Along with delis and era-appropriate health food restaurants, modest Japanese restaurants were a staple of our hamisheh restaurant eating in late 1970s and early 80s Los Angeles. The regular rotation included Aoi on First Street (still there), Kuishimbo on Wilshire and Wilton (moved to 6th and Catalina), Feast from the East when my dad's friend ran it, and Benibasha on Olympic and Norton, with its awesome jukebox. (After we saw Grease at a Hollywood movie theater, I was thrilled to find "You're the One That I Want" included among the machine's killer choices of late 70s pop hits.)
My sister was the adventurous one when we ate out, and an unusually young raw food enthusiast. Few single-digit aged kids ordered steak tartare at Chasen's or asked their mom to bring home a dozen oysters from Phil's Phresh Fish. I stuck to the tried and true. I'd eaten more chicken teriyaki and tempura combos by age 10 than I care to count.
When a simple Japanese restaurant and sushi bar called Saba-Ya opened its doors near Kuishimbo on Wilshire and Wilton in the early 80s, our family went there a lot, in part because Alison's seemingly endless appetite for the sashimi, and friends owned a women's clothing store in the same strip mall. The sushi chef and owner was an affable Japanese gentleman who warmly welcomed us to the bar, where he'd ply my sister with his product. I wanted to want to eat those delicate slices of translucent raw fish, but in reality, I found sushi revolting. Cucumber rolls were fine, but raw tuna itself made me gag. Literally. In front of the nice sushi guy. Classy!
After a few years the main chef was no longer at Saba-Ya. We remained regulars anyway, but got word he'd opened a new joint across the street, tucked in the back corner of the slick two-story strip mall that also featured an exciting new take-out place called El Pollo Loco. Apparently the other sushi bar was a step up from Saba-Ya. So one afternoon my dad and I poked our heads in to scope it out; the light stained wood paneled room was beautiful, and still remains in my limited experience the paragon of less-is-more impeccable Japanese taste, but we couldn't spot a menu anywhere. Plus it was filled with seriously serious businessmen, and the hushed sound level was intimidatingly serene.We then read how a sushi chef named Masa Takayama who's run a little restaurant called Saba-Ya operated THE most expensive restaurant in Los Angeles located in a Koreatown strip mall. It also happened to be Marlon Brando's favorite. Suddenly the situation made sense, and Ginza Sushi-Ko soon after relocated to Beverly Hills.
Arado doesn't exactly retain the luster of its previous tenant. But it's good for sharing an easy lunch and stories with the kids, and using nostalgic reflection as consolation for not eating at Masa any time soon. Who knows, maybe he'll want to revisit his humble L.A. roots someday.