I got a tip from Hiro of Cafe Hiro in Cypress that some of his former co-workers at Matsuhisa had left and opened their own restaurant in West Hollywood called Wa Restaurant. Hiro advised me to wait a few weeks so they could work out the bugs, but this week I finally decided it was time to try the place. Wa is located on the second floor of a building on La Cienega (between Sunset and Santa Monica, east side of La Cienega, next to the 7-11). It's really easy to overlook this place - there is no sign yet on the building or in the windows, just a neon "open" sign.
The place is rather small, with a sushi bar that seats 10-12 patrons and maybe 6-8 tables. The view from the restaurant is great and would be incredible it that damn Sgt. Jury billboard wasn't blocking the view to the west. Behind the bar is a stove, deep fryer and other pro kitchen gear so you can watch the chefs at work on the cooked dishes as well. Three chefs work the bar (TT, Hiro, and another gent whose name I didn't get), and they all are former Matsuhisa chefs. All of the clientele were there due to word of mouth - most were devoted followers of the chefs and had followed them from Matsuhisa to Wa.
After ordering a large Asahi ($6), I was handed a menu, which mainly listed appetizers (the server explained that they were still working on the menu). I decided to start with ankimo, and my sushi chef, Hiro, asked if I would like it prepared the traditional way (with ponzu sauce) or the special way. I opted for the special, which turned out to be a foie gras-like preparation with the monkfish liver stacked between slices of sauteed apple - delicious and rather sweet.
From there it was omakase for me - Hiro started me off with abalone nigiri with a special abalone sauce (thick and brown with a musky flavor); followed by thin, tender slices of squid in ponzu; rich, fatty salmon topped with salt crystals; tai (red snapper) sashimi topped with salmon eggs, caviar, radish and pink peppercorns accompanied with a mustard sauce; shiro maguro (albacore) sashimi in ponzu sauce and topped with slivers of red onion and daikon (very tender albacore with a butter-like consistency); Japanese scallop nigiri - perhaps the best scallop sushi I've ever had; engawa (halibut dorsal fin) prepared two ways - a simple nigiri with salt crystals and chopped up with green onion; and Hiro's special eel roll to end the meal - baked eel with shiso leaf in a roll coated with bonito flakes. I enjoyed everything immensely except for the eel roll, which I felt was a little bland - a bit of a disappointment as I had asked Hiro to finish with his piece de resistance.
My description probably misses a dish or two - the duration of my meal I was engulfed in conversation with the couples on either side of me or the chefs or busy watching the chefs put together a wide variety of creative dishes. Hiro made an entirely different meal for the couple next to me, and at times we lustily eyed each other's dishes. I noticed that the chefs prepared a few items by searing the fish with a propane torch (most notably, the TT roll, which a couple customers requested).
The total for my meal without tip was about $70 - about $50 for food and $12 for beer, not including tax. Each item averaged less than $6, which is quite reasonable considering that dishes similar to the tai and shiro maguro sashimi would probably go for $12 or more at Matsuhisa. While the chefs can make very good traditional sushi, the best thing to do here is to try their own unique offerings, which are very creative and inspired. Wa is an excellent alternative to Matsuhisa, if you like that style of sushi, and it is much easier to get a seat at the bar or a table here - although I worry that won't be the case in a few months after the word gets out and they finally put up a sign.
While they tried doing lunch hours for a short time, right now they are only serving dinner from 5:30 to midnight (didn't hear if they were closed any particular days). This area of Hollywood badly needed a great sushi restaurant, and Wa fills that need exceptionally well.
1106 N. La Cienega Blvd. #201 (btwn Sunset and Santa Monica)