A San Francisco hound here wants some feedback from you regarding Tama Sushi...
I first tried Tama based on recs from this board back in December 04. My wife and I met another couple for dinner in the middle of the week and sat at the sushi bar. All four of us had the 12 pc + appetizer + soup omakase that ran about $25 or $30 at that time. The meal was amazing. The appetizers and soup were fantastic (love that deep-fried miniature crab), and the sushi was a parade of 12 unique and delicious items like bluefin toro, hamachi toro, monkfish liver, live scallop, and uni. There wasn't a single piece served that didn't make us swoon or moan. We brought along our own bottle of champagne and shared a glass with Katsu (he took a couple of sips but didn't appear to enjoy it). We loved it so much that my wife in I swore to eat at Tama whenever we visit L.A. We've also all but stopped eating sushi in S.F. because while we can find sushi of similar quality, it would cost us at least twice as much, and more likely three or more times as much, as Tama.
This past weekend we finally returned to L.A. and went to Tama on Friday night. We again sat at the sushi bar. We noticed that the omakase prices had increased: $40 gets 12 pcs plus a roll, while $50 gets 14 pcs plus soup and appetizer. We were a bit sad the prices had risen so much, but figured now the prices were reasonable rather than rediculously inexpensive like the last time. We chose one $40 and one $50 omakase. Our two companions were not serious sushi eaters; they ordered several rolls (California, shrimp tempura, soft-shelled crab) and some cooked items from the list. We again brought along champagne and offered some to Katsu and the other chefs, but they declined saying they didn't care for champagne; we bought them a round of beers instead and we all toasted together.
Overall though, we just didn't love our meal as much as the previous one. We had some great pieces of sushi: hamachi toro, kampachi, albacore toro, and uni were particularly good. But several were disappointing, especially the monkfish liver. But I think what bothered me the most is that the fish was served mostly in pairs; if I remember correctly I had five pairs of fish plus 1 uni, 1 monkfish liver, 1 anago, and 1 unagi. My wife had the same five pair plus unagi and monkfish. The soup this time was not as good; it was served in a bowl with a piece of puff pastry over the top (like a french tomato soup) and had large pieces of dry tuna.
We left the meal feeling that while most of the food was still excellent, the lack of variety and increased prices pretty much eliminated Tama's specialness. I no longer feel it necessary to visit whenever I return to L.A. (about 3-4 times a year). One bright side I guess is that I'll probably be willing to have sushi in SF more often now.
But I'm curious to know if the differences I experienced are normal. Is the variety of fish dependent on the season? Are there simply more great fish and seafood available in the winter that allows 12/14 unique pieces, but the summer forces the chef to pair-up on the good items lest he have to serve inferior pieces? Are items like monkfish liver or scallops (which we didn't see at all last weekend) simply better in winter? Is Tama better to visit midweek than on the weekend? Did I commit some faux paux on the last visit that signaled to the chefs that we didn't deserve the same treatment as in December? What do you think?
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