Sunday, February 11, 2007

Brain Food for Today's Young Minds

"Pickled herring and gefilte fish are brain food. That's why you're so smart, bubbele. Now come here and rub your bubby's feet -- I have to ask twice?"

When you were a growing boy, amidst matzoh ball soup and kasha varnishkes, Grandma was sure to feed her sweet grandson lots of fish. Now that you're all grown up, you mention this tidbit from your past to your Japanese girlfriend (because, let's face it, chances are, if you are a young Jewish man in this city, you've got an Asian girlfriend). She looks lovingly at your pasty, shmaltz-fed face and smiles. Her grandma fed her lots of fish, too. Not in the ground and pickled form, but as miso-roasted fish served with rice for breakfast, bits of tuna in the onigiri she would help mom pack in her schooltime bento, or dried into flakes that flavored dashi broth for cozy noodles.

"Alright, let's go get dinner," you say, and naturally, you clever kids head over to Mishima. Maybe it's that cross-continental brain food phenomenon, but for some reason, the IQ of the average Mishima customer seems higher than at any other nearby restaurant. Somehow the scene that helps spots like flashy Grand Lux Cafe across the street thrive has passed over this unassuming strip-mall Japanese restaurant. So, those that are in the know are especially lucky: our noodles get to the table that much faster.

The restaurant offers all assortment of soba and udon, along with rice bowls like katsu don (fried pork or chicken cutlet) and curry don, grilled seafood bentos, and a small sushi and sashimi selection. But for you, the no-brainer order here is the hand roll combo: a half order of udon, soba, or miso soup, and 3 generous hand rolls, in the California, spicy tuna, and eel varieties. All for under ten bucks -- how's that for smart? Nothing special in the noodles -- just briny dashi broth and a single chewy white fish cake encircled in hello-kitty pink, but they come with tsukemono, salty pickled vegetables, and tenkasu, irresistible bits of fried tempura batter, and are a perfectly warming companion to the hefty hand rolls.

As you sit there slurping and exchanging pithy banter with your girl, you think back to the times you used to dine alone at the clean, sparse space's communal table, striking up conversations about the state of world politics and Dave Eggers' latestwith the people sitting next to you. You sip some tea and look back at your girlfriend, and you know Bubby was right. Maybe raw tuna with wasabi is a bit of a departure from whitefish with horseradish, but you've certainly made some intelligent choices.

Mishima is at 8474 West Third St., just east of La Cienega.

Thanks for the photo!


  1. I'm so glad that MISHIMA is still around! Last time I was in the MotherState I talked it up and took Eric to what used to be their Westside location (in the crappy mini-mall on Wilshire near the Ralphs)... and my soul was crushed by their absence. Best agedashi tofu for the price!

  2. I don't know about the one in Los Angeles, but I've been to the one and Torrance and it's pretty awful compared to everything else we've got out here in the South Bay. But it's Los Angeles--there should be better Japanese food out there! I'll give it this though--it's good bang for your buck; if you just want to be full on Japanese food and don't want to pay much, this is theplace to go.

  3. Oh, dear Annie, you were the woman who introduced me to agedashi tofu, many moons ago, at some rockin sushi joint, on the dark streets of the East Village. Ah, the memories.

    And Tina, I know I know, step south, or east, or sometimes even west, of Los Angeles, and all of a sudden Asian food gets much, much better. But for walking distance from home and a great vibe, Mishima for me is tough to beat. Incidentally I just tried Sanuki Sandou -- the new udon/soba stand in the Mitsuwa on Venice/Centinela. Totally comparable to Mishima. (Which is why I'll be getting ramen from Santouka next time instead!)