Bound by the financial restrictions of ever-increasing gasoline prices, last Thursday for dinner, we ended up at Canal Club in Venice, one of few restaurants in the Westside area that were participating in the April 28th edition of Dining Out for Life (a one day nation-wide fundraising event for Aid for AIDS).
As a Happy Hour Haunt, Canal Club is good fun. Out front, there are always a few huddles of those barflies who have flitted outside for a break, groups criss-crossing the small side street from neighboring James' Beach and back again, and inside, it’s dark, lively, and full of young local Venetians unwinding after a long day and winding up for a long night at the bar.
There aren’t any drink specials for Happy Hour, though there needn’t be, as Canal Club tends to serve up cocktails at just over double strength. But foods off the bar menu are only $2.95. It’s Cali-internationl – certain maki sushi (though I’m uncertain about calling a California roll “sushi”), edamame, spring rolls, and even the typical bar foods like quesadillas and chicken wings. But the bar foods aren’t the main attraction – they merely serve to reserve your space at the bar if you happen to run off to the restroom with a death grip on your cocktail. Yes, from 4-7 at Canal Club, the only real solid foods that matter are the three olives in your martini.
However, Canal Club is not a destination for serious dining after 7 pm. Actually, any place with the word “club” in the name is usually better left to either the late night drink/dance set, or a quick bite before heading back to finish up on the back nine. Nonetheless, we made our way into a very-telling half empty dining room at prime time. Hmm...
Canal Club is sort of all over the place. An island-inspired thatched roof covering the central bar connects a sushi bar on one side to the regular bar on the other. The Trader Vic’s polynesian theme is carried further on wooden signs that have burnt-etched lettering and one of them points up to a private dining room upstairs. It’s dark inside, though there are eye-catching lights everywhere. Enormous, colorful orbs hang from the ceiling – asian paper lanterns that are much more fashion over function. On the restaurant side, what what used to be windows that would have let in light from the street have been painted over into a colorful, somewhat cartoony, underwater seascape, lined with cheesy blue Christmas lights.
Like the decor, the menu is just as schizophrenic. There full name is Canal Club - Wood Grill and Sushi. Before we order anything, the server drops off chips and salsa, which is nice since I much prefer that to bread. The salsa is smoky, unfortunately not too spicy, and when I thought about it, tastes strangely like a smoky tomato ketchup. I had to squeeze the lime from my citron/soda over the chips and salt them. Hopefully no one saw me.
Maintaining some consistency with the chips and salsa, we start with a quesadilla, which would be better named a fromage-dilla, so it’s not really Mexican anyway. It’s made with brie cheese and sliced grapes. Though it sounds a little too frou-frou creative and I want to make fun of it, I can’t because I order it every time I come to Canal Club. I do think, though, they would do better to serve it with something more suitable for brie other than guacamole. I just ate the guacamole with the chips instead.
Mexi-french first, and now Japanese. The sashimi roll was fancifully presented, though presentation doesn’t count for much when you can’t see anything by the flickering light of a dying candle. All raw fish wrapped in a thin white soy paper and stacked on a plate decorated with a spiced mayonnaise. I’ve never ever understood the point of mayo with raw fish (common offender: spicy tuna roll). In fact, I’ve never quite understood the point of any sauce that kills the taste of the fish – is it bad fish? – but that’s a rant for a different blog. The sashimi roll okay.
We ordered the yellowtail collar, which I wanted to order as hamachi kama, because “collar” doesn’t sound appetizing, and do fish even have collars? This is something my Dad used to eat all the time and I was thoroughly disgusted by 1) the fact that it was a fish collar, and 2) how oily the meat was. Certainly my Dad is not the most delicate eater, but shiny streaks would form on his chin from the oil dripping down. Gross. Maybe in my teenage years it was just natural rebellion, but now, I can’t deny the genetics of my tastebuds. I too love picking with a pair of chopsticks around the wide, flat translucent collar bones, sometimes meat, sometimes a fatty globule, always delicious. Canal Club serves it with an overly sticky sweet sauce, like unagi kabayashi sauce on sugar steroids. Overwhelming in a bad way. Not much to be said about the cucumber garnish – oops, I mean salad – other than that I ate it.
The sticky sauce was too sweet for the kama, but it also appeared with the sesame greens beans, where it fit better, but still, was just too sweet to be dinner. Save the sugar for desserts. Savory foods I like to be salty or spicy or herbaceous, or subtly sweet only from the natural sugars in the ingredient itself, like onions or carrots. Okay, sometimes I like sweetness in regular foods, but not icky sticky, and especially not icky sticky two dishes in a row.
We didn’t do dessert at Canal Club. We were full, not from the food, but from our drinks, so we filled out the Dining Out for Life Grand Prize drawing entry form and called it a night. If I win the trip for two to Hawaii, I’ll come back to Canal Club to celebrate, but I’ll stick to the bar.
2025 Pacific Ave (at North Venice)
Venice, CA 90291