Thursday, July 17, 2014

Psycho on the Road: Brothers Sushi (Woodland Hills, CA)

I was recently back in California, despite being out here for ten days in April.  After a couple of months back in Colorado, I had to once again scratch my West Coast itch, so I booked a ticket to see my aunt and uncle for the fourth of July weekend.  In April, my friend Jean and I breezed through their neck of the woods on our coastal road trip for one night.  The trip, while thoroughly enjoyable, proved to me that I am overall more of a Southern California girl, as opposed to a Northern California girl.  On our single night in LA in April, our motley crew attempted to eat at Brothers Sushi, a local sushi bar that my aunt and uncle have been frequenting for years, but it was a Monday, and alas closed for the night.  Instead we spent a delightfully raucous evening at Monty’s Steakhouse.  Upon my return to LA, my aunt suggested that we have dinner at Brothers on my first night; LA is my favorite place to eat sushi, so I immediately lit up at this proposal. 

The last time I ate at Brothers, I was on spring break, my freshman year of college.  I was a month shy of 19, and thoroughly enjoying a late teenage rebellion.  To put it bluntly, I was partying too hard, and not making much effort to hide it.  Being the wise and accepting woman that she is, my aunt barely acknowledged my obvious hangover when she collected me from the airport, or my continued tendency to over-indulge on the trip.  Eleven years later, my chemical-intake habits have matured, but I still identify with some of that outrageousness, even if it is muted.  If anything, I am more conscious of my wild heart and my food-obsessed tendencies, which brings me back to California time after time.  I come here to have outrageous conversations with my aunt and uncle, catch a glimpse of the ocean, and eat.  And eat.  And eat.  Most people associate LA with Hollywood, glitz, and superficial.  While I do relish the random opportunities to rub elbows with the rich and famous, I mostly come to LA to participate in my most prized sensory act, as I truly feel that it is one of the best food cities in the country.  Sushi is one of my all time favorite things to eat in LA.  When it comes to sushi, the proximity to the ocean provides unprecedented freshness of seafood, and the diversity of the population provides unparalleled expertise in preparation.  After the sushi misfire in April, I was so excited to eat at Brothers, and I was also excited to return to this place that I ate at so long ago, when I was so much more impressionable and less jaded.
The motif of Brothers was exactly the same, relative to the imagery with which my fuzzy memory provides me.  We sat a cozy corner table, and my uncle began ordering food in heats.  We started with cold, unfiltered sake and oysters, briny and bright.  Our waitress was uncertain as to what their varietal was, but she knew they were from Washington.  Served over ice on the half shelf, each oyster was chopped into two pieces, which made them easier to eat.  They swam in a small pool of oyster liquor, mingling with soy, and topped off with a dime size dollop of Sriracha, some grated ginger, and scallions .  It had been years since I had an oyster; the last time was at an upscale steak house that I worked at when I was 22.  Wanting to get the true experience of eating an oyster, I had garnished it with only a squeeze a lemon, and sent it down the hatchet; with that bare bones preparation, it is no surprise that I wasn’t impressed.  Brothers method had me all smiles, and I was especially pleased by the tender texture which so complemented the clean, yet assertive flavor profile.
We were next greeted by the house salad.  I had pictured mixed greens dressed in some sort of sesame-ginger vinaigrette, garnished with some carrot tendrils.  Instead, I was surprised by something much more special: a pile of greens studded with ruby and white cubes of raw fish and small, tender shrimp, cooked by the acidity of the vinaigrette.  Garnished with pea shoots, sesame seeds, and masago, it was mild, tender, and tasted of the sea.  Had the meal stopped here, I would have left a satisfied diner, but instead a slew of unctuous sashimi was on its way.

After a few minutes left to sip sake and discuss the delight of the humbly named house salad, our first round of sashimi graced the table: mackerel, halibut, and albacore tuna.  Each one of similarly garnished with a mild soy sauce, ginger, and scallion combination. There may have been the slightest hint of sesame oil in the mix.  My first bite was mackerel, which tested wholly of the ocean.  It even retained some of its silvery skin to enhance this oceanic quality, not to be confused with fishiness, but instead an assertive sea quality, that is still decidedly fresh, and the texture so tender.  My next bite was halibut, which was mild, sweet, tender, and the color of snow, slightly translucent.  It was so delicate, it barely required chewing.  It was initially buttery, but when I tasted the albacore, the notion of buttery became unrivaled. It’s striations were nearly falling apart, and there was a lovely layer of fat along the top, which caused the whole thing to fall apart in my mouth.
Albacore Tuna
Sweet Shrimp
After another brief break, we ordered our final installment: fresh water eel, and sweet live shrimp.  The eel was firm, charred, and caramelized in sweet, sticky sauce.  The shrimp was served in two styles: a fried shrimp head and the raw, firm body, topped with masago.  Fried shrimp heads are one of my favorite foods, and something that I have eaten exclusively in LA.  The first time I ever had one I was about 11 years old, at dim sum in Chinatown.  My family is known to have some pretty stilted palettes, so my aunt’s friends practically broke into applause when I joyfully devoured my first shrimp head.  They are full of sweet, fine textured meat, entwined with the shell, which imparts so much shrimpy flavor.  And obviously everything is better fried, as the shell is essentially rendered into the finest shrimp flavored potato chip you never knew existed.  Watch out because those crispy legs might poke you, but they are certainly delicious.  It was served with a sweet and broth-y tempura sauce.  The body is served raw, with a squeeze of lemon and tiny, vibrant fish eggs that pop in your mouth, contrasting the firm meatiness of the shrimp.  A delightful end to a delightful meal, and a perfect way to kick off a trip to one of my favorite places with my favorite people.  Redundant?  I think not.  Brothers Sushi does not disappoint.  Similar to some of my memories of that first experience there years ago, I will be dreaming about the butter albacore for years to come.
Shrimp Heads