Monday, July 16, 2012

Sushi Sasabune


Los Angeles. This is a town filled with architecturally stunning restaurants, al fresco dining options, lovely nooks and crannies in which to find a meal. Sushi Sasabune is not one of them…it has all the charm of an office-building foyer. 

It’s on Wilshire: the 405 part, not the hip part. You sidestep a series of ill-placed cement planters to enter the front door, and though the room is very large, with floor-to-ceiling windows and ample seating, the tables and chairs are of the average strip-mall Japanese variety, the lighting a little too bright before sunset and then a little too dark for the nighttime rush. 

The sushi bar 
But you’ll smile at the sign at the cash register: “No California Roll; No Spicy Tuna Roll; No Tempura/Teriyaki: Seriously!” And you’ll notice the sheer size of the sushi bar, a bustling horseshoe in the center of the room. And then you’ll realize every sushi chef and waitress is actually Japanese. This is someplace special: ignore the setting… it is too cavernous for what is a very intimate meal.

At Sasabune you should put yourself in the sushi chef’s capable hands: they have one of the more reasonably priced omakase options in the city (usually about $60 per person). Sake, Japanese beer and green tea are on offer. Belly up to the (sushi) bar, boys; you’re going to enjoy this. 

Albacore in ponzu 
First course is sliced raw albacore and sliced raw tuna in ponzu sauce. Ponzu, slightly tangier and less-salty than soy, is made in house at Sasabune. The fish is sliced just right, with no tendons in sight; it dissolves like butter. 

The pacing here is a bit fast – the sushi chefs are observant and begin forming the next course as soon as you’re nearing the end of the first, the busboys whisk away plates immediately when the last bit of fish has been 'chopsticked' away, and before you blink the next plate is in front of you. I could use a bit more breathing room, because I certainly can’t stop myself from eating the next piece as soon as it’s set down - I just don’t have that kind of willpower. 

There's no toro here: I ate it too quickly 
After the appetizers the chef serves two kinds of tuna sushi: maguro, which is leaner; and toro, the fatty belly. Maguro is sauced… the toro needs a dip in soy sauce, as the chef instructs. Here the rice is well-vinegared and very warm, a lovely, sometimes surprising counter to the fresh fish. Eat like the Japanese do – dip the fish, not the rice, into the soy sauce – or else the warm rice disintegrates quickly. Consider yourself warned.

Fluke and Snapper 
Fluke, topped with ponzu and scallion; and red snapper, with a bit of yuzu kosho (a citrusy, salty, spicy Japanese condiment), follow. A toothless man would enjoy the meal as much as the rest of us... the pieces just melt in your mouth. These are high quality ingredients.
No teriyaki! No problem. 
A non-sushi course is delivered once the sushi plate is whisked away. Cold Kumamoto oyster with ponzu, hot sautéed clam with mushroom, and a baked mussel in what tastes like a mayonnaise sauce. 
Clam, mushroom, chopsticks 
The clam and mushroom are pure umami: simple, delicious.

Salmon and Snapper 
Four more sushi courses ensue: salmon topped with toasted sesame seeds paired with snapper. 
Warm Butterfish 
Warm butterfish topped with unagi sauce. (Frankly, this piece was served too hot). 

Scallop and Halibut 
Raw scallop with yuzu kosho, paired with halibut. The scallop had a slightly bitter aftertaste, not unlike raw squid. 

Finally two different types of mackerel.

Blue crab hand roll 
Just when you can’t take anymore, the chef delivers a blue crab hand roll – shredded blue crab and rice encased in a sheet of nori. If you weren’t full yet – this is the dish that will take care of that. I always find their blue crab too salty. But that doesn’t stop me from polishing it off. 

Want dessert? Nah. There’s a bowl of candy at the hostess stand as you walk out the door. Suck on a strawberry gumdrop as you walk out the door and dream of a bed of warm rice. 

Sushi Sasabune
12400 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 150
Los Angeles, CA
(310) 268-8380

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