Food Pic Friday: Sushi Central (Re-visited)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

First, a personal update for NomNomCat Readers (if you’re just looking for drool-worthy photos on this Food Porn Friday, scroll past this paragraph): WE’RE BACK! Our deepest apologies for our three month long hiatus. For those who are interested, here’s the reason for it — as you may well know, life offline can get in the way of blogging. And boy has 2014 already been a crazy adventure… With this food blog about to celebrate its third birthday, it should come as no surprise that food is a huge passion in our lives. So much so, in fact, that I decided to change my career trajectory to the culinary arts; I currently work in a professional kitchen as a line cook, having jumped head-first into Kitchen Life. Working sixty hours a week in a physically strenuous, mentally challenging, and emotionally stressful environment leaves little time to sit down and write about the latest LA hot spots three times a week like we did before. But I still love to write, and I sincerely missed this forum for communicating my (and our) love for celebrating life through eating and cooking. And so I make this promise to come back with new content once a week. The format will likely be different though; gone are the days of 1,000-word entries. Instead, the focus will likely shift to local food news and events, photos from new and new-to-us dining experiences, and, if we can manage it, make-at-home recipes now and then. Thank you all for your understanding and support these past (almost) three years! We’ll definitely have to do something fun for our blogiversary!

And now for the food.

Back in 2012, my bff S and I celebrated her birthday with affordable but delicious omakase at a tiny hole-in-the-wall in Palms (West Los Angeles): Sushi Central. The sheer variety and quality of the fish and the expertise of Chef Phillip Yi behind the counter blew away all of my preconceived notions about strip mall sushi. Recently, Martin had a sudden and insatiable sushi craving and we decided to pay a visit to this neighborhood gem.

Maguro (Tuna) Sashimi

Maguro (Tuna) Sashimi

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IMG_0705Forgive me, I generally pride myself on being able to remember details about my dishes, but this dinner took place back in March and I have since forgotten which fish above is which. I believe they were halibut, snapper, and sea bream (not necessarily in that order) but please let me know if YOU happen to know and I will happily edit this entry.

Ono (Escolar)

Ono (Escolar), super juicy with a smoky char from being oh-so-briefly torched.

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Liver(?) from the Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Liver(?) from the Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Live Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Live Sweet Shrimp)

Broth made from the shells of the amaebi

Broth made from the shells of the amaebi

Crispy Fried Amaebi Heads

Crispy Fried Amaebi Heads

Sushi Central offers my all-time favorite amaebi preparation and I say that with full confidence. Where else could you get a tasty shooter, an umami-rich broth, a well-seasoned piece of nigiri, and a crispy fried head all from one little shrimp? Chef Phillip puts forth a great deal of effort to showcase the beauty that is amaebi and it is certainly appreciated.

Salmon Belly

Salmon Belly

Live Scallop (and the crew - Chef Phillip on the right and Seiji on the left)

Live Scallop (and the crew – Chef Phillip on the right and Seiji on the left)

Live Scallop Nigiri Sushi and Sashimi

Live Scallop Nigiri Sushi and Sashimi

An Artist at Work

An Artist at Work

"Dirty Rice" made from the hinge muscle and innards of the scallop

“Dirty Rice” made from the hinge muscle and innards of the scallop

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver) - my personal favorite

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver) – my personal favorite

Spanish Mackerel - a fishy, oily bite to end our meal

Spanish Mackerel – a wonderfully fishy, oily bite to end our meal

At $100 a head (we originally aimed closer to $50 but added on the live amaebi, live scallop, AND ankimo), it was a splurge for a weeknight meal but definitely well worth the expense. Chef Phillip had even stayed overtime by a full hour just to show off more of his freshest and most interesting fish. Don’t dismiss this place if you’re deterred by the online menu full of California Rolls and Dragon Rolls. Bypass all of those run-of-the-mill offerings, pull up a seat at the counter, and let Chef Phillip do what he does best. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Sushi Central – Palms, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

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.

Kurodai (left) and Halibut (right)

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.

Surprise shooter – amaebi brain and liver

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).

Amaebi

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.

Amaebi Broth

Round 4: A miso broth made with amaebi body/shell – flavorful and so fragrant, and I really appreciated the use of the whole shrimp.

Kohada

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.

Amaebi Heads

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.

Aji

Round 7: Aji (Spanish mackerel). As expected, it was tender and fishy and just so good.

Sake Hara

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.

Seared Ono

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.

Uni and Blue Crab

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!

Tempura ice cream

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!

Ankimo

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!

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Check out Sushi Central: sushi-central.net

3500 Overland Ave #100
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Neighborhood: Palms

See their Yelp reviews here!