Takumi: Watch Out, Sushi Gen (long review)
I had a wonderful sushi lunch at the brand new Takumi today. I had always thought it tragically ironic that Little Tokyo, of all places, has such a meager selection of noteworthy sushi bars. Up until now, to get my noontime sushi fix during the work week I had to choose the lesser of four evils: (1) endure the crowd of Sushi Gen; (2) have Sushi Gen for breakfast at 11:05 a.m.; (3) make the trek to Sushi Go 55 (so named because it seems you have to Go 55 miles to get there); or (4) drive somewhere else, typically my beloved Sushi Don in Valley Village. So I was delighted to read on these boards that I now have a fifth option.
Because Takumi opened its doors only on Monday, the restaurant was only half-full at peak lunchtime. The decor is very light and bright, new and modern. Its sushi bar is headed by Hiro, who spent the last eight years at Sushi Gen. The lunch specials and display bento box looked appealing but I was looking forward to enjoying my favorite nigiri selections and comparing them to Sushi Gen.
I started with an order of hamachi. I knew from the first glance as Hiro set it on my plate that Sushi Gen may be in trouble. The cuts were generous and flopped well over the sushi rice, just as Hiro had done every work day for the last eight years behind that other counter. The fish was very fresh, so it was no surprise that Takumi’s fish comes from the same fish market as Sushi Gen’s (one sushi chef explained to me that all sushi comes from the same fish market, but I find that hard to believe, given the wide disparity in freshness among all sushi bars.). The albacore would have been tender and moist even without the ponzu. The salmon was nicely marbled but not too fatty. I later learned that I had the honjake salmon, which was higher quality and thus a buck more per order ($5.50) than the regular salmon. I wanted to try something different, so I asked Hiro what is similar to my favorite, yellowtail. When he said kampachi, and I remembered how the kampachi at Sushi Zo the other night didn’t seem to have much taste and was my least favorite item, but I tried it anyway. I think this kampachi had more flavor than at Sushi Zo.
I asked Hiro if they have that sweet, green gelatinous kelp that Sushi Gen and a select few others blanket their salmon nigiri with. He pulled out a huge jar of it and served another order of honjake salmon with the kelp on top. As I reveled in it, Hiro explained that it’s called battera, although some quick Google searches seem at odds with that (battera appears to be a method of preparing mackerel.) Well, whatever it is, it’s awesome.
The toro is always tempting to me but I usually get cheap and pass on it when I find out the market price (at Nobu it’s about $10 per piece.) This time I decided to try it, at $10 per order, it was only half the price of Nobu. Hiro put one piece on my plate, making me fear that I had misunderstood and this toro was the same price as Nobu. I ate it, and it was good, although toro has always been a little too fatty for me (I know, I know, if I don’t like the fat, why get fatty tuna?) Then much to my delight, Hiro put the second piece on my plate. But this piece was seared, and it had a nice sauce on it, something between ponzu and the heavier, sweeter sauce on anago. The seared toro was much, much better, mouthwateringly delicious. The searing took away the excess fattiness and gave it a nice edge and texture, without sacrificing the flavor.
By this time I was full, which was a good thing because I knew the lunch bill was adding up. The final damage:
1 order hamachi ($4.50)
1 order albacore ($4.50)
2 orders honjake salmon ($5.50 each)
1 order kampachi (about $7.00)
1 order toro ($10.00)
1 diet coke (about $2.00) =
$43.30 (with tax, before tip)
The average price for sushi is $4.50 per order (e.g., for yellowtail, albacore, etc.), in line with Sushi Gen’s moderately high prices. But also like Sushi Gen, Takumi has some nice and affordable lunch specials and bento boxes. For example, they have the sushi moriawase lunch with eight pieces of assorted nigiri and six small pieces of tuna roll, for 12.50. They have a sashimi moriawase lunch that looks similar although not quite as good, as the Sushi Gen sashimi lunch special, for $12.50. They have several different chirashi and don bowls for about $12.50 each. They also have a Takumi Chicken Special (served all day) that comes with chicken teriyaki, sashimi (tuna, yellowtail and salmon, three small pieces of each), 3 CA roll and 3 spicy tuna pieces, six pieces of tempura, of which three are shrimp, salad, rice and miso for $19.95. The same special comes with beef instead of chicken for $21.95. They have a limited number of lunch bento boxes very similar to that of Izayoi for the same price of $9.50 (both have grilled mackerel, salad, soup and rice), except at Takumi you get chicken instead of the tempura and chawanmushi. I think. All I remember for sure is that from the looks of Takumi’s display bento box, I’d prefer Izayoi’s bento box.
The dinner menu is more comprehensive and has many more cooked dishes than the lunch menu. The omakase is $80 and changes nightly. It includes sushi, sashimi and cooked dishes. Hiro says it’s tailored to the customer. Oh, and to answer someone’s question from the other thread, Hiro is not the owner, but yes, he does love jazz.
333 E. 2nd Street (at the southwest entrance of Little Tokyo Village)
Lunch: 11:30 to 2:30
Dinner: 5:30 to 10:30
I tried Takumi on Tuesday Night with Curtis and Ms. Bishop. Here's how it went down: A party of 10 had just sat down at Komasa, so it was looking like a 35-45 minute wait; Curtis, Ms. Bishop and I had a conference; roll over to R-23, Sushi Gen, or try something new.
We decide to try Takumi. 8 people are seated at the sushi bar. Aside from that, the place is empty. Sparse modern design inside. Only complaint is the glare of the fluorescent light from the kitchen invades the dining room. I'd try to switch out bulbs or do something to tone that down. It feels like a cafe in there. (If the sushi's good, I'll eat in a freakin' cubicle!)
Here's the rundown (what i can remember):
1. Spicy Tuna Tempura (They have a few alternative Tempura choices.) I'd skip this.
2. Agedashi Tofu - Broth was very good, full flavor. No bonito flakes. The actual tofu had crisp edges. Thick skin. But crisp. Good.
3. Tuna Mille-Feuille. This was good. Slices of maguro, shiso leaves, and radish slices (I think). The sauce tasted like vinagrette, and overpowered the dish a bit. Good presentation.
4. Nasu Miso. BEST THING WE ATE THAT NIGHT. Roasted eggplant cubes in miso sauce, with sesame seeds. I've had eggplant miso dishes before, and this is the best one I've had. It had a sweetness and dare I say a slight Umami flavor behind it. Very very nice.
5. Octopus sunomono. Pretty similar to most places in town. Octopus was sliced thinner and a little more tender in texture.
SUSHI: Very pretty presentation. But honestly, chef did not bring his A-Game. Heres how it breaks down:
Kohada and Saba were awful. I know Saba can be tricky, but this fish was past its prime and shouldn't have been served.
Toro was good (fatty, dark flesh with marbling).
Scallops were very good.
Salmon was average (good flavor, but poorly cut).
Eel was excellent except not all bones were pulled.
Albacore was very good (but tends to be in L.A.)
Here's the thing, I'm willing to pay to have my mind blown when it comes to sushi. This is why I love Kiriko, Mori, Sushi Park, etc. This place can be a hotspot. But right now, it's very uneven. Some things were great. So it's promising for Takumi.
I passed by this last Sunday, was in the area for Fiore/If, and walk in just to look at their menu and maybe stay for lunch, all looked very nice, but it smelled so much like fresh paint, we decided to leave because of that, but after reading your review I have to go soon.
Thanks for sharing!