Eatery - Sushi at the Venetian (CA)

1421 N State College Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92806
Pricing - $/$$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Sushi, Japanese

Remember on Facebook a few days ago when I said that we were going to be going somewhere a little out of the norm for dinner? Some people thought we meant we were going to a different part of town but that wasn't quite it. Try this on for size: sushi in a strip club. Nigiri with nudies. Tuna with TandA. A place where Heartbreaker and One Night Stand are both the names of menu items and potential products of the environment. And yet, the result of our evening with Chef "Sushi" Dave was a good one. By the way, if you're wondering why our pictures are so washed out, blame the direct light we needed in that dark establishment in order to see anything at all!

We had first met Chef Dave at the Riviera's "To Live and Dine" event where we tasted a sample before taking home a bottle of his jalapeno sauce (used later for a jalapeno cream sauce with roasted chicken - set to be distributed 9/23/13!). He explained afterward that his sushi bar was in a strip club so curious, we went. It must have been a rare time in history though because here I was being the one trying to get Duc to go (girlfriend persuading her boyfriend to go to a strip club? crazy!). However, we later learned that this wasn't so uncommon when it came to Dave's fish - a lot of his regulars are husband & wife duos who come for a good time with good food. As for how he ended up in this type of place for his type of craft, it just happened to be a defunct upper bar with the perfect measurements for his sushi set-up. Now it's the main attraction at the Venetian.

You don't necessarily have to see the girls if you don't want to. Once you walk in, you could take the direct elevator to your right and go up to the sushi bar (don't look in the mirrors either). However, we took the stairs because no one was out on the floor, and we wanted to see the lay of the land. The upstairs dining area had some privacy from the dancers below though the poles did run up to the ceiling for more talented dancers. The ladies, unfortunately for some, were not permitted upstairs though as they might "bother" guests while they are dining. By the way, there's a cover charge but if you reach out to Chef Dave himself (find him on Facebook), he can send over passes.

We snagged two seats at the 10-seat sushi bar and looked around at all the other tables which were empty at our early hour but guaranteed to fill up quickly. He placed the capacity at approximately 70 guests and noted that it's usually all reserved. In fact, it's hard to get in without a reservation. Like any dedicated sushi chef, he absolutely knew all of his regulars and what they liked eating, even making special orders for them sometimes and holding those cuts for their arrival. For us, we started off with the Garlic Edamame ($6 - soybeans sauteed with minced garlic, chili oil, and soy sauce) which were fantastically garlicky and fiesty in spiciness. It's not a dish you use your hands on because of the sauce. A plate of Cajun Seared Albacore Sashimi ($14 - with avocado, baby spinach, and garlic chips finished with a spicy ponzu sauce) was next and definitely something to crave. The albacore was tender enough to nearly split as I picked it up with my chopsticks, and the contrast between crunchy garlic chips and soft fish was pleasant.

It seemed like a hand torch was one of his favorite kitchen utensils as we saw him take it to the tops of rolls frequently. Keep in mind where you are when you dine here and the clientele to appeal to - you will find that rolls make up the majority of the menu but don't judge prematurely. They're fairly good, and Dave's 20+ years of sushi experience is apparent. You might have seen him before at his own restaurant three years ago in downtown Fullerton or at Ten Asian Bistro or the Newport Beach Marriott (where he trained under the tutelage of a strict Japanese chef) or wherever else he's been. If there's one thing you can count on, his sushi talents have gotten around.

Our torched roll was the Seared Yellowtail and Jalapeno Roll ($15 - crab, cucumber, and avocado topped with yellowtail and thinly sliced jalapenos lightly seared with a torch and finished with a spicy ponzu sauce). The wuss I am, I removed the slices from the tops of the rolls but their heat had already been burnt into the flesh and gave a spicy kick to each bite. His signature jalapeno sauce also added to the flames. We chased the buzz down with his Baked Green Mussels ($10 - New England mussels topped with crab, spicy aioli, and eel sauce) which were quite sweet and a tad heavy on the mayo from the crab.

A half and half plate of the Salmon Lime Roll ($15 - crab and avocado topped with salmon and thinly sliced lime lightly seared with a torch and finished with ponzu sauce) and the Yella Yella Roll ($15 - cajun seared albacore, crab, and avocado topped with Sushi Dave's garlic sauce and green onions, served with a side of ponzu) graced us next. Both had a little tartness from their own citrus accompaniments, but I preferred the latter of the two for its more tender fish. Seared salmon is not always my thing. Quite possibly our favorite roll for the night was the Spicy "Domo" Roll ($15 - shrimp tempura, crab, and avocado topped with spicy tuna and crunchies finished with green onion, sweet soy sauce, and spicy mayo). It's a mouthful both in ingredients and in taste but we absolutely enjoyed it for the medley of textures and incorporation of tuna with shrimp tempura. Lastly, we gazed at how skillfully Chef Dave thinly skinned a cucumber enough to make a wrapper out of it. His artful motions ended up producing his Venetian Lollipop (tuna, yellowtail, salmon, crabmeat and avocado wrapped in a cucumber peel), a colorful mash of various fish rolled up in a refreshing, crisp package. The skewers made them easy to pop in our mouths quickly.

All said and done, it was definitely a unique and surprising night that surpassed our initial expectations. We can't hide the fact that we were skeptical about raw fish in a strip club but Chef Dave turned us around. Sourced from the same purveyors in the LA fish market as many other restaurants, the product is quite fair and his care shown in each motion (I even watched him deftly paint someone's sashimi with sauce and a flat wooden pick). I asked about pushback on any menu changes he was expecting to make but he happily pointed out that his regulars don't even order from the menu; they just go omakase when they come in. We're looking forward on coming back, and hey, if you manage to get a reservation and try to become a regular at this sushi bar, don't be late. That's the quickest way for him to knock you off his list!

Photography by Duc Duong.