Sawada Sushi…2 Michelin Stars

We almost missed this dinner. I realized at 515p that dinner was at 5p not 7p while sorting through vintage transformers. If it wasn’t for Erika’s can do attitude prompting me to go for it, I was almost going to cancel. We ran into the street trying to catch a cab, rushing to one of the highlight restaurants of our trip. To be eating at a two star restaurant in shorts, unshaven, in a sports jersey made me feel truly like an American. I was emailing the concierge in the cab, cab driver was taking all the wrong routes on Google maps, we eventually got out of his cab while stuck in traffic, ran into the non descript alley and took our chances going up three flights to what seemed like it might be the place on Google maps location indicator.
We had to be fast tracked through our sashimi while our other guests, nice family also from LA, had already started their sushi. Please note that this is not in order, and pictures were not allowed, screwed again. It was instilled in us not to mix the wasabi into the soy sauce, but to put a dab on the fish, then dip in either salt or soy sauce.
Again, like Mizutani, sashimi in beginning, started with baby snapper sashimi, which most places start with. Followed by regular sea urchin served together with steamed abalone with abalone egg jelly, foie gras like. Then came an amuse bouche in the form of a little vine of microscopic tomatoes the size of baby grapes that just popped in your mouth. I wish I could have taken a picture of this.
This was followed by marinated special tako (octopus), which was better than Ichiyanagi by far. This was only the second time we had tako, and it was marinated, maybe because the season as I mentioned before is not favorable for most octopus. Somewhere in the beginning we also had cockle sashimi with salt and lime. Then, yellowtail fileted, with sliced radish in the middle, served as a sashimi. Then we had sashimi of Japanese Geoduck/ Mirugai aka Giant Clam. Again, I had seconds of this along with the uni. We cannot stress the importance of eating as much uni and clam in it’s natural environment as humanly possible. These items do not travel well to the US, so you have to eat them here.
Then, sushi started with Kissfish, followed by Smoked Bonito, smoked in rice basket, was as good as the smoked bonito from Imamura. Then, Chu toro, Maguro, and O-toro. Followed by Kohada cut in a herringbone pattern. Then, O-toro (fatty tuna) cooked by holding a grill over the sushi with stacked charcoal. Followed by a more ornate piece of sushi, which was a deviation from most other hardline sushi restaurants that would not dare make complex rolls with too many combinations. Osaka styled pressed sushi with shiso leaf, asparagus, and a dark aji/mackrel variant was the most French/molecular styled piece we had at a straight up sushi joint. One of the last savory pieces was the rare seared Kobe sushi. Literally melted in your mouth. In LA restaurants they use butane gas guns to sear, here, he used a grill stacked with hot coals that he holds over the sushi, unbelieveable.
Then the uni lesson arrived. Purple sea urchin from south of Hokkaido, sushi style, he clumped it on rice and put it in your cupped hand, almost hand feeding you, nice psychological touch. This was followed by the best sea urchin we’ve ever had; Hokkaido sea urchin, very red, small lobes, think this is the same uni we had at Imamura, but I was just not schooled on it then. He served this in the traditional style, rice with seaweed wrapped around it. He made jokes about how it looked like an ice cream cone of uni, then to my neighbor on the left he made the stack higher, jokingly saying, “Mt Fuji size uni”. When my turn came, I asked for “Mt. Everest size uni”, to which he responded by stacking a jenga size stack. He then stacked a similarly high pile for Erika. She was loving uni, total 360 from her position on uni in LA.
We forgot to mention that his rice was also sour, like Jiro, but more subtle than Jiro’s, not as full blown puckerage in our mouths. Their seaweed was the crispiest, they made a roll with chopped radish inside with spicy sesame salt, simple, but highlights the quality of the ingredients. Also, this guy had the sleekest kitchen that we ever saw. He had this amazing natural fridge with an ice block on topshelf, and trays of fish in black lacquered boxes in main compartment underneath the block of ice above. He said that this is the best way to keep fish cold, no motor, no technology, fish in trays in a ice box above a block of ice. Amazingly beautiful, dark wood with copper handles, contrasted nicely with the rest of the kitchen. He also had a copper steamer in the kitchen that Erika was drooling over. She wanted to recreate his kitchen at home. He proudly explained how he designed everything and that he is old-school traditional. He had no apprenticeship or formal training, just learned by watching others.
The giant prawn was good, but not particularly above the others we had. This came out towards the end. Followed by baby Japanese eggplant marinated in sea water. Then, the pointed head of a steamed squid stuffed with rice. Imagine an Armenian/Greek eggplant dolma, but instead of eggplant, it’s squid. He stated that this is a very traditional style of sushi that no one knows how to make anymore. Ending with Unagi here, where again it was smoked but also grilled with sea salt and lemon. He also served river uni with teriyaki. Both were decadent.
The tomago was the most smoky here, a little on the dry side. Most were dry, except Mizutani, which was dry on outside and wet and juicy in the middle. Baby persimmon for final dessert in it’s desiccated leaf.
We were so lucky to have seen chef Sawada as a fellow customer at Imamura on our first sushi experience last Sunday, and end our Tokyo experience with him and his wife. They remembered our faces, and were shocked to hear all the places we went to and asked us if we lived in Tokyo. Chef Sawada and his wife run the show. Super humble guy who has really come up over the years. His wife even made the napkins on the table that were gifted to us with a painting of an iris on it, what a personal touch. He really deserves all the fame he has recieved, very nice, personable, hard working, proud, old school, but not stand offish or arrogant. He used to be a truck driver for six years, saved money to open a three seat restaurant, then 11 years ago expanded to his current location where only six people sit. Bravo chef Sawada!
sawada tomato old school blowtorch

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