Service is friendly, as is the crowd. It's a welcome respite from much of Los Angeles' assortment of high-priced and over-hyped sushi bars and Japanese restaurants.
The same goes for the food. That isn't to say there's no flair for flavor, though. There's plenty of traditional Japanese fare – toro (fatty tuna) and tonkatsu (breaded pork loin) – along with plenty of tasty takes on the classics. The delectable “Sunkissed Roll” has spicy tuna on the inside and salmon and avocado laced with spicy mayonnaise on the outside.
Kabuki is the kind of SoCal mini-chain that's great for sushi novices and sushi lovers on a budget. It's highly doubtful that any die-hard and well-to-do sushi connoisseur would be willing to forgo his or her usual chef's prix fixe menu – one that might very well run over $100 per person – to eat here.
For the rest of us, each Kabuki offers half-priced sushi that, thankfully, doesn't translate to half the quality. Shipments of fresh seafood arrive almost every day of the week and a team of four to five sushi chefs prepares every order. Each is artfully placed atop oblong glass plates, and it's nice to see ginger that isn't dyed pink for a change.
It's not just one or two rolls that go for half the regular price, either. There are almost 40 different kinds of sushi and rolls to choose from, including hamachi (yellow tail) and the ever popular, if somewhat overly Americanized, offerings of avocado and crab-stuffed California rolls and Philadelphia rolls of cream cheese and salmon. One downside, however, is that most of the half-priced rolls contain imitation crabmeat, unless otherwise listed.
The half-priced sushi menu is more vegetarian-friendly than most, even if that takes away from authenticity. The asparagus roll was an especially nice surprise, made better by the fact that it only cost $2.63. Even my friend who, in his ideal world, would subsist entirely on a nice sirloin steak, enjoyed it. I'm certain my vegetarian and vegan friends would feel the same way.
Depending on how many items you order from the half-priced selection, you'll receive the 50 percent off discount. For lunch, the magic number is two and for dinner, three. This suits voracious eaters like myself, who can't stop at just one or two plates.
Kabuki isn't solely a sushi bar, although the one they have in Hollywood is rather elegant and the service highly attentive. Diners who venture outside the half-priced sushi menu will find a number of satisfying drinks, appetizers and entrees – teriyaki, sukiyaki and udon – to quell their thirst and hunger.
Each Kabuki is stocked with a full bar where sake and soju are the beverages of choice. Specialty cocktails are served as well, including a “Sake Alexander” made with sake, Cointreau and lemon juice. If you're like me, though, you can never go wrong with an ice-cold Sapporo.
For an appetizer, you might try the ginger shrimp on crispy rice; the seasoned shrimp was cooked just long enough so that it was still succulent and flavorful; the crispy rice not overly crisped or burnt. Even though the shrimp didn't have a distinctly Japanese flavor to it (it reminded me more of Thai or Chinese) the sauce that came with it – made of sweet potatoes and grated ginger – was the perfect accompaniment.
The miso marinated black cod was equally delicious. Pan-fried and then roasted, the fish assumes a sweet buttery consistency that literally melts in one's mouth.
Desserts reflect a fusion of different flavors than that of strictly Japanese. To be sure, there's mochi ice cream – bite-size soft rice cakes filled with ice cream and tempura ice cream – deep fried ice cream in flavors like soothing green tea or sweet red bean. What I loved most was the banana tempura – lightly fried banana pieces served next to rich vanilla ice cream on a bed of caramel sauce. I've had fried bananas before, but none like this; the tempura batter makes it light and crunchy, not at all greasy or soggy, and the caramel sauce is not overwhelmingly sugary.
Kabuki might not be the most authentic Japanese restaurant you'll ever go to but that's not the point here. Just as Kabuki actors play to the audience, so do they – satisfying customers with affordable, enjoyable meals and sushi that, for the price and value, are difficult to beat.
Kabuki is located at 1545 Vine St., in Hollywood. Lunch and dinner served daily. There are eight other locations throughout the Southern California region, including Burbank, Cerritos, Huntington Beach, West L.A., Rancho Cucamonga, Woodland Hills and two in Pasadena. For more information, call (323) 464-6003 or visit www.kabukirestaurants.com.