2006 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
I gotta say I had my doubts when I first heard about this place. Tsujita made his name on the strength of his ramen. His initial restaurant Tsujita L.A Artisan Noodle was so popular he had to open another spot (Tsujita Annex) to handle the overflow so I was a bit skeptical when he opted to open an Edomae-style sushi spot. Still I was relieved to hear that Tsujita hired Shigeru Kato, a sushi chef with 35 years of experience to lead the restaurant. That and the good initial reviews were enough to pique my curiosity.
2006 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch, Napa, California
Rather than stick to our usual routine of ake, we opted to bring a couple chards to pair with the meal. First up was a rich full bodied Chard, the aroma couples an apparent butteriness with a countervailing green fruit acidity; while the palate has additional unexpectedly heavy notes of caramel.
Awabi - Spinach, Yuba, Yuzu
The meal got off to a strong start with abalone cured in kelp then steamed to a sublimely delicate tenderness. The abalone's inherent flavor is deepened by the savor of kelp. The touch of citrus adds a cool fragrant levity while the vegetables highlight the abalone's earthy heft. A sliver of piquant pickled carrot conveys a streak of sharp discordant acidity that shakes up the conventional flavor profiles.
Hassun - Ginnan, Ayu Tempura, Ayu Ukura, Ayu Nitsuke
The second course was actually a series of small tastes. First up was a quartet of salt grilled ginko. The crust can be a bit over salted, but the sweet nutty flavor of the nuts gives way to a pleasant earthy bitterness. The remaining appetizers were an interesting study of Ayu or Sweetfish. First up was a deep fried version of the fish that tasted like a cross between fish and a potato chip. Next up was my favorite, raw strips of sweetfish are paired with punchy caviar and a subtle citrus twang. The third version was a lightly simmered preparation loaded with a complex melange of sweet soy, ginger, and umami though the texture left something to be desired.
Kinmedai - Golden Eye Snapper
Unlike other restaurants Sushi Tsujita intersperses the kaiseki with single pieces of nigiri. Served on a bed of softly packed warm rice, the fish has a soft fleshy texture and even oily flavor enlivened with a touch of spice
Kasago Ushiojiru - Matsutake, Mitsuba, Kabosu
Next up was a classic clam broth enriched with rockfish, mushrooms and citrus. The broth itself has a clean subdued salinity coupled with a woody autumnal warmth from the mushrooms. The accompanying herbs add a streak of bitter aromatics while the slice of Kabosu imbues the mixture with a mouth puckering twang.
Sashimi - Honmaguro Zuke & Uni, Hata
Next up was an small but sublime sashimi course. I started with the marinated Bluefin drenched in aggressive soy savor and paired with a sweet countervailing envelope of creamy uni. The Hata or grouper had a much more nuanced flavor with oily flavors reminiscent of Amberjack or Yellowtail.
2006 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Burgundy, France
Our second wine was a much more refined affair. The nose is a bouquet of soft white flowers with stonefruit and just the slightest edge of acidity. The palate is much more structured and sophisticated with a mix of minerality, acid, and an undercurrent of oaky power.
Honmaguro Chutoro - Medium Fatty Bluefin Tuna
Time for another sushi interlude, this time a ruby sliver of tuna threaded with fine ivory threads of rich fat. Indeed the fish exemplifies both aspects of tuna, the clean steely twang of akami intermingled with the oily richness of toro.
Nogoduro - Myoga, Mustard, Truffle
Our final composed plate centered around two immaculate flakes of grilled Blackthroat Sea Perch (Nogoduro/Akamutsu). The mild whitefish has a spry spongy mouth feel and acts as the perfect mild platform for the earthy truffle and sharp zest of the myoga. A pile of grated mustard finishes the dish, imparting a darkly spicy savor.
Hobo - Sea Robin
Rather than begin with the common Tai, our chef Kazu opted to start with another mild fish. The soft pinkish flesh had a touch of sinewy toughness that I found quite distinctive.
Benizake - Sockeye Salmon
Texturally this was the polar opposite of the last piece, soft and flabby, the fish had little flavor besides the classic combination of soy and wasabi.
Seki Saba - Mackerel
Next up was a real treat, this prized mackerel takes the name of the Saganoseki area from which it is fished. Unlike most mackerel, Seki Saba can be served uncured meaning while the fish certainly has some characteristic oiliness there are other more nuanced flavors and a more succulent mouth feel than the traditional mackerel.
Honmaguro Toro - Fatty Bluefin Tuna
Having already tried the lean and medium tunas it was time for the O-toro to make an appearance. Compared to the Chu-toro, the color is several shades lighter, with larger more pronounced marbling. The fish came topped with an amber dashi jelly which highlighted the savory notes of the fish. A sprinkling of yuzu zest helps hold the weightiest notes of the fish at bay.
Tengumai, Junmai, Ishikawa
Our second wine all but dispensed with, we decided to pick up some sake to pair with the latter half of our meal. The sake is a bit blunter than I was expecting, don't go looking for flowers or fruit here, instead the booze shows off a singularly rice-y character.
Sanma - Matsutake, Kabosu
Pike Mackerel is always a treat with its distinctive oily flavor that was made to be matched with the earthy majesty of the Matsutake. A quick squeeze of the Kabosu add a bright fragrant citrus counterpoint to the bite.
Miyazaki Wagyu - Wasabi, Garlic Chips, Radish
Next up was a decadent Wagyu beef from the Miyazaki Prefecture. As can be seen from the picture the veins of marbling are almost as thick as the actual meat. Indeed the rare beef was every bit as good as it looked, pairing a touch of meaty char with the buttery fat and a velvety soft texture that feels sensual on the palate. It goes without saying that the meat needed no adornment, but I enjoyed the tempering effects of the radish as well as the cleansing heat of the wasabi.
Next up was a classic pairing of salmon and sea urchin roes on a bed of sushi rice and topped with toasted seaweed. After some of the more intricate dishes this seems almost laughably simple, but the utterly pristine quality of the seafood made every last bite a delight to be savored.
Bachiko - Sea Cucumber Roe
This was a relative rarity that I've only had once before. The sea cucumber roe is unabashedly salty with a tinge of fishiness and a chewy almost meat like texture reminiscent of beef jerky.
Otoro Tataki - Seared Fatty Tuna
Moving back to nigiri we were presented with a seared toro that was practically dripping with smoky rendered fat. The explosive flavor leaves one craving another bite but the sheer unctuousness would get overwhelming fast.
Suzuki - Sea Bass
Next up was a sea bass marinated in kelp. The process dries the fish out leaving behind a denser almost tacky texture while imbuing the fish with a healthy dose of salt and glutamate.
Amaebi - Sweet Shrimp
Classic Amaebi, sweet, dense and crunchy with a clean steely flavor tempered by the soy. The head was no slouch either with the exterior shell fried to a chip like crispness while the rest had a nice saline meatiness wrapped in a delicious fried sapor.
Tai - Sea Bream
Not officially part of the menu we thought this was a must order. The mild white fish was a bit on the drier side, with a sticky denser texture and more apparent flavor. Still the sea salt and yuzu definitely dominate on the palate.
Yari Ika - Spear Squid
The Yari Ika starts off a bit leaner than the typical squid, but mastication still extracts the same creamy texture and subtle briny sweetness.
Kohada - Gizzard Shad
Next up was a beautifully flecked cut of Gizzard Shad. The fish had a sharp oiliness on the attack but the flavor seemed to fade away relatively quickly making this one of the more balanced Kohada I've had.
Kisu - Japanese Whiting
While the flavor on the Kisu was typically mild, the fish definitely had one of the most memorable textures thanks to its almost muscular snappy crunch.
Myoga - Japanese Ginger
The Myoga was an unconventional but welcome bite, with the succulence and peppery bite helping to cleanse the palate of any lingering fish oil. I wish more places would serve something like this to finish a long omakase.
Kasutera Tamago - Egg Cake
I was pleased to find Tsujita serves the Tamago in cake form rather than the classic preparation. Dense and eggy upfront there is a bit of caramelized sweetness and salinity on the back end.
Anago - Sea Eel
The final piece of the night was a tender Anago brushed with a generous coating of sweet sauce to compliment the eel's smoky char.
This reminded me of the dessert at Kyubei in Tokyo. The stunningly juicy honeydew, dripping with sweetness, served as a fitting close to one of the best meals I've had all year.
We came here to celebrate Kevin's much belated birthday so the restaurant was kind enough to whip up an impromptu birthday "cake" of mochi, jelly, and fruit.
I've got to say the restaurant more than exceeded my expectations. The quality seafood, thoughtfully prepared cooked dishes, and pristine nigiri make Sushi Tsujita an absolute must try.
Monday, November 3, 2014
2006 Sawtelle Blvd