What do food-blogging, Superman and set theory have in common? Read on...
The last time I went to Musha, it was at their Santa Monica location and there was too much food for the size of our teeny tiny table. This time, Isaac and I went to their Torrance location and were almost in danger of not having enough food on our gigantic table. Huh?
The only way I can halfway decently explain this is that the two Mushas must, in fact, be Bizarro twins. What are those, you ask? Well, it's all related to a man in blue tights.
You know, Superman wasn't only responsible for making us drool over that manly body wrapped up in red panties and blue tights, but the comic strip itself was also responsible for bringing forth the whole concept of the Bizarro World in which Lex Luthor created awkward duplicates of Superman and his buddies. If the Superman Bizarro world doesn't ring a bell, then surely you must remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine's new boyfriend and pals were strangely reminiscent of Jerry and his cronies. But however alike they were, Bizarro Jerry and friends were different all the same. Bizarro Jerry and buddies looked oddly like the originals, but whereas the originals were comfortable with each other's shallowness, their alter-egos were well read and considerate. Different--but the same. The same--but different. You get the picture.
The two Musha Bizarro twins were no exception: the two restaurants are imperfect clones of one another and able to exist independently within their own parallel universes, otherwise known as Santa Monica and Torrance. It was a Wednesday evening when several of us Southern California food bloggers left whatever world we normally call home and crossed over into the Bizarro Musha land of Torrance.
The fifteen-or-so of us were seated at the huge table that sits smack dab in the middle of the restaurant. We were all given menus but none of us looked at them right away; I, for one, was too busy chatting with all the wonderful personalities I had around me. Isaac and I brainstormed with Steve of Gastrologica and wife as well as Jonah of l.a.foodblogging and wife as to where the next blogger get together should be. We got some 411 about Mr.EatDrink&BeMerry's Japan trip and Ms. BoLA's upcoming high school reunion. We did some major catching up with our friend and recently turned food blogger, Mr. DietChiliCheeseFries of The Random Burrito. And as always, it's an absolute pleasure finally see the faces of the people you cyber-connect with on a regular basis: I asked Professor Salt of You Gonna Eat That? if he was a really a professor and had a great time talking food with him, his girlfriend and friend at the other end of the table. Now is he really a professor? Meet him yourself and find out. Ms. Colleen Cuisine, Jeni from Oishii Eats and I seemed like we'd been friends for longer than just an hour. And I am still a little star struck from meeting Eddie Lin of live octopus, beef pizzle, and balut eatin', deep end dining fame.
When I finally opened the menu, I noticed some Bizarro characteristics between Musha Torrance's menu and Santa Monica Musha's menu right away. The format and all-caps, Asian inspired font were the same. Like the Santa Monica menu, there was quite a bit of Engrish used to describe the dishes. But not all of the dishes were the same. The Torrance location does not serve green bean salad nor as big of a sashimi selection, for example, but it does serve certain dishes that the Santa Monica one doesn't serve like Eihire, or stingray fin cooked on a shirichin grill. Then, of course, their menus share many of the same dishes. The more I thought about ut, the more the whole situation reminded of a Venn Diagram--you know, those two intersecting circles we all used to draw in logic class with the shaded area in the middle to show where the two sets were similar. I just never knew back then that the two sets were in fact, Bizarro twins. If I had had the foresight to compare sets to Superman back then, maybe set theory would have been more interesting.
It will "take your mouth to the Asia"
As I mentioned earlier, there was quite a spacial and dimensional difference between the my experiences with both restaurants. 'Cause see, depending on which way you look at it, one of the restaurants is like the guy with the really big body and the really small head, and the other one is like the guy with the really small body and the really big head. Issac, DietChiliCheeseFries and I shared a bill and as usual, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs so we started ordering everything under the sun, many things which coincidentally lay on the specials menu on the outer, non-intersecting portion of this Bizarro Musha Venn Diagram. "One Fried Albacore Tuna Sashimi," I told our waiter. "Sorry, we are out of that tonight," he answered. OK, strike one. "OK, then how about the 'Tako' Octopus Ball?" "Heh heh, sorry we are out of that too." Hmm. "Uh, then do you have the Soyweed Roll?" "Oh soooory, we are out." Yeah, of course you are buddy. Strike three. Well gee, interestingly enough, we have a really, really big table on which to fit all the food that you don't have. Sooo much different than the other place where we had too much food, not enough space, wouldn't you say?
We also thought that the Kabocha pumpkin croquettes were part of the intersecting portion of the Bizarro Musha Venn Diagram, but apparently not. EatDrink&BeMerry's had them at the Torrance location before, a friend of mine's had them here before, and I know for a fact that they are part of Santa Monica's regular menu. This was total Bizarro Venn Diagram chaos and caused all of us upon seeing the word "Kabocha" on the menu to accidentally order the Kabocha Dip. It was all good though, the velvety light orange paste had both hearty and refreshing qualities to it. The Keebler Elf crackers served with the dip, however, needed to go as they broke apart so easily that they didn't work well for dipping at all.
This is what happens when you fail set theory
Our next few dishes did reside in the intersecting part of our Musha Venn Diagram. "M.F.C" or Musha's Fried Chicken is basically a cleverly named chicken karaage and much better tasting than anything the Colonel ever made. (Don't trip though, I do love me some KFC sometimes!) Because M.F.C is from Bizarro-land, it's certainly no surprise that it's not cut into nugget like chunks like your typical chicken karaage, but is more like one big sliced up chicken thigh instead. The wonderful almost milky-salty taste and crispy crunch that one always gets with their favorite chicken karaage is all there however and for that, M.F.C. isn't all that Bizarro.
No bucket for this chicken
Our tuna poke kind of resides on the very outer edge of the intersecting part of our circles because in Santa Monica, the poke is found on the Sashimi portion of the menu which Torrance simply does not have. Nevertheless, it is delicious at both locations. I love that poke is so multi-dimensional, and Musha's version is no exception. There are the flavors of salt, sesame, soy and chili working separately yet in unison; texturally, it's just as interesting: the crunchy texture of the ogo seaweed and scallions, the tender bite of the maguro tuna and the crispy crunch of rice cakes show that opposites do indeed attract.
The poke is okey-dokey!
We were also glad that like the Santa Monica location, the Torrance location offers Shirichin-grilled plates. Our favorite is the Tanshio, or grilled beef tongue, sliced thin and self-grilled on our shirichin grill until slightly crispy at the edges and enhanced with a few squirts of lemon and a few swipes in the salt and sesame based sauce. To my point about being the same but different however, there was plenty of room to grill this time around, which was way unlike our experience with Torrance's Bizarro Twin. And as always, Isaac found a way to make his food more interesting...uh, can you say sriracha on the beef tongue??? I think my fiance resides in the Bizarro world sometimes.
Look! TWO grills on the table...with room to spare!
Braised pork belly and all of its variations actually cross several worlds, making it a resident of a multi-cultural Venn Diagram intersection. Here at Musha, the tender meat braised in sweet gingery soy is called Buta Kakuni in Japanese but seems to shout "Hey yo, no color lines!" as it was served on one of those blue and white ceramic dishes that fill every Chinese family's cabinets. My parents would have put daikon chunks into the dish along with the soy-soaked boiled egg; these guys used potato as a bit more of a Western twist. Proving the dish's Bizarro- worthiness was its cilantro garnish which, though never welcome in my book, is understandable on Chinese food; being on a Japanese dish, however, is sheer insanity.
Wait, am I at my parent's house?
Speaking of crossing cultural universes, our "El Taco Rice" took the cake. Isaac and I thought it was intriguing because, well, it's kinda just like us--one big Latino-Asian Venn Diagram. The tostada salad-looking dish was surprisingly good. Seasoned ground beef garnished with cheese and chives sat atop warm steamed rice in a delicate but crunchy taco shell. Cool cabbage shreds dressed with some kind of kewpie mayo dressing and juicy tomatoes added a refreshing aspect to the fusion. "You think they used Lawry's seasoning on this?" DietChiliCheeseFries asked. And then it clicked and suddenly I was transported back to my college days: my roommates and I had the rice cooker going 24/7 and whatever we ate, whether it was something Asian like kalbi & kimchi or something not like Hamburger Helper or taco meat seasoned with instant taco seasoning packets, there was always some rice on the side. El Taco Rice brought those fond food memories back; except that for the $3.80 we paid at Musha for an appetizer sized portion, we were able to dish up huge plates of food for me and all my college homies.
Yo quiero taco rice
Though Musha Torrance was out of several items that evening, there were some pretty interesting dishes had by the rest of the group, some that live on the outer portions of the Bizarro World and others that coexist in the middle. There was a Baguette Gratin, a steamy, gooey hunk of baguette stuffed with scallop, cream and cheese and wrapped in foil shared by Professor Salt and friends down at the opposite end of the table. Jeni, BoLA and EDNBM shared a takotami, supposedly "Musha's Signature Dish", an omelette of sorts made with octopus, Tokyo leek, red ginger and tuna broth. After seeing Mr. & Mrs. Jonah of l.a.foodblogging's Ebi Yuba Shinjo, or shrimp dumplings wrapped in tofu skin, we were moved to order some of the cute little pouches for ourselves, but guess what? They had just run out. So needless to say, we didn't even try asking our waiter about the cool looking table-seared mackerel shared by Mr. & Mrs. Gastrologica.
Didn't want to be let down, so I just looked
Start the sappy piano music, because the cheesy moral of the story is: The whole Musha One and Musha Two experience was all-in-all Bizarro, but if you think about it, isn't life pretty Bizarro in itself? No, I'm not saying that we were all created by Lex Luthor's duplicating ray, but that while we are all so very different, we are all very much the same. The world is one big Venn Diagram, and Musha is just a wee part of it.
1725 Carson St., Suite B
Torrance, CA 90501