Sushi Tsujita: A Conversation with Kenta Ikehata

Update:  Please also check out my Eater LA “First Look” piece on the restaurant’s space, with photographs by Elizabeth Daniels.

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.

Breathe.

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.

Entranceway & Enclosed Patio at Sushi Tsujita

Entranceway & Enclosed Patio at Sushi Tsujita

On Shifting From Ramen: The two Tsujita noodle shops introduced American diners to ramen styles not previously found in the U.S., including bowls of beansprout-topped, gravy-broth’d noodle soups popularized by Ramen Jiro in Tokyo and served at Annex. Having won over Angelenos with his renditions of uncompromisingly authentic Japanese ramen, the company’s president/owner Takehiro Tsujita, with input from Kenta-san, decided to turn his attention to sushi.

On Serving Edomae Sushi: As with ramen, Tsujita-san wanted to expose Americans to authentic, traditional Japanese sushi. Edo is the former name for Tokyo, and edomae sushi invokes traditional preparation methods that date back centuries, including, but not limited to, marinating fish (zuke) and curing fish in kelp (kobujime),

Tuna Nigiri at Sushi Tsujita

Tuna Nigiri at Sushi Tsujita

On Opening A Third Sawtelle Location: The choice was a result of two main factors: an affordable space nearby opening up at the right time, and Tsujita-san’s and Kenta-san’s loyalty to the Little Osaka neighborhood. That said, the company is not averse to looking at other areas in L.A. were it to expand further in the future.

On Nearby High-End Sushi Restaurants: Kenta-san acknowledges that Sushi Tsujita is in close proximity to Kiriko, Mori, and Shunji, each considered among the top sushi-ya in L.A. But he does not mean for the newcomer to compete directly with them. Rather his goal is for Sushi Tsujita to join the others in bolstering L.A.’s reputation for high-end sushi.

On Sushi Chef Shigeru Kato: Kenta-san describes the itamae as a veteran chef from Tokyo, with 35-plus years’ experience. He says Kato-san has a great instinct for unlocking the potential of whatever fish he is preparing. Kenta-san jokes that the chef has this ability because he can talk to fish!

Shigeru Kato

Shigeru Kato

On the Inevitable Comparison to Q Sushi: Having dined at the DTLA edomae sushi-ya that opened last year, Kenta-san says that Q and Sushi Tsujita have similar goals, but as Naruke-san’s and Kato-san’s experiences as chefs are not identical, each will have a different take on traditional preparation methods. Hundreds of sushi restaurants operate in L.A.; there’s enough room for both edomae sushi-ya to be successful.

On What to Expect at Dinner: Because of the focus on high quality, seasonal ingredients, dinners start at $120 per person. One can expect appetizers, sashimi, sushi (consisting of 10 or so pieces of nigiri), palate cleanser, soup, and dessert. While dining omakase means leaving the meal to the chef, patrons can and should express their preferences to tailor their meals to their tastes.

Appetizer at Sushi Tsujita

Appetizer at Sushi Tsujita

Special thanks to Sushi Tsujita service captain Yui Kumamoto, herself a former sushi chef, for translating during our conversation.

As I get up to leave, I thank Kenta-san for his time and wish him luck. Sushi Tsujita will have some work ahead to distinguish itself. In the past few years, a number of high-end sushi-ya have sprung up–Nozawa Bar, Q, Shunji, Zo, to name a few. And long-time establishments like Asanebo, Go’s Mart, Kiriko, and Mori are not going anywhere.

The unmitigated success of the Tsujita noodle shops does not guarantee their third location will also be successful, but it gives Sushi Tsujita a head start, in terms of resources and name recognition. The drive and determination I’ve seen in Kenta-san and his staff may well carry the new sushi-ya the rest of the way.

Photos provided by Sushi Tsujita and used with permission.

Sushi Tsujita
2006 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310-231-1177
http://tsujita-la.com/sushi-tsujita/

11 August 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Interview, Japanese, Ramen, Sushi | Leave a comment

Project by Project’s Plate by Plate 2014

Superba Food + Bread's Tiramisu & Arctic Char
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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 →

04 August 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Events and Festivals | 4 comments

Shunji Salmon Birthdays

Salmon Sashimi Salad with Caviar

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 →

31 July 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Japanese, Sushi | Leave a comment

The Early Bird Special at Flores and The Ladies’ Gunboat Society

Early Bird Fried Chicken Special

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.

Continue Reading →

15 July 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: American, Fried Chicken, Southern | 2 comments

Tacolandia 2014

George's El Pescado Taco: Achiote Cured Snapper, Avocado, Pineapple, Jalapeño Salsa, Cilantro, Cabbage, Crispy Fish Skin

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 →

30 June 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Mexican, Tacos | 1 comment

Guerrilla Tacos

Fried Oyster & Beef Tendon Taco, Raw Tomatillo Chile, Herbs, Shallots

“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 →

27 June 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Mexican, Tacos | Leave a comment

CiBOTECA

Pollo Panino: Rotisserie Chicken, Pancetta, Tomato, Rosemary Mayo

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 →

24 June 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Italian, Sandwich | Leave a comment

San Francisco 2014: An Index

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 →

18 June 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: San Francisco | Leave a comment

Hà Nam Ninh, Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, Boccalone (San Francisco: Day Six) and Wrap-up!

Mixed Salumi Cone: Mortadella w/Pistachios, Capocollo, Orange & Wild Fennel Salame

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:

Continue Reading →

09 June 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Ice Cream, Italian, San Francisco, Vietnamese | Leave a comment

Hải Ký Mì Gia, Pig & Pie, Humphry Slocombe, Three Twins, Nopa (San Francisco: Day Five)

Piggy Platter (Headcheese, Trotter Fritters, Smoked Tenderloin, Liver/Heart Mousse)

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 Five” (Thursday, June 5, 2014) is as follows:

Continue Reading →

08 June 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: American, Chinese, Ice Cream, Offal, Poutine, San Francisco | Leave a comment

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