Hama Sushi, Los Angeles (August 2011)

I’ve always been reluctant to eat at sushi bars; they’ve struck me refuges for the gastronomically unlettered rich, to say nothing of their generally spartan interiors and cramped settings. And at least initially, my reservations were confirmed when my brother and I were seated shoulder-to-shoulder at Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo.

After being handed an amuse of cucumber and seaweed salad, we found ourselves competing with the dozen or so other patrons encircling the sushi bar for the attention of the sushi chef closest to us.

So we decided, rather than placing our order piecemeal, as others were doing, we would make it clear to the elfin chef that we weren’t kidding around, requesting the monkfish liver, broiled collar and almost every sushi on the menu–save for handrolls–which included the following:

Sweet shrimp 

Tuna belly (I’m still unable to shake the guilt from ordering toro, but the chef wasn’t my ethicist that night and acceded to the request)

Albacore toro

Uni

Monkfish liver with daikon and scallions

Yellowtail collar with spicy daikon

 Yellowtail

Kanpachi

Halibut with spicy daikon and scallions

Salmon roe

Red snapper

Octopus

Shrimp along with fried shrimp heads

Mackerel

Salmon belly

Albacore with spicy daikon and scallions

More tuna

Smelt roe

Broiled eel

Squid

Sea eel

And orange slices to finish.

Among the meal’s highlights:

—  the wonderful ratio of wasabi-topped rice to fish

— the chef’s stern warning not to use soy sauce upon handing us the generously salted snapper; “if you use soy sauce, out,” he said, pointing toward the door.

— and in what is easily one of the funniest things I have ever seen in a restaurant: two young women, whose faces had been prematurely battered by a storm of chain smoking, were seated next to me for the last half hour of dinner and asked for slices of avocado on top of their toro sashimi, which practically caused the sushi chef to shit himself.