But, here, here's the thing: I like Sasabune (if someone else is paying). Actually, I liked it the first time I went when I paid too (for lunch). I like it a lot. For the type of sushi it is, and for the fish I get to try and taste, I like it. Or, I should say, more accurately: I have liked it the two times I have been there. But, I've only been there twice, and I must admit that I am a firm believer in incosistencies. Maybe I've been lucky in that each time I've gone it's been good (IMHO - and apparently in the opinion of Donald Sutherland, who was seated at the bar last night, and all the staff seemed to know well as a regular).
Let me start by saying this: I'm not a sushi chef (though I know a few). I've never been to Japan. Nor have I been to Nozawa. But I've been to a great many of the sushi joints on the Westside, and some in the South Bay, Newport, etc. I'm not a sushi purist - I love spicy tuna rolls and eel rolls and the crazy (crazy priced too, I might add) rolls at Hamasaku. But, I know when I go to Echigo or Sasabune, these are more traditional style sushi joints, and I'll be in deep s*** if I try to get me a spicy tuna roll at Sasabune.
Okay, so my experience last night:
Promptly greeted and seated (our preference was a table). The server was helpful - asking if we'd been before, of course encouraging "chef's special". She will show you the menu of what "chef's special" involves, if you have certain "no-nos" for sushi or just want to know. Me, I'm not an uni fan, so was pleased that it was not on the menu. I noticed that a young couple sat behind us, obviously unaware of the etiquette that is expected at Sasabune. They weren't thrown out for ordering a la carte. They weren't thrown out for asking about their rolls. The server explained the chef's special, showed the menu, and the couple opted to order on their own. However, I have to say: I do believe in trusting the chef. They have been trained to select the best fish that day. So what if every table is getting almost the same thing? Isn't that what "chef's specials" are all about? Isn't the Spago tasting menu on any given night the same for the couple seated at table A as the couple seated at table B?
I also noted that there is a "Japanese chef's special," which includes things like monkfish liver, and I guess is even more traditional. The "American" chef's special included (I should have written it all down, so forgive me for forgetting):
- a BIG plate of albacore sashimi - (one for each of us). I mean, the amount of albacore on the plate was seriously several ounces. All in a sauce of perhaps soy/miso/ginger something, but I was quite pleased.
All below were sushi (which means vinegared rice, I believe) except for the rolls where noted. This was all per person:
- 1 piece of toro - already sauced in a sweet/soy combo
- 1 piece of maguro
- 1 piece of salmon, with the really thin layer of pickled seaweed was it (clear, translucent) and sesame seeds.
- 1 piece of halibut
- 2 pieces of yellowtail
- 1 piece of amberjack
- 1 piece of red snapper
- 1 piece of yellowjack (I think)
- 1 piece of ono, at least I think it was ono.
- Halibut fin roll. Topped with some smelt egg or tobiko - not sure which - scallions, and served over a little bite sized roll of rice.
- Butterfish roll. Seemed to have an eel sauce on this baked or broiled fish, served on top of a little roll (bite sized) of rice. YUMMY!
- 1 toro roll (took me three or four bites to eat this one - they are a good sized, though smaller than Echigo). Green onions on the inside.
- 1 blue crab roll. I love this roll.
For me, this was a LOT of food. And, knowing fish prices, I know it ain't cheap. So, you think about it - I had 14 different items to taste last night. Our total bill, with tax, pre tip, came to $101 for the two of us and our "chef specials." Sasabune is "expensive" in that it's the expectation you "just trust" the chef, and eat what he gives you, and so all those pieces together add up to a lot. Variety is the spice of life, and I like the fact that I tried 14 things last night. Most other places, if you wanted to sample 14 items, you'd be paying a heck of a lot more anyway.
About the fish: All of it was incredibly fresh. Incredibly. Melt-in-your-mouth fresh for most (except those known to have a tougher texture). The chefs there remove the little fibers from the tuna to really help it just melt in your mouth.
About the rice: I thought on this particular night the rice was done really well. Mind you, I've had sushi chefs explain that it sometimes takes three years for a sushi chef to actually be allowed to touch the fish - that the first years of their training is all about the rice. That each grain of rice should be lightly coated with the vinegar mixture. I think that Echigo sometimes goes overboard with the vinegar. At Sasabune, I think they got it just right last night. Warm (but not hot) rice, where each individual grain was coated, not mushy, and just a great compliment to the fish.
About the sauces: I'd say 65% of our dishes came sauced - getting the "no soy sauce" warning from our server. Some had that sweet, citrusy ponzu-like sauce that so often comes most places on the halibut. Some had more of a simple soy-like sauce. Others had a sweet, eel like sauce, while still others had more of a soy sesame sauce. I did not feel that every piece of fish was drenched in the same sauce. Quite a few of our pieces came no sauce, as did the blue crab and toro rolls.
The place - when we left at 7:30 - was packed. Not an empty seat at the sushi bar, and most tables filled too. It certainly is a favorite in LA, and in my opinion, rightly so.
I like Sasabune. I like Echigo. I also like spicy tuna rolls and eel rolls and the "Harrison (Ford, that is)" roll at Hamasaku. I'll continue to go to those places that have what I like, and I'll continue to trust those chefs whose opinions I know and respect at places like Sasabune, and I'll continue to try and find people to pay for me at such places!
My only complaint: My water smelled "fishy." I should have gone with sake or beer, but alas, I was already a pretty expensive dining partner!!!
Will I go back again? Probably in a year or two, once I've saved up. It's not something I could do every week, but when I have gone these two times, I've enjoyed it.
To each their own, right?