Dine Out Soon and Often
Just as there’s a burger for every budget, be it 99 cents or $9.99, there is ethnic food in every price range. The popularity of sushi, tempura and other Japanese cuisine was bound to attract the purveyors of quick meals, and so we have Sansai Japanese Grill spread around the southland. Having been intrigued by a smartly-designed sample menu, the Palate’s Sansai initiation happened during a weekday lunch break at the Brand Blvd. store, located dead center on Brand Blvd. in Glendale, and I probably won’t be back for seconds at other locations in Woodland Hills, Moorpark or Sherman Oaks.
Strike one was the SS format which reflects a Jack in the Box atmosphere where you place and pay for your selection, get an order number and find an empty table in the clean but bland surroundings. It didn’t take long for the orders to come up on plastic plates with paper cup beverage containers. Everything was disposable and what was served was palatable if somewhat less interesting than the very visual menu. Not that the food was bad, it just wasn’t all that appetizing. My tempura combo plate included four petite shrimp, string beans, zucchini and squash and, at $6.99—including chopsticks and a bit of green salad, it was neither a bad deal nor an especially pleasing meal. The Palate was tempted by the ‘Sushi Special Box’ but it promised a bit too much for a mere $10.99 including tuna, salmon, eel, shrimp and red snapper, and I know a bit about the cost of fresh quality fish and seafood. Self-described as “fast-casual,” Sansai also offers a number of roll specialties. Everything is touted as cooked to order so my lunch mate tried the Rainbow Roll topped with varied toppings and rated it as mediocre in flavor and style. Both orders came with a half pint container of steamed rice which was only lukewarm. Sauces and dressings are made fresh daily and Sansai boasts that everything is strictly fresh; still the food exudes a distinct “pre-fab” feeling. Were I to venture in a second time, I’d doubtless opt for something more like the grilled chicken breast salad ($7.99) or the seared Ahi tuna, Sashimi style, salad with wasabi vinaigrette ($8.99).
The price, as noted, was right and safely under $10 but as some wit observed “there is a free lunch but it doesn’t taste good.” Yes, I prefer to be served. No, I don’t like paper and plastic servingware and, like many, I like it hot. For those who have to grab a bite rather than relax with a meal, the likes of Sansai do provide a change of pace from the plethora of burger counters. They offer kid’s plates at $3.99 and also prepare take-out or catering orders.
It’s no secret that the restaurant business is a crap-shoot with only about one out of four places surviving profitably after the first five years. Of late, things seem to have gone from merely bad to horrendous with a stream of upscale closings during the summer months. The usual suspects in failures are faulty concepts, bad location, disagreeable partners and, of course, disappointing food and service. That has been compounded by the shaky economy, escalating labor and food costs plus the energy crisis, which makes just getting there and back a tab in itself. Some major restaurateurs are involved in recent closings. Wolfgang Puck shuttered Granita in Malibu, and Aubergine in Newport Beach was deleted by Tim Goodell. Naya in Pasadena went that away, as did the EM Bistro on the Westside. Even the venerable Four Oaks in Bel Aire said bye-bye, as did Mix and Citrine in West Hollywood. The struggling Amuse Café surrendered as did Luce in Beverly Hills. The closings far outnumber significant openings this time with even the celebrity haunted Le Dôme is on the brink with a “for sale” sign on display. Where will the monied fickle few be found at dinner time? Perhaps only “the shadow knows.”
Meanwhile, dimly lit hookah bars are popping up everywhere with orders of exotic flavored tobacco delivered through the ancient, colorfully-designed pipes to provide a sense of well-being along with a libation and even some food. Yes, there are hookah bars in the Valley and nearly all hold an aesthetic appeal for the younger spenders. A nearby example is the chic Up in Smoke Café on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, where adventurous smokers choose between a ‘Genie’s Wish,’ ‘The Mummy’ or a ‘Garden of Babylon.’ Middle Eastern snacks are served to the tune of loud Greek music and swift service is not easy to get. Far grander, Mandaloun on Maryland Avenue in Glendale has elaborate décor, outstanding Lebanese cuisine, a full bar and outdoor terraces dedicated to hookah inhalation of apple flavored tobacco.
Dine out soon and often at a full-service restaurant because you clearly deserve the best.