Friday, October 13, 2006

Foodventure #2: Geisha House (Hollywood)

I know, I know -- after my last (mis)adventure at Dolce, why am I taking a gander at Geisha House (which is in the same restaurant group), well, 2 reasons:

1. I have been here before (a year or so back,) and can say the food's not bad -- for what it is.

2. My dining companion (DC henceforth) wanted to go eat and celeb spot at the same time; I didn't want to break the piggy bank.

And so, off we went:

Geisha House from the outside (on the corner of Hollywood & Cherokee) - can be easily missed since the sign itself is so small, but once you've been here, those red lips and hot red/pink strobe lights will constantly remind/haunt you every time you pass by that "yes, there is a restaurant behind this club-like exterior." And so we enter, intending to grab a drink at the bar before diving into the food and star-scoping.

As to be expected for a hip Hollywood restaurant, the bar looks swanky (yet "square" too), and with lots of comfy furniture to boot. Alas, we didn't see much action going on here (around 7:15) so we grabbed our table early and get our alchy there.

The two-level dining area--however, was a whole different sort of environ. Almost all furnishings and decor was bright and shiny red and black, with the occasional obligatory japanese wall decoration here and there. All in all, I felt like I was dining in a giant bento box! (sorry, no picture -- camera didn't do so well shooting the dimly-lit room.)

For the drinks, DC got the "Blushing Geisha" - which, appropriately enough, is the ruby red drink - and I got the "Geisha's Kiss". The kiss, made with sake, champagne, lychee & chambord, turned out to be a very balanced concoction, slightly fruity and subtly sweet with a refreshing fizz and no funny aftertastes that can sometimes occur with sake cocktails. In contrast, the blushing geisha seems to be banging all the wrong notes, opening with a blast of juniper from the Bombay Sapphire, followed by a rush of an overly-sweet mix of pomegranate and melon flavors. I guess the blush can come from embarassment. But moving on to the appetizers

Rock shrimp tempura - with a "spicy creamy sauce" - which I can best described as a mayo with an identity issue ~ not garlicky enough to be an aioli, but not spicy enough to be a chipotle mayo. It was good, but not great. We did notice the absence of tempura sauce and requested it, but found out the spicy creamy sauce to be a better dip. The shrimp tempura itself was good, the meat is firmer and more succulent than most tempura shrimp I've had, and they were the perfect size to be finished off in one bite. Also appreciated the lack of tail shell, which I never know what to do with (alas, I do not eat them like some of my other friends do.) A nice starter overall, which we finished just in time for the sushi.

Yes, they are rolls -- but honestly, it seems silly to order authentic Japanese foods in a place that drips of such a heavily-lacquered, in-your-face veneer of Japan. So sayonara to the nigiri & ohayo to the bastard sons of the California roll. We shared 2 rolls - the Red Samurai on the left & the "no-rice" Geisha's Lips to the right. After tasting the tame "creamy spicy sauce" from the dish before, the Red Samurai really took me by surprise - these people can do hot! The spicy tuna roll - topped with avocado, tuna sashimi, a dab of sriracha sauce & a slice of jalapeno - had a nice dose of heat, that dissipated fairly quickly with just a tingle on the lips. The modernized and Americanized Geisha's Lips, basically various cooked seafood wrapped in cucumber, was not as impressive asides from the novelty of being a no-rice roll (and no nori to wrap to boot,) it tasted pretty much like a California roll (which I do like from time to time, but was really expecting more out of this.) I guess sons sometimes do take after their daddies . . .

Finishing off we splitted the "Tropical Fruit Filled Wonton" with the near-transparent vanilla & mango-passion fruit sauces, and it frankly wouldn't surprise me if that turns out to be coffee-flavoring-syrups. Two things that stick out: first of all, I found the name a misnomer - the 3 pieces I had were filled with either blue- or raspberries, which by no stretch of imagination are tropical fruits; second, if ordering this, eat the whole freshly-fried wonton in one bite, lest you risk the molten filling explode everywhere. Don't ask me how I learned this. Asides from those two points, this dish was a delight -- the gooey cream cheese and NON-tropical fruit filling reminds me of tasting cheesecake batter. And what better partner for something like that than a deep-fried piece of dough? (Honestly, I can envision this as a Fair food -- watch out, deep-fried Oreos/Twinkies/Mars bars!!)

Our bill for this foodventure:

Cocktails: $12 each x 2 = $24
Rock Shrimp Tempura: $12
Sushi: $29 combined
Dessert: $8
Overall Subtotal ~ pre-tax/tip: $73

My rating:
Ambience/Decor: 2.5/5 (bar/lounge looks hip; dining area is borderline tacky - so do have a drink before entering)
Service: 8/10 (great overall; attentive w/o being over-fussy, server knows his stuff)
Value: 2.5/5 (given its location & reputation, we were expecting overpriced anyways, but it's not too bad)
Food: 13/20 (definitely not recommended for those who can't get their heads out that 'authentic japanese food' mode, but could be worth a try otherwise)
Bonus/Demerits: N/A
TOTAL: 26/40 (an interesting place to bring out-of-towners or sushi newbies once in a great while, but there are definitely better Japanese to be had in L.A.)

Other notes:
- Parking can be tricky - of course, there's the free street parking after 6pm. The self-parking lot in the Hollywood & Highlands Plaza (about 4 blocks away) is another viable, low-cost option. And of course, they have valet too.

And perhaps the biggest disappointment of all - no celebs that night!!! At least my DC took solace getting a smile from the randomly wandering geisha.



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