SauceSupreme | Sep 29, 200710:35 AM     6

By confirmation, there were maybe close to a dozen people going. Then with the tenuous status of Musha being closed or open hanging over everyone's heads, the Declined list grew. First one, then two and three. By the time I arrived for my reservation at Musha last night, only three others would be dining with me in the tatami room. Such cavernous confines, you would think, would allow for the four of us to have a peaceful, quiet, zen-like evening.

The problem is, the four of us are all Chowhounds, and so dishes were passed around but not as much as the amount of sake.

We opened with the CHEESE TOFU. Served in a small crock and paired with honey, slices of bread and crackers, it has the innocuous appearance of being the izakaya version of rolls in the center of the table. But the combination of two kinds of cheese gave the tofu a nice sour element, akin to yogurt. It went really well with a small drizzle of honey.

Then the SPICY TUNA ON CRISPY RICE CAKE. I'd seen this ordered before, and have always enjoyed just noshing on the rice crispies.

Then the kakuni, or better known as PORK BELLY. Still quite delicious, it's not as great as it's been in the past, but with the recent struggles the space has been having to simply be open (last night they had a C rating), I'll give them a pass on this one.

Then the PUMPKIN CROQUETTES. Fried perfectly, the interior was soft and still had a great sweetness to it. It was paired with something that might remind some of "fry sauce", a thousand island-type dipping sauce that had togarashi instead of pickles. This gets my vote for best of the evening.

Because of the perfect fry on those croquettes, we struggled to understand why the MUSHA FRIED CHICKEN came out so poor. It was by far the worst of the evening, its skin was soggy and pale colored. The fry oil had gotten too cold. I kind of wish I had passed on this dish because so much more were coming.

We then did a rice pairing, one of the RISOTTO and the other of the TAKANA MESHI. This was a great study in contrast, as the very rich, creamy risotto went toe-to-toe with the fried Korean-style rice. The takana meshi had superior texture and depth of flavor, but I have to admit there was something really comforting about that risotto. It wasn't that an entire wheel of cheese was grated onto it, but rather the cheese itself gave the dish an velvety Rice-A-Roni flavor to it. Don't ask me why I liked it -- there was something kind of nostalgic about cheese powder in a packet, transporting me back to my days in college hovering over an electric stove in the communal kitchen. Snapping back to earth, the takana meshi had lots of great flavors, highlighted by pickled seaweed and onions. In the end, complexity wins the day but dammit I'll be ordering that risotto again. (I highly encourage doing a similar rice "pairing" to see what I'm talking about.)

We closed the show with a bowl of SOMEN noodles. Thin, vermicelli like strands of noodles perfumed with a hint of sesame oil, I thought I wouldn't have room for this dish after all the plates that had come before, but it was light enough where I could still enjoy it.

Throughout the meal we shared decanters of the house sake as well as bottles of my favorite nigori (unfiltered) sake, Sayuri.

Final tally: eight shared plates, four bottles of sake (I'm now hilariously realizing that we had enough to EACH have a bottle of sake), tax and tip came out to $35 a piece. Zen, it seems, would have to wait for a different crowd.

424 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401

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