Sunday, October 19, 2008

Holy Mackeral: Aburi Saba at Musha

LA is in about year five of a massive gastro-pub fad. A gastro-pub, of course is a bar offering excellent eats. The fad blew in with Father's Office in Santa Monica, famously doling out burgers and sweet potato fries along with their large selection of brew.

The izakaya is the Japanese version of the gastro-pub, which accompanies your drinks with tapas-sized plates of fish, tofu and other Japanese and Japanese-Western fusion dishes. The LA izakaya fad came in on the heels of the gastro-pub fad and both remain strong.

Musha was one of the early izakaya in Torrance which then expanded to Santa Monica. I headed to the Santa Monica branch and was not disappointed.

There was so much good food at Musha that it's hard to know where to start. Thin strips of beef tongue, Korean BBQ style with a sesame oils sauce were beautifully beefy and lacked any of the negative textures I associate with tongue. MFC (Musha Fried Chicken) had a light, crunchy batter and a tangy (yuzu?) sauce. Anago rice was served out of a hot pot that created a mash-up similar to bi bim bop dol sot. There was even a tribute to Father's Office in the sweet potato fries with ranch dressing, though they weren't as good as the spectacular FO fries.

But my favorite dish was the aburi saba, or flamed mackerel, a side of mackerel seared table-side with a blow-torch. Mackerel, in my experience, is a risky order. Handle it poorly and it becomes oily and develops a strong fishy order, but fresh, well-handled mackerel is something to behold. This mackerel was fresh and firm with a wonderfully subtle taste; the skin-side was seared but the bottom of the fillet remained cold. The flavor was strong without being fishy. Certainly one of the best mackerel dishes I recall having anywhere.

The desserts at Musha were also notable. Their selection is a mix of preprepared dessert from a distributor and desserts made especially for Musha by a pastry chef who apparently goes only by the name Carolyn (you know, like Cher or Madonna). We stuck with the specially made desserts (tiramisu, apple tartin, creme brulee and chocolate souffle), which were quite good, though only the creme brulee was exceptional--thick and creamy with an excellent custard flavor. Creme brulee may be ubiquitous, but it's still surprisingly hard to find a great one, so I'm always happy when I do...and both the brulee and the apple tartin are torched table side, a la the mackerel (okay, so these guys are a bit pyromaniacal).

Prices on the dishes are pretty reasonable. Most things we ordered ranged from $6 to $8, but as with any small plates establishment, they add up quickly.

424 Wilshire Blvd. (just east of the Third Street Promenade)
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 576-6330

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