Saturday, October 31, 2009

Musha (Santa Monica, CA)

424 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Sat 10/31/2009, 06:00p-07:15p

What do food bloggers do for Halloween? Go out to eat, of course! For All Hallow's Eve this year, Christine of Folie à Choisauce organized a small get-together at Musha, an izakaya in Santa Monica helmed by general manager/chef extraordinaire Taku Suzuki (there's also a sister location in Torrance). For the uninitiated, izakayas are basically Japanese-style pubs, featuring small, savory plates of food meant to be paired with beer and/or sake. The atmosphere inside an izakaya is usually fun, festive, flirty, lubricated by the omnipresent flow of booze--the ideal vibe for a Halloween dinner. And if you're wondering about the name, in Japanese, musha musha is the sound effect for eating, basically the onomatopoeic counterpart of the English echoism nom nom (which was itself first popularized by Cookie Monster, and subsequently by LOLcats).

Also in attendance for the dinner portion of the evening were Danny of Kung Food Panda, Nathan of Binary Tastebuds, Sonja of The Active Foodie, as well as Christine's oppa, John.

Musha Exterior
Musha is located in the heart of Santa Monica, sandwiched between Wahoo's Fish Tacos and a Chevron gas station. Parking can be tricky on the street, so I'd recommend one of the many public parking structures in the area, which command a flat rate of $3 after 6:00. The nearest one is on the southwest corner of 4th and Wilshire.

Musha Interior
We were pretty much the first party to arrive, so the place was nearly empty to begin with, but would later teem with throngs of revelers and roisterers (the rotund-ish man in the doorway, dressed in a UPS uniform, is none other than Taku-san). Being early did allow us, however, to commandeer the private tatami room in the back, which accommodates up to 10 people (minimum charge of $200).

Musha Menu Musha Menu Musha Menu Musha Menu
Musha Menu Musha Menu Musha Menu Musha Menu
Musha's menu, full of colorful descriptions and endearing grammatical errors (such as the seemingly nonsensical "Chiller Santa Monica! Yes, we need this!!"), is a joy just to read; click for larger versions. In Japan, sushi and sashimi aren't considered popular izakaya fare, and though the versions in Los Angeles tend to offer raw fish items, I'd stick with the grilled, fried, and otherwise cooked courses.

Musha Drink Menu Musha Drink Menu Musha Drink Menu
Since izakayas are, at their heart, drinking establishments, the drink menu must be considered as well. A selection of beer, wine, shochu, and sake is on offer, but no liquor; click for larger versions. We ordered up two pitchers of Sapporo Draft [$12], as well as three decanters of sake: first the Yoshi No Gawa [$18] from Niigata, then the Hananomai [$18] from Shizuoka, and finally the premium Hakkaisan [$28] from Niigata.

Spicy Tuna Dip
Spicy Tuna Dip [$8.95]
We started with one of Musha's most famous dishes. Everybody's had a spicy tuna roll at some point, but here it's served as a dip, paired with crispy rice crackers. As expected, it was a quite tasty, a gorgeous amalgam of rich tuna and spicy sauce, heightened by a fantastic crunch from the rice, with a bit of lingering heat. Nice.

Aburi Saba Aburi Saba Aburi Saba
Aburi Saba [$11.00]
Christine insisted that we just had to order this, so we did: a dish of vinegar-marinated mackerel filet, sliced and torched tableside, garnished with gari, wasabi, and karashi. The searing really brought out the oiliness of the saba, but fortunately, its fishiness was relatively tame. It was pretty good by itself, but positively superb when paired with the acerbic, biting tang of the ginger. Note: our server was a guy, in drag (remember, it was Halloween); some of us, though, did have to do a double take!

Lobster Roll
Lobster Roll [$7.95]
As regular readers will know, I usually eschew rolls, but somehow agreed to this. It was lobster, avocado, cucumber, masago roe, and mayo, rolled up in seaweed and soy paper, sans rice. It certainly wasn't offensive, but the essence of lobster was really lost here, and the flavors in general seemed muddled, indistinct.

Tofu French Fries
Tofu French Fries [$5.95]
How do you get uptight Americans to eat tofu? Cut it up into parallelepiped form, deep fry the suckers, and call 'em French fries. Seriously though, this wasn't bad at all. The "fries" were pretty mild flavor-wise, so really the sauce was the key here. Creamy wasabi and sweet chili condiments were provided; the latter was a bit too sweet for my tastes, but the tofu was superb with the former.

Negitoro Tuna Croquette
Negitoro Tuna Croquette [$6.95]
Next was negi (green onion) and toro (tuna), minced into a slurry along with garlic, pepper, and hijiki seaweed, breaded, and tossed into the deep fryer. Though my croquette was perhaps a touch dry, I rather enjoyed it, a nice admixture of savory tuna, tarted up by the tang of scallion. Even better with the paired grated daikon-mayo dip.

M.F.C [$7.95]
No, M.F.C doesn't stand for Most Fobbiest Chicken; rather, it's Musha Fried Chicken, or soy sauce/sake/ginger/garlic-marinated chicken filet, breaded with cornstarch, deep fried, and served with two kinds of grated daikon, as well as ponzu. It certainly was tasty enough, albeit a bit blunt, and could've been a touch tenderer. Good, but not at the level of a truly sublime fried chicken (for sublime, refer to Ludo's duck fat fried chicken, the buttermilk fried chicken at Ad Hoc, or Ira's Javanese-style ayam goreng).

Takotama [$6.95]
The menu advertised this as Musha's signature dish, so it was a must try for us. It was basically a two-layer noodle omelet, with octopus (tako), leeks, red ginger, and bonito broth (katsuobushi dashi), smothered in a dark, viscous sauce--think of it as an unholy marriage between takoyaki and okonomiyaki. There was a real multitude of tastes, with the octopus itself acting as more of a textural component. The initial flavor sensation was vaguely reminiscent of Indian-style curry, with the umami-rich flavor of the bonito coming in later.

Tanshio [$8.95]
And now, for a little yakiniku action. Here we have thinly-sliced beef tongue (tan), topped with salt (shio) and pepper, and grilled. Now normally, the grilling is performed by the diners, but given that the tatami room can't accommodate the shichirin charcoal grills normally used, the kitchen had to grill the meat for us. I'm not complaining, as the tongue turned out quite delicious--unctuous, super saporous, imbued with an immensely beefy flavor. Even better when dipped in the provided lemon-sesame oil sauce.

Musha's Risotto Musha's Risotto
Musha's Risotto [$8.80]
This was another dish that Christine insisted upon, but unfortunately, it didn't turn out quite as well as the Aburi Saba. It was basically a Japanese interpretation of classic Italian risotto: brown rice cooked with chicken broth, then pan-fried with Prosciutto, onion, and soy milk. The whole concoction was then mixed tableside in a block of cheese by our lovely "waitress." Great concept, but the execution left me wanting. There was a distinct lack of flavor, like the kitchen forgot to add any salt or seasoning!

Butakim [$7.80]
Next was one of my favorite items of the night: thinly-sliced pork, stir-fried with napa cabbage (baechu) kimchi and mushrooms, doused with soy sauce. The key was the kimchi, which was a superb temper to the savory pork. Great with beer.

Char-Han [$6.95]
Our last savory course was a spicy fried rice with ground pork, Thai chili, bamboo shoot, ginger, garlic, leek, and egg, finished with fish sauce, cilantro, and red ginger. It wasn't very spicy sadly, and the flavor in general was rather muted--I didn't get much of the pork, fish sauce, bamboo, or ginger really. The cilantro was a great touch, though.

Musha Dessert Menu
Interestingly, izakayas in Japan often do not offer dessert. However, Taku-san is a fan of the sweet stuff, so he does push them at Musha. Click for a larger version.

Ume Tea
Before dessert was served, we were given cups of tea, filled with what I believe was umeboshi, or pickled ume fruit.

Maple Crème Brûlée Maple Crème Brûlée
Maple Crème Brûlée [$5.80]
Continuing on with the he-she blowtorch action, we started off with a crème brûlée, caramelized tableside. It was about what you'd expect, with a somewhat heavier, richer flavor from the use of maple syrup flavoring.

Chocolate Souffle
Chocolate Soufflé [$6.00]
Next was the chocolate soufflé cake, basically a chocolate cake with a liquid chocolate interior, served with vanilla gelato. It was certainly tasty enough, the gelato proving a nice counter to the decadence of the chocolate, but variations of the molten chocolate cake are almost clichéd at this point I think.

Apple Tartin Apple Tartin
Apple Tartin [$6.00]
Finally, we have Musha's take on the classic apple tarte tatin, torched tableside, served with the same vanilla gelato as above, along with a sprig of rosemary. It was a fairly standard presentation except for the rosemary, which provided an astringent, herbal counterbalance to the dish.

Conclusively, complementary cuts of cantaloupe to close.

Musha Group Photo with Cross-Dressing Server
And finally, the requisite group photo, minus Nathan (who left to attend a Cirque du Soleil show with Connie of Hey Hey Scenesters), with our lovely server; note "her" use of double fob "V" signs.

Third Street Promenade Third Street Promenade
The night was still young, so we made our way down Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, looking for a nearby bar to wet our whistles...

Copa d'Oro
...Finally settling upon Copa d'Oro, where we were joined by Twitterer and famed cupcake-maker Remil, as well as Dave. We took a seat at the bar...

Sagatiba Cursed Caipirinha
...And ordered up a round of the Halloween night special, the Sagatiba Cursed Caipirinha [$10], a delightful cocktail combining the sweetness of blood orange with the alcoholic bite of cachaça. As we were finishing up our drinks, we moved from the bar to a table...

Sagatiba Shots
...Where we were tempted by the shot girl, who was pushing shots of the aforementioned Sagatiba cachaça [$5], to be chased by small slices of blood orange dipped in a sugar/cinnamon mixture. We succumbed to her charms and accent and ordered a round. The cachaça itself was surprisingly smooth, given its potency, and the chaser was perfect, leaving a lingering sweet spiciness in our mouths. More booze was necessary...

Rhode Island Red & Custom Gin and Ginger
...So Christine decided to ask owner/bartender Vincenzo Marianella for a custom cocktail, utilizing ginger as well as her favorite liquor, gin. The resultant concoction, shown above with the John's Rhode Island Red (sorry for the subpar photo), was absolutely profound in its gingeriness--in the words of the eternally sage Ralph Wiggum: it tastes like burning. Once we polished off the drinks...

Off to Noraebang? Off to Noraebang?
...We made our way outside, to decide where we were going next. But there wasn't much deliberating to be done; there was only one option really: noraebang (Korean-style karaoke). Thus, we wandered back to our cars, and made the trek over to K-Town, stopping at Palmtree LA, supposedly the poshest karaoke joint around (Nathan would join us later on). There won't be any more photos from here on (wisely left my camera in the car), though apparently, there might be a video floating around of me doing a pretty mean rendition of Taylor Swift's Love Story...


Anonymous Jai Kohli said...

Good old Palm Tree... it's been too long since I've been there last.

Friday, November 06, 2009 2:06:00 AM  
Blogger dhkm said...

is that just me, there seem to be a lot of fusion dish going on at the izakaya.

Friday, November 06, 2009 7:49:00 AM  
Blogger weezermonkey said...

The restaurant may have gotten a B health rating, but your server deserved an A+ for "her" costume.

Friday, November 06, 2009 8:53:00 AM  
Blogger gourmetpigs said...

What/where is your costume, Kevin??

I'm not sure why I never made it Musha, having lived so close for so many years. Now I have to try that Aburi Saba though.

Friday, November 06, 2009 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Love love love Musha but hate the rediculously long wait times and lack of waiting space. I'm upset before I even sit down.

Friday, November 06, 2009 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger ila said...

great post, now i'm very upset that i missed it lol. i never liked the torrance musha because everything is so salty, but i guess i'll try the SM musha some time soon.

Sunday, November 08, 2009 7:44:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jai: Been there with Mr. Park? ;)

Dason: At this particular izakaya, yes. It's one of the less traditional ones around I believe.

Weezer: Ha! I guess I'd get a failing grade.

Fiona: This was sort of a last minute thing, so I didn't have time to pick one out. I wasn't going to wear what I wore last year!

sygyzy: I guess the trick is to camp outside before the place even opens. ;)

Ila: We missed you! Where did you end up that night?

Sunday, November 08, 2009 4:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang how do you afford all these fine eats??!! I was at Musha last week, its just ok. Nothing fancy but you get what you pay for right? =)

Sunday, November 08, 2009 9:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drunk driving. Awesome.

Monday, November 09, 2009 3:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

The she-male waitress really made this review special for me.

Monday, November 09, 2009 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Anon 1: I wouldn't exactly call Musha "fine," but yeah, in general, you get what you pay for.

Anon 2: Drunk? I wasn't even buzzed.

Cathy: Yes, he/she really heightened the experience for all of us!

Monday, November 09, 2009 6:16:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Never been to the Musha at Santa Monica; wait was always too long. But I've been to Musha in Torrance several times. I loved it at first, but I felt like the quality has been slipping. Curious how the SM one compares.

I also had to do a double-take with the waitress. Quite convincing costume, and I've been to Thailand!

Saturday, November 14, 2009 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Ah Thailand...nothing quite like being propositioned by a transsexual prostitute!

Sunday, November 15, 2009 4:19:00 AM  

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