Rainbow roll

Photos by Bettina Monique Chavez 

Eight beckoning arms

Octopus is the place for sumptuous sushi treats

By Erica Wayne 02/17/2011

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Let’s start by saying that Octopus is a chain. And, to some folks, that’s a real turnoff. So, if you’re in that camp, you can stop reading right now. But, if you’ve been a fan of Kabuki since it was a unique East Pasadena mini-mall restaurant in the ’80s and still swear by it (as do we) despite the fact that it’s spawned 13 more locations, you’ll pardon Octopus for having eight arms (after all, what could be more fitting?) and give the closest one (in Glendale) a try.
 
The Glendale restaurant is located a stone’s throw away from the Galleria on Maryland Avenue. Its interior is masterfully designed, with high ceilings, cherry wood and natural stone accents and painted cherry blossoms on the walls. Bamboo shades veil huge glass windows on two sides of the restaurant with an enormous sushi bar taking up a third. If you look at their Web site (octopusrestaurant.com), you can see a slideshow of it and its siblings which show a strong familial resemblance. 
 
Of course, there are lots of nice-looking restaurants that serve pretty mediocre food: Octopus, I’m happy to report, is not one of them. Once you’re on the Web site, you’re treated to a number of headshots of their most beautiful creations. Click on “Chef’s Special Roll” for even more. They all look mouthwatering, but until you’ve actually ordered them, you’ve got to wonder if they’re just a little dolled-up for their close-ups.
 
Nope. We dined with another hungry couple and ordered a huge number of their 34 specialty rolls, each as pretty as the next with some real show-stoppers. We had a spectacular rainbow roll (seven kinds of fish wrapped around a California roll filling, $10.95); a sumo roll (tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado and crab, $9.50); a heart attack roll (spicy tuna, avocado and jalapeno topped with tempura crunch, $7.95); a snow roll (avocado, cream cheese and baked white fish, $9.95); a caterpillar roll (freshwater eel with avocado on top, $8.95); and a tempura roll (crab and fried shrimp, $7.95).
 
Purists might prefer their sushi a little less adorned. If so, almost everything you could wish for can be found on an adjacent menu page, including 28 basic items available for half-price (from $1.48 for a quail egg shooter to $2.98 for yellowtail belly). This is one of the most tempting reasons to choose Octopus over Kabuki, which retired its discount sushi (a major draw in its early days) once it got fat and happy. Another plus is Octopus’ preference for real crab rather than “krab.”
 
We couldn’t resist sharing a couple of hot dishes. Jumbo scallops and shrimp in garlic-butter sauce ($16.95) with mushrooms, asparagus and zucchini was wonderful, even if —unlike most other illustrated menu items — it wasn’t as ornate as its picture. The missing centerpiece, likely a plume of fried noodles or onion tendrils, was a disappointment, but the tender seafood and flavorful seasoning were not.
 
Chicken hibachi ($11.95) on a sizzling plate was tasty. A huge pile of bean sprouts made up the majority of the accompanying veggies; eating them made us feel virtuous after the huge amount of fried stuff. But I’d rather spend my money on some of the hot appetizers: kama (grilled yellowtail collar, $7.95), popcorn scallop (fried with wasabi mayo, $6.95), miso eggplant steak ($5.95) and shrimp shumai ($4.95).
 
There’s a full page of tempting soups and noodle dishes, too. Sukiyaki ($11.95), nabeyaki udon ($9.95), seafood yosenabe (with yam noodles, $9.95) and various ramen/sushi, soba and miso items are among them. The green tea mori soba served cold with a sweet soy dipping sauce and a side of shrimp and vegetable tempura ($10.95) really sounds delicious, and its photo is drop-dead gorgeous.
 
We looked over the relatively limited dessert list: ice creams and sorbets, tempura ice cream or bananas and an apple “tort” ($2.95-$5.95). Despite the appeal of eating a sweet that tells you up-front that it’s no damn good, we resisted and departed with a few pieces of uneaten rolls and some leftover sprouts for a next-day snack.
 
One major difference between the Kabuki chain and the Octopus restaurants is in the beverages: Kabuki has a full liquor license and features a number of premium spirits and a nicely annotated list of high-end sakes and shochu as well as some sake-based cocktails. Octopus concentrates on sakes, beer and wine.
 
Kabuki also offers a shave-ice dessert that, since a trip to Taiwan, has become a minor obsession. But if Tanqueray or a bowl of slush with fruit, ice cream and condensed milk aren’t a big draw and sushi (especially those big, over-the-top rolls) is what you’re hankering for, Glendale’s Octopus should do just fine. Their Web site has just announced the opening of a ninth location in Long Beach. Hope that doesn’t nix the half-price sushi!

Octopus
112 N. Maryland St., Glendale | (818) 500-8788
Beer, wine and sake
Major cards

 

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