Chopstick Chronicles: Kura Revolving Sushi Bar and Restaurant
Conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, also known as “kaiten” as they're known in Japan, are big business these days, and Kura revolving sushi bar on Sawtelle Blvd. in West Los Angeles is no exception.
One foot in the door is all it takes to tell Kura is a very unique restaurant. There’s a prize machine that spits out a toy if you order a lot of food, no host to take your name, and no menus to fiddle with while you decide on what you want to order. But most importantly, sushi is looping around on a conveyor belt.
Kura’s menu is derived from “washoku culture,” or traditional Japanese recipes, and has dozens of items including sushi (nigiri and rolls), tempura, ramen, udon, dumplings, even desserts like mochi and banana tempura. To drink, the restaurant serves sake, Japanese beer, green tea, and sodas.
How does it all work? From your seat, you can either carefully grab a plate of sushi (with a special domed lid designed to keep it fresh) off of the unceasingly moving conveyor belt, or input an order into a touch panel located above the table, which is then sent down another conveyor belt straight to you. Normal revolving sushi goes on one lane, and the direct order ones go on the other. Whenever you order something from a touch screen panel, your item comes directly to your table on the express lane. It’s quite an experience to have. As the plates trundle by making its rounds on this infinite loop, they’re preceded by little signs, that announce the name of two or three rolls that follow like “Spicy Tuna Crunchy,” “Real Crab California,” “Shrimp Avocado” and so forth. Once you’ve eaten your food, drop your finished plates into a slot on the table.
There’s a system that keeps track of the number of empty plates you drop in and displays the count on the touch screen. (You’ll probably want to keep an eye on this number—each sushi plate is priced at about $2.75 and contains two to three pieces of sushi, so it’s easy to try new things but also easy to rack up a small fortune.) For each series of five plates, the screen lights up with an animated video, and if you reach 15 plates, you get a little prize capsule from the Bikkura Pon machine above the sushi bar.
Bikkura translates as “a surprise” and is also a humorous play on words as it contains the word “restart,” which is Kura in Japan. The “Pon” suffix basically means “bulk dispenser.” In other words, it’s a bulk prize dispenser.
How is the sushi? The truth is, it varies. There are about a half-dozen variations of the California roll, covered in a range of items and several permutations of a creamy or sweet sauce. There are gunkan-maki, little lozenge-shaped sushi that usually consist of the best bites available. The shrimp avocado roll which is comprised of a dollop of avocado draped with slices of glossy raw shrimp was particularly palatable. The ingredients run and swirl elegantly together amplifying each other's flavor. The volcano roll, which was a savory selection laced with flavors accented by a faintly fiery note, topped with a drizzle of sriracha sauce for a vividly bold and spicy flavor was supremely scrumptious. The gourmet mixture of cucumber, cream cheese, BBQ eel, avocado, spicy crab, and masago cavier that combine to create the Osaka roll is a sushi lovers dream come true.
Other items didn’t fare so well: The blue crab roll appeared to have tasted slightly off putting and left much to be desired, while the golden crunchy role although possessing a mildly striking appearance, tasted surprisingly unappetizing.
Perhaps the most unique item ordered during this dining experience was an order of Warabimochi. Known for its glutinous jelly-like texture and subtly sweet flavor, this pleasingly sweet confection made from bracken starch dredged and dusted with sweet roasted soybean flour, is a tantalizing treat unlike anything else. You'll have to taste it to believe it.
Whether you walk away with a tiny trinket or not, the interactive nature of dining here — with the colorful, constantly moving sushi, the pinball parlor ambience, and that sweet, computerized Japanese woman’s voice that occasionally announces an item — is sure to put a smile on your face. Kura is worth a visit, easy on the pocket, and will definitely have you returning for more.
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