I was delighted to read Leslie Brenners recent post (3/22/02) on Tsukasa. I had a truly wonderful experience there last Saturday night. For various reasons unrelated to my great affection and esteem for Tsukasa, Id not been there since last September. Last Saturday night, when my wife and I sat down, the owner, Kawasaki-san, immediately informed us that he had both shirako and ankimo, which he correctly remembered were two of our favorites.
During the course of the evening, in addition to the ankimo (monk fish liver) and the best shirako (cod sperm sacs) Ive ever had), we were served isaki (threeline grunt) sashimi, tai (snapper) sashimi with yuzu, ika-geso (broiled squid tentacles), hotategai (sea scallop) sashimi with grated daikon radish, fresh (not previously cooked and reheated) anago (saltwater eel) with salt, tarako (cod roe) with grated amaibo (mountain potato), aji (Spanish mackerel) nigiri sushi, iwashi (sardine) nigiri sushi, uni (sea urchin roe) nigiri sushi, and a salmon roll wrapped in thinly sliced daikon radish with shiso, kaiware and gobo. We were also served a small bowl with a few pieces of seaweed of which, unfortunately, I didnt accurately get the name. It was dark green, slightly slimy, with a solid, rather than leafy, texture. I asked the name several times, and finally wrote down me-cabo. I thought perhaps it might be kelp, specifically ma-konbu, but I am only aware of konbu in dried form, usually used in making dashi. Perhaps this was fresh or cooked, rather than dried, kelp. Can anyone help me with this?
My wife and I had finished our meal and were about to ask for our check when an older Japanese couple arrived and sat down next to us. They, like us, are regulars at Tsukasa, and we had become casually acquainted with them on previous visits. Our conversation with them on this particular evening was especially enjoyable and we stayed on during most of their meal, even though we had finished ours. At some point, as a way of expressing the pleasure of their company and of Kawasaki-sans efforts, I bought both them and Kawasaki-san some sake. A good, and much appreciated, idea! It turns out that the couple formerly owned and operated two Japanese restaurants in Little Tokyo, and not only were extraordinarily knowledgeable about Japanese food, but also had extensive and intimate knowledge of almost every Japanese restaurant, chef, and restaurateur in the greater Los Angeles area. My wife and I were enthralled, and were the eager recipients of lots of new information about the Japanese food scene. One of those wonderful and treasured Chowhound moments! The resulting interchange between this couple, Kawasaki-san, and us, underscored for me the value of the social aspect of the sushi experience. The warmth of the social exchange lifted the evenings experience to a different level.
At some point, Kawasaki-san confessed that he had been worrying about the fact that we hadnt been there since last September (he remembered almost the exact date when we had been there last), and said he had been wondering why. I explained our personal circumstances to him, including my wifes move to Seattle and the resulting time commitments of maintaining a commuter marriage. He understood, and was happy to know that our absence was not a negative reflection on him or his restaurant. Im constantly amazed by the memory of the good sushi chefs around town of exactly when their customers eat at their restaurant and what they had to eat.
There were four things included in the earlier string started by Leslie Brenners post that Ill belatedly address: First, the other sushi chef at Tsukasa, Ishimoto, worked under Shibuya-san in the Shibucho era, although he usually did prep work rather than work directly with the customers at the sushi bar. Im delighted that Kawasaki-san has promoted Ishimoto, and that hes now one of the chefs. Hes well trained and an excellent chef, even though I usually sit at Kawasaki-sans counter. Second, its quite common at Tsukasa, as well as some other sushi restaurants, for a chef to prepare the two pieces of nigiri sushi in an order differently. For example, sometimes one piece of fish will be prepared to dip in soy sauce and the other, perhaps just served with seasoned salt, a squeeze of lemon, or a dab of yuzu paste, to be eaten with no soy sauce. If and when this happens to you, consider it a compliment. Its easier for the chef to prepare both pieces of sushi in an order the same way. Preparing each of them differently takes extra time and effort. Third, the clear substance on the piece of salmon sushi, referred to in the earlier string, is a type of seaweed. Fourth, the Japanese name for mantis shrimp is shako.