If you've been to your share of sushi bars, White Wasabi Sushi + Beer will resemble most of them. Take the floor plan of a random neighborhood joint, then overlay it on top of White Wasabi's, and chances are good they'd line up perfectly. There's only so much a sushi-restaurant designer can do with a room when he's given the usual rectangle of space in a supermarket-anchored shopping center to work with. White Wasabi, as with so many others, is located in one. So when you walk in, you aren't surprised to see the bar butted up against the wall to the left, the tables to the right and the restrooms in the back. Apart from the exposed air ducts that zigzag the ceiling, you notice nothing distinctive here, except maybe the blackboard that wraps itself above the bar like a headband. To give a sense of immediacy, the entire menu has been scribbled in chalk. It's only when you flip through the printed menu that you realize White Wasabi isn't like the last place from which you ordered a California roll bento box.
The first thing that pops out is the sushi roll called the "Prosciutto," which promises salami, goat cheese and a length of shrimp tempura, the whole thing wrapped around prosciutto, and then deep fried. Then you find out that the list of "special sashimi" is not, in fact, sashimi, but crudo, the Italian way to eat raw fish that involves marinades, elaborate garnishes and sauce—really, really good sauce. When you order the first item listed in this category, you're served eight caviar-topped salmon slices swimming in a sea of a frothy, thick, peanut butter-colored concoction chef Rain Pantana calls "Wasachio Sauce." You take your fish, carefully fold it over the caviar as though a taco and drag it through the creamy liquid, and when you've exhausted all of your salmon, you ask for a spoon to scoop up the rest. You take a wild guess from the name that the rich, tangy, almost nutty emulsion must have been made with wasabi and pistachio . . . or something like that.
The sauce in the next "special sashimi" you try beguiles and delights you just as much as the wasachio did. This one is adobe red, and you're sure it involves Roma tomatoes because it's mentioned on the menu and has the mild acidity of something tomato-based. But it, too, is a mystery. This time, the grouping of seared salmon slices sits on an island of tiny white beans that's showered with fresh berries, the sauce lapping up the sides as though waves on a deserted beach. As you squeegee up the last drops with your finger, realizing the kitchen poured in enough to coat a serving of pasta, you're now completely convinced White Wasabi is definitely unlike any sushi bar you've seen before. It defies categorization, but you try anyway. There are the hard-core itamaes who only do nigiri; and there are the likes of RA Sushi, emporiums whose main goal is to pack them in during happy hour. White Wasabi seems to float above them all in its own cloud of creativity, even if it still offers nigiri, its own happy hour and combo specials (featuring teriyaki chicken, beef or salmon coupled with tempura or California rolls).
White Wasabi Sushi + Beer, 6640 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 799-0278; whitewasabi.com. Open daily, noon-10 p.m. Dinner for two, $30-$70, food only. Beer and wine.
Another thing you've seen everywhere else but never in a sushi bar: roasted Brussels sprouts, cooked in an oven located behind the bar, and coaxed to deliciousness with garlic butter and olive oil in a sauté pan. For another appetizer called a "Phyllo Quartet," tiny phyllo cups are filled with various goodies such as crab topped with a lacy, fried quail egg and pokes of tuna, salmon and hamachi—a plate so elegant-looking it's destined for thousands of braggy Facebook posts. And when you order the fried calamari, you find White Wasabi does it as though it means it, serving the squid in a miniature brown bag, the steaks as thick as French toast sticks and so obscenely tender they should be set as an example to follow for all who would fry squid.
When you venture into the more traditional sushi rolls, you see more garnishes and more mystery sauces. You discover that fried shards of crispy parsnip and a creamy jalapeño sauce does, indeed, work very well with a seared-salmon-topped roll stuffed with spicy salmon, asparagus, shrimp tempura and cream cheese. It's so good you ignore for the moment that nothing in it seems to have anything to do with Scotland Yard, which is what the roll is called. White Wasabi uses other whimsical names that don't connect in any way with the rolls they're describing. But then you expect that: You've been to your share of sushi bars.
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