Would my mother worry if, when I click “Ignore,” it goes straight to the default greeting of “Please leave a message?” Am I a horrible daughter if I just let it ring and go to voicemail as if I didn’t even hear it? Now, I both love and like Mom – love her because she is my mother and like her because she’s pretty badass. But right at that moment, I didn’t have time. Wait, she spent 23 hours in labor giving birth to me, she cooked and fed me three times a day, cleaned up after me, chauffeured me on-demand for 16 years, paid for my higher education with her hard earned money. Is it so much to ask to just talk to your mother for five minutes?!?!
"Yeap. It’s Sarah. You called me.” I had to chuckle.
"Hi Sarah!" Hmm. I knew she wasn’t calling to just chit-chat. She had that tell-tale tone, where “Sarah” came out saccharin sweet, buttering me up for some big favor that only the single daughter could to do.
"I forgot to tell you, when you picked me up last week, about your go-mo.” She forgot to tell me about my aunt? No she didn’t. She planned it this way. My mom doesn't forget anything.
"Your gomo is flying back home to Toronto from Korea and she has to stop in LA tomorrow for..." She made a semi-dramatic pause. "...six hours.” After emphasis on six, another purposeful silence to let the horrible flight schedule sink in. I could totally picture her face, eyes widened and mouth half agape, with the silent look of "Can you believe that?!?!" Six hours. So, what? I made an audible *gasp!* just for my Mom. “Oh my gosh! Six hours? How could they schedule her flights like that?” And then I stopped for her to fill me in, as I knew she would.
"I know. Isn’t that sooooo bad? Six hours in the LAX. So I offered to pick her up and take her to dinner around there so she wouldn’t have to sit there by herself in the LAX for six hours."
The LAX. Not just LAX, but she said THE LAX. She was turning on her best FOB. That meant there was more.
"But I have to run some errands down here in Fullerton so I might be late picking her up..."
Aha. There it was. But before I knew it, before I could stop myself, I heard the words coming out of my mouth “Mom, why don’t I meet gomo at the airport, take her somewhere around there, and you can meet us when you’re done?” I hit myself squarely in the forehead with my first knuckle. How does she do that?!?
She's good. Damn, my mom is good. She had gotten me to offer to wait around all day Sunday afternoon for a phone call from my gomo letting me know that she had gotten through US Customs and would be waiting at the curb on the “Arrivals” level of Tom Bradley for me to drive-by, slow down, pick her up, and take her to a restaurant that we would choose in the car depending on her mood.
Sunday afternoon rolled around and without going into any more detail than I already have, there had been a mix-up of cel phone numbers, missed calls, and let’s just say that when Mom called me from the 405 freeway, I was still at home "on-call" waiting to hear from my gomo, almost two-and-half hours after she was supposed to have touched down in LA. Mom said screw her, let’s go eat dinner.
See why I can’t ever be annoyed at Mom for long? She says "screw her" after calling it "the LAX." LOL!
Still feeling the responsibility of family, we decided to eat near the airport, in case my gomo ever did get around to calling one of us to pick her up. Unfortuantely, I hadn’t actually done my homework and knew nothing about dining options within reasonable pick-up distance of the LAX. We took a risk and went blindly to the Howard Hughes Center. If nothing else, I’ve seen a sign for Islands from the freeway, and they have a full bar. Like mother, like daughter. :)
My Mom spied the sushi place on the second floor and was delighted. It’s Sunday, though, I reminded her, and I had never heard of Kabuki Sushi before. Sushi, she countered, is better than a hamburger. I don’t think I necessarily agreed with her, but she was still right, if you know what I mean ;)
Kabuki Sushi is not good. If I had it in me right now, I might go so far as to say that Kabuki Sushi is quite possibly the worst sushi I’ve had in the last five years, but I won’t. Let’s face it, I’m pretty sure that at some point in my mind-numbing marketing career, I surrendered to late-night, lazy midweek supermarket sushi in the past five years. Those black, ribbed plastic trays with the matching clear plastic cover, filled with eight pieces of combination sushi made by Gertie, fully equipped with disposable rubber gloves and “sushi instruction cards” back behind the seafood counter of the supermarket, garnished with kelly green platic “grass” is the worst sushi ever in any period of time. Besides, for some reason, I have been getting a lot of heat for some negative experiences I have written about and I just don’t feel like bringing on more flames. Not today, at least. :)
When we walked into Kabuki Sushi on that early Sunday evening, I knew it wasn’t going to be the most authentic Japanese sushi experience. It was loud, crowded with people ranging from “dates” to gaggles of giggling girls to families of six with small children. It was these families, I think, that sort of did it for me. Kids screaming, laughing and running around in the aisles is totally not what I picture in a Japanese restaurant. In fact, my first impression as we walked in the front door was that we had just stepped into a cheesy, colorfully animated Disney Epcot interpretation of a Japanese food. There were also quite a number of people waiting on the sidewalk outside the restaurant for a table as well as sardined onto the few chairs inside in front of the hostess. If Kabuki had set up crowd control with sawhorses and white plastic chain links, the parallel would have been scary perfect.
Three women were standing behind the front hostess stand discussing the finer points of strategic customer seating in...Korean. When we stepped up, I held up two fingers in universal restaurant sign language. She looked down at the maps and lists the stand and said there was a 45 minute wait for a table. I looked over at the sushi bar at the other end of the fairly dining room. It didn’t look too promising, as it was full all the way down the line. My mom replied to the hostess about sitting at the sushi bar in...Korean. The hostess shuffled quickly across the dining room to the sushi bar to make an audit, then came back to report that we could be seate
d right away at the bar as there was a couple leaving right then. Is my mom good or what?
We sat down at the sushi bar and though the chefs greeted us with “ira-shai-masse!” they promptly returned to jabbering away with each other in Korean. I think Kabuki is owned by Koreans. I don’t know why I am so stuck on this Korean/Japanese thing, but I am. We opened the menu. I right about Kabuki being something like Disneyland. Like the theme park that has something for everyone, so too is Kabuki your one-stop Japanese food fun for-the-whole-family extravganza. Appetizers include everything from dynamite to fried calamari to tempura to yakitori. They also had something called BBQ Beef Ribs, described as their special “oriental style” ribs. They said "oriental," but let's just call it what I think they really are: galbee. LOL! The menu has salads, typical dinner offerings like teriyaki everything, tonkatsu, combinations of these with sushi or tempura, items cooked on a hibachi grill, udon noodles, soup, and a half-dozen “gourmet dishes” – basically Japanese fusion things like miso-marinated cod. Mom and I weren’t all that interested in any of the above except a tofu salad to start our dinner. Tofu salads are fairly standard now, and Kabuki’s was nothing special. Mixed baby greens dressed with sesame dressing was a light, fresh way to start.
The Disney effect is in full-force on the menu not because of what is offered, but how it’s offerend - full chaotic color with pictures, advertising everywhere the fact that sushi is half price. The sushi is half-price! I wasn’t sure how good I felt about sushi being offered at half-price. Of course, it’s all marketing and psychology, I know. Regular price sushi could be listed at double, so that “half-price” is technically normal price, but “half” just sounds better. I guess if we were at Macy’s shopping for underwear or Ralphs buying Campbell’s canned soup, half-price would be awesome, but I really don’t know that the psychology of “half” works for raw fish. I didn’t feel totally comfortable, but no one around us was keeling over into stomach-wretching fits from bad fish, so we just ordered a few of our usuals.
Kabuki has one stipulation on the half-price sushi, though. It only applies to the very basic sushi. Anything listed as “premium” and “special” do not fall under the half-pricing strategy, which are the slighlty more unusual fish like amaebi, toro, unagi, and uni, as well as all of the “creative” rolls. That was fine for us, since we like to stick to most of the basic nigiri sushi with the exception of my Mom’s ritual uni.
Maguro was a pale pink, rather than the bright ruby red I’m used to. I do realize that cuts from different parts of the tuna anatomy are different colors, but I remember hearing that pink, if it’s not toro, is not the best quality. Half-price, right? Across the the rice, the tuna was starting to separate at the natural muscle striations, and when I ate it, was a bit tougher and chewier than normal. I could feel the silvery fibers in my teeth that hold the flesh together, which I wanted to pull out of my mouth and place back on the plate, but mom would have given me “the look” if I did something so gross in a restaurant. We encountered a similar fibrous texture with hirame, hamachi, and sake. The tekka maki was better, since the tuna was cut into smaller, narrower slices, and the pallid color was hidden between rice and nori. Albacore sushi was softest and least fibrous of everything, but it still doesn’t mean it was good.
The sushi at Kabuki was not good, but that’s not to say that there was anything disastrous. Obviously, offering sushi at half-price means that the business has to compromise a little bit of fish quality. And of course, since they do advertise half-price, they are turning out quite a volume, which means that chefs have to ration the time and care they put into each order. The preparations are sometimes a little disheveled, sometimes totally sloppy, but it’s still edible. Kabuki caters to a crowd of sushi eaters who want to be in a loud, lively atmosphere (they also have a nice beer, sake, and cocktail menu but I had to remind my Mom it was Sunday, and that she had to drive back to the OC – LOL!), people who want to be able to bring their families, people who want to be able to enjoy the lightness of sushi without the lightness of wallet. If I wanted to eat sushi every day for the sake of eating light, healthy raw fish and rice, I would put Kabuki on my rotation. But sushi is a different type of experience for me. Not better. Not worse. Just different.
After we left the restaurant, Mom checked her voice mail, her answering machine at home, and instructed me to do the same. Nothing.
My gomo had completely forgotten to call us when she landed and only called us the next day (Monday) once she was at home in Toronto. Sheesh.