It is always difficult to choose where to dine when I’m up in LA, but it’s great when you have friends in the know. Recently, I visit Akatora, a lovely Japanese eatery in Manhattan Beach serving beautifully crafted food. I’m always wary when I have to come to tourist-friendly destinations due to parking, but there is a parking structure right across the street, so easy peasy.
The restaurant is quaint and cozy. It is tiered into three levels with a little sushi bar on the top level. This is where we sit. Since there are a few of us, we decide to partake in both omakase as well as a la carte to experience the most out of the menu.
Let me begin with the a la carte menu items before I delve into the omakase. If you’re dining alone, Chirashi ($12) is possibly the best way to go. A lacquered bowl is filled with perfectly seasoned sushi rice topped with an assortment of sashimi. There is also a premium version available for a few dollars more.
We love Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice ($9.50) and usually order it when we see it on the menu. The one here is well-executed with morsels of crispy rice topped with spicy tuna and sweet eel sauce.
Miso Cod ($11) is possibly one of my favorite Japanese dishes. Beautifully unctuous black cod is marinated with sweet white miso and grilled to perfection. Give me a bowl of rice to accompany it with and I’m happy.
I’m a huge fan of eggplant, so I always order Nasu Miso ($7) to see how chefs interpret this humble vegetable. The one here is beautifully sautéed enveloped with a slightly sweet miso sauce. The eggplant is tender, but yet, still possesses a slight chew. Give me a bowl of rice to accompany this tasty sweet white miso eggplant and call it a night.
The Omakase ($60-$120) here is a parade of delicacies which you should definitely carve out time for. Chef Yuichi and sous chef Toshi are masters of creativity and it is great to sit at the sushi bar and watch them in action.
The First Course is two parts and arrives with a shooter glass filled with mozuku (an Okinawan seaweed), kelp, cucumber and topped with sweet crab legs flesh. The second is ankimo drizzled with a spicy miso sauce infused with Korean gojujang.
I love the salty sliminess of the kelp, and when paired with the sweet crab legs, combine together for an absolutely delicious salty sweet finish.
The disc of ankimo (monkfish liver) is unctuously reminiscent of foie gras. The drizzle of spicy miso sauce infused with gojujang is a perfect seasoning for the melt-in-your-mouth ankimo.
The Second Course is octopus served two ways — raw with yuzu kosho (one of my favorite seasonings) drizzled with herb oil, and octopus tentacles that have been fried tempura-style. The raw octopus is not chewy at all and the aromas of yuzu kosho (a paste made from a blend of yuzu citrus and peppers) wafts around my mouth. The tentacles are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
Our Third Course is a trio of sashimi. Snow crab wrapped in seared salmon; masago (flying fish roe) wrapped with blue fine toro; and spicy tuna wrapped halibut. Each possessing an individual flavor of its own, with different textures to boot.
As much as I love sashimi, I love nigiri sushi even more. The Fourth Course of assorted sushi comprises five pieces: red snapper with yuzu kosho; wild Sockeye salmon from Alaska seasoned with the house-made gojujang sauce; halibut fin; scallop with nikiri sauce and truffle salt; and lastly, King mackerel with mustard and sesame dressing.
Amaebi sushi is served separately with its head fried crisp and presented on the same dish. The sweet shrimp is indeed sweet, and oh so succulent.
However, my favorite, and the most luxurious morsel, is the foie gras topped otoro with truffle sauce. Talk about heavenly! The textures of the foie, otoro and rice meld together and the flavors are simply stunning.
Chef Yuichi tells me that typically, he’ll offer the miso blackcod as an omakase course, but since we ordered a la carte, he has omitted it from the tasting.
We finish with Sweet Potato Mousse ($8). The sweet potato is mashed and mixed with cream before it is re-formed into the potato skin and served as a “slice” of sweet potato. If you’re a fan of sweet potatoes, you’ll love this – I did, especially in its simplicity.
If you’re in the Manhattan Beach area – or Alhambra – by all means stop by Akatora and taste for yourself. The sushi is perfection, each piece fits into your mouth perfectly, and the rice never falls apart when you pick it up. It is this meticulous precision that I always look for when dining at Japanese restaurants. Akatora has definitely passed the test with flying colors.
302 Rosecrans Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266