Perhaps the best hole-in-the-wall discoveries are the ones that are right under your nose. Sometimes you acknowledge its existence and brush it off, most days you go on with your life without giving it a second glance or thought. ‘Twas the case with Sushi Central, a quaint little sushi place situated in the corner of a strip mall that includes a great doughnut shop (DH Doughnut House) and other businesses. Located at the corner of Overland and Palms, I literally pass by this strip mall every morning on my way to the 10 fwy to get to work. But fate finally brought me and my dear friend S here one unassuming Monday night.
Stumbling into the quiet restaurant, we requested seats at the counter and were the only pair occupying the limited bar seating. The best seats in the house when it comes to sushi, if you ask me. A quick glance at the menu full of rolls and I proposed to S that we do omakase for dinner. Omakase is frequently translated on sushi bar menus as “Chef’s Choice”. I think the subtleties go beyond that a bit. Omakase means to “entrust” the chef, to put yourself (and your dinner) in his capable hands. Lucky for us, that night those hands belonged to the renowned chef-owner Phillip.
Round 1: Kurodai (black sea bream) from Greece and halibut. The kurodai was really tender and the halibut, which I had never tried raw before, was deliciously sweet.
Round 2: The brain and liver of amaebi (sweet shrimp), served as a shooter with some masago (?). All in one go, it was really creamy and fishy (in a good way).
Round 3: Amaebi (sweet shrimp). The amaebi was sweet, of course, and also HUGE in size – much larger than other sweet shrimp I’ve had. This one was about the size of my thumb whereas other places have ones barely the size of my pinky.
Round 4: A miso broth made with amaebi body/shell – flavorful and so fragrant, and I really appreciated the use of the whole shrimp.
Round 5: Kohada, whose very un-sexy English name is the gizzard shad. It’s a small fishy fish, similar to mackerel, with a great slightly firm texture that was served at the perfect warm temperature.
Round 6: Amaebi heads, fried tempura-style. Crispy crispy! It’s always my favorite part of eating amaebi. I can’t even begin to describe to you how disappointed I get at places that serve only the amaebi itself and discard the heads.
Round 7: Aji (Spanish mackerel). As expected, it was tender and fishy and just so good.
Round 8: Sake hara, also known as salmon toro (belly). Easily my favorite cut of any fish, the salmon belly is succulent, sweet, and so buttery that you can see the fat glistening as the fish warms up to room temperature. Awesome.
Round 9: Ono (escolar) – seared. I had heard that Sushi Central was known for sourcing some great ono and it was SO GOOD. A bit of char flavor from the sear and a very interesting texture. Note: escolar (a whitefish) is not to be confused with escarole (the leafy green). This made for some interesting conversation between me and S.
Round 10: Uni (sea urchin) and blue crab. We followed Chef Phillip’s advice to “always finish with uni,” so we started with the blue crab first. The blue crab was warm and delicious, a pleasant surprise over other blue crab sushi I’ve had where the crab is ice cold from having been sitting in the refrigerator all night. The uni was brushed with house soy sauce (which, to me, tasted like a sweet ponzu with yuzu) which had a bit of acidity to help to cut the creaminess. Yum!
Having overheard that we were celebrating S’s birthday, Chef Phillip offered us an order of green tea tempura ice cream. He and our friendly server Mika even sang and presented the ice cream with a lit candle. So good! My guilty pleasure is deep-fried ice cream but the one here was superb. Instead of panko, they used tempura crumbles to make it extra crispy. I also discovered my new favorite thing: tempura crumbles with chocolate syrup. Do it.
While we were enjoying the unexpected dessert, Chef Phillip apparently had another scheme up his sleeve. We were about to bid our adieu when he told us we couldn’t leave. He had just sent a regular patron over to the 7-Eleven to pick up Asahi to celebrate! I seriously thought he was kidding but in walked someone with 2 giant cans of Asahi. Kanpai!
Last Round: Ankimo (monkfish liver). I was just telling S about this earlier during the meal, and he surprised us with a complimentary order! Mm.. I love monkfish liver. It’s so buttery and livery and fishy. I’ve heard people call it the “foie gras of the sea”, so I found it especially amusing that he rolls it into a torchon-like roll when preparing it. Yum!
We set our budget for omakase at $40/person. Despite breaking my personal rule of not eating sushi on Mondays, Chef Phillip reassured me that they still get shipments of fresh fish from Japan but they get better selections later in the week. Perhaps what made me enjoy the experience even more is that he serves what he likes and what he himself would enjoy, rather than catering to audiences.
S was amazed and proclaimed this to be the best birthday dinner ever! She told me that she counted literally 3 items that she had eaten before and everything else was new and absolutely delicious. Now that’s a pretty great endorsement!
Also, they’re BYOB. Chef Phillip made some awesome recommendations for an affordable, floral sake (kikusui) and suggested that we bring in some junmai ginjo sake next time as nigori is a little too sweet for sushi.
It truly was an amazing dinner experience. Chef Phillip really went above and beyond to make sure we had a great time. He is so passionate about sushi and it really showed in the way his eyes gleamed as he talked to us. On multiple occasions I overheard him greeting regular patrons by name, and I noticed during the meal that he was genuinely interested in getting to know us. This is definitely the kind of place I want to frequent. My only regret is having waited so long to stop by (I’ve lived less than 2 blocks away for over 2 years now!). Don’t make the same mistake I did — check them out the next time you’re in Palms!
Check out Sushi Central: sushi-central.net
3500 Overland Ave #100
Los Angeles, CA 90034
See their Yelp reviews here!