Profile: Sushi Bar b/w Essence Coffee

Food memoirs of a relationship just off Normandie

Late last year I found myself briefly involved with a woman who lives in Koreatown. One Friday night we wanted sushi. She, beaten down by the work week. Me, lazy jobless son-of-a-bitch, beaten down by the Friday traffic. Try picking up somebody on the west side and bringing them to the part of town where Hangul flashes in every direction during rush hour, Friday, if you haven’t recently. Sushi though. Koreatown nothing, we needed sushi. Sushi delivery? What would that taste like. You see where this is headed. Of course yours truly was going to have to truck the hell out someplace, be the hero and bring back the sushi. Enter: Sushi Bar, 3rd and Normandie.

sushi bar parking
Above: When not open, Sushi Bar offers ample parking

I stumbled upon Sushi Bar while driving toward a trusted japanese establishment on Wilshire just east of David Lynch’s Bob’s Big Boy. Denizens, I didn’t have to drive half that far. Sushi Bar threw itself at me and I responded: SOLD!, not knowing if their version of sushi would be the real deal or some bastardized Kim Bop loaded up with spam and pineapples. Although I did want to impress by bringing home the goods, traffic being what it was, I was suddenly prepared to make whatever Sushi Bar had to offer workable.

As you might expect, Sushi Bar had no available parking. I circled the block. Deftly dodged a Metro. Clumsily dodged a Ford Taurus making a left. Became unseasonably lucky on Normandie. Parked, clubbed, safety-lock-beeped. Trekked inside. Scoped the menu. We’re in business. This looks fantastic. Resisted the urge to share a Crown Royal with the Korean man down the way, toasting himself, attempting to chat up a mother-daughter combo. Next challenge: Will they make a fried tofu roll for the lady.

Me: You have fried tofu?
Waitress: (smile)
Me: Tofu. Tofu? To-Fu?
Waitress: (smile)
Me: To-fu? you know, veggie, Tofu, soy…
Waitress: (smile) ah. excuse please one second!
Host: (off phone now) Yes, hello? Sorry about that. Can I help you?
Me: Do you have fried tofu rolls?
Host: (perplexed) Topu?
Me: Tofu. Fried tofu?
Host: Topu. YES!

The banter continued for some time, but I eventually got everything we’d ever need at this joint and more. Affordable, to boot. Mere blocks away from my ultimate destination I’d stumbled upon some truly incredible, truly wonderful sushi. The order looked amazing. To top everything off they were adding very distinctive garlicky Korean garnishes right there alongside the textbook wasabi/soy/ginger triumverate. I could throw a rock and hit Jon’s market from here. What is a sushi bar of this caliber doing in this stretch?

The chef beams and asks me to approve his handiwork before we seal the deal. These guys are the real thing. Tonight, jobless Ryan wins. Tonight, Ryan’s 32. Tomorrow he’ll be 33. This is Friday Night Sushi in the heart of Ktown.

Takeaway: If you find yourself in the vicinity of 3rd and Normandie with a sushi craving that must be sated, look for this sign. Look for this frontage. Bring your appetite for the delicate and a penchant for Crown Royal. Call a cab. Know that they can make fried topu rolls, if only you ask.

The B-Side: Essence Coffee, Wilshire

essence patioEvery relationship, no matter the length, demands a temple you call your own in the significant other’s neighborhood. This go-round, my comfort zone ended up being Essence Coffee on Wilshire. Much as I’d preferred it to be Koffea, those jokers don’t open until a ridiculously late hour, threatening me with a pounding headache from caffeine withdrawal. Leaving the woman’s place I would make the trek down to Wilshire and Normandie, wherein I would be assaulted by the sheer number of coffee purveyors at my disposal — upwards of a dozen. Time and again, I would head straight to Essence Coffee for a small americano with extra shot to watch the working people come in for their pre-work fix. Me: Crumpled walk of shame clothing. Them: Sharp as a tack. Me: Happy and tired. Them: Working. All of us: Soon caffeinated. All of us: Comprehending but not really absorbing the view of Wilshire and the church across the street [photo]. All of us: Wondering if we should wait a few hours and walk around the corner to Brass Monkey for a shot of something stronger.

Essence coffee was a nice place with a very nice staff. At times I miss it. Onward and upward.

Sushi Bar
3922 W. 3rd (at Normandie)

Essence Coffee
3458 1/2 Wilshire Blvd (at Normandie)