To go to the intersection of Manhattan Avenue and Manhattan Beach Boulevard in Manhattan Beach on a hot Sunday at noon is to dive deep into the very essence of the culinary culture of the seaside town of South Bay. Nearly every restaurant is packed with hungry hipsters, many of whom are sipping exotic cocktails, dressed in the latest laid-back beach town fashion – which these days means bare bellies abound, cut-offs are a must and flip-flops go without say.
And of course, sitting at one of the outdoor tables that have appeared thanks to the pandemic makes the experience even more… seaside.
I hate to speak highly of the coronavirus, but if it’s given us anything positive, it’s the climb to the outdoor patio, occupying what was a street-side parking lot, which in the case of downtown Manhattan Beach , can be found everywhere. (Doctor friends also tell me that mask-wearing has decreased flu cases, which were little known this past flu season.)
Stretching north along Manhattan Avenue is a merry madhouse of restaurants – Tacolicious is right next door, and Nando Trattoria is next door. MB Post seems to take up much of the block across the street. People-watching is downright Parisian.
I can easily spend an entire Sunday sitting at Dash Dashi, sipping one of the twelve cold sakes (cold! always cold! hot, it’s for tourists!), or cocktails made with distilled Japanese barley liquor called shochu — the Mama-San in Red (shochu with cranberry juice) or the Ginza Chauffeur (shochu with orange juice). There is also an Osaka Mimosa. And a quarter of draft beers, Japanese and local, served by the pint or pitcher.
And there are so many dishes that are a delight, ranging from old familiars to the assortment required of modern sushi bar freaks. It’s a big section, under “Special Rolls”, most of which have names that really have nothing to do with their ingredients. This is not a point of criticism – it is standard operating procedure at sushi bars that shy away from the traditional straight path.
So we have the Pornado, which is a lightly fried roll of soy paper and shredded potato (potato? really?) wrapped with spicy tuna, kanikama (artificial crab stick), avocado and onion, drizzled with both sweet and spicy sauces.
The Hot Wave is spicy tuna, jalapeño, cucumber, avocado, hot pepper oil, and spicy unagi sauce…well, that’s hot! The Golden Buzzer is made with salmon, grilled unagi, kanikama, cream cheese, avocado, onion and jalapeño, all fried. The buzzer? I do not know. It’s no more than a geisha is baked in the Gorgeous Geisha roll. Or there’s a hedgehog in Hedgehog Rolling.
It doesn’t matter either. The sun is shining. And I crack open a big pile of spicy edamame – which always makes me feel like I’m eating something good for my fiber deficit. The fried soft shell crab crunches like crazy. And fine multi-ethnic subtlety in the seared salmon toro carpaccio, the baby yellowtail with jalapeño and the tuna poke with truffle oil and sea salt.
I asked about the Top Secret Roll, and was told it changes from day to day – and that’s how the chef feels. At $18.95, it’s the most expensive of the rolls. And while it might be something I like – there are few things I don’t like – it could also be done with – God knows! – peanut butter or something like that.
It’s like dining at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, where you need a reservation months in advance and have no idea what you’ll be getting. A friend ended up with a prime rib. Like with Lawry. He was not happy.
Dash Dashi also makes a fine fillet of black cod, marinated in miso for three days. There’s a combo of crab (true), shrimp, scallops, and mushrooms called Baked 3 Sea Musketeers. There’s Thrill on the Grilled Cajun Salmon, which I’d like to rhyme a little better.
But in fact, on this hot afternoon, the dish that made me happiest was the freshly mixed sashimi salad – an abundance of many fish, tender and sweet, in a mustard and soy vinaigrette, mixed with crunchy greens in every bite. In taste and texture, it matched the occasion – spicy yet mild, savory and lush.
Dash Dashi is the right restaurant in the right place. Go at the right time and you won’t want to leave.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email [email protected]
- Evaluation: 3 stars
- Address: 127 Manhattan Ave, Manhattan Beach
- Information: 310-939-1000; www.dashdashi.com
- Kitchen: Japanese
- When: Lunch and dinner, daily
- Details: Very cheerful sushi bar, with lots of grilled meats and sake to boot, right in the heart of Manhattan Beach, surrounded by a hip phalanx, with alfresco dining with a view of everything and everyone. Terrific food with superb people watching. Beer and sake. Helpful reservations.
- Prices: About $35 per person
- On the menu: 16 Appetizers ($3.95 – $17.95), 11 Salads ($5.95 – $21.95), 14 Basic Rolls ($5.95 – $11.95), 16 Specialty Rolls (12, $95 – $18.95), 25 Sushi ($4.59 – $10.95), 7 Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.95 – $18.95), 4 Sushi Platters ($26.95 – 34 $.95), 10 entries ($13.95 – $24.95)
- Credit card: CM, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, if not outstanding. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly not worth it describe.)