Restaurant Komasa (Los Angeles, CA)
351 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 3/20/12
Komasa seems to be one of the most popular restaurants in Little Tokyo, garnering lines as reliably as Daikokuya. From my perspective, there are a trio of Little Tokyo sushi restaurants that are clearly more popular than the rest – Hama, Sushi Gen and Komasa. The latter two tend to have the longest lines (I largely attribute it to the lunch/dinner specials and lower prices), while Hama tends to be my favorite overall (with the sushi bar at Sushi Gen coming in a close second, and there is a distinct difference between the sushi bar and table service there).
I was first introduced to Komasa many years ago; in fact, it’s one of the first restaurants I tried in LA that I can remember. When I was visiting colleges during high school, LA was one of the stops. We didn’t have a lot of places in mind to try (I still don’t know what we did before Yelp/Citysearch and smartphones) and my aunt had recommended two places we try near USC. Those two were Komasa and Sushi Gen; the latter would become an instant favorite, and is somewhere I go with her annually when she visits. Komasa didn’t leave nearly the same impression, with my handful of visits over the years met with a feeling that it was “just fine.”
It’s been a while since I’ve been; my extreme proximity and the ever-present lines eventually lured me back. Although Yelp’s rating system is inflated, a 4.5 star overall rating on 500+ reviews usually suggests a very promising restaurant.
The menu offers much of the standard Japanese fare including teriyaki, tempura and a large variety of sushi and sashimi. There’s also an array of interesting small plates. What struck me and the rest of my party were the prices – very reasonable. I could easily see someone eating a sushi dinner in the $20 range, maybe even less for a small eater. Hm, the popularity was starting to make sense.
We decided to order a number of appetizer/small plates and each ordered Sushi Combination C, the most expensive combo at 11 pieces for $16. I also tacked on a few orders of a la carte sushi for good measure.
I thought the batter was a touch on the thick side, but the oysters themselves were plump juicy and quite flavorful. Pretty tasty, especially with the flavorful punch of the tonkatsu sauce.
Loved the creamy texture, though it was just a bit fishy. A light soy-based sauce was a nice accompaniment, as were the fresh bite of the scallions and the hit of acid in the sauce.
Fairly typical baked mussels, except they were definitely overcooked leaving them somewhat chewy.
I thought this was a wonderful light custard, warm and comforting. A few chunks of mushroom and fish cake were scattered throughout.
Sushi Combination C
Next up was the centerpiece of the meal. There was a pretty good selection of fish with some of the typical players like tuna, salmon, halibut, albacore and red snapper as well as some ‘bigger ticket’ items like sweet shrimp and uni. Pretty good for 16 bucks. Overall I thought the quality of fish was okay; texturally I thought many of the pieces were slightly less tender and a little more stringy/grainy than I wanted. The nori on the uni and fish eggs was on the soggy/chewy side, kind of a downer too. However, I thought the biggest distraction was on the generous wasabi usage – I found myself pausing for air a few times. Still, I suppose it wasn’t bad considering the price.
I thought the sweet shrimp was one of the better items in the combination, and it was pretty good here too. Spongy and sweet, it had both the texture and flavor I was looking for. The fried shrimp heads were a nice touch too, and always a fun eat. At $5.50 for a pair, I thought this was a relative steal.
The uni itself was pretty good, cool with a mild sea flavor coming through. Similar to the one in the combination, I found the soggy nori to be a distraction. Boo. Also $5.50 for a couple – one of the most reasonable prices around town.
The unagi was a solid variation, tender and flavorful. I thought it looked like it could be oversauced, but it gave just the right amount of sweet accent to the bites.
I might be a little bit of a sushi snob, but the sushi at Komasa was just fine, even slightly mediocre at times. Still, for the price I suppose I can’t really complain, as it was just a step pricier than the pre-packaged goods at neighboring Nijiya market. The quality of some fish was definitely superior to others, so I think an experienced regular could craft a pretty good a la carte menu of favorites…so long as they didn’t mind an occasional generous helping of wasabi.
With Hama so close and mostly line-free, I don’t think I’ll ever return to Komasa. I still need to try Sushi Gen…come with?