During the late 80s to the 90s, The Sunset Strip was the place to party in Los Angeles. There were famous upscale Roxy club, The Whisky and The Viper room – the infamous rock ‘n roll joint where River Phoenix died. When I started working at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi, there was still The Whisky, Sunset Trocadero Lounge, Rainbow Bar & Grill, and then some newcomers like House of Blues and Saddle Ranch Chop House, for the Urban Cowboy wannabes. What used to The Roxy was now a big Japanese restaurant called Miyagi’s.
One and the only Caucasian chef, Tom, was working couple times a week at the sushi bar. None of us liked Tom because he was not really a sushi chef and did not understand the Japanese working ethics. I despised him because he did not seem to care about the craft. He just wanted to make some extra cash to support his dance career. I knew how hard it was to make a living as a professional dancer because I met so many dancers at College I attended. It was a small private art college called California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, just thirty miles north of Los Angeles. The school is one of the few schools in the United States that offers dance program. I had met some dance majors while at CalArts, and they told me how hard it would take a miracle to get a job as a dancer. They said that most of the jobs are for music videos, concert tours and shows in New York City or Las Vegas. There really is not such thing as Full-time dance jobs out there. So, they spent most of their time doing some part-time job, or some odd jobs so that they can do go auditions for a chance to get a one time gig.
Tom told us that he used to work at Miyagi’s.
“Oh, the sushi there is really terrible. But, girls are really pretty. On weekends, the place is packed and full of gorgeous looking girls dancing and ordering at the sushi bar.”
We did get occasional nice looking girls at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi, but what Tom told us, sounded better work environment for a single male sushi chef like us, however, if you were a serious about your craft, which all of us were, working at Miyagi’s did not sound so attractive.
According to Tom, Miyagi’s had several sushi bars and some were round shaped, like a huge donut. Each station can hold one or several sushi chefs and people would come and order there. Because each of three floors had sushi bars, it sounded like a nightmare just to keep track of all the fish inventories.
“Are there any Japanese chefs at Miyagi’s?” Toshi asked.
“No, all American chefs.”
We have no idea where Tom picked up the sushi chef skills. He was hired by Saito-san and Toshi objected first, but the owner said it’s good to have a diversity with a Caucasian chef behind the sushi bar was a plus, giving a good impression, welcoming novice customers. In other words, the owner wanted to attract amateurs.
Aside from Tom’s (lack of) skill as a sushi chef, Tom was, at a minimum, friendly and talkative to the customers at the bar. When all Japanese chefs, in some ways looked down on customers who only ordered rolls, Tom took good care of patrons who only knew about inside-out American rolls, because, that was what he knew how to make. Tom also knew that inside-out roll eaters loved Sauces – Spicy Mayo Sauce, Sweet Teriyaki sauces and lots of colorful decorations with colored fish eggs sprinkled over the Tempura fried roll. The sauce was the big hit with many of Tom’s customers, and they all said, “This is Soooo Good!”
One of the specials Tom came up, or we thought he saw someone else make at a restaurant he worked before, was Forest Fire – Spicy Tuna on Top and Albacore inside, with some Ponzu and Scallions. Saito-san decided to put that on the menu and it was an instant success. We figured it was the naming. A Japanese sushi chef would never come up with a name like Forest Fire for a special roll, yet, Tome, because he was a native English speaker and Caucasian, he knew what many Caucasian customers would be attracted to. I have to admit that I did learn something from Tom, though, I disliked him.
All of us realized that; we should at least acknowledge Tom’s talent in some ways. Still, his lack of personal hygiene like showing up unshaved, dirty uniform, messy work stations, not knowing how to prep, nor make nigiri properly was a disadvantage and again, most importantly, lack of enthusiasm and motivation we felt did not help.
At MIyagi’s, Tom told us that, they could hold two hundred, three hundred customers easily. We could seat seventy customers at the most, which sounded so small compared to Miyagi’s.
When Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi started, it was the first Japanese restaurants on the Sunset Strip at the time and also, one of the first rock ‘n roll sushi bars in LA after the famous California Beach in Hermosa Beach.