New Japan ~ 11283 Santa Monica Blvd. West Los Angeles, CA 90025 ~ 310-477-0557
Many of our city’s best sushi joints flourish in crappy strip-mall parking lots like this one, inhaling smog just a blocks west of the 405 in West Los Angeles. New Japan is not one of these. In fact, their cheap sushi truly blows donkey, resembling the type you might get at a fancy Vons, and one piece is usually left sin aguacate, which really pisses me off. The service is friendly, though disinterested, and sometimes you are subjected to large groups of randy office-mates (feel the sexual tension thicken) or sweaty martial arts teams coming to catch a gander at ultimate fighting on the big screen, all while you try to eat and have a moment to yourself.
Still, it is where I often head when I feel like treating myself nicely, having worked hard on something or saved my pennies. I typically skip the pollock-substituting-for-crab roll or limp eel on rice and instead head straight for the chicken and beef special, a sweet-sauce-glazed feast fit for the king of the Huns, accompanied by soft, warm white rice and a carrot ginger salad ($8). New Japan recently got their act together and ditched the heinous mirrors and disco modern theme (but not the obnoxious TV) for a more traditional setting ripped outta Lone Wolf and Cub, with wee Buddhist idols and plenty of bamboo.
The beef and chicken plate is usually on, though I have had my frustrations when dealing with this plate’s inconsistency as well. The night I came equipped with camera, though, everything was up to its usual tasty standard. I think terriyaki tradionalists would be freaked out by the thick Jemima-like syrup here, but the combined meaty taste of the beef’s juices, its surface gently kissed by the grill, tempered by the overly sweet sauce go great together, like a trans-Pacific Roscoe’s.
The chicken pieces are really soft, white nuggets in medium-sized, rough-cut strips that pop in the mouth, going down easily, with no dryness and mucho sabor. The beef is tough on the outer layer from the grill’s touch, but barely medium on the red inside, with deep cracked valleys where the syrup gathers on all sides. It is simultaneously tender and chewy. The chewiness and griddled flavors strike a tasty balance with the sauce as it soaks up so much syrup and flavor, mingling meat with sweet in every chewy bite. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.
I’ve tried the meal with just chicken or beef alone, and it does not work, something about switching meat supplies off and on keeps things fresh and interesting. I really recommend mashing the rice and salad together too, mmmnn, letting the ginger dressing put a little lubrication up in the rice for easy entry through the esophageal sphincter. The option to add tempura, which comes super fluffy in a gravity-defying fried shell that has no physical connection to its entrails, is sometimes a good call for a greasier eating experience, though again, traditionalists should skip it.
From a failed sushi restaurant, at least one pearl is given up to be savored, suckled, and slaughtered by its customers, of which there are always many coming for the good price and easy location. I shouldn’t talk too much shit on the non-chicken-and-beef plates, though. New Japan has a fairly big menu, with lots of different dishes like ramen, which could be of some value. This restaurant might not be for everyone, but for now, and considering its tiny aesthetic improvements, it has me coming back for that one big plate of food. Again and again.