Hide Sushi – West Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Yet another adventure in Little Osaka lies in this hole-in-the-wall joint Hide (pronounced hee-day) Sushi. I must have driven by it hundreds of times since moving to the Westside. It’s in an unassuming little corner near Tsujita Annex and gr/eats, immediately across the street from the Giant Robot Store. The perfect little meeting place for me and S to rendezvous for her belated birthday dinner.

Ankimo at Hide Sushi

Ankimo at Hide Sushi

Hide Sushi has a sizable a la carte menu, but S and I love going out for omakase when we can get it. Luckily, the chefs behind the counter were happy to oblige. Omakase here is generally $40, very affordable for the amount and quality of fish we would receive. Since we were celebrating, I requested a $50 per person “budget” instead (boy – that turned out to be a TON of food!). There were 3 or 4 sushi chefs behind the counter, but our chef was very excited and S even commented at the end of the night that he seemed to like me and my use of Japanese. (Funny, just when I think my Japanese has all but disappeared, I manage to carry on a coherent conversation without even thinking about the sentences — what’s that saying about riding a bike?)

Before we started, he asked me just one question, Nan de mo ii? (Is anything okay?) Hai, iin desu, I replied in response. With a knowing smile, he focused on his craft.

Hamachi (Yellowtail)

Hamachi (Yellowtail)

First up, maguro (tuna; not pictured — we were too excited… a theme throughout the evening, actually) and hamachi (yellowtail). Generous cuts of familiar fish — a simple, delicious start.

Tai (Red Snapper)

Tai (Red Snapper)

Tai (red snapper): Dipped in a citrus-y ponzu sauce, the red snapper tasted slightly fishy (in a very, very good way).

Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (sweet shrimp): The shrimp were HUGE, probably the largest amaebi I’d ever had, but oh so sweet and succulent. Our chef made a hilarious gesture to inform us that the fried shrimp heads were forthcoming. I can’t even begin to describe it — the next time you see me, remind me of this story and I’ll have to demonstrate for you. :)

Amaebi no Tama (Fried Shrimp Heads)

Amaebi no Tama (Fried Shrimp Heads)

Amaebi no atama (fried shrimp heads): Just as promised, one of the servers brought out a magnificent plate of crispy fried shrimp heads. Some places prepare them tempura-style, but these were au naturale and ever so simply salted. Every single part is edible, even the “skull” and eyeballs – and check out the marvelous height on those antennae! Don’t be shy.

Aji (Spanish Mackerel)

Aji (Spanish Mackerel)

Aji (Spanish mackerel): One of S’ favorites, this fishy, oily cut was excellent and dressed with just a touch of ponzu.

Uni (Sea Urchin)

Uni (Sea Urchin)

Uni (sea urchin): Sweet and creamy, the sea urchin was silky smooth with just the right touch of briny, rich flavor.

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)

Ankimo (monkfish liver): This has to be one of my absolute favorite pieces of sushi – the must-have any time I see it on the menu or specials board at a sushi restaurant. I had asked our chef specifically if he had fresh ankimo today, and his eyes lit up as he answered with a definitive YES! The nigiri was PILED HIGH and it was so good. The foie gras of the sea…

Ikura (salmon roe)

Ikura (salmon roe)

Ikura (salmon roe): Pop pop pop! I thought we were near the end when we were served those rich pieces of sushi, but we were just getting started! These salmon roe were briny and bright. great to wash down the creamy uni and ankimo that preceded it.

Ebi (Shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (Flying Fish Roe with Quail Egg)

Ebi (Shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (Flying Fish Roe with Quail Egg)

Ebi (shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (flying fish roe with quail egg): The steamed shrimp nigiri was not particularly special, but fresh nonetheless. But the “double egg”… this was the most unique presentation of nigiri we had today, And it was utterly delicious and thoughtful. The tobiko were crunchy and briny, while the creaminess of the quail egg yolk mellowed out the flavors nicely. Loved it.

Hokkigai (Surf Clam) and Sake (Salmon)

Hokkigai (Surf Clam) and Sake (Salmon)

Hokkigai (surf clam) and Sake (salmon): The surf clam was huge, enveloping the rice as if it were a sleeve of inari. Crazy! The salmon was sweet and glistening with its natural fattiness, a very reliable standby.

— Not pictured because we were too excited and dug in right away —

Tako (octopus): A thick and generous slice that was tender in the center but a bit chewy on the edges. Sadly, not our favorite.

Unagi (freshwater eel): Drenched in its sweet caramelized sauce and toasted just a tad, this was a delectable morsel and one of my favorites of the evening.

Tamago (sweet egg): Like “sushi dessert,” this was our final piece of the night. Funny story — just before it, the chef looked over at me inquisitively and I responded “onaka ippasugi!” (we’re too full!). He chuckled and then said, just one more! This was the one he presented to us to end the night, and boy were we pleased.

By the end of the experience, we were so full! The total came out to just over $92, and it’s cash only so be sure to visit your local bank beforehand (but in case you forget or spontaneously decided to visit, they do have an ATM right when you walk in). Also, when ordering omakase for two, the chef will ask if you would like one piece each type of fish or a full pair per person (nigiri sushi, I’ve learned, is always made in pairs). We were glad we opted for one piece per; this way, we get to try a large variety of fish without getting too full off duplicate pieces.

Two more things. One – when you first enter, hug the right wall as you walk toward the side of the restaurant where the whiteboard is. Most places have a clipboard for waiting lists, but Hide Sushi has a whole whiteboard. Add your name, party size, and seating preference (S for sushi bar, T for table). Easy peasy. And two – unlike other places on Sawtelle, Hide Sushi has its own (free!) parking lot.

So if you’re wandering around in Little Osaka and craving sushi, definitely make a stop at Sawtelle’s best kept secret and let the Chef choose your adventure. Whatever it is, it will be hontou ni oishii (really delicious)!

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Check out Hide Sushi: hidesushi.com

2040 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!

Saffron & Rose Ice Cream – Westwood, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Bits of fresh green cucumbers. Pale eggshell-white ginger. Magenta-hued pomegranate. And of course, golo bol bol – the namesake saffron and rose ice cream. A mom & pop ice cream shop that serves up homemade Persian ice cream made with whole organic milk, Saffron & Rose attracts crowds of locals and Westwood visitors alike. And as UCLA alumni who never left the Westside, we find ourselves visiting quite often, sometimes once a week during the summer months.

Saffron & Rose Ice Cream on Westwood Boulevard

Saffron & Rose Ice Cream on Westwood Boulevard

The very first time we went, there was a lovely woman (the owner’s wife, I believe) who offered us samples of just about every flavor – an impressive feat, considering that there are over 20 flavors at any given time, ranging from “American” flavors like chocolate to more traditional Persian flavors. It was then, over three years ago, that I first fell madly in love with cucumber ice cream. That’s right folks – bits of bright green, fresh and crispy cucumber folded into a sweet, rosewater scented Persian ice cream. If you haven’t tried it yet, you must. It will complete you.

Cucumber Ice Cream at Saffron & Rose

Cucumber and Guava Ice Cream at Saffron & Rose

A small cup allows you to choose up to two flavors. Though I will often go with cucumber-only, I have been convinced from time to time to try something new alongside my mainstay. There is an older man (the owner) who is also generous with the samples; we had a conversation once about his inspiration for new flavors. It turns out, he follows the local farmer’s market trends and new seasonal produce at the Co-Opportunity in Santa Monica for ideas. That particular time, I was asking about their relatively new flavor – ginger. Sweet and spicy, the ginger flavor packs a punch and is the perfect foil for the cool, mellow cucumber.

Just a small section of the ice cream case

Just a small section of the ice cream case

The ginger & cucumber was my favorite combination until we met this younger guy Fred who’s been manning the ice cream counter as of late. He always seems to have a new fruit + cucumber combination for me. First it was cantaloupe with cucumber (delicious) but then… then there was the guava and cucumber. Amazing. Sweet tropical fruitiness and light, refreshing veg – oh, summer. Also noteworthy are the lavender and white rose flavors, both of which are unique in their delicate floral notes. So good.

Cappuccino Ice Cream with Chocolate Nibs

Cappuccino Ice Cream with Chocolate Nibs

Despite the many tempting options, Martin is a guy who knows what he likes. Every single time (except on the sad, sad days when they are sold out), his flavor of choice is the cappuccino – rich, creamy, and most importantly, packed with crunchy chocolate nibs. Not to be confused with the coffee ice cream, which is smooth and otherwise ordinary, the cappuccino is so good that Martin will bring home an XL-sized tub of it for later.

Hand-packed Ice Cream To Go

Hand-packed Ice Cream To Go

Immediately behind the counter is a freezer filled with prepacked ice cream. If they don’t have your desired flavor, however, have no fear – they will hand pack containers of ice cream for to-go purchases as well. Since they have a preset production schedule, we try to plan our visits on days when we know they will have plenty of our favorite flavors in stock. If we’re extra lucky, we like to grab some to bring home for later, although personally, I think the texture hardens up a bit too much in our freezer at home.

Ice Cream and Wafers

Ice Cream and Wafers

When you’re at the store, don’t forget to look for the wafers, sour cherry syrup, and lemon juice – all traditional toppings for faloudeh. Bring cash ($10 minimum for credit cards) and an open mind (the texture of Persian ice cream is creamier and more interesting than regular sabayon-based ice cream). And trust the friendly faces behind the counter – they are so pleasant and always seem willing to help first-timers find their new favorite ice cream obsession. Be salâmati~!

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Check out Saffron & Rose Ice Cream: golobolbol.org

1387 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024

See their Yelp reviews here!

Blockheads Shavery – West Los Angeles, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Shaved ice comes in many forms — piled high and topped with fresh fruit and condensed milk a la Guppy House, scooped into a cone and flavored with a rainbow of syrups, and lastly, a dessert whose fans will vehemently exclaim is spelled without the d – Hawaiian style shave ice. And then there’s Blockheads Shavery.

Blockheads Shavery

Blockheads Shavery

The cute square penguin joined the Little Osaka / Sawtelle scene in 2011 and brought with it a frozen treat they call snow cream. Combining the best traits of creamy ice cream and fluffy shave ice, snow cream is shaved to order from giant ice blocks here at Blockheads and comes in at least five flavors at any given time: plain/original, green tea, strawberry, black sesame, and a seasonal flavor or two that varies from cantaloupe to cappuccino to peach.

Penguin Plushie!

Penguin Plushie!

If the menu offerings seem daunting, have no fear — you’ll have plenty of time to decide. There is always a long line out the door, especially on Friday nights when UCLA students flock to Sawtelle to congregate at SushiStop and a Blockheads dessert afterward. While waiting, take a look around at the adorable penguin paraphernalia, including the Andy Warhol style artwork on the walls. And the soft, soft plushie. Yes, I splurged on one.

Toppings Guy

Toppings Guy

I like the build-your-own shave ice. Just pick a flavor, a few toppings, and a drizzle. The pricing model starts at $3.50 for a regular bowl of just the ice and one drizzle. Add $0.50 for each topping, so choose wisely. The variety of toppings include fresh fruit, mochi, jelly, rice cakes, red bean, and so much more. There are about half a dozen drizzles as well, but I think the most noteworthy ones are the condensed milk and the chocolate syrup. In case you get overwhelmed, they do have a menu of “favorites” that feature popular combinations of toppings.

Green tea, almond jelly, condensed milk

Green tea ice, almond jelly, condensed milk

After hugging my newly purchased plushie and admiring the doodle wall for a few minutes, I finally heard, over the din of grinding ice blocks, my name called to pick up my order. Matcha (green tea) shave ice topped with cubes of almond jelly and a generous drizzle of condensed milk. Keepin’ it simple. The almond jelly reminds me of childhood and the condensed milk adds just the right touch of sweetness to the light and fluffy ice.

Strawberry ice, mango, condensed milk

Strawberry ice, mango, condensed milk

Dining Companion #1 ordered the strawberry snow cream topped with fresh mangoes and drizzle of condensed milk. The fruity combination was like a taste of the tropics on a hot summer’s day.

Black sesame ice, azuki, condensed milk

Black sesame ice, azuki, condensed milk

Dining Companion #2 assembled the black sesame snow cream with azuki (red beans) and drizzle of condensed milk. She remarked that the flavor combination was distinctly Asian and reminded her of some of her favorite desserts growing up. Black sesame, surprisingly, is one of Blockheads’ most popular flavors — clearly there’s a demand for their supply.

With the weather warming up, Blockheads Shavery is a great place to beat the heat and grab some sweet frozen treats. Gather a group of friends with similar tastes and order the large – it’s pretty massive and looked like tons of fun to dig into.

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Check out Blockheads Shavery: blockheadsla.com

11311 Mississippi Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!

Gottsui – Sawtelle, West Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) is often translated as a Japanese “pancake” or “pizza” with a cabbage & batter base, assorted toppings that range from octopus legs (たこ, tako) to cheese (チーズ, chiizu) to bacon, and typically drizzled with the sweet and viscous Worcestershire-based okonomi sauce. And for such delicious comfort food, okonomiyaki is pretty hard to find in LA (though there is no shortage of sushi, ramen, and izakaya joints if you know where to look!). So when we found Gottsui in one of the busiest plazas on Sawtelle, we were super excited. It’s appropriate that this Kansai-based dish had found its LA home in Little Osaka.

Yosh - ready for okonomiyaki!

Yosh – ready for okonomiyaki!

I was so thrilled that I went twice in one week, bringing along different friends each time.

After being greeted with a loud and hearty irrashaimase ( いっらしゃいませ), we were seated immediately and presented with heavy, laminated menus with cute illustrations depicting each of the many, many okonomiyaki and yakisoba dishes and their toppings. This lowered any language barriers and made it easy to point & choose as needed.

White Peach Chu-Hai

White Peach Chu-Hai

On my first visit, we were celebrating the end of a long week, so the boys ordered steins of the Kirin draft and I had a white peach shochu cocktail (もも チューハイ, momo chu-hai), sweet and balanced with just the right amount of shochu (a Japanese vodka).

The Chefs

The Chefs

As we sipped away, we could observe the chefs preparing other diners’ okonomiyaki on the huge teppan grill behind the counter. Nothing like the sizzling hiss as the cabbage and batter mixture first hits the griddle to really whet our appetites.

Seafood Okonomiyaki with Wasabi Mayo

Seafood Okonomiyaki with Wasabi Mayo

With so many options to choose from, I was a bit overwhelmed but decided to settle on the Seafood Okonomiyaki, substituting wasabi mayo for the regular. And boy was I glad I did! Filled with bits of squid legs, shrimp, and scallops and topped with seaweed (のり, nori), copious swirls of okonomi sauce and pale green wasabi mayo, AND dancing bonito flakes, this was really heaven on a skillet. The base was full of wilted cabbage, barely held together by tasty batter. I’m not a huge fan of cabbage but I LOVE okonomiyaki. With flavors reminiscent of my very favorite snack takoyaki (たこ焼き), this was so good that I ordered it again on my return visit!

Trio Mushroom Okonomiyaki

Trio Mushroom Okonomiyaki

Martin ordered the Trio Mushroom Okonomiyaki, topped with a combination of shimeji, eringii, and white button mushrooms along with green onion (ねぎ, negi), nori, and wasabi mayo. Deliciously earthy and vegetarian, I really enjoyed this one, especially since Martin opted to add one very crucial topping – a perfect fried egg with crispy edges and an oozy yolk.

Gottsui Okonomiyaki - the flag says Kokoro wa Hitotsu, or One Heart.

Gottsui Okonomiyaki – the flag says Kokoro wa Hitotsu, or One Heart.

At each visit, one of the people in our group ordered the original Gottsui which comes with pork belly, shrimp, squid, potato, fried egg, and mayo. Basically, it was an okonomiyaki with the works. This was also quite good and the potato, which I was skeptical about, was an excellent starchy vehicle for the okonomi sauce.

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

The last one that I was able to fortuitously sample thanks to friends who love to share was the Hiroshima – the only okonomiyaki with a soba noodle base (not the dark buckwheat kind, but the yellow noodles that put the soba in yakisoba). It was topped with pork belly, green onion, daikon radish, and nori and drenched in sauce that was sweeter and stickier than okonomi sauce. The texture was pretty interesting, although the noodles made the okonomiyaki more difficult to cut into.

Served like this, I can see why people call it "pizza"

Served like this, I can see why people call it “pizza”

My phone now will try to autocorrect “ok” to “okonomiyaki” when I type up text messages, thanks to that fateful week of coordinating not one but two visits to Gottsui. Now that I know where to find some yummy, hearty okonomiyaki on the Westside, you can bet I’ll be coming back!

Love the cute menu illustrations!

This was mine – the Seafood. I love the cute menu illustrations! (Source: gottsui-usa.com)

Also, if you’re going to be in the LA area this weekend, be sure to check them out at 626 Night Market. They will be one of the many vendors this Saturday & Sunday (June 8-9th)!

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Check out Gottsui: gottsui-usa.com

2119 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!