Sushi Tsujita: A Conversation with Kenta Ikehata
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.
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),
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!
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.
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.
2006 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025