“Want to try Wokcano on Third Street with me?” I asked a fellow restaurant writer. “Sure, I’ve never tried it,” Gerry replied. I told her, “ Wokcano doesn’t only serve sushi and sashimi, they also serve marvelous Chinese food.”
The manager Aaron greeted me and led me to a table under a padded white wall. Since I was the first to arrive, I looked over the lunch menu and noticed that lunch special start at $7.50. I asked Aaron for some recommendations. “We are unveiling our new menu today,” he said. “We have a really nice seared salmon carpaccio.”
It arrived thinly sliced with a hint of white truffle and housemade ponzu sauce. On top was a sprinkle of caviar. As I picked up the coral colored fish with chopsticks and placed it in my mouth, I gasped, “This is so soft and luxurious.”
My friend Gerry arrived just as Aaron brought out his favorite dish, the black pepper beef mignon. Tender chunks of beef were quickly stir fried with onions and glazed with a rich black pepper sauce. He also brought out a plate of the crispy honey walnut shrimp with sweet honey walnuts and a few broccoli florets. “The staff all love this dish,” shared Aaron.
A few minutes later, Aaron arrived at our table with a handsome young Chinese man. “This is the owner, Michael Kwan,” announced Aaron. Kwan joined us at our table. Born near Canton, China, Michael shared with us how he moved to the United States with his family when he was 16. He attended Alhambra High School, but didn’t like school, so instead of going to college, he worked at a restaurant in Chinatown.
“We opened a family Chinese restaurant, The Islands in 1995,” shared Michael. Located on Third Street it was a 1400 sq. ft. space and sat about 60 guests. “We had three employees at the time. My brother Marcus and I did everything,” said Michael.
In 2002, the brothers thought the Chinese restaurant was getting “boring” and decided to change the concept of the restaurant to include more of an Asian-fusion twist by combining Chinese with Japanese. “We built our first sushi bar,” said Michael, “and changed the name to Wokcano.”
In just over 10 years, Michael and Marcus have opened 6 more Wokcano restaurants. The locations include Burbank, downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Long Beach and Valencia. The brothers now have 700 employees.
Michael wanted us to try the new Vegan Kung Pao chicken. Its protein is made from tofu and served with sliced asparagus, onions and crunchy peanuts. The dish is not too spicy. “We also prepare a Vegan chicken low mein,”shared Michael. My friend and I remarked that it looked and tasted just like chicken.
Flash fried Brussels sprouts and asparagus topped with crispy garlic, pepper, and sea salt arrived with my favorite dish of the day; Peking duck rolled in a thin and translucent rice wrapper with scallions, cucumber, avocado and cilantro. In the center of the plate was a dish of slightly sweet plum hoisin sauce.
Michael handed us the dinner menu to glance over. A few items caught my attention, such as monkey brain? It’s a tempura avocado stuffed with spicy tuna, crabmeat and topped with a spicy eel sauce. I liked the sound of a Peacock roll, red Dragon roll and Late Night Party Roll with crabmeat, avocado topped with baked lobster, scallops and green onion covered with a creamy sauce.
When the creative Maki rolls filled with spicy tuna arrived my stomach was saying “no,” yet my eyes said, “Just try one or two more bites.” I got smart. I took a bite and then asked for box to take the leftovers home.
My friend Gerry liked the spicy salmon on crispy rice. It reminded me a little of lox on top of slightly crunchy hash browns. The crispy rice was terrific.
A sushi plate arrived with fresh tuna, albacore and yellow tail. They already had such great flavors, that we didn’t need to dip them into soy sauce. In fact, the soy sauce dish remained full during our lunch.
Michael told us he loves to cook. He takes Sundays off to cook for his family. Each week it’s a surprise dish. Afterwards, the family gathers in another room to play Mahjong.
This Wokcano offers delivery service. Come during Happy Hour from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily, a California roll is only $3.50. Monkey Brain is $7. The grilled asparagus with white truffle sauce and crispy garlic is only $2.50. Many of the selected sushi is under $3. Enjoy these dishes with reasonably priced wine, beer and sake.
The restaurant offers one-hour free valet parking during lunch. 8408 W. Third St. (323)951-1122.
This article was published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on March 21, 2013.
To learn about the other Wokcano locations, go to: www.wokcanorestaurant.com