My eyes are always bigger than my stomach, which can be a problem when tackling the all-you-can-eat option at Aburi, a premium sushi restaurant tucked under the sweeping double-winged roof of Long Beach’s last remaining Googie landmark. With neon blue lights lining the striking exterior and a constant soundtrack of unz-unz songs, the restaurant is also built around a Vegas-like presentation of the AYCE concept, one that’s become a much-needed culinary escape mere blocks from the Long Beach Airport.
For less than $30 a person — $22,99 at lunch, $28.99 for dinner — you get two hours inside the historic structure (designed by architect Paul B. Clayton, the man also responsible for the iconic Johnnie’s Broiler building in Downey), during which you’re encouraged to order as much as you think you can mow through from a comprehensive double-sided laminated menu of nigiri, appetizers, donburi bowls, specialty rolls and more.
There is poke sashimi that arrives dressed with marinade and fresh flowers like a fine-dining tiradito. There are yellowtail and salmon collars, flecked with sea salt and little more, available each day until they run out. There are cut rolls filled with tuna and salmon and asparagus and eel, sometimes laid in a row, others piled in a mountain and sprinkled with everything from baked scallops to fluorescent tempura crunchies. I always and forever want all of it.
But my server will always give me a fair warning early on: whatever doesn’t get eaten must be paid for in full. A trip to Aburi, then, requires a good bit of foresight and planning, down to who you choose to join you on this indulgent journey and the size of the other meals (if any) you will eat that day.
It also requires a few visits to get the order of attack right, since I once discovered the hard way that the nigiri (including the one-per-person oyster, salmon toro and ama ibi) come atop a filling fist (larger-than-usual) of warm rice, and found out on another trip that some of the rolls containing imitation crab (especially the loaded sashimi roll) get a disproportionate amount of the mayo-tasting cheap stuff — all of which, yes, you are required to eliminate from the plate.
That’s not to say that the all-you-can-eat deal is a scam, like its paltry AYCE peers at Octopus and Forbidden City. On the contrary, there are dozens of stomach-space-saving, high-quality options on the extensive menu at Aburi, and thousands of ways to combine them into an experience that won’t leave you feeling overstuffed or taken advantage of. No matter how you launch your barrage, a few seconds of simple math against the regular menu prices (a la carte dining is also offered, but who needs it?) should reassure you of the savings.
If you’re a drinker like me, you can increase those savings with the all-you-can-drink add-on, which for $13 gets you unlimited hot sake and draft Sapporo. That is, of course, unless you’re also like me and your eyes are way bigger than your stomach.
4201 E. Willow St., Long Beach, (562) 426-1188; aburipayce.com
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.