Another week, another sushi review for the LA Times, though this one features a true Japanese master at work. Co-critic Bill Addison is on the scene at Inn Ann, the tucked-away dinnertime spot inelegantly placed atop one tall corner of the touristy Hollywood and Highland shopping center. The restaurant was created as part of Japan House, a Japanese cultural outreach site that offers classes on food, traditional crafts, and more, but Addison finds the crown jewel of the place to be none other than “sushi master” Morihiro Onodera himself.
Addison, who was previously overtaken by the Japanese cooking at Hayato at the Row in Downtown, is also rather smitten with Onodera’s nigiri, saying:
The heat you feel when you lay your hand on your chest — that’s the temperature of the rice, dyed the color of dried blood from the aged vinegar he uses. He begins with lighter fish like tai (Japanese sea bream); he crucially avoids bluefin tuna, using only bigeye. He doesn’t shy away from the mackerel family. There may be rare or seasonal treats such as akagai (ark shell or red clam). It’s particularly wonderful when he serves nigiri wrapped in seaweed and showered with ikura (salmon roe): warm, cool, pop, pop, pop.
Sometimes the kitchen in the back can’t manage the same kind of execution, offering dishes where two different flavors on the plate simply “don’t have much to say to one another.” But this is Onodera’s show — even the seating is facing inward, not out to the LA skyline — and he certainly makes time spent at one of his omakase meals fly by. Just don’t bother with a table far from Onodera:
Be certain, then, to book a seat at the bar for a few hours in Onodera’s calm company. After the trek through Hades and Babylon, he’s really the restaurant’s most exquisite view.
Elsewhere, co-critic Patricia Escárcega, who last week reviewed Sushi Bar in in Encino, heads to Venice to check in on Vartan Abgaryan’s new casual Abbot Kinney restaurant Yours Truly. So how does the meal stack up now that Abgaryan has left his post at 71Above in Downtown?
First, the restaurant itself:
Yours Truly hovers somewhere between the neighborhood’s past and future. To get here, you dodge the tide of tourists on lime-green scooters. You root around for street parking, or go directly to the valet that sets up around 5 p.m. Once inside, the restaurant’s casually stylish, beachy dining room has the sunny charm of an established neighborhood spot. Service is cheerful and sincere, even earnest.
And now the food:
There’s something about “modern Californian” that aptly invokes one of the restaurant’s emblematic dishes: the avocado hummus, a silken blend of garlic, tahini and avocados spliced with roasted poblanos and jalapeño, zapped with yuzu and white soy, and finished with a swipe of peanut-studded salsa macha. It’s served with a thick, warm piece of za’atar flatbread. The dish’s DNA reaches deep into Middle Eastern, Japanese and Mexican traditions, but the disparate pieces come together seamlessly on the plate — a clever, delicious, modern Californian dish.
As the menu unfolds, it becomes clear that “Abgaryan has a wide range, but he seems particularly partial to citrus, Middle Eastern spice blends and classic Italian tropes,” though it’s not always put to best effect. Some dishes “revel in riotous levels of flavor,” while on a different visit “a bowl of mussels and clams is overshadowed by an overly sour broth of coconut, lime and poblano peppers.”
Mostly, Escárcega treats this Yours Truly review as a way to contextualize the changing nature of Venice and much of Los Angeles today. It’s “a gridlocked paradise where it’s easy to spend $12 to park in order to buy a $7 cup of coffee,” but there’s an audience for such things these days, particularly along Abbot Kinney.
And, finally, Escárcega and Addison both took to a separate LA Times forum to discuss star ratings with reviews, and whether or not they add anything of value to the critic, the restaurant, or the dining public. Escárcega’s take:
Stars reinforce a framework of thinking about food and dining that is systematically faulty and wrongfully weighted toward fine dining.
That makes them largely “incompatible with a city such as Los Angeles, which derives much of its identity and strength from the astonishing diversity of the people who live and eat here.”
Addison agrees that Los Angeles loves to keep its eating easy (as evidenced by his recent review of Carnitas El Momo, among others), but thinks there is a way to compare individual restaurants in their class. In short: Is this place doing the best thing it’s meant to be doing, either at the high or the low end of the cost spectrum?
Certainly, assigning stars would have made me think harder in the actual review about aligning my words with the line of symbols. But offering both a star rating and a deeply considered critique could be of benefit — if only because the two-pronged approach might spark additional conversation.
Like them or not, Addison argues, stars are a “universally recognized system” found in lots of other places (Yelp, for one), and maybe, eventually, “if critics can rethink what a review is, we can rethink what a rating system is too.”