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Nov 22, 2006 03:00 AM

saucy sloppy salty sick Sasabune

After reading a couple of recent posts raving about Sasabune, I decided today while driving by to give the new location a try. Let me preface by saying: I went hungry, I wanted to like it, and I had an open mind. I have even had a few good meals at the old location.

Upon first impression, the old Todai space I thought was appropriate. Really, anything was better than the old house they were in, and the location seemed to suit their rigid and fast style of serving.

My wife and I were promptly seated after the obligatory admonishment / question "Have you been here before?" Maybe it's just me, but it always sounds like they are really saying "We know you're not good enough to enjoy our sushi without our help." At least they have toned it down a bit over the years.

Our waitress greeted us with "You are both having the chef's special?" It wasn't really a question and there were no menus to be seen so we agreed. Then the pain began.

Everything that arrived except for one piece of toro was sauced. And I mean SAUCED. Ponzu so tangy an liberally used that your lips would draw back, sweet sauce that was sickening slathered on sloppily cut tuna. The first sashimi course my wife sent back when the fishy taste was powerful enough to come through the bowl of sauce it sat in. Our waitress admitted that not only was the sashimi prepared in advance and refrigerated it was possibly not even made that day!

For all of you that equate soft fish with freshness, you have made Nozawa and the Sasabune owners millionaires. The fish is brined, and at this point the Sasabune fish is so heavily brined and sauced that I don't think I tasted a piece of fish the whole meal. It's sauce and soft, but that's it. Where's the fish?

The presentation was sloppy, as always. The cutting of the fish was just plain bad. Giant pieces of toro that could not be eaten in one bite and as a result were sickening. The ubiquitous crab roll ending was so salty that neither one of us could eat it and left dehydrated.

After our rapid fire 30 minute meal, all of the waitresses went MIA. It took thirty more minutes to get the check an pay. The total? An amazing $106 for lunch with one $4 drink.

How do they get away with it? If this were really the best sushi in LA, I would move. Instead I am drinking aranciata to try to get rid of the knot in my stomach so I can enjoy a good meal another day somewhere else.

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  1. Never been (and I guess I never will) but there seem to be lot's of hounds that like this place. Hmmm.

    Have you tried Azami? Since I found it I can't go anywhere else without fear of being disappointed.

    3 Replies
    1. re: cobalt

      IMO, if you find a place where you have a rapport with your chef, you have found the "best sushi in LA." At most of the sushi bars I like, I know the chef.

      1. re: cls

        So I guess you don't know the chef at Sasabune?

        Yeah, I don't play that game. Which is why I stick with Azami where it's not a requirement to "pay one's dues" to the establishment to be treated well.

        1. re: cobalt

          I think there are a lot of sushi bars that will treat you well even if you don't know the chef. But it could be even better if you do. It happens in Japan as well, especially in Kyoto where there are restaurants that won't let you in the door without a "recommendation." I don't think it's unique to sushi restaurants though, I have been given some spectacular steaks at Peter Luger's in NY because my girlfriend at the time knew the chef(s)

    2. Yup, that's a good description of Sasabune

      1. Agree 100%. Went there twice, wanted to like it, and left disappointed and broke. Why people love this place, I will never understand.

        1. I was really charmed at the old taqueria spot they were in before. It had the feel of a diamond in the rough. I enjoyed the food the first time. I have to echo the sentiments of the poster. The new spot has the warmth of a 90's Calvin Klein commercial. The dishes are more hit-n-miss. I can't say that I would recommend it or envision going there anytime soon.

          I have been meaning to try Mori -- anyone with thoughts on it? I'd recommend Sushi Masu on Westwood.

          1. Wow, you summed up all my pet peeves about L.A. style sushi - strange sauces, non-bite sized pieces and poor pacing of the meal. I think I would rather stay home and try some of that new microwave sushi that I have been reading about (just kidding - nothing sound more vile than microwaved sushi).

            I think I went to the old Sasabune once, about 12 years ago, and that was sufficient.

            As to the post about rapport with the chef, I agree it can help you to get the most choice morsels, but if the place buys subpar fish, all the rapport in the world won't help. For instance, I recently had lunch at a Westside sushi bar near my office that I won't name. I'm a real sushi snob and it's not the kind of place I would ordinarily go to (although it's a fairly successful Westside restaurant), but it was late and I was hungry and it was right by my office. I practiced my Japanese with the chef and he seemed totally delighted by me and went out of his way for me, but the problem was that this was a middle-brow Westside Japanese restaurant that doesn't buy top-quality fish and no matter what, it wasn't going to be great.

            P.S. I too was turned away at a sushi restaurant in Kyoto. That was during the boom years. I wonder now in leaner times if one experiences that less? Last time I was in Tokyo, post-boom, I had no problem geting into any restaurant, although perhaps Tokyo is different in that respect than Kyoto.

            1 Reply
            1. re: omotosando

              Today in Kyoto, there are still restaurants that have a "recommendation" policy" although they are not Pontocho The restaurants there like to provide the illusion of eliteness but would not turn you away. There are however many whose entrances are not visible from the street who would refuse service without a "recommendation."

              Re: Mori, I think it's great. He boils his own Monkfish liver each day, always a good sign.