I'm glad I heard about Musha in Santa Monica on Chowhound, because it's hard enough to keep up with restaurants east of Beverly Hills. Musha is a cute, tiny Izakaya style restaurant on Wilshire near 5th. An Izakaya is a Japanese pub, but Musha's dishes are lighter, healthier and more contemporary than the typical Izakaya dishes, which are more like the Japanese version of fried zucchini sticks and other "bar food." Sakes, beer and wine are available, and a full dessert menu.
The food: We tried four dishes, which wasn't really enough for three people, but we had been snacking at the Independent Spirit Awards party, so we weren't starved. Our selections were nasu kani, Japanese eggplant stuffed with crab; green beans salad; tofu salad with sesame dressing and tuna poke, similar to the Hawaiian dish of raw ahi and seaweed. Each was light and refreshing with a distinctive sauce, especially the bacon/peanut dressing on the green beans.
Green bean salad with peanut dressing
It was a very light meal, though -- portions are miniscule and you have to read the menu carefully to find more substantial plates. I'm looking forward to returning for the spicy tuna dip with rice cakes, the signature octopus, leek and red ginger omelette and the crispy grilled salmon, rice and shiso pyramid. And the maple creme brulee, and the green tea parfait.
The room: It's fun to get one of the tatami rooms in the back, which are comfy and secluded. There are only a dozen or so tables up front, so it's probably best to reserve. We lucked out though, with a parking place in front and a tatami room on Saturday night with no reservation.
The service: Service is attentive and friendly, even if you're hidden in tatami room. But check your bill carefully -- two bowls of miso soup we didn't order appeared on ours. Total was $40 for two beers, tea and four small plates.
424 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401