Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Hump - 02/05/2008

3221 Donald Douglas Loop S. 3rd Fl
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Of the many Los Angeles sushi restaurants none is as polarizing as The Hump. Named after aviation slang for the Himalayas, the restaurant is aptly located at Santa Monica Airport. Supporters claim it serves the freshest most innovative sushi anywhere in LA. Detractors decry the astronomically high prices and dubious waitstaff despite enjoying the food. Even the location can be a point of contention, granted an airport isn't a standard place to house a high-end sushi restaurant. Given the high level of controversy, I had to try the restaurant and decide for myself.

My friends and I arrived late, one of the unavoidable consequences of living 40 miles away. By the time we got there the restaurant was half empty and the remaining tables were finishing up. Naturally my friends and I went omakase, in general most of the omakase reviews I read were pretty positive.

01 Uni and Tofu Skin
Nothing about this dish was impressive. Texturally, there was way too much liquid and the uni looked and felt spongy. In terms of flavor, the sauce was too mild and the tofu skin had the flavor of well... tofu. Worst of all the uni didn't have its characteristic rich brine.

02 Appetizer Plate - Tomato in Vinegar, Brined Vegetables, Braised Octopus Tentacle, Sawagani Crab, Roast Duck
The meal did improve somewhat after our first course. The tomato in vinegar was surprisingly good, the peeled tomato had a rough yet yielding texture with a sweet and tangy burst of flavor. The brined vegetables were not quite as impressive as the tomato but fair. The braised octopus tentacle was fairly soft, unsurprising given the cooking style, the flavor reminded me of the way my mom does it at home. The Sawagani crab is a cute miniature crab, as always I am hard pressed to find much flavor, its just fun to eat an entire crab in one bite. The duck was okay but certainly nothing compared to duck at most fine dining establishments.

03 Conch Soup
I just dont get the appeal of conch soup, perhaps the type of broth they use, its just too herbal and earthy for my tastes. Add to that the heat makes the conch meat tough and the black unidentified organs are something of a turnoff as well. I had this dish once at Bluefin and I wasn't looking forward to drinking it again. It did have a very cool presentation with a flaming rock that popped and crackled.

04 Fugu Sashimi and Skin - with Ponzu
After my first experience with fugu years ago, I have been trying to find another place that serves it. When I went to Urasawa I asked if he served fugu, but apparently it is illegal to serve in LA, although chefs to dry to smuggle some in to serve to regular customers. The fact the Hump serves blowfish was the deciding factor in choosing to try the restaurant. We were served two styles of fugu, sashimi and the skin. The skin had an interesting texture, extremely firm, but not brittle, the surface of the skin was rough and had a very satisfying abrasive feel. The flesh looked and tasted very much like what I remember, but I did not feel the characteristic burn of the poison which was the main reason I came here.

05 Toro Tartare - with Scallions, Daikon, Garlic chips, Soy and Miso Sauce
Probably the most popular course among my two dining companions. I was not that impressed, the toro wasn't particularly fatty and in general I like toro to keep its original texture and flavor. The fish is prized for its delicate texture and oiliness. What is the point of grinding the fish up and serving it mixed with sauce. The course was good just not how I like my toro.

06 Live King Crab - served Simply Grilled and with Truffle Ponzu Sauce
We saw them cutting up this crab from afar and it looked huge. This is the first time I can remember having fresh King Crab legs. As one would expect the meat was sweet and came out of the shell with little or no resistance. Delicious flavor and brilliant texture my only complaint was this was the last of our savory courses, I would have preferred less crab and say some nigiri... I mean we were at a sushi restaurant.

07 Dessert - Chocolate Cake, Raspberries, Sorbet and Ice Cream
I know I just said it but this bears repeating, how did I go from crab to dessert, I don't think its unreasonable for a sushi restaurant to serve some sushi. A truly uninspired dessert. The cake was overly hard, I could wash raspberries myself and the ice cream and sorbet felt like they had melted and refrozen, far too many ice crystals.

Overall I tend to side with the detractors. Actually I don't even think the food is particularly good let alone spectacular. This might have been influenced by the fact I didn't actually get any nigiri and 5 paltry slices of sashimi, I thought I was at a sushi restaurant, what gives. My theory is that the waitstaff particularly the chefs, just wanted us out. By the time we were on our second course we were the only people in the restaurant. Rather than take the time to serve us a complete meal they rushed us out right after the crab.

This leads to the second main criticism of the restaurant, the prices are insanely high. Believe me I am no stranger to high prices, see my earlier posts on French Laundry, or Robuchon. I honestly believe the 300+ I paid for Urasawa was a bargain. The problem with the prices at the Hump is the value does not justify the costs. This is the first time I can remember leaving a high end restaurant where I felt the proprietors are just greedy.

I feel there is absolutely no reason to come to the Hump. If you want good sushi, go to Sushi Zo, if you want good Kaiseki and sushi and are feeling spendy, go to Urasawa. Actually perhaps I should revise that since I didn't actually get sushi here. If you want to go to a Sushi restaurant that actually serves sushi go to Sushi Zo and if you are in the mood for some cooked dishes as well as sushi try Urasawa. If you want to throw money away for no conceivable return the Hump will welcome you with open arms.


ChuckEats said...

Thanks for the review. I've had this on my list for awhile but it's very hard to try a new place "down there" when Urasawa is nearby.

The food does not look even close to Urasawa's quality (ingredients nor preparation) - I'll scratch it off the list.

Tangbro1 said...

Hey Chuck,

Honestly the food isn't up to par. I saw your Urasawa reviews. I am extremely impressed with the breadth of your food experience and hope to have a list as respectable as yours one day.

I especially liked the comparison between Masa and Urasawa.