By popular demand, here just a few of the amazing things that have happened to me at Sawa Sushi:
I took a friend there once who balked at uni. Steve Sawa menaced, "I have knife! You eat!!" He ate it.
Another friend didn't want uni, he wasn't sure if he would like it. "Hold out your fist," demanded Steve Sawa, who then plopped an entire lobe of uni right on the back of his hand. There was nothing to do but slurp it down. Sawa will often put something on the back of your hand to get you to try it.
To amuse a child, he created a maki enrobed in paper-thin slices of avocado, buttressed by origami "legs" made of nori (seaweed), cut two suckers from the arms of an octopus to form eyes, and took the antennae from a lobster and created a "caterpillar roll." I've seen other sushi chefs do this, but never with so much joy.
One night he locked us in, turned around the (Japanese language) "open" sign, and broke out 100 year old armagnac and Cuban cigars for everyone.
Special things Steve Sawa always makes for me because he knows I love them: monkfish liver pate; an entire unagi steak, broiled to perfection and dusted with sesame seeds, that lovely sweet sauce and a bit of rice; and once, a "death by cholesterol" stirfry of fish liver, crab brains, a hamachi steak, soy, sesame oil, lotus root and who knows what else.
If you ask for water at Sawa Sushi you always get a personal-sized bottle of Crystal Geyser and a frosted glass straight from the freezer. Lisa-san, Steve's wife and only other employee, cracks it open for you but lets you pour at your own rate. If your bottle gets low another appears whether you ask or not.
Salmon ribs--he broiled these and salted them, to the point that they turned into "salmon chips" on the bone, crispy and delightful.
He's got more kinds of tofu than I could possibly fathom. I'm sure they all have names, but none that I know. Some are green, tan, white, clear, some have fish flakes, some are in a thick, almost slimy sauce, some are light as clouds, others tiny dense cubes served ice cold.
Steve Sawa measures his love for you by the kind of wasabi he serves: if it's light green and a very fine paste, it's the cheap stuff, he hasn't decided he loves you. If it's coarse, darker green, it's the real thing--so mild, so full of flavor!
He has taught me the proper way to eat nigiri ("finger") sushi, with my hands: turning the fish upsidedown, trailing just the edge of the fish in the soy and wasabi mixture, placing it fish-side down on the tongue in the center. In another sushi place once, a native Japanese saw me do this and was astounded. "You are so polite!" he exclaimed. No, I had a good teacher.
A great sushi chef is proud of the freshness of their ingredients. When Sawa-san serves giant clam, for instance, he slices it, holds it in his hand, and WHACKS it down on the counter in front of you. It curls up like a living thing. That's because it *is* alive, and proving it is crucial. If it doesn't curl up, he won't serve it to you. It's quite dramatic, especially if you aren't expecting it.
The last thing one normally has in a sushi place is tamago, the sweet scrambled egg sushi. Instead, for me, he always makes a "Peter roll." It's different every time. He never makes it again, for anyone else. Sometimes they're lavish, sometimes they're not precisely perfect (he's experimenting), but it's a wonderful personal gift.
Final story for now: Sunday is a bad night to go to Sawa Sushi. Why? Because the little place is packed with wizened, elderly asian men--all the local sushi chefs from around the South Bay. They go to Sawa's to eat! Now that's an endorsement.
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