1401 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Full disclosure: The Sushi Roku on Ocean is a destination that I have visited before over the years since its 1999 opening. It was a place I first ate at in 2004, back when I worked for a Brentwood-based auction house. I last returned there for a media dinner in 2015, when certain new menu items were being highlighted.
That said, this recent visit to Sushi Roku was not only my deepest dive yet into the charms of Innovative Dining Group’s flagship concept (IDG also owns BOA steakhouse, including one across the street from Sushi Roku in Santa Monica, another Roku inhabits the former Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Boulevard, Katana in West Hollywood, and Robata Bar in West Hollywood and Santa Monica), it was a powerful reminder of how much I have always loved this location in terms of ambiance and interior decor, which skews sleek Japanese contemporary with stacked-stone walls and stylish faux waterfall in the covered patio bay we dined at, replete with Pacific Ocean views.
There’s a simple reason I haven’t been to Sushi Roku very often—the restaurant is pricier than average. However, the surf and turf offerings are unimpeachable; not a bad dish in the house.
Salmon Carpaccio, slices of fish dotted with caviar and marinated with soy and truffle oil, disappeared fast, as did a Chilean Sea Bass, on a bed of truffle miso and spinach with a curly mop of fried onion strings on top.
A-5 Japanese Wagyu Ishi-Yaki, served on a hot stone plate and divided into six thick cubes, is a meat-lover’s delight of a starter and definitely tastes like a million bucks—quality Japanese beef, perfectly grilled and smoky without tasting burnt.
Grilled Lamb Chops, dabbed in soy, garlic and ginger, makes for a succulent row of bites. In a different direction, Lobster Garlic Noodles offer said udon with a substantial hill of lobster meat on top, lightly soaked in sesame and sake, and colorfully flanked by the hollowed-out crustacean shell.
There is, of course, a variety of sushi and sashimi made here, spanning from Kani (crab), Ankimo (monkfish liver) to Tai (sea bream).
One of my go-to rolls is made of unagi (freshwater eel) and avocado, so I could not resist trying this popular, perfectly tangy Eel Avocado roll here, which is generous and sliced into six hefty pieces.
The house also serves a handful of signature rolls. We opted for the eight-piece White Lotus, morsels of popcorn shrimp tempura with avocado that is topped with albacore tuna and crispy onions.
My personal highlights arrived by land and by sea. The former, Prime Ribeye Steak “Japonais”, saw a gratuitous wagyu steak arrive (as hinted by the entree’s name) with a touch of French preparation in the presentation of the Japanese-style potatoes and garlic green beans that accompany the 14-ounce main attraction. More seasoned than the wagyu appetizer, this charbroiled dish is a must-try and won’t disappoint any lover of quality steak.
As for the seaworthy part, we ordered Matsu, an eight-piece selection of the master sushi chef’s custom creations that made for one smorgasbord of an omakase platter—sushi made of uni (sea urchin) from Santa Barbara, Nova Scotia salmon, Japanese snapper, blue fin, toro (tuna belly), hamachi (yellowtail) and ahi tuna. Each piece, smooth and sublime. Bouche amuses, Japan-style.
As for dessert, Chocolate Volcano Cake is not a genre of confection I would normally seek out after a large meal, yet the way it was prepared here was so delicious—legitimately light, moist and flavorful—there was none left to take home.
Of course, we had to pair our appetizers and entrees with some of Roku’s specialty cocktails, which range from solid to phenomenal. Roku Fusion—by far the most popular adult beverage—has Svedka Vodka packed with pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon flavors, and it’s a sight to behold.
We also tried the Ginger Snap, a fist of a drink packing a Wild Turkey Honey Whiskey punch, with ginger, Peychaud’s bitters, lemon and mint brightening up the palate. The Wes Anderson film-referencing Darjeeling Express contains Darjeeling-infused Knob Creek Rye, Cia Ciaro Amaro, Angostura bitters and Islay Mist.
Presentation of cuisine here is taken as seriously as its quality. Yet for all of its fusion accents, the restaurant appears very dedicated to certain Japanese traditions.
For instance, Roku serves a vast variety of cold sake (as opposed to the hot variety of rice wine served at most sushi houses in Los Angeles), which is the most authentic way to consume the rice vodka with your rolls.
A sensational nexus of quality food, attentive service and oceanside atmosphere, Sushi Roku is where you go for a reliable restaurant experience.