2006 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Sushi has never been more ubiquitous in Los Angeles. A quick Yelp search, limiting the query just to sushi bars in the “Sawtelle” neighborhood (defined generously as the area bounded by Wilshire/National to the north and south, and Sepulveda/Centinela to the east and west), produces 26 results! It is in this crowded field that Sushi Tsujita debuts.
Reservations at the 10-seat bar are already difficult to come by, so buzz is certainly on the side of the two-week old restaurant. With the success of the two noodle shops just down the block, can Tsujita pull off a hat trick with their entry into high-end sushi?
From the moment you arrive, Sushi Tsujita gives you something to talk about, even before stepping into the restaurant proper. The chandelier in the “enclosed patio” (as the website calls it) imbues the space with a hip, lounge-y vibe. Indeed, I witnessed members of a large reservation of 10, mingling there with pre-dinner drinks while waiting for their entire party to arrive, and it was very much a party!
The interior design is a polarizing topic, at least on Chowhound; some have gone as far as to swear off the restaurant because of it. The truth is that the walls, which I described as “geometric and geodesic” in my Eater LA piece, is not nearly as distracting in person as it might appear from the wide shots of the interior. If you’re sitting at the bar, you will be focused on your itamae, or, more specifically, on the food he is serving.
Even at a banquette, while interviewing Tsujita’s general manager Kenta Ikehata, I did not find the designs to be a distraction. However, if you’re truly put off by the walls, just close your eyes while eating. Even if you like the decor, many of the dishes you will taste may cause you to do so anyway, as you pause to savor them.
The kuromaguro akami zuke, lean Atlantic bluefin tuna (from Boston), marinated for 4 hours in soy sauce, is one such dish. The incredibly deep, concentrated flavor of the fish, along with its unfortunate ecological baggage, is the definition of “guilty pleasure”. Even if you’re accustomed to dropping a few Benjamins per meal on sushi, it may be the best tuna you shouldn’t be eating.
A momotaro tomato dish will likely trigger comparisons to Shunji Nakao’s signature Agedashi Tomato Tofu dish, but they could not be more different for having the same main ingredient. Nakao’s “tofu”—as molecular-gastronomic as he gets with his creative, non-sushi dishes—is an exercise in contrasts: soft yet crisp, sweet yet savory.
Sushi Tsujita, however, takes the natural sweetness of the vegetable (fruit!) and amplifies it. The result is a glistening orb, sitting in its own juices, bereft of its skin and tender enough to be eaten just with a spoon, topped with a wine-soaked blueberry in place of the proverbial cherry on top.
The momotaro tomato may turn out to be the most decadent course in your meal, perhaps moreso than the melon compote dessert. But, it also serves as a palate cleanser, before sashimi is delicately placed on the dark, wide “stage” of a platform that sits at eye-level in front of you instead of the traditional wooden geta.
Two pieces each of chutoro, medium-fatty tuna, and hata, grouper, take the stage, the latter sandwiching a translucent, perfectly circular slice of sudachi, a Japanese citrus similar to yuzu. The fresh wasabi is ground so fine, it looks like lime paint on the stage-cum-paint palette. The server presents a dish of “sashimi soy sauce” for the fish, which is as marvelous as you’d expect, the sudachi seasoning the hata just so, but equally marvelous is how well each course is composed, and how effortlessly itamae and servers move you along from course to course.
Service is essentially impeccable, no prior soft-open period or friends & family nights required. It’s funny to see some of the same t-shirted waitstaff from Tsujita’s two ramen-ya dressed smartly in black button-down shirts with sharp platinum ties, but if they have any issues switching gears between the disparate dining environments, they do not show it. Early reports did indicate that free tap water was not offered or served, only expensive bottled water. However, that initial misstep had already corrected itself by the second week.
Bottled-Watergate aside, Sushi Tsujita is not without its misses. The shari, or sushi rice, can be a little inconsistent, in temperature and texture. It starts warmer than room temperature earlier in the nigiri service, but is noticeably, though not significantly, cooler with the later pieces. The hangiri, wooden bucket that holds the shari, I saw behind the bar seemed rather small, and I did not notice it being replenished during meal, which might have contributed to the temperature issue. Also, while most of the fish were superb, I had a piece of kohada, gizzard shad, that was quite a bit saltier than it should have been.
Is Tsujita three-for-three on Sawtelle? I’m going to say, “Yes.” I was cautiously optimistic leading up to my visit. I have to say I am pleasantly surprised, both by the quality of the food was and also by how well run the restaurant was for being in operation less than two weeks. A part of it, I think, was going with proven waitstaff from their other restaurants, but a bigger part is likely the decision to hire seasoned itamae from the L.A. area. If you’ve frequented Shunji Japanese Cuisine, or Katsuya (or is it Katsu-Ya?), you might just recognize one or two of the faces behind the bar.
So, you may be wondering, what is chef Shigeru Kato‘s role in the restaurant? Since his English is not as strong as the other itamae, he seems to mostly interact with Japanese-speaking clientele. However, his role appears more to be as executive chef, directing the meals the other itamae are preparing. He is also wholly responsible for selecting and procuring the fish that the restaurant uses.
Last, but not least, Kato-san makes the traditional closing dish for a sushi meal, the tamagoyaki, or egg omelet. As made famous in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, tamagoyaki is said to be the showcase of a sushi’s chef’s skill. I don’t know about that, but I do know that tamagoyaki preparations can vary greatly, from Kiriko’s spongy soufflé, to Q’s pound cake, to of course the ubiquitous layered omelets served everywhere. Kato-san’s is unlike any tamagoyaki I’ve had. It is dense, not as moist, and has an almost bread-like consistency. It is hardy enough to be hand-torn when served. It is also pretty darn good.
Additional photos below.
Dinner: Omakase only, currently, available in three levels: $120, $150, $180. A variety of dishes, from an opener of steamed awabi (abalone), a trio of amuse-bouche, and an anago shinjo (fish cake made with sea eels) soup, are served before moving onto sashimi, nigiri, and dessert. Expect dishes to change regularly based on available ingredients.
Lunch: Service starts on Tuesday, August 26. A variety of price points are available, including a $15 chirashi bowl that’s limited to only 15 servings per day.
Disclosure: My meal was gratis, drinks and gratuity not included.
Update: My dinner omakase at Sushi Tsujita review is up!
As I drive into Little Osaka, I spy the long lines outside both Tsujita L.A. Artisan Noodle and Tsujita Annex, across from each other on Sawtelle Boulevard. Mid-afternoon. In the summer heat. Those hoping that the crowds will be thinned, or at least redistributed, by the introduction of a third noodle shop from the Tokyo-based ramen-ya, may be surprised to hear that plans have changed.
The new restaurant is no longer named “Tsujita Villa” (as was previously announced). It will not be serving ramen.
Instead, Sushi Tsujita, scheduled to open August 12, will serve traditional edomae-style sushi in an omakase-only format.
It is three days before doors open to the public, and the restaurant is buzzing with pre-opening activity. I am inside the swank new space, having a conversation with Kenta Ikehata, General Manager of Tsujita’s U.S. operations, about how Sushi Tsujita came to be. Continue Reading →
Thanks to Eater LA, I was able to attend Plate by Plate 2014, the annual Project by Project fundraising benefit, on a media pass. The event article I wrote for Eater LA is up: Please check it out! (Incidentally, the progression of the photographs in the article is, for the most part, in reverse chronological order, for some reason.)
My photos for the article focused on capturing the event’s ambiance and its participants, but I still had plenty of “food porn” fodder for my Instagram feed. Below are a just few of my favorite shots from the evening. Continue Reading →
When my wife and I were trying to decide where to celebrate our birthdays last month, it wasn’t really a matter of choosing a spot. We both pretty much had the same place in mind: Shunji! We wanted a special meal, befitting a birthday celebration (or two), but money’s been tight lately. We couldn’t splurge on anything too decadent, like the infamous truffle gohan that even Shunji himself is reluctant to serve because of its cost.
Instead, I worked with Yuko to arranged a meal centered around my wife’s favorite fish: salmon. To keep costs manageable, we went mid-day to take advantage of their lunch deals, but I also asked if Shunji would prepare one or two non-sushi courses showcasing the theme ingredient. What we ended up with was a very reasonable, yet quite special, birthday lunch. Continue Reading →
Flores on Sawtelle, in West Los Angeles’s Little Osaka neighborhood, opened just over a year ago, with the dishes introduced by its opening chefs, husband-wife team Rob Lawson and Angela Hernandez, both alums of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in NYC, well received. In April of this year, however, the two chefs and owner Amal Flores parted ways, and the restaurant closed for a few weeks while incoming chef Brian Dunsmoor and pastry chef Sarah “Bearclaw” Lange, both of The Hart and the Hunter, developed a menu that focuses on Southern fare.
(Chef Dunsmoor continues to operate THatH with chef Kris Tominaga, while chef Lange has recently departed THatH to work with Field Trip at the Farmers Kitchen, but both are still involved with Flores.)
To go with the culinary shift, Flores also underwent a name change of sorts, to The Ladies’ Gunboat Society (19th century women’s organizations that raised funds and supported Confederate efforts during the Civil War), though technically it is a name “appendment”. The restaurant’s menus, website, and Facebook page all render its name as “Flores & The Ladies’ Gunboat Society”. Apparently, the plan is for the restaurant to shake up its chefs, concepts, and name every once in a while, sort of like Fifty Seven in DTLA.
LA Weekly‘s and Bill “Street Gourmet LA” Esparza’s sophomore Tacolandia food festival took place on Saturday, June 28, 2014, in the Plaza Park at El Pueblo de Los Angeles, adjacent to historic Olvera Street, a change from the parking lot of the Hollywood Palladium last year. Anticipation had been building recently, with the inaugural event having received near-universal acclaim from those attending; Bill linked to many of the positive reports in his own debrief last year, including mine.
I started looking forward to this year’s event shortly after the last one ended. When tickets went on sale a few months ago, I was not going to let Tacolandia get sold out again without getting tickets and then have to beg, cajole, or steal (or, in my case last year, win) them to attend. So, I grabbed a Premium Admission for $45, a $20 “premium” over general admission. which included a “VIP” gift bag and 5 drink tickets. As expected, the event sold out, and finally the date had arrived. Would it live up to expectations? Would there be a sophomore slump? Well, I have some good news and some bad news. Continue Reading →
“That guy could turn me vegetarian!” I uttered, or rather, typed, these unlikely-if-you-knew-me words on Chowhound last night. The “guy” in question is chef Wesley Avila of Guerrilla Tacos, who will apparently be serving a vegetarian taco with mushrooms and hazelnut “dirt” at Tacolandia 2014 (happening mañana at the time of writing). Continue Reading →
From the people who brought you Piccolo Venice and Hostaria del Piccolo, CiBOTECA (I’ll stick to the way they capitalize it, at least this once) is ostensibly a market for Italian and international foodstuffs that also sells pastries and sandwiches made with imported Italian meats, but across multiple visits, I have yet to see anyone pluck a jar of truffle salt or bottle of olive oil from the shelves for purchase. I’ve also not seen that many people buying the beautiful desserts under brightly lit glass displays. However, I have seen many people enjoy their wonderful sandwiches in a bright, casual environment that stands as a respite from the frenetic energy of Bay Cities just a few blocks away. Continue Reading →
I had a pretty epic six days in San Francisco the first week of June 2014. I still can’t quite believe the number of places I got to try and the amount of food I ate. I also can’t believe that I pounded out nine reports covering the entire trip, with most posted the same night or within the following day. My blog had never been more active, and maybe just a little harder to navigate. So here’s an index to help people locate a report for a particular place without having to scroll through a bunch of posts. Continue Reading →
I was in San Francisco this week for WWDC (Apple‘s Worldwide Developers Conference). I found out a few months ago I’d be able to attend, so of course, I made a list and asked for advice beforehand. Now that I’m here, I plan on posting a report as quickly as possible for each day, to stave off procrastination. My report for “San Francisco: Day Six” (Friday, June 6, 2014) is as follows: