Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Redesigned Menu for Today: Dining at Santa Monica’s Sushi Roku

Wrote an article for the SM Observer on Santa Monica's Sushi Roku.

A Redesigned Menu for Today

Dining at Santa Monica’s Sushi Roku

Who goes to Sushi restaurant to eat a vegetarian meal?  

Turns out I do.  

The reason I ended up at Sushi Roku when I am not eating dairy or meat (which for me includes fish, chicken, and red meat) is that the restaurant had recently unveiled a new menu redesign at their Santa Monica location (aka Sushi Roku 2.0).   The new menu at the Sushi Roku at the Santa Monica location followed the Innovative Dining Groups’s (aka IDG the restaurant group who owns a bunch a restaurants around town) reopening of the original Sushi Roku on 3rd Street in October.  

At this point it’s safe to say that Sushi Roku is a Los Angeles fixture.   The original Sushi Roku (Hollywood) opened in 1997.  There are now five Sushi Rokus out there.  Two blossomed in the city of Angeles: Santa Monica, and Pasadena, there’s one in Scottsdale (where Sushi Roku opened at the W Hotel in 2008), and one at the Forum Shops at Caesars in Vegas. 

Redesign it’s an intriguing word.  

We all need transformation.  Everyone wants to transform themselves into something more, to evolve (there’s even talk of the human body just being version 1.0 that someday we’ll be able to upgrade ourselves to a computer mainframe which to me is just super super creepy… Creepy!)  Now 1997 might not seem that long ago but in reality it was almost fifteen years ago (shocking I know!)  So you can understand while the Roku family was ready for some alteration (think about it: would you be caught dead in your outfit choice circa 1997?)  

This new menu at Sushi Roku includes Salmon Sashimi Carpaccio with Black Truffles shaved tableside; Toro Tartare on Japanese Eggplant; Albacore Tacos with Yuzu Guacamole (and in case you haven’t heard Tacos are the new Mini Slider); and the new Ume and Matsu Signature-Style-Sushi plates, featuring six (Ume) or eight (Matsu) pieces of individual Nigiri-style sushi where each fish is complemented by unique accoutrements that enhance the fish’s flavor profile. 

All which sound great. 

And none of which I had.

And why would a someone who loves food and writes about food for a living restrict their diet so much?   The kernel of reason at the start was health by way of vanity.   A couple of months ago I decided to kick a hard core dairy addiction in the form of ice cream and Lattes in an attempt to pinpoint some potential allergies that were showing up in the form of acne.  Two weeks into this adventure it dawned on me that since I had already phased out dairy and I was rarely consuming meat, fowl, or fish I should just remove those items from my diet completely.  

At least for today.  I’ve never been a huge fan of labels so I don’t want to get labeled with the V word: Vegan.    You say the word Vegan and eyes are rolled like no other (less so in Los Angeles than other parts of the country, but still the eyes do roll) but for today I’m not eating dairy or meat.   Tomorrow I will probably make the same choice, but there’s always the chance I might want to pick up a cheeseburger and that’s totally cool.           

But for me there’s good reason not to: from the Engine 2 Diet to Dr. Oz a plant based diet is being advocated to avoid a bucket load of diseases.  Much of these recommendations came by way of the China Study, a research book which documents that animal proteins can accelerate the growth of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Now there’s two ways to perceive the concept of not eating meat.   One is to look at a vegetarian lifestyle and think it’s totally restrictive and you’ll never been able to have great tasting food again: another is to look at as it a full of potential to the artistry of cooking without those ingredients. Luckily Sushi Roku, my dining partners, and myself chose the later perception.  

Which can be pretty cool.   One thing I learned as an improviser at the Upright Citizens Brigade and Improv Olympic is that art actually works better with boundaries (this is especially true for improv but works with any type of creative medium from dance to cooking).  Once you know and recognize the structure you can learn to innovatively play within it.  

But still not eating fish at a Sushi restaurant?  Bet you would think that I would end up resigned to brown rice off the side dish menu.  Which is true at many other places, you’d be surprised how many restaurants don’t carry entrée offerings that are both non-dairy and non meat (other than the ubiquitous garden salad).   Many times during this plant based adventure I have had to order strictly off the side dish part of the menu.

But happily for my taste buds this is not the case at Sushi Roku.  There are items galore for those looking for plant based food at a sushi restaurant. 

Mouthwatering rolls like their Garden Roll made with Cucumber, Asparagus & Mizuna (aka a Japanese lettuce, hey I didn’t know what it was either till the manager told me) with Ginger Soy, Truffled “Renkon Kinpira” Lotus Root (a braised Lotus Root dish that is considered good luck in Japan), Seaweed Salad (made in house so it’s not dyed that crazy neon green color) with Cucumber Sunoman, Shishito Japanese Peppers with Soy Garlic, Miso Eggplant Dengaku, Tofu Steak “Toban – Yaki” with Mushrooms in Citrus Ponzu (a style of cooking that is baked on a ceramic plate, the dish arrived in a delicious bubbling cauldron of gooey yummy tastiness), and the Mack Daddy… Black Truffle Tempura Hand roll with Avocado (positively my favorite served warm with slight kick).   

Who knew?  

Past and present everything off the menu at this LA fixture has always been tasty, both when I was eating sushi and not. So whether you’re looking for Nigiri Sushi or Truffled Lotus Root you have the option for both at Sushi Roku at Santa Monica.    And at the end of the day that to me is the most important part: options.   Options denotes choice and choice denotes consciously thinking.   And if you’re consciously thinking your taste buds are definitely going to be happy.  

Kat Thomas will probably not eat dairy or meat today, but don’t label her a Vegan.  You can see more of her writing at edibleskinny.com

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