Sunday, April 6, 2014

Round and round it goes

Hokkigai, or surf clam sushi
 Kula Revolving Sushi is located on Sawtelle Boulevard, in Los Angeles' Little Osaka neighborhood. It's the perfect place for sushi lovers who might be intimidated by the etiquette and ritual interaction between customer and itamae, or sushi chef, when sitting at the sushi bar.

Here, in a celebration of the Japanese culture's embrace of technology, customers choose small plates of sushi rolling past on a conveyer belt. Like an automated dim-sum cart, the final bill is tallied up by counting the number of empty plates at the end of the meal.

I pulled up a chair at the bar. Instead of a sushi chef and refrigerated cases, the  conveyer belt ran on an elevated shelf  before me. Small plates, each with its clear plastic protective dome, rolled past me, with pairs of nigirizushi or four pieces of cut roll. You simply choose what you like and take it from the belt. Helpful cards identify the items, which travel in threes or fours, followed by another helpful card and another group of items.

The belt snakes its way through the entire dining room, then back into the kitchen, where it is replenished.

The kitchen is just around the bend, so my sushi is fresh!
It's as fascinating as TV.  One sits and watches as the plates roll past, glancing ahead to the corner for the next card to appear. What should I take? Do I want marinated tuna? Squid with shiso leaf? If I let the scallop go past now, will I have another chance at it?

 For my first selection, I sort of lunged at a plate bearing two masago gunkan-maki, fearing it would escape my clutches.

Masago gunkan-maki and albacore nigiri-zushi
Next, I nabbed a plate of albacore nigiri.  It was served with a little plastic tub of ponzu sauce. Both the masago and the albacore were good, tasty, and fresh, although lacking in the refinement one might expect from personal service.

It's not just sushi that rolls past like boxcars on a train track. There are dishes of edamame, dessert items like mochi, and crusty fried chicken. I took a little dish of sunemono, or cucumber salad that I'm fond of, relying on the label. I didn't realize it also included slivers of tamago, or egg omelet, and octopus, but it was impossible to put it back.  Still, it wasn't bad, and the portion was generous.

Sunemono with octopus and tamago (egg omelet)
This is one drawback to conveyer belt sushi - once you commit, you are stuck with it. It's wise to study items as they go past you, and if you're not sure about them, pick them up on the next go-round.

Kula Revolving Sushi is a popular place. When I went, the four and two-top tables were full, and even the bar was full with singles and couples.  This made me feel confident about the freshness of the offerings, which were snapped up quickly instead of making multiple orbits. This could be a concern if the restaurant were slow, especially with items using mayonnaise, or avocado, which browns with age.

Still, I think it's a better deal than the all-you-can-eat joints where items sit out in trays for ages. Everything I saw on the day I went looked fresh, and the chefs were bustling in the back to load the belt up with new things.

Even though the menu offers popular items like Philadelphia and California rolls, it also has things that many Western customers are less familiar with, like Spanish mackerel, surf clam, and nattō, which is a strong-smelling fermented soybean. It smells like stinky feet and is served as gunkan-maki.

 Kula offers all items for $2 per plate, which is a pretty good deal. If you want to try out different kinds of sushi, but you don't want to embarrass yourself at the sushi bar, it's a safe way to experiment.

It's a good way to introduce kids to sushi - they will have fun watching the little dishes roll past. And the gadget-lovers in your family will love it! 


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

That's awesome!

smalltownme said...

$2 a plate is great, and gives you the chance to try some new things.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

This post is like a dispatch from the future... sushibots for the win!

For the record, one of my favorite drinks is a shiso-infused shochu distilled from sweet potatoes. My older brother's father-in-law gave me a couple of bottles of the stuff, and I drink it very sparingly so I can make my limited supply last.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

My bad, apparently, it's a barley distillate... I found my brand, now I need to see if it's available in the NY metro area.