photo credit: Tina Picz
Laughing Monk Cafe
If you’re ever at a frozen yogurt shop and you meet an elf who promises to give you a bag of gold if you lift him up so he can reach the pumpkin spice swirl, you’ll probably first wonder how he’ll even manage to pay if he can’t reach the counter. But later, as you’re heading to the pawn shop with your new-found elf-treasure, you might find yourself feeling all warm and fuzzy inside - not just because you’re now rich, but because it’s always fun to find something wonderful when you don’t expect to. That’s sort of what it’s like when you first have the omakase at the Laughing Monk Cafe in Mission Hill.
Nothing about this place would lead you to believe that it’s one of the best sushi restaurants in the city. It has neon signs in the window, a TV playing CNN in the dining room, and a bizarre wall display of rotating projections of desert sunrises and flowing rivers that might make you feel like you were shrunk by your scientist dad and placed in front of a computer running Windows 95. Even the sushi shares a menu with standard Thai dishes - as if it doesn’t think it’s good enough to carry the place on its own.
It’s as if the omakase is hiding. Maybe it did some bad things in a past life and is now in the witness protection program. Or it’s a superhero living in disguise. For whatever reason, it doesn’t want you to know it’s here. But grab a seat at the tiny, six-person omakase counter, pay about $100 for 10 courses, and then watch as it drops its disguise. Like Clark Kent slipping up and accidentally throwing a ball 200mph at The Daily Planet office softball tournament, this standard neighborhood take-out spot suddenly serves you an incredible piece of torched salmon with gooseberry, ginger sauce, white truffle, and charcoal.
If you don’t want to drop the cash for the omakase, you can order either sushi or Thai a la carte. There are some hits on the Thai side (and a good rule here is to stay away from more common noodle dishes in favor of things you don’t see as often), but in general, it’s not nearly as good as the sushi. Split some shumai, some drunken noodles if someone at your table insists, and then get a roll along with a few pieces from the “nikiri” section of the menu (the chef’s name is Nick). This section contains some of the same stuff you might get at the omakase, including one or two pieces that blend Japanese and Thai. It’s outstanding.
We’re not sure why such great sushi is hiding in a life-size screensaver of a Thai restaurant, but we don’t need to know. You shouldn’t question the mysterious gifts the world provides - that’s what we always say to the live-in butler we hired with our elf-gold, anyway.
It’s 10 courses for $100. You’ll get some gorgeous pieces involving things you probably haven’t had with nigiri before - like eggplant, green curry, and figs - and you’ll love it.
A La Carte Sushi
You’ll see a lot of your standard rolls and they’ll be better than your usual take-out place, but the “nikiri” section of the menu, which has some of the same things that are served at the omakase counter for around $6 a piece, is where your focus should be.
It’s a hockey puck of rice, some sweet and spicy ground pork, and a big sprig of mint. It’s a good small plate, and it’s fun to order it before the sushi comes.
Spicy Torched Squid
It isn’t all that spicy and it’s only mildly torched. It is, in fact, squid, though, so one of three ain’t bad.
Pad See Ew
A pretty standard pad see ew. You don’t really need it.