Over the last few decades, it's become clear that the ocean and the world's wild fish stocks are in jeopardy, and sustainable seafood has become a mainstream movement. Despite that, the world of high-end sushi has been particularly slow to change.
Jefferey Miller, chef, and owner of Rosella, a sustainable sushi restaurant in New York City, says, "So much of Japanese cuisine is built around tradition, doing things the way they've always been done. That's part of the reason elevated Japanese cuisine is so good. There have been generations of refinement."
Local sourcing and seasonality are prevalent in Japanese cuisine, and Jefferey Miller himself has experimented with over 100 species at various times throughout the year to better understand the cadence of seafood in the Northeast.
There's no perfect choice for chefs or consumers, however, there are certainly ways to make and consume sushi more sustainably. Today, many chefs know that it's simply not enough to make beautiful and delicious food, consumers are desperate to understand the impacts of our food, where it comes from, and how we can all make more eco-friendly choices in all aspects of our lives.
The Venice community is no stranger to Wabi on Rose, formerly known as Wabi Sabi, which was originally located on Abbot Kinney. In early 2015, Tricia Small and Sam Marshall took over Wabi Sabi, which was yearning for a transformation after 18 years in the neighborhood. They had a vision for the restaurant that consisted of simplicity and elegance, and in late 2015, "Wabi" was reborn.
Sam Marshall initiated the entire redesign, and he's worked with several other restaurants in the area such as Laurel Hardware, Gjelina, Ollo, Gjusta, and more.
The new owners didn't stop there either; after rebranding and redesigning the space, they brought on Conner Mitchell, owner of Dudley Market, and a new chef, Rain Pantana, to revamp and elevate the food and beverages.
Unfortunately, in 2018, a fire that was sparked by an electrical problem caused Wabi to burn, and the restaurant was closed. General manager Brent Moon stood amongst the rubble with his team and promised that the comeback of Wabi would be epic.
In April of 2020, owners Sam Marshall and Tricia Small secured a new lease on 512 Rose Ave, and inspired by that; they decided to rename Wabi Sabi to Wabi on Rose. They were working on final finishes when a new investor and business partner came into the picture, Rob Moore, who was also the former Paramount Pictures vice-chairman.
After surviving the gutting of their restaurant, you would think it would be smooth sailing after that; however, the pandemic swept through the state right at the time of Wabi's reopening, announcing forced closures of dine-in restaurants. In an interview, Rob Moore explains that the team immediately jumped into positive action, rehiring members of the team who worked at the original location so that they'd be prepared for dealing with anything that came their way.
"Compared to what they'd gone through, they were ready. There was never a moment of hesitation. They just immediately adapted and addressed how to open in an environment that would be safe for the well-being of everybody. We are, hopefully, providing people with something that helps them get through what is obviously an incredibly intense and unusual time," said Moore.
While the roller coaster for Wabi on Rose has been a lot, the response from the community was the biggest motivator for everyone on the team, and now Wabi on Rose is one of the best local sushi restaurants in Los Angeles.
Originally from Thailand, executive Chef Rain Pantana has established a reputation as one of the premier sushi chefs in Southern California. He came to the U.S in 1999, working as a cook and eventually working his way up the corporate management ladder at numerous restaurants before pursuing his dream to become a sushi chef.
In an interview, Chef Rain Pantana explains his journey of working with a famous sushi chef and how it helped him become who he is today.
"He opened my eyes about sushi; you can work with every single ingredient and incorporate a different culture and technique. I try to put all the flavors from Thailand together, bringing a new sushi-style. My favorite ingredients to use are all the fresh fruits, exotic vegetables, and herbs that come from South East Asia.
I think of sushi as an art. The way you arrange the plate, the dimensions, the colors of the fish, the fruit. the leaves, the flowers, I want people to experience that."
Chef Rain Pantana's approach to sushi and Japanese fare is creative and follows a formula similar to Nobu: small plates like crispy rice, rock shrimp, miso black cod, a few hot dishes, specialty rolls, and a la carte nigiri.
He takes great pride in sourcing fresh and local seafood, and hand-picking locally farmed and organic produce, making it a priority to always work with the seasons in order to create not only a delicious but also a sustainable experience for all the guests.
My first time at Wabi on Rose was nothing short of amazing. I'd heard from many friends that Wabi Sabi was incredible, so I had pretty high expectations.
I looked at photos of the original location, and it was incredibly vibrant; the owners had done a fantastic job renovating it; however, Wabi on Rose is a little oasis that gives exactly what it's supposed to give. It's lush and enclosed in greenery. Flowers are blossoming, and everybody is having a good time over colorful dishes and impeccable-looking drinks.
To kick things off, Wabi has a full bar, cocktails that will leave you incredibly indecisive, sake, wine, and beer. Their signature drink is a Wabi Spicy-Rita made with tequila, lime, orange, organic agave, fresno, and serrano chilies. This was the first cocktail I tried, and I subbed the tequila with Mezcal instead.
Mezcal has become a spirit of choice for many, including myself, especially if you're a little bit more health-conscious. It's the cleanest spirit on the market because of its traditional production process and because, by law, it must contain 100% agave as compared to other tequila, which needs only to be composed of 51% agave. If you're wondering what the other 49% is, it's typically cane sugar; however, most tequila brands aren't required to list their sugar sources.
Another popular drink at Wabi is their Oaxaca-Colada, which is Mezcal based, and made with lime, orgeat, aloe, pineapple, and cucumber. This cocktail is refreshing and my new personal favorite.
Ray Wicks, a mixologist at Wabi, says, "Mezcal has tones of earth, ash, smoke, wood…." Dudley Market owner and Wicks' colleague, Conner Mitchell, adds, "Basically when you drink Mezcal, you feel like you're being grounded on the inside. It's an incredible intoxicant."
If you're not a fan of cocktails, I'd highly recommend their Sancerre from Loire Valley; it's crisp and pairs perfectly with any of their dishes.
Drinks are prepared efficiently and with care, and then it's time to decide on your meal. Wabi offers a fantastic selection of starters, appetizers that are shareable, specialty rolls, proteins from their wood fire grill, as well as classic rolls, and sushi + sashimi.
If you have a gluten allergy or consume a vegan diet, they have you covered as several items are labeled as Vegan, Gluten-free, or both.
I'd highly recommend starting with edamame while you read through the menu; they offer it salted or with chili garlic, both are great, but the chili garlic is delicious.
As you scan the menu, you'll notice various options like blistered shishito peppers, crispy rice, seaweed salad, chicken karaage, crispy brussels sprouts, oysters, Spanish octopus, bluefin carpaccio, and you'll probably feel a little overwhelmed at how delicious everything sounds, and this is precisely why I'm here, to help you narrow down your options to a few personal favorites.
For starters, the Crispy Rice with spicy tuna, avocado mousse, eel sauce, and serrano chili is an absolute must. The rice is perfectly crispy, but not the kind that will scratch the roof of your mouth. The tuna is fresh, and the avocado mousse is perfection.
The Blistered Shishito peppers with bonito flakes, honey soy, and grated parmesan are the perfect appetizer to share, and if you're a fan of oysters, Wabi is the perfect place to get them.
Next up, try the Seared Toro. If you're a fan of eating high-quality food that melts in your mouth and is presented to you with gold flakes, you're not going to want to miss out on this. The toro also has black truffle, caviar, smoked soy, Maldon salt, and they always sprinkle seasonal fruit on top, adding a burst of flavor and freshness you'd never even consider prior to eating this meal.
When it comes to the special rolls, you'll notice they have new ones pop in seasonally, but the Feel The Rain with spicy bluefin tuna, shrimp tempura, yellowtail, spicy eel sauce is a staple, and I'd couple that with the infamous Rick James, which you'll see on almost every yelp photo online. It's made with crispy halibut that is the equivalent of melting butter on your tongue, spicy tuna, avocado, yellowtail, a tart, and delicious lemon aioli, a serrano to top it off.
This one will certainly have you dreaming of your next Wabi visit.
If you're vegan or gluten-free, there's a specialty roll called Greenie, which is made with avocado, seasonal veggies, balsamic reduction, almond, tamari, and lemon, and a Plant Base Shawty made with assorted veggies, lemon, and miso eggplant. Both are fantastic options, and both are tasty.
If you prefer simplicity when it comes to your sushi, opt for a classic roll or their nigiri. The classic spicy bluefin tuna made with cucumber and avocado was the first one I tried, and it was hands down one of my favorites. And, in terms of nigiri, I tried their bluefin tuna, yellowtail, and Japanese snapper and loved them all. They come in two pieces, perfect for sharing or perfect to eat all to yourself.
The next thing I'm planning on trying is Rain's Sashimi Garden which is an assortment of sashimi, and you get 17 pieces. I noticed several tables had this, so it's perfect for a larger group, or if you simply want more sashimi over sushi.
For all those out there who aren't the biggest sushi fans, don't worry because Wabi offers plenty of options from their Wood Fire Grill, such as Squash Skewers, Skirt Steak Skewers, and Jidori Chicken Skewers, which are glazed in mirin soy and made with charred pineapple, crispy rice pearls, and mint.
While I haven't tried the steak, their Japanese A5 Wagyu Ribeye is also notably popular, made with Noble tonic 05 XO and finishing with a dash of sherry vinegar.
If you're like me, you have to finish your meal off with something sweet. So as you're finishing off your second cocktail and feeling pleasantly full from your meal, check out their dessert menu, which consists of gluten-free Orange Ricotta Doughnut Holes, or Chef Sara's signature hand-made rose ice cream with raspberry almond cake, covered in a fresh vanilla meringue that is table-side torched with candied almonds and raspberry lychee elixir.
If that doesn't sound good, get one of their chocolate chunk cookies, which is vegan, and take it home with you for a late night treat.
One thing to keep in mind is that you almost always need reservations unless you're comfortable with sitting at a table on the sidewalk or waiting. Reservations that are made in advance get first dibs on tables inside and in the outdoor area they have.
The atmosphere at Wabi on Rose is fantastic, so you'll have an incredible time here, and if you're coming in the evening, there are plenty of heat lamps if you're worried about it being cold.
Finally, the part you've been waiting for: parking. Wabi on Rose doesn't have an allotted parking lot, but there is plenty of street parking within the neighborhood if you come a few minutes earlier and drive around the block.
With that being said, if you find yourself in Los Angeles, or more specifically, in Venice, and you're craving some incredible and sustainable sushi and seafood, check Open Table and snag a reservation. You won't regret this spot, and make sure to try their Oaxaca-Colada and crispy rice.
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