I’d been hearing about Fiish, a new restaurant in Culver City serving dry-aged sushi, but wasn’t paying much attention until I tasted dry-aged whole branzino at the haute Mexican restaurant Damian last fall. It was an epiphany, so I knew I had to get to Fiish pronto. Talk about a revelation: dry aging enables sustainably farmed fish to surpass the taste of fresh fish and improves the wild-caught. Bonus: socially conscious and delectable.
“We knew that we had to break with the Japanese way of sourcing fish,” says chef Colin Whitbread, who describes himself as a “sushi pirate,” since he’s not Japanese but a “white guy behind a sushi bar.”
“We knew a couple of things going in. Fresh fish is being depleted and can’t be sustained, but farmed fish has been terrible,” says the surfer chef. He and his crew were right about the first but wrong about the second.
“We discovered properly run fish farms in Mexico and Europe and began to buy from them,” he added. Many Japanese restaurateurs and fish purveyors are aghast, but Whitbred shrugs. “It’s a problem that has to be faced. This is the solution and the future.”
Besides being one of the restaurants leading the charge for dry aging fish, Fiish has subtly tweaked other treasured sushi traditions. The space, located in the shopping center Platform LA, is larger than most sushi restaurants, but the clever design makes it feel as comfortably compact as familiar sushi spots. The interior is appropriately simple, with clean lines and muted colors, carried into the generous outdoor space. However, the restaurant keeps time-honored sushi offerings on its menu, banning rolls slathered with mayo and other American additions.
Guests are greeted by manager Sam Hatley and chef Whitbread, who despite his muscular build and tattoos, wields knives in a delicate dance as he slices each whole fish into bite-sized morsels. They are also happy to take patrons into the back where whole fish, hung from hooks in a specially made refrigerator, is aging.
Hatley, a charming Australian, helps first-timers and regulars with the cocktail list including the refreshing Gold Fish Sabe Gold Rum with yuzu and honey ($17) and the wine list, carefully chosen to compliment the fish. He recommended Santa Barbara’s Tatomer Vandenberg Riesling ($16) and Stirm Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands ($16). The pinot noir was a better option than the heavier wine we first tried.
The Omakase Tasting menu (a vegan version is offered) starts with miso soup that is a bit spicy; unlike other versions, which are comforting, but dull. The individual portions of fish follow, each artfully presented. Dry aging transforms salmon from merely silken to sublime. It’s hard to imagine that fish can be so improved by a simple process, but each piece of sushi proves the benefits of aging.
The team uses various sauces and oils to bring out the flavors of the sushi. The Striped Bass in smoked olive oil is a stellar example of their innovations. The restaurant is nigiri focused but includes a la carte offerings of tuna, striped bass, albacore and kanpachi rolls, sashimi, or entrees. Wild-caught fish is indicated as well as the farms where endangered fish is sourced.
Fiish has been booked solid at both lunch and dinner since opening. It delights on many levels with eye-opening sushi, well-chosen drinks and wine, and personal satisfaction in preserving our ecosystems.
8820 Washington Blvd, Culver City
Tuesday and Wednesday
Lunch: 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Dinner: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Thursday through Saturday
Lunch: 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Dinner: 5 p.m. – late
Closed Sunday and Monday
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