There is a style consistent with many of the restaurants in the Long Beach Marina. They tend to be sprawling destinations, with oversized bars, open kitchens, large patios that overlook the water and portions that stagger the imagination — and the appetite.
They serve Marina Cuisine, which has much to do with rewarding diners for the effort they've made to drive to the water, park the car and meander on in, often to face a wait that can stretch on for quite a while.
White Wasabi Sushi & Beer is not like that. It's situated in a shopping mall near the water, but not actually on it. It's not crazy big; it's just the right size. The bar is a sushi bar. The portions are manageable. It may be the most civilized place to eat in the Marina.
It's also a fairly unique take on sushi and beer, with not just a long list of oddly named exotic sushi rolls, but also a menu of what at an Italian restaurant would call crudo — raw fish served in marinades with garnishes that move them from sashimi to something else altogether.
And hey, you can knock back a draft Allagash White while you're at it. This is the best of a whole lot of worlds.
The man behind White Wasabi is Sushi Chef Rain Pantana, who was last found at the very good (and very gone) Sashi in Manhattan Beach. He's the sort of committed sushi chef who gets up before dawn to buy his fish fresh and right off the boat. He buys his vegetables at local farmer's markets.
He does it the old school way, even if he's working in a new school context. The room is Industrial Moderne, with some distressed wood tossed in for good measure. There's open ductwork up above, and an industrial fan. It looks like a tidied up gastropub. But, I guess, that's what it is.
I'm one of those laddies who's happy as long as I've got a nice cold one in hand. Along with the always tasty Allagash White, there's Mama's Li'l Yella Pils, Witte Ommegang, Colette Farmhouse Ale, Stone IPA and Sapporo on tap at $7 a pop.
There are eight sakes, all reasonably priced as sake goes. There are five wines — an oddly eclectic bunch, most of which are organic. (I guess you can drink wine with this food, same as you can drink wine with barbecue, but beer and sake seem so much better.)
Should you want to go with a classic menu of nigiri sushi, there's an option called the “Classic Menu” that is mostly classic, though dishes like “salmon cream cheese” and “spicy shrimp and crab” do start moving into another realm of sushi.
But it's when you hit the section of the menu headed “Bigger (Special Rolls)” that the zany really takes hold. The list begins with a Prosciutto Roll — salami, goat cheese and shrimp tempura, wrapped in prosciutto and then (Lord have mercy!) deep-fried. It's an Italian-Japanese bar snack. It's the anti-sushi, come to Long Beach.
As is the well-established (and well-accepted) tradition, the names of the rolls rarely match the ingredients. The Charlie Brown Roll is made with shrimp tempura, avocado, spicy shrimp and crab, which has what to do with Snoopy's best friend?
The very tasty Handle Bar Roll is lobster atop a blue crab roll, with Thai chili paste and crispy shallots.
The Scotland Yard Roll is spicy salmon, asparagus, shrimp tempura, cream cheese, seared salmon, jalapeno sauce and — wait for it — crispy parsnips. I do like parsnips, I'm just not sure I've ever had them in a Japanese restaurant before. But then, White Wasabi is something else again.
A good deal of that something else again is found under the heading “Fish Plate (Special Sashimi).” The first crudo is Salmon Wasachio, which is sliced salmon topped with “wasachio sauce.” I Googled “wasachio” and it's apparently something they made up: wasabi plus... what? Pistachio?
There's a whitefish prep that involves black garlic, sage, porcini butter and olive oil. Once again, this may be the most Italian sushi bar in town. But I'm not complaining.
It's also a restaurant where, if you want, you can get teriyaki — chicken, beef, salmon — or mixed tempura. You can get Brussels sprouts in garlic butter. And, as I like to point out, you can go shopping afterwards at the nearby Whole Foods, without having to move your car. They have sushi at Whole Foods, too, but it doesn't come close to White Wasabi.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him an email at email@example.com.