by Michelle "Ms. Geek" Klein-Hass
Kaiten Sushi has become an institution in Japan, and is no stranger to the United States. These are the fast sushi family restaurants which have conveyor belts -- or trains, or boats, or rocket ships, or whatever -- that send an endless stream of sushi your way. Plates with different designs or colors provide clues as to how much each piece costs. You stack your plates, and then after you are done the wait staff totals up your bill by counting the various plates and what kind of plates they are.
However, they are not known for being fine sushi establishments. They are basic food...it's usually a cut above the bento boxes you get in a kombini (convenience store, like 7-11, Famima or Lawson) but not by much. Most US Kaiten Sushi restaurants are not associated with the large Japanese chains of Kaiten Sushi restaurants, but Kula (aka Kura) has created a beachhead in the States, and so has Genki Sushi.
The first time we started seeing Kaiten Sushi here in LA was in the late 1970s. Frying Fish in Little Tokyo is still around, but a bit long in the tooth; and the Japanese fast food chain New Meiji ran Meiji-Kan for years in Marina del Rey. Both New Meiji and Meiji-Kan are gone now. It was a novelty back when these restaurants were around, although by that point Kaiten Sushi was already common on the other side of the Pacific.
Anyway, these sushi restaurants are common here in Los Angeles. They are literally everywhere in Japan. And all over Asia, and even in Europe, you can find little bites to eat going around and around on conveyor belts as well. Again, you normally don't expect great, or even good sushi there. It's a step above convenience store sushi. And sometimes that step is a baby step.
This makes a new (to the area) chain, Blue C Sushi, a pleasant surprise. Hailing from Seattle, Washington, an area about as crazy about sushi as LA is, it has 5 locations in the Greater Seattle area, and has extended its reach into California with restaurants in Newport Beach, San Francisco, and the place I visited, Hollywood, right next to the ArcLight Hollywood Cinemas.
Instead of the attempts at creating a sushi bar ambience with dim lighting, dark wood and framed pictures of Japanese landscapes on the wall, Blue C is bright and airy and modern. It's a J-Pop environment, one that would be at home in Shibuya or Harajuku as well as Stateside. There are places to sit and enjoy your food outside, in a sort of patio lounge, as well as inside where all the action is going on. And it is mere steps from ArcLight, so making an evening of things is quite convenient. There is a nice large display which tells you how to read the color-coding on the plates. And the place has a clever theme: Japanese railroads. A big multimedia display dominating the room looks like a JR local train headed into the room. That could be jarring, especially to those who remember the movie Silver Streak. But it's all in fun, and it adds a certain bit of whimsy to the proceedings.
The big surprise is that this is actually quality sushi. While hardly in the echelons of Jiro's little bar in Tokyo or even Sugarfish by Nozawa here, Blue C's sushi is substantial, super-fresh, and creative while at the same time nailing the basics down beautifully. When it is revealed on the web site that the culinary director of the chain is Jeffrey Lunak, who worked with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in building his chain of high-end Japanese restaurants worldwide, everything makes sense. This is real sushi, albeit sushi with an American accent. You can get California Roll and Spider Roll; and also immaculate, pristine Nigirizushi. (Traditional Tokyo style.) I had a couple of orders of albacore, one of my favorite kinds of fish, and was surprised at the size of each piece of Nigirizushi. Kula, for example, keeps price down by keeping the size of the sushi down to where it is almost as small as those sushi erasers you see in stationary stores and craft shops. Not so at Blue C.
The rolls are well executed too. I had an order of both shrimp and veggie tempura rolls, and the shrimp was not rubbery or oily. The veggies had a snap to them. The Seattle Roll, which is like California Roll but with salmon inside instead of kanikamaboko, (crab-flavored fish cake) was tasty and had a lovely contrast of textures. Thanks to their Happy Hour pricing, I got away with a satisfying meal for less than $25, including a glass of iced matcha green tea with unlimited refills, an order of edamame, and a refreshing and elegant fruit salad for dessert.
Blue C is expanding its reach, with a San Fernando Valley location in the works. That could get dangerous for me, since that's where I live.
More foodie goodness from TOKYOPOP TV on YouTube here.