Friday, February 15, 2008

How the Other Half Lives

Sawa Sushi
1042 East El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408)241-7292
Chef Steve ______
Hours unknown

Sawa Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tried: February 2008

Sawa Sushi is a fascinating place.

The restaurant has a cult following from Silicon Valley devotees, many of them high level execs from tech companies and their clients sporting jeans and fleece jackets (or with girlfriends or wives sporting large pieces of jewelry) who can afford exorbitant prices for sake and fish, without the blink of an eye or the glimpse of a menu (none exists for either food or drink).

Contrary to reports of mistreatment by the eccentric chef unless you are a regular or recommended by a regular, I was treated just like everyone else seated at the long sushi bar, all of whom had clearly been there multiple times before, possibly within the same week. I won't deny that the place has a very clubby feel, but I did not feel excluded in any way in terms of the dishes served or the manner of service.

Sawa has an impressive sake selection, all Daiginjo, with the boxes displayed behind the sushi bar. Everyone seemed to opt for the "special sake," a very fragrant and opulent sake called Kakunko, and they were drinking it like water. (Given that Kakunko costs $150 for a 720 ml bottle at True Sake, I don't even want to know what their bills looked like at the end of the evening-- mine was plenty high without it). Sawa also seems to go to some lengths to procure pricey ingredients, including Miyazaki beef bearing a certificate of authenticity, including identifications of the cow's lineage as well as the names of its mother and father.

I really did want to love this place. It has an interesting energy and imparts a feeling of Alice in Wonderland going through the rabbit hole, highlighted by its strip mall location, neon signage, and coarse furnishings, capped by a Korean chef who seems to prefer speaking Japanese but will break out in English as needed.

Unfortunately, the ingredients, no matter how expensive, were less than stellar, not helped by haphazard knife skills. The daikon strands were stuck together, the fish pieces were chewy (I do not mind large sizes, but they do need to be cut properly to optimize its texture), and even the lofty credentialed beef was tough. The opening ankimo was the only dish that I truly enjoyed. While I loved the snow crab in the second dish, I found the pairing on the same plate with overcooked shrimp, in a sauce reminiscent of Kraft diet Italian salad dressing, to be jarring. The hirame with sea salt was refreshing but unremarkable, and the saba, which is normally fishy even on a good day, came in unbearably large pieces, with a warning from the chef that there may still be bones. What? What am I paying for?

The ika "somen," despite the perfectly prepared sauce, was marred by the chewy "noodle" strands of squid. This clever idea, while not novel, only works when the squid is tender and fresh. If I hadn't given up, I would still be chewing that squid. The toro was of course tasty, but I have had better in terms of both quality and presentation. The uni was likewise lovely. Yet somehow it loses something when served in a giant, unadorned mound. I suspect even caviar would become tiresome if someone plopped a giant canister in front of me.

It was at least an interesting view into the life of the Silicon Valley elite.

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