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Jun 21, 2007 01:21 PM

Can someone explain what the deal is with South Bay sushi?

My BF and I are something of sushi fan-atics, and we recently moved down from the Westside to Hermosa Beach. We have had the typical evolution of sushi aficionados, having graduated from overly sauced "creative" maki rolls to the purist, luscious, buttery, melt-in-you-mouth edo-style sushi a while ago.

With such a great selection of serious sushi venues up north (Sushi Zo has essentially ruined us to any other sushi), I was more than just a little concerned that we wouldn't be able to find quality of that kind down in our new hood. I mean, we need to have our fix a minimum of 1x/week, but usually twice. It seems like everywhere you go in Manhattan Beach, Hermosa, and Redondo it's all trendy sushi places, which as I mentioned, is so five-years-ago. So I naturally did my research on CH as any good 'Hound would, and came up with only two potential candidates...Tomi in RB and Kanpachi in Gardena.

My BF and I trepidatiously visited Tomi right after we moved down to our new house. Tomi was described here as being very traditional and having 14th-generation sushi chefs. Hmm, I took one look at the cheesy plastic promo card on the tables with the lame sushi pics and thought, nope, this isn't going to cut it. We started off with a house salad. How much mayonaissey dressing can you possibly put on top of iceberg lettuce? Well apparently at Tomi, a huge ladle full. There was seriously more icky dressing in the bowl then greens. A little mayo in dressing doesn't usually hurt, but in theirs, it's the only thing you can taste. We had to send it back. Things didn't get any better once the sushi arrived. The fish was all extremely dry and the antithesis of buttery. Ugh. My BF and I lamented the handful of happy-go-lucky other customers going about their sushi dinners. None of them seem to have a problem with it, but then again, far be it from me to rationalize other people's sense of what good sushi is.

Man, did it ever hurt to see that bill. We didn't enjoy a single piece of sushi and it ended up being an $85 learning experience. So strike one. Last night we decided to give Kanpachi in Gardena a try. When we got there, we both immediately thought, ok, this looks promising. It's a cute little place and almost everyone in it was Japanese. Good sign. We order a few basics to start. Salad (here it's very good, shoyu based dressing)...salmon, yellowtail, red snapper, kanpachi, spanish mackeral. It was ready nice and fast. So, the salmon wasn't bad. Salmon's one of those things that's pretty hard to screw up. I'd say it was almost as good as the salmon at Irori. The yellowtail, was well, passable. Definitely not buttery. So I expected great things from the eponymous kanpachi, which of course failed to deliver. First of all, they didn't serve it with the usual requisite yuzu. Second, we didn't even realize it was kanpachi when we ate it at first...that's how not good it was. The snapper was downright fishy and the mackeral, while edible, was nothing to write home about either. Ugh. We really wanted to like this place.

So we ended up ordering two toro/scallion rolls, some albacore and another round of salmon. The toro rolls came cut, so they ended up redoing them for us b/c we'd wanted handrolls. The albacore came w/o any of the usual fixings, no ponzu or anything. So we had to ask. Albacore is another one of those things that's extremely difficult to screw up. We couldn't believe it...the albacore was some of the toughest fish we've had. It wasn't just seared, it was barely even sushi anymore. Judging by the two experiences we had at Kanpachi and Tomi, we noticed that they both had a dry, non-buttery fish thing it wasn't accident or out of carelessness, it seemed to be purposeful, as though that's the "style" in the South Bay. I guess we just don't get why that would be something there would be a demand for.

When we were waiting to pay the bill, another $80 out the window, I told my BF, this is pretty much it. This is the closest thing the SB has to offer us to what we have up north. He said, well then, we're going to have to fill up the gas tank, b/c it's up to Sushi Zo we'll be going.

That's just fine with me.

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  1. Others will be able to fill more detail on specific places, but until that time, I will give the general advice "don't worry too much." South Bay does have good sushi, but you are not going to find it in the Beach Cities where Sushi is a quasi trendy-foodie thing.

    You are looking for chowhound worthy sushi, and you are more likely to find that in Torrance and Gardena. Search for these two cities, epecially the latter and you will find the results you desire. If I have time later, I will post some links to threads unless some other hound beats me to it.

    1. Tsujiki in Gardena used to be good, but it has been quite a while so I can't vouch for current quality.

      9 Replies
      1. re: omotosando

        Would you have ever described the fish Tsujiki as being "buttery" or "melt-in-your-mouth"? Is SenNari in Gardena worth trying? I'm really starting to think there's a conspiracy in the SB, Gardena and Torrance included, where everyone is supposed to offer dry, non-buttery sushi.

        1. re: purediva

          Tsujiki buttery? I don't know. I don't think it is in the same category as Sushi-Zo. But I do remember that it was consistently good, and back in the old days before we had Sushi Zo, Kiriko, Mori and Sushi Tenn (which has sadly closed) on the Westside and when one wasn't in the mood to drop $400 pp at that late great Ginza Sushi-Ko, it was good enough that I would drive down to Gardena from the Westside to eat at Tsujiki.

          I do agree with what Rizza says below that you can get better sushi if you build a rapport with the chef and let him know you are serious (try ordering kohada). Maybe at a place like Sushi-ko, you don't have to build rapport to get the best stuff, but I think it is definitely true at most sushi restaurants. I remember a particular sushi chef with whom I had a very good rapport at a restaurant that has since closed, and when I would try to order a particular fish, he would flat out say no because he knew that it was not the best that the restaurant could offer. I'm sure he would have served that very same fish to another customer who he didn't like as much (he was not the owner of the place and it was not a "little labor of love" restaurant like Sushi-Zo, but rather a restaurant in a very high rent district that was trying to survive).

          1. re: purediva

            i read a blistering review (negative) about sen nari on another board.
            the reviewer implied that there is a WIDE disparity between the quality of food that is served and the prices charged from one customer to another.
            they had ordered from the menu and had calculated ahead of time what the tab should have been.
            not only was the food bad, but they were substantially overcharged.
            the reviewer believed that others in the restaurant were being served better food at lower prices.

            1. re: westsidegal

              Could be just a couple of haters posting negatively about Sen Nari. You should go and check it out for yourself at least once. The main chef there is a classically trained chef, meaning he didn't come out of no Manhattan Beach sushi school. Classically trained means about 12 years of strict training in Japan. I like Sen Nari sushi, but just can't afford to eat there as much as I'd like. One other note on sushi...yes, the freshness of the cut is important, but the main thing is the preparation of the rice. So try it out. Maybe you'll like it maybe you won't. But at least you will know for yourself. The place is xlnt quality.

              1. re: velozo155

                probably won't risk the money to find out for myself.
                it sounds like a sizable investment.

                i live about equidistant from sen nari and sushi zo.

                keizo san at sushi zo has taken my tastebuds to places that they didn't know existed before..

                every single meal i've had at zo has been exceptional whether i've ordered from the menu or i've had omakase.

                1. re: velozo155

                  I've really enjoyed all my meals at Sen Nari. All the cuts were expertly prepared with such precision can care. A nice place to splurge.

                2. re: westsidegal

                  I don't know about that, but I do know from ordering omakase there that it's pretty expensive (over $60+tip per person), and while the chef obviously has skills, I thought the quality of the fish wasn't quite there. Not worth it when I can get a fantastic omakase at Shibucho for about half the cost (I live roughly equidistant from both). I hope it was just an off night.

                  1. re: mrhooks

                    are you talking about this shibucho?

                    3114 Beverly Boulevard
                    Los Angeles, California 90057-1016

                    1. re: westsidegal

                      Nope, this one

                      Sushi Shibucho
                      (949) 642-2677
                      590 W 19th St
                      Costa Mesa, CA 92627

                      Shibutani-san has the best knife skills I've seen there at Sushi Shibucho. His son Kaga also mans the bar (and, I believe, is the true owner of the shop-- his dad works for him!)

            2. Sadly Tomi is not what it once was. The chef seems to be getting a little careless as he ages. 10 years ago it was awesome. You may want to gain the chefs trust a little too. Maybe by starting off with a salad they might think you're not so serious, not that it should make any difference, but you know how chefs can be. I'm a big saba fan, and find that it is a good indication on the quality of the chef sine they all prepare it differently . I have been enjoying Katsu in Manhattan Beach. It is awesome, and I had the most buttery scallop sashimi there. He also loves saba and prepares it wonderfully. I am constantly surprised by what he prepares. i always just ask him what's good and go with the reccomendation. He has been trying to turn me on to abalone which I keep telling him I don't like. but last week he made me a believer. It came as sashimi on the same tray as the scallop with octopus as well. There were two small bites of each item, and each bite was prepared differently ( ex:one seared, one with a dollop of tamarind). just an increadible sushi experience. He is very big on "don't dip". He also makes an amazing yellowtail tartar with pink peppercorn. It takes him 12 hours to prepare the peppercorns. But I never would have been able to order this, it's not on the menu. just like back in the day at Tomi when he would make me "something special", it took me a couple of visits to get the royal treatment at Katsu. I think you just need to find someone with fresh fish and get to know them, or get them to know you. Good luck. Report back if you try Katsu. It's in the El Porto building on the corner of Rosecrans and Highland right by the beach.

              1. I have the same problem as you...moved to Hermosa from the Westside. And I have yet to find excellent sushi here. The best quality fish I've found is at Taiko on Rosecrans in Manhattan Beach, but the cuts of fish are small and expensive. And while it is pretty good, it is not's only good by Southbay standards. And it's hard to ignore the fact that the Taiko branch in Brentwood is at once much better and less expensive. So we generally just drive up to the Westside for high quality sushi. But if you do get the occasional craving for heavily sauced, "fast-food" sushi rolls, Kai on Sepulveda in Manhattan Beach does this distinct genre of nontraditional sushi really well. They have some limited seating, but it's really a take-out place. My favorite Kai roll is the "hot night."

                1. The original comment has been removed
                  1. Hey Purediva,

                    You might want to try Miura on PCH. I think the cross street is close to Narbonne. It's a total hole in the wall, small, authentic sushi place. I also love Sushi Zo, Hiko, and Sasabune, so I think I know what you're going for here.

                    I've only ate at Miura once, but I was pretty impressed, esp their scallop sushi. It is exactly the way I like it, with rock salt and just a dash of lemon. The owner is very nice, and I had a very good dining experience. It's been a while though, so let me know what you think when you try it out...

                    1. re: spicychow

                      Thanks Spicychow! I will google it, but what town is Miura in?

                      That's how we love our scallop too...

                      1. re: purediva

                        I think if you google it, it says Lomita. If you're going south on PCH, it's on the right hand side, past Crenshaw, but before you hit Western. It's really small, but I don't think it will be too hard to find.

                      2. re: spicychow

                        Tried Miura the other day on your rec, spicychow, and I was glad I did! I haven't found any place I would consistently go for sushi around here, but I would definitely return to Miura. The quality was great, service was sweet and the prices are reasonable. Granted, my fellow diners and I did not eat much as we were not very hungry, but the three of us got out of there at around $30pp after tax and tip. For sushi we had toro, tuna, scallop, giant clam, uni, snow crab, and spicy tuna roll(might be missing something). We also had a red bean miso soup for one, shrimp tempura app., and a broiled flounder app. Pretty good deal IMO.

                        1. re: baloney

                          Oh, good!
                          I had a real positive experience there, but wasn't sure if I should recommend it, since I'd only been there once. But the fish was very fresh, and I'm glad you had a good dinner.
                          Wasn't sure about the price, since I didn't pay that time, but 30pp after all that sounds like a real good deal. I guess I'll just have to go back sometime soon.

                        2. re: spicychow

                          Over the past decade, Lomita has become somewhat of a hotbed for great food - please let's try to keep this to ourselves... :)