Tanoshi Sushi Sake Bar
When you’ve been excited all day thinking you have a Sushi Noz reservation but it turns out not to be until next Thursday…you come up with a quick Plan B. Although Tanoshi Sushi Sake Bar was our back up plan, I can’t say we’d suggest it as a Plan B or even Plan C in the future, and certainly not a Plan A. We’re really not sure what happened here but we’ll set the scene the best we can. First, let’s back up a bit and talk about the history of Tanoshi.
Tanoshi opened its doors in 2013 with the late Toshio Oguma at the helm. Oguma strived to preserve the classic sushi tradition, serving Edo-period style sushi with a focus on the key ingredients—skipping the crazy contemporary adornments that are so popular these days. While we did get the essence of this philosophy, it’s with a heavy heart that we cannot add to the list of glowing Tanoshi reviews. We so wish we could have been served by Chef Toshio to realize his full vision, but we have to judge the restaurant by what we experienced on this specific visit.
The evening comes off as disjointed from the beginning with there being two separate sides of the restaurant with separate doors and a wall in between. We were told that there is no difference between the two, but after a little sushi-sleuthing, we’ve found this to not quite be the case. We were ushered into the left side which I’m told might be the reason our experience was not the same as others’ who have been on the right. The meal itself was mostly disappointing, though there were a couple of pieces that were very good. But with a reputation like Tanoshi’s, and a $300+ bill, every bite should have wowed.
We’ve never had an instance where the rice was the highlight of the meal but I guess there’s a first time for everything. Tanoshi succeeds in what we’ve deemed The 3 Ts of good sushi rice: Taste, Texture, and Temperature. To season their rice they use a red vinegar called “akazu” which gives the rice a nutty, sweet quality allowing them to use less sugar. They also use a special soy sauce called “nikiri”, which combines soy sauce, dashi, mirin, and sake which they brush on top of the pieces of fish. The akazu combined with the nikiri provides a lovely seasoning that deserved better quality fish to accompany it. In terms of rice texture, Tanoshi is carrying on Chef Toshio’s legacy of “loosey-sushi”, rice that is made to disassemble in the mouth easily, which allows you to taste all of the flavors and textures simultaneously instead of having to break down the rice by chewing. And lastly, we were very happy with the temperature of the rice—slightly warm, but not warm enough to have a negative effect on the fish.
Let’s get right down to it. We’d like to give Tanoshi the benefit of the doubt—perhaps it was an off-night, perhaps they used up the fresher fish in the earlier seatings—but we did not enjoy our meal, and consistency is key for any quality sushi restaurant. The omakase had a decent variety of fish including fluke, golden snapper, striped jack, amberjack, firefly squid, black sable, scallop, king salmon, and uni-ikura-quail egg gunkan. Let’s start with the bad so we can end with some good. Right from the beginning we noticed that while the rice was warm and well-seasoned, the fish had a chewy texture that felt tough to bite through. While the party next to us received a piece of deep fried fluke before their raw courses started, ours was served after the first few pieces of raw fish, interrupting the flow of the meal. And what was the deal with this deep-fried fluke anyway? It tasted like it was fried 30 minutes before we arrived and came out of a Gorton’s Fisherman box from the freezer aisle (no offense, Gorton). The striped jack (shima aji) had great flavor and presentation but was again, a little tough. Their hotate offering was interesting—instead of lying the scallop on top of the rice, they wrapped the butterflied piece of fish around the rice and placed a bit of uni on top. This could have been a great bite, but the scallop didn’t have that delicious buttery quality, and the uni was very disappointing. Just from looking at the lightly colored uni we could tell it wasn’t going to be great, and unfortunately, we were correct. The uni was also featured in their famous uni-ikura-quail egg gunkan which with fresh uni would have been a perfect bite! But alas, you could tell that it was off. Another piece that has us going wtf? was the fatty tuna hand roll that was smothered in spicy mayonnaise. Any quality that the tuna may have possessed was way overpowered by the nasty Hellmann’s concoction (no offense, Hellmann’s). The seaweed in the handroll was very nicely toasted which was the only saving grace in this course. This would have been a terrible way to end the meal, so we did decide to add on some additional items. We ordered the pieces mainly to give them a chance to redeem themselves, but sadly that did not happen. Out of the FOUR extra pieces we ordered, all FOUR of them were torched, seemingly with the intention to disguise the flavor of the not-so-fresh fish they were serving. We asked for the black throat, kinmedai (golden snapper), kasugo (young seabream), and unagi (sea eel), but had we known that all of the pieces would be charred, we wouldn’t have ordered them. We had also wanted to order the botan ebi with uni but we heard our chef say quickly to the waitress, “no uni”. The other chef then took out a half-full box of uni to give to him, but he quickly shook his head no and the other chef put it away. I’m grateful he wasn’t willing to give us the off-uni a fourth time but the damage was already done.
Okay, enough of that. There were some good bites sprinkled throughout the meal. The king salmon with yuzu pepper sauce was refreshingly tasty—the fish was buttery and flavorful, and the hint of pepper from the sauce really elevated the bite. It’s not the most exciting to have good salmon since our neighborhood sushi spot can deliver on that, but the pepper was a deliciously unexpected addition. The miso-marinated black sable had a slight char which gave it a really good sweet & smoky flavor that made it stand out from the rest. The course of the omakase we perhaps enjoyed the most was the ½ roll made up of three different types of maki: bluefin-tuna maki with shiso, amberjack maki with scallion, ginger, and shiso, and yuzu pepper salmon maki. The seaweed was so tasty we were happy to have more of it. We would have happily ordered this course again instead of the char-fest of add-ons.
In terms of service, there is simply not much to write about. Their bring-your-own policy, while beneficial to your final bill, is apparently pour-your-own as well, without anyone offering to open your bottle or pour your glass even once. Of course we are able to pour our own sake, but it just would’ve been a nice moment to connect with our waitress who we barely saw or heard from throughout the entire meal. Our sushi chef was friendly but kept the conversation to explaining what each piece of fish was that we were about to have.
Let’s add this one to the category of: Josh Got Pizza Afterwards. We definitely weren’t full after the regular omakase, but Natalie was satisfied after the additional 4 pieces. We also believe that we didn’t get the full 10-courses of sushi that it says the omakase includes on their menu. We only received 9 before our additions. Before our meal started when we were already talking about which pieces we might want to add, we had mentioned the botan ebi with uni and our chef said “Oh, that comes with your omakase”. We never got it and as mentioned above, when we tried to order it, it was refused to us perhaps due to the lack of freshness.
We would like to tell you not to judge this restaurant by the fact that they received a ‘B’ from the Department of Health, but once inside, you do feel like a ‘B’ is warranted. From the moment we walked inside (the left-side, keep in mind), there was a fishy smell that had us worried. A fishy smell can indicate that the restaurant hasn’t been cleaned properly. We tried to ignore it to better enjoy the food. It was also very difficult to find a good angle in this restaurant to take pictures of the fish that did not include paper towel rolls, scotch tape barely holding up posters, or laminated art work that is slowly peeling off the wall. Obviously good sushi is not about getting the perfect shot for the ‘gram, but the bar was seriously cluttered and showed their lack of care in maintaining the restaurant. The giant geographical map that labels where each piece of sushi has been sourced from was neat, and our sushi chef even used a laser pointer to point out some highlights from time to time. But overall, the environment didn’t strike us as super clean, and didn’t come off as a place where you would be served hundreds of dollars’ worth of sushi. Another occurrence that added to the disjointed nature of the experience happened when we ordered unagi (sea eel) as an addition. Two pieces of eel had to be delivered from their restaurant next door which were wrapped in plastic wrap and handed off to our sushi chef as if they were palming something illegal. The whole exchange just seemed shady.
Would we choose to go back? Absolutely not—however, if the restaurant feels that our dining experience happened to be the combination of a series of unfortunate events, we would be open to giving them a second chance.