Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tsukiji - 03/08/2008

1745 W Redondo Beach Blvd
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 323-4077

Tsukiji, named for the famous fish market of Tokyo has long been one of my favorite restaurants for sushi. My first time there was a few years ago now, but I remember the fish quality was perhaps the best I had ever tasted. Subsequent experiences have eclipsed Tsukiji, but I still think Tsukiji offers some of the best bang for the buck in terms of fish quality.

I took my girlfriend here once or twice and it has become one of her favorite sushi restaurants. Our first trip we had some fish from Japan that we both felt was incredible. A truly different experience from most other places. On a subsequent visit, we were served the "special toro" seared toro with onions and a special sauce which ranks among the strongest toro I have ever had.

On our latest trip we were saddened to see that nobody else was at the restaurant when we walked in. I expected the place to be busier on a Saturday night. Happily by the time we left there were two or three other groups dining in the restaurant.

01 Broiled Tuna
This was a small "amuse" provided to all the diners. I had something similar to this at Sushi Shibucho. I just cannot appreciate this tuna finding the meat way to hard, dry and flavorless. All things considered, I would have been happier without this course

02 Ankimo
One of my girlfriend's favorite dishes, it has been increasingly difficult to find good ankimo of late. I had high hopes but this was quite disappointing, lacking the characteristic richness that I associate with good ankimo. The texture was somewhat rubbery rather than smooth. So far not a good start to the meal

03 Hamachi
Ah always a safe bet Hamachi from Japan, this is what I expect when I dine at Tsukiji. The fish was exceptionally fresh with a firm texture and the characteristic yellowtail flavor.

04 Kanpachi
Simultaneously with the hamachi we ordered kanpachi. I asked the chef what the difference between the two was. Previously I assumed Kanpachi was simply baby yellowtail but the chef said it is a cousin of yellowtail. The texture is a bit firmer although the flavor is similar if a bit lighter.

05 Shishito and Spicy Tuna Tempura
Another gift that went perfectly with my beer, shisito peppers stuffed with spicy tuna and fried. The shisito flavor was largely lost due to the frying but there was a hint of the tuna left. An interesting and enjoyable course, but just like the other free course I could have done without it.

06 Hirame
A fairly representative hirame, firm and a bit chewy a very meaty texture.

07 Ika
Wow an amazing ika, briliant white color balanced with a stripe of green from the shiso leaf. Upon biting down one notices the exquisite texture, the perfect balance between firm and creamy.

08 Special Toro
Last time we were here, when we ordered toro the chef offered to make his special toro which we thought was phenomenal. Naturally we had to try it again. Sadly this time there was no O-toro so he used Chu-toro. The fish was significantly leaner, not even really good chu-toro. With high fat content the searing melts the fat, making the fish even more tender than normal. Since this was so lean, there was no tenderizing effect, this fish simply tasted like seared tuna with none of the richness of our previous experience. When asked how we liked it my girlfriend, who hesitates to criticize anything, had to shake her head. The chef seeing our disappointment agreed the fish was too lean and offered us a discount as an apology.

09 Uni
Once the specialty of the restaurant, the quality of the uni has remained high. The texture was incredibly soft and creamy although there was a slightly bitter tang on the aftertaste.

10 Hotate
Another lost delight of trips past. The hotate this time had none of the slick tender texture or subtle sweetness of our first experience here.

11 Special Tai
Midway through the meal, we asked the chef what was good he recommended the Tai and the Hirame. Wanting one last piece, we went with the Tai. He again offered his special take on the tai, using a different soy sauce and dabbing it with yuzu kocho. This was incredible. The firm resistant feel of the tai with a bit of citrusy heat. Delicious, I just hope its the same next time around.

12 Dessert
A third little give away, green tea and sesame flavored mochi-like squares. I tried the sesame one, the flavor wasn't very intense but definitely present along with a slight sweetness. The texture wasn't quite like mochi, soft but less sticky, slightly chilled and very refreshing.

One good thing about being the only diners in the restaurant is the attentive service. We received amazing 1-on-1 service from the chef who runs the sushi bar and his wife who acts as hostess/waitress. The restaurant just changed hands, and the new owner is actually the former assistant. I recall he was our sushi chef the last time we were here. He is much more jovial than the previous owner, laughing and joking with patrons.

Tsukiji has definitely lost some of its luster. I suspect the lack of customers has something to do with the downward slide. The food used to be faultless, now there are some hits and misses. Despite the misses, I still very much enjoyed some of the food. I hope we just went on a slow night, because I really like the chef and his wife and wish them all the best. I will definitely be back in the future to see how they've fared.

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