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San Francisco Bay Area Sushi

Sawa sushi, the secret sushi spot - Not at all satisfied. (LA hound)

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Sawa sushi, the secret sushi spot - Not at all satisfied. (LA hound)

kevin | Aug 10, 2004 05:56 PM

After hearing so much about this extravagant sushi bar in a shinty mini-mall in Sunnyvale, I knew I had to try it. Burkes and Well had a full-fledged essay a few years ago about how incredibly fabulous this sushi bar is even though it looks completely modest, there were mentions of extravagant omakase (chef's choice) tasting menus of various dishes from sashimi to sushi to handrolls to cooked dishes worthy of a Michelin three-star chef's skills. Also, in this essay the cost was detailed as being very expensive. A couple hundred or slightly less per person. But for such a mind-blowing meal it might be worth it. Also, another chowhound "x" i think along w/ the regular poster Melanie discussed the greatness of this place (although w/ Melanie a little less so). Well, after all that discussion of this interesting sushi bar of the elite I knew I had to try it when I got down to the Bay Area.

Let me just preface my discussion to say I was clearly and utterly disappoointed. First of all, made a reservation and that was easy enough didn't have to mention chowhound or anything like that (i guess they may be in want of customers after these tough economic times), also they didn't even ask for a number or anything. Not that I'm complaining. It almost felt to easy to gain entrance.

So we arrived there for our reservation time of about 7:30pm a couple days ago, there were maybe two couples already present at the bar. we sat down in the simply attired/vastly simple decor. it looks like a garden variety sushi bar except for the refrigerator case holds nary a single piece of fish which I've never seen before. Why have a case if you're not going to put any of the sushi suspects in it? Just a question. So he asked us how we heard about the place and I mentioned over the internet on the chowhound site. He said that he was getting quite a bit of notice on the site. So he asked what we wanted, I said whatever he recommends and whatever is best today. What I came there for was the full-blown extravagant omakase experience (that has been noted before in many reviews), but this was far from what my friend and I received. Very very far from it. So he asked if we wanted "sashimi". I replied yes. He asked about "sushi". I replied yes. I told him both sashimi and sushi. Of course when you're going for an omakase experience you expect a couple sashimi dishes, a parade of sushi dishes, a couple or few cooked dishes, and lastly some fresh fruit or desert. But this is not what we received.

He started with a type of maguro sashimi, a special japanese type of metudoro (spelling? it wasn't toro) maguro (tuna) that had an uncanny resemblance to hamachi (yellowtail). It was ok, but had a fishy smell and taste which is far from what I would clearly expect of a fine sushi bar. There were about four big chunks for the both of us. Clearly, this first dish didn't sit well with my high expectations. Next up, was skinless Alaskan crab leg meat about ten thin pieces placed in a bowl of citrusy-ponzu sauce. this was good, but nothing exactly mind blowing (especially when that bowl of crab along cost around 35 dollars). Next up was a flouinder sashimi which was similar to halibut or hirame, but he asked us if we could taste the difference between this and regular old, not so good halibut which other sushi bars would serve. I couldn't really taste too much difference, he may have been tooting his own horn. I'm hoping in retrospect that the fish was of the highest-quality for the prices we paid in the end. Next up was the eel steaks, which I though were very good, there was a lightest to the eel that was better than even a very good sushi bar in Los Angeles. But my friend felt it was just ok and that it was just like any other eel you could get anywhere else.

Then we were served a bowl of pickled eggplant and other pickled/vingerad vegetables such as cucumbers and turnips and radishes, things of that sort. (This dish which you'd think would usually be comped was around 25 bucks alone, it was worth all of 5 or 6 bucks, and shibucho in costa mesa in south orange county near alone serves almost the same pickled vegetables for free).

Up to this point, we were not amazed or thought that anything was even excellent or very good, except for the eel steaks and even that was an excessively huge poriton. I could have been satisfied with a portion that was a quarter the size. Esp. if there are going a variety of dishes throughout the dishes. But that was not to be. The other dishes were also very big and the portions sizes and slicing/cutting of the sashimi was almost sloppy. I couldn't figure what was going onl, was this the same restaurant that past hounds had praised so highly as the "apex of japanese cuisine".

The came a salmon sashimi dish which was about a dozen huge, thick slices of salmon. At this point we were almost already full, but far from a satified full. But I ate the majority of this dish even when my friend could not soldier on, so as not to waste all that fish. And because at least I wanted to try some toro or something like that.

So lastly I asked for a very small portion of toro sushi and out comes five pieces of toro nigiri. It was a medium toro at best, and ten dollars for a chu-toro (at ten to fifteen bucks for each piece is defintiely very steep). The toro was of course pretty good but very, very far from the best.

Lastly, he served as some cantoulope as dessert. I found it unfunny that he served the salmon dish and then said, "I didn't want you guys to leave hungry. And then go to In N Out on the way home." I wish he had his heart in the right place, but salmon is one of the most boring fish dishes in my opinion unless you have ultimately highly superior piece of salmon which this was not. And at 40 bucks for this dish, I'm not an in 'n out found but i would have rather had a burger at about a buck and a half, than a subpar salmon for about 20X the cost.

When the bill came we were floored at the price, which came out to about 150 per person, and we didn't have any alcoholic beverages. All we had was water and one coke (which he said he also comped).

I was very dissapointed in the meal where was the sushi dishes and where were the cooked dishes such as "stewed eggplant in bonito broth w/ gold leaf" or "a giant prawn split and stuffed with a veggie and hirame paste topped with garlic shavings and sesame seeds". We received none of this. I would of gladly paid the above amount if we had received the meal mentioned in the previous posts. I truly wanted to like this place. The last thing I want is a subpar meal. but this meal I could have gottent at a korean sushi bar in los angeles where the just serve huge slabs of sashimi at about a quarter the cost of Sawa. As a side note, Sawa is Korean though he speaks both Japanese and Korean and I think he was trained in Japan. His Korean background may explain his huge portions.

Once again, I don't mean to go on a tirade, but I truly wanted to like this place. And I was clearly excited about the visit but it didn't even come close to being a great omakase meal, which I was clearly expecting.

thanks for your time.

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