‘Slim’s Pickin’s’ – Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
Original Copy (edited for length):
When I was young, I became infatuated with Japanese culture, art and cuisine. I hung Hokusai’s great wave in my room, folded origami crafts by the thousands and ate sushi; lots of sushi. I told myself that I would someday visit Japan, a tiny island packed with all its many people and centuries of history.
On this past Friday night though, I was transported out of this small town and placed in a small sushi restaurant that could have a perfect fit in Los Angeles or Tokyo; a unique experience rooted in traditional and fresh ingredients right down to the shark skin grater used to prep the fresh green wasabi: Sudachi. Everything here has enough flair to it to completely remove you from your surroundings from the multi-pane fused glass bar surrounding the sushi stations to the 3% downward angle of the ceiling overhead that slopes into the kitchen; a gentle reminder of where the focus is.
Upon invitation from a good friend and fellow foodie of mine who is involved in the operations side of the restaurant, he took my date, a couple of close friends and I out to Sudachi for what would be my first visit since its opening less than a year ago. The space is cozy with roughly enough space for ten seats around the bar and another couple dozen chairs at tables in the dining area. The fused glass bar changes neon colors slowly and gives a pleasantly warm set of tones to the room.
My host explained that the restaurant was receiving shipments of fresh fish daily and that this Friday was an especially good one because they had stocked up for the weekend. Upon entry, we were greeted by three American men, including Executive Chef Jaison LeRoy, standing behind the beautiful displays of fresh raw fish and seafood products, some of which I recognized, others of which I certainly did not. We were started quickly with the customary offering of pickled ginger and two types of wasabi: the powdered traditional form and the super-expensive, ultra-fresh grated wasabi straight from Japan. The difference was monumental and keyed us to the fact that this would not be a traditional meal. Chef LeRoy has had a well-traveled and distinguished career leading him to Sudachi, having opened his own sushi restaurants and studied under a few highly regarded chefs; all of this evident in his preparation and passion for what comes across on the plate.
Throughout the evening (which took over 3 hours) we weren’t given a single ‘roll’ to eat. Chefs Jaison, Jason and Conan chose to only offer traditional preparations of sashimi and nigiri and asked us often if we had any favorites or if we had seen something on the menu that we wanted to try. In the most traditional sense, this style of eating, where the chef decides for you, is called Omakase or, “it’s up to you” in Japanese. Each dish that was set in front of us had a story behind it as to where the fish came from (Atlantic, Hawaii, Japan) and how it was prepared. The excitement of sharing these works of cuisine was evident in the simple garnishes and beautiful fresh colors of the raw fish on the plate. We even were served monkfish liver (called ‘ankimo’); a supreme delicacy and a set of flavors that I have never experienced before, but was overjoyed to add to my foodie-resume. Similar to foie gras, it is high in fat and iron, but with much more salt and a drier texture. Second to the monkfish delight was the perfectly fresh sea urchin (or, ‘uni’) served over rice with a simple broth. In one bite, the nigiri spoon filled my whole mouth with flavors coating my entire tongue and racing back and forth across my palate; it was as if Poseidon had gotten bored with the Greeks and swam over to Japan to share his favorite dishes.
Each dish was this way: a different set of ingredients, but each fresh from the ocean still shimmering with sanguine and living flavors. As part of recent promotions, Sudachi is also offering an apres-ski menu with prices ranging from $3 to $7 and also serves an interesting llunch menu throughout the week. You may not get monkfish liver at those prices, but it’s well worth the fresh sushi after shreddin’ pow’ all day.
Sudachi has found a way to serve the best in fresh fish ingredients with contemporary and traditional approaches to Japanese cuisine. The attention to detail and preparation is evident in the surroundings, the chefs, the plates and the food. So, you may not ever have to visit Tokyo to taste sushi this fresh and amazing.