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Jan 10, 2007 05:02 AM

Sushi Tenn Makes Me Deliriously Happy

After months of eating lunch at Sushi Tenn on Sawtelle ($18 chirashi bowl with soup and salad - in my opinion, the best lunch bargain in L.A.), I finally tried dinner.

The place makes me delirously happy in the same way that the old Ginza Sushi Ko used to make me delirously happy. I'm not saying it's as good as Ginza Sushi Ko was (the standard by which I measure all sushi - I've still never had better sushi anywhere, including Tokyo), but Sushi Tenn does make me delirously happy in the same way Ginza Sushi Ko once did. You know what I mean - the way you can walk in cranky and tired because you had an awful day at work and walk out feeling all is well with the world.

I ordered the omakase. Started with a plate of giant clam (among the best I've had in years), delicious okra, cucumber salad with plum (very refreshing and good) and my favorite- uni tofu (beautiful cubes of homemade tofu, colored pale orange, with a hint of uni taste). Then came a plate with a very good piece of beef in a gravy with a dab of horseradish and mountain potatoes. Very good and tasty. Next was a plate of sashimi, including the best toro I have had in a long time. Then came a plate of miso-marinated cod - very succulent. Next dish was shrimp shumai with tofu wrapper. Piping hot and delicious. Plate after plate of sushi followed - standouts were salmon belly (best salmon I have had in ages), saba (best saba I have had in ages) and ika. The uni was also good, including the nori in which it was wrapped -- I don't know where the chef gets his nori, but I do think it's the best nori of any sushi restaurant in town and I am a nori fanatic (the chef worked at a top sushi restaurant in Hokkaido and I know the best konbu is from Hokkaido - perhaps the best nori is also from Hokkaido and the chef has a secret source).

Sushi was followed by good clam miso. Ice cream for dessert.

Omakase was $80 per person. Was this the best sushi I've ever had? No, that honor belongs to Ginza Sushi Ko. Was this the best omakase dinner I have ever had for $80? Yes.

By the way, I had heard that the chef wasn't very nice. It's true that he is a bit taciturn - definitely not a hale and hearty, slap on the back type of guy. But he was perfectly nice and even smiled at my feeble Japanese. And the service was superb - my tea cup was filled every two seconds (I like Kiriko, but the service there is much less polished than at Sushi Tenn).

What is sad is that Sushi Tenn always seems to be empty. Tonight there were only two other people at the sushi bar and only two parties at the tables. I hate to see a magnificent musician play to an empty room and I wish more people appreciated Sushi Tenn.

P.S. I forgot to mention the lotus root! A beautiful bowl was brought with lotus root that was marinated in something quite tasty.

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  1. Thanks for your detailed and enthusiastic write-up, omotosando. Sushi Tenn is always on our way to somewhere else on Sawtelle -- precisely, as you point out, because it is frequently empty or almost so. One night, Sushi Tenn was our destination -- no matter what -- but when we saw only a couple of patrons in there, we continued walking to Orris or Chabuya or ... I SOOO want to try it, and after reading your post of relishing praises, now I will!

    1. One additional thing. From time to time, I host Japanese food business dinners where I call up the chef in advance, give him a budget (usually $200 a head, pre-tax), tell him everyone's weird food preferences (this one won't eat that; that one won't eat this; this one loves that) and see what he does.

      If the food was that good for $80 a head at Sushi Tenn, I can only imagine what the chef Tatsumi Hanzawa could do for $200 a head. I just think he's got the cooking chops and the sushi chops. With a higher budget for quality ingredients, I think it could only be even better. I think I know where I am having my next business dinner. If only there were a tatami room, it would be perfect.

      2 Replies
      1. re: omotosando

        "...If only there were a tatami room, it would be perfect."

        For $200/pp, if you will go, they will build it!

        1. re: omotosando

          I just received an email from Itacho welcoming chef Tatsumi Hanzawa to its team.

        2. Great writeup. Looking forward to dinner there.

          On the subject of the best lunch bargain in L.A., I feel Torafuku on Pico may be a contender. We particularly like the combination maguro zuke-don, udon and salad -- for $12! Also in the running is The Hump's chirashi-don/soup/salad, around $15.

          1 Reply
          1. re: tritip

            Thank you... Thank you... Thank you... My husband and I love Sushi Tenn. I don't go as often as I would like (distance) but you're reminding me that I need to go again. This time for Omakase.

          2. I was really excited when I first read about the chef's credentials but after the lackluster reviews here have been hesistant to go. Based on your glowing review will have to make it my next stop when I'm in the area.

            Can you opt for sushi only omakase?

            6 Replies
            1. re: Sgee

              The menu (www.sushitenn.com) does not appear to list any pure sushi sets. The menu does list a $45 set, which includes 3 appetizers 12 pieces of assorted sushi (Fatty Tuna, 2 pieces of Whitefish, Salmon, Yellowtail, Mackerel, Sweet Shrimp, Crab, Sea Urchin, Salmon Roe, Clam and Sea Eel) with miso and dessert (all they have is ice cream).

              But I would question whether the $45 set would be enough food unless you are really a light eater and I would also question whether the people ordering the more expensive sets are getting choicer morsels of fish than those ordering the cheaper sets.

              If you truly just want sushi and you want the best the restaurant has to offer, I would call up (or better yet drop in) in advance and discuss a budget and preferences (although I totally understand that sometimes one just wants to drop in and have some sushi and not make an advance production of it).

              Beware that ordering a la carte at Sushi Tenn can get very pricey. Also, it's very traditional Edo-style sushi, which I love, but if you are fan of the Matsuhisa-sauced style of sushi, I guarantee you won't like it.

              BTW, I had also read some of the lackluster reviews of the place on this Board, but gave it a try for dinner because the $18 bowl of chirashi for lunch kept blowing me away with the quality given the price, and I also kept getting blown away by the quality of the nori. But the place does take some getting used to, including the fact that even at the sushi bar, you don't order directly from the chef (if you are ordering a la carte, they will give you a little paper menu to check off, which seemed very strange and impersonal to me). (The chef did interact with me though when I ordered the course set and explained what he was giving me and he was talking in Japanese with the people next to me - but it's not that kind of deeply personal schmooze with the chef type of sushi bar if you know what I mean).

              P.S. Also very good sake served in very nice sake servers.

              1. re: omotosando

                omotosando - "...traditional Edo-style sushi, which I love..." And this is my style as well (with a great cup of high-end green tea!!!), if you are in the SFVally neighborhood, I recommend Sushi Iki in Tarzana.

                1. re: liu

                  The tea is good at Sushi Tenn, but not top, top.

                  I shall try Sushi Iki when I am in the SFV. I had read about it on this Board and wasn't sure where it was. I wish the traffic hadn't gotten so bad in L.A. I used to think nothing of driving anywhere for good sushi. Not anymore - nothing like a traffic jam to kill an appetite.

                  1. re: omotosando

                    Sushi Iki
                    18663 Ventura Blvd. (#818.343-3470)

                    Off the 101 Freeway at Tampa. Make a right off the ramp to Ventura Blvd. and continue East (left onto Ventura Blvd.). It will be on your left (on the North side) a few blocks. If you get to Reseda, you have gone too far.

                    It is in a little, recessed outdoor mini-mall. You might not see it from the boulevard, so just go by the address.

                    1. re: liu

                      Do you know how long Sushi Iki has been there? About 10 years ago, I remember eating in a sushi bar in that general location, north side of the street. It was sorta in the back in a mini-mall. Instead of facing Ventura Blvd., this restaurant faced east. Kind of a non-descript place, but good sushi. Wonder if it is the same place?

                      1. re: omotosando

                        I would guess that Sushi Iki has been there for at least 10 years; however, it does face the Boulevard, it is in the center of a small mini-mall, and very small. I doubt that it is the same place.

                        Just a wild guess, I think you might have been more in Encino...maybe 4-on-6 Sushi? Or probably there are others that it could have been.