Sushi Tenn – “10”

Sushi Tenn
2004 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

**UPDATE** Sushi Tenn has since closed. The new restaurant in the space is chef Mako Tanaki’s (of Beverly Hills restaurant Mako) new robatayaki, appropriately named Robata-Ya.

One of my girlfriends is currently hot into the online dating “scene.” That is, if there is such a thing as an online dating “scene,” akin to a “singles scene,” but online instead of a bar, and with the thin veil of the Internet serving as temporary *wink*-ing beer goggles, until you finally meet the person “for a drink” at some bar halfway between your workplaces to see how much Photoshop the other used on their profile picture. Usually none, because you end up wondering if that profile picture was actually of that person. wtf?

For the time being, let’s call my friend who is all up into this online dating scene “Rachel,” though that may or may not be her real name, so don’t try to guess who she is. (Rachel, are you reading this? It’s not you! And even if it were, at least I didn’t reveal your online persona “RacyRache!”)

Because I have never been, and likely never will be a part of this “scene,” at least in its formal, official, subscription-based, non-blog format, and while we’re at it, not ever into the dating scene in any format thank you very much, I like to get together with Rachel every once in a while and get live “updates.” It’s sort of my way of vicariously living a swingin’ single, date-ful life through her, just like you are vicariously living a wild and crazy girling-about-LA’s-dining-scene-in-semi-haute-couture life by reading this blog.

We made a sushi craving into a reason to gossip.

sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca
the food can be your alibi

Sushi Tenn has been on my Sawtelle radar for as along as I can remember, but for some reason, it always got lost in various phases of personal hype. First there was Hide Sushi during my cash-strapped-but-cash-only years. Then there was Sasabune during my subservient-is-stylish years. Then there was a whole period of my life when I absolutely refused to eat sushi because it was trendy and I wondered whether self-titled “foodies” and “gourmands” actually liked eating raw fish because it tasted good, or whether they simply said they liked raw fish because it was a sign of “taste.” F–king posers. I believed it to be the latter, so I fasted in protest. Lastly, there is Kiriko. I use the present tense “is” because I am still head over heels hyped for Kiriko, which is not really hype, but a slow return realization that no matter how much I try to eschew foods for the mere fact that they are “trendy,” there is only so much that civilization can do to repress primal tendencies toward tearing into raw flesh with my bare hands and teeth.

I’m over myself now. I like sushi. In fact, I love sushi. In fact in fact, I luuuurve sushi. I’ll just hate on the skinny jeans trend instead.

Sushi Tenn is on Sawtelle, a very short drive from home, even during rush hour. I arrived first and was not only early for our dinner, but I was apparently just early. There was no one else in the restaurant, which was a little disconcerting, but I tried to ignore it as a sign that there were 1) high (price) barriers to entry and 2) clustered competition. Did I mention that Rachel and I are old classmates from business school?

sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca
$10,000, if you reckanize

The dining space is small, but doesn’t feel at all cramped. An all glass façade and seemingly high ceilings give the illusion of expanded space. Décor is minimal, with what would seem to be a conscious absence of visual clutter. Tables are nothing but straight, sharp-edged tops and legs; they are few and far between. Chairs are so simple that they could be either the $10-for-a-shrink-wrapped-pack-of-four or $10,000 uber-high-Tokyo-street-style. I am guessing the latter. My ghetto butt doesn’t deserve to sit in such fancy chairs, so I plopped myself down smack dab in the middle of the sushi bar, without any consideration for future parties that might have to wait because I didn’t sit one seat over. Besides, those dining chairs looked far too uncomfortable for precious sexy back.

Rachel arrived shortly after, and all sense of time and space were lost once she started. The stories were flowing faster than the sake out of the cute little ice-coddled carafe. Let’s just say that I got the lowdown, dirty, shameful details of her back-to-back-to back appointments with various guys, all of whom turned out to be quite close to the bottom of the online dating barrel. That should most certainly not be taken as any indication of what Rachel is like. It is, however, an indication that most Photoshop professionals are on

sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, sake
oh, for goodness’ sake
sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, appetizer
vegetal foreplay

The sushi chef started us with a small appetizer of what looked like mushrooms, but could have been some sort of reconstituted dried mountain, field, or stream vegetable. It was nothing special in terms of taste, but a welcomed gesture from two gossiping girls’ perspectives. Eating an appetizer paced our conversation, giving both of us (mostly Rachel) opportunities to re-oxygenate our hemes before taking a bite.

sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, tofu salad
tumbling tofu, creamy dreamy

We ordered a tofu salad to start, which had the universal Japanese restaurant creamy beige sesame or peanut dressing on it. At some point between my sitting down and Rachel’s anchor-like plunging ahead with a full report of the evening news, I realized that The Boy had arrived, sat down, ordered a beer, and was eating with us. Had you been observing, you would have thought that 1) The Boy was a complete stranger and just creepily decided to sit right next to me even though the entire restaurant was empty, or 2) The Boy knew us, but Rachel and I were simply ignoring him. It was really neither, but if I had to choose one, it would be the latter. The Boy knows us. We know he knows us. And by “knows” us, I mean that The Boy had no intention of participating in our conversation, and we didn’t try to lasso him into it.

sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, hirame (halibut) sushi
light bright, balanced white
sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, sake (salmon) sushi
no proportion distortion

Hirame (halibut or whitefish) and sake (salmon) fish were not extraordinay, but what I did appreciate immediately was Sushi Tenn’s attention to balance and proportion. The rice was neither too sticky nor to loose; neither too sweet nor too sour; neither too warm nor too cold; neither too much nor too little. In fact, I appreciated that in a world where bigger and bolder is de rigeur, Sushi Tenn makes their sushi small enough to eat in one bite. It’s a full bite to be sure, but still far more manageable than sushi that is prepared by draping slabs of entire sides of fish over enormous bricks of rice. My mouth can handle some pretty big things, but sushi shouldn’t be one of them.

sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, kohada (pickled mackerel) sushi
skin flick
sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, sushi
lean muscle mass

The rest of the sushi was so good that it didn’t distract me from the matters at hand. I will put it to you this way. If it’s good, I eat it, and somewhere deep in my subconscious sensory memory, its harmony of flavors and textures will be etched like the first ecstatic moment that you know you had because it didn’t hurt, but of which you can’t express any detail because it was like you were unconscious. Only when something is sub-standard will it hook my attention with its crooked claw and violently jerk me upright, interrupting any concurrent data flow until I force it into my memory for future reference; burned, so I can try to forgive, but will never forget.

sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, saba (mackerel) sushi
mack(erel) the knife
sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, toro (tuna belly) maki sushi
toro! toro!

Now that last paragraph was not entirely true; the part about the rest of the sushi not distracting me. First of all, clearly, every time the sushi chef placed a tiny plate of sushi before us, I would snatch my digital camera from behind my butt on the seat, fire it up, snap a photo or two. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t paying attention to Rachel’s stories. I was. It’s just that I am a naturally-talented, highly-skilled, multi-tasking food blog ninja who can take fabulously focused photos of raw fish without missing a beat of the conversation. (As a note to anyone who ever eats with me, there is never – I repeat “never” – a need to stop talking, hold your breath, etc. as a courtesy to me when I am taking a picture. Of course, you might be interrupted when I shove my camera between your fork or chopsticks and the plate, but really, there is no need to remain silent.) Secondly, if ever I thought I might like oily, strongly fishy fish like mackerel, I was wrong. I don’t like it. I love it. I could have eaten at leat three more orders each of the saba and kohada, both beautifully presented with their shiny, silvery skin.

sushi tenn, sawtelle, los angeles, ca, uni (sea urchin) sushi
Go. Nads. Nuff. Said.

The same argument of “fishy,” however, does not apply to uni. I thought I was starting to like uni, but I am ashamed to admit that I think I was falling victim of the very thing that temporarily turned me off from sushi in the first place. Uni is an “indicator.” Eating uni, hell, even knowing that uni is available, is an indication that you are a true sushi connoisseur. My sisters rave about uni. My mother will deny herself everything else in that little refrigerated glass case if the only thing she can eat is uni. I thought I should like uni, too, so I tried to teach myself to like it. In fact, I think there might have been a moment when the brainwashing has actually taken effect and I really did believe that sea urchin gonads were tasty.

They are sea urchin gonads. They are reproductive organs. I don’t eat organs. Go. Nads. ‘Nads. The only reproductive organs I eat…er, never mind. It’s enough to say that not only are they gonads, but in a pure taste vacuum, uninfluenced by external factors like celebrities, family taste, and other things that seeingly influence out “taste,” uni does not taste good to me.

Our meal was done. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give Sushi Tenn a 10. Rachel was done with her updates, and unfortunately, we concluded that on a scale of 1-10, collectively, they didn’t even add up to 1. When the check came, The Boy picked it up without saying a word.

As much as I love hearing stories about the online dating world, I wouldn’t give up The Boy for anything.

** a year ago today, i rocked out on the rooftop of akwa **

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 chicopants November 20, 2006 at 10:29 pm

that is some hot salmon, like sexy hot…not spicy…it says, “hey baby…”
nice photo!


2 Anonymous November 21, 2006 at 12:49 am

This is my first visit here and may I say that you have a lovely blog! I’ve never tried sushi actually… I know it’s tres chic but I just can’t get over the raw fish thing. Does it smell like fish?

Ari (Baking and Books)


3 H. C. November 21, 2006 at 5:24 am

Oooh, very nice salmon marbling! Me likey already (and I haven’t even seen the review – but you did give it a 10 in your title)


4 sarah November 21, 2006 at 5:50 am

chicopants: yeah, i don’t even like salmon sushi all that much, but you know how it goes. sometimes you just have to let yourself be okay with dropping your standards for the sake of beauty. :)

anonymous: fresh raw fish doesn’t smell like fish. however, i really do love a fishy, oily, stinky fish like mackerel!

h.c.: yeah, but 10 out of what…? ;)


5 RT November 22, 2006 at 12:36 am

If straight up, austere, high quality fish-and-rice-only-sushi-don’t-you-dare-ask-for-a-soft-shell
-crab-roll is your thing, you should definitely check this place out; it really is good. However, if your tastes gravitate to the more fun, intrepid, creative, American style of sushi, go elsewhere; you’ll leave Sushi Tenn unfulfilled. This would definirely be the wrong place to bring someone who’s new to sushi, but is great for people who think omakase (where the chef chooses what you eat; not cheap) is the only way to do sushi.


6 s@bd November 23, 2006 at 2:27 pm

Well, of course that’s the reason I read this blog.



7 Anonymous November 25, 2006 at 8:18 pm

i ALWAYS pass by sushi tenn without going in, maybe because it lacks the hustle and bustle of all the other Sawtelle eateries.. but it’s good to know that it’s decent if the line at Hide is unbearable.


8 Anonymous November 25, 2006 at 9:06 pm

LOL Did you forget that “the boy” bought dinner for you two?! :) Seesh, no love! JP


9 Anonymous November 25, 2006 at 9:06 pm

LOL Did you forget that “the boy” bought dinner for you two?! :) Seesh, no love! JP


10 Chubbypanda November 26, 2006 at 8:27 am

I grew up eating sushi in a family of sushi aficionados. My first taste of sashimi was from freshly caught fish on the docks of Kobe and I’ve never looked back. I’ve had it all over the States and Asia. Let me tell you, SoCal has some of the best and the worst sushi places in the world, and the worst outnumber the best at a factor of 20:1. Anyone with decent skills at swinging a knife can open up a place here, as opposed to Japan where they require a license. If you’ve really got a gem there as far as flavor, skill, and freshness, treaure it. Substance is surprisingly hard to come by in this style-oriented area of our’s.

– Chubbypanda


11 LACheesemonger December 21, 2006 at 9:34 am

Hmmm, do you think S.Irene Viribla has learned what Japanese name ‘skin flick’ is yet; seeing she didn’t know what it was called when she reviewed Mori back in 2001, or even later. Sushi Tenn was the 1st place I tried hokada, right after the restaurant opened. I just bought that and a few other items for takeout, as a taste test to see if it would be worth trying the restaurant in the future. Hokada is fine, but sardines and anchovies have even stronger flavors, if that’s what Sarah craves the most.

I’m with Sarah, while I’ll eat the nads; they aren’t anymore thrilling than umm, eating condoms (squid). Certainly they are better when freshest, but you rarely get them that way at any restaurant, just have to be lucky on any given day. Any eating or even knowing about uni doesn’t even come close to denoting a sushi connoisseur in the least, not even knowing about the far more palatable ankimo (monkfish liver, which is kind of like foie gras in that its rather rich and would could be paired with a full bodied, thick, riper/sweeter style of Alsatian or German wine, along with the standard Sauterne from Bordeaux region). Sushi connoisseur of Warren Beatty’s ilk, eating with Madonna at the old Koreatown Masa operation; would be ordering up this kind of tuna at Urasawa from the Chez Pim blog…and what specific type of fine netted marbled fatty tuna is this referred to in Japanese Sarah?

Well at least the knives are single edge, unlike at The Hump, but these are just medium grade sushi knives, not ‘artisanal’ samurai quality $1000 handmade sushi knives. Still I think Sarah can take better pictures, even with her lowly (oh I have a better point N shoot digicam she could use…*hint*) Canon s500 at Urasawa whenever she gets around to doing that ‘thang’, popping her cherry at Urasawa, food pr0n style :)…and we can debate the actual ‘authenticity’ of Chez Pim’s implication that this is “kyoto style”

Hint: It’s not ‘big toro’ lol. Well that’s what they had written on the specials chalkboard along with live shrimp, at the revolving conveyor belt Daichan sushi restaurant (11301 Olympic Blvd., #203 2nd floor of the Olympic Collection, almost right on top of that silly yogurt shop that doesn’t register on my mind because I don’t follow Penguin, or Pinkberry’s—oh that’s it, that’s what it’s called—, Beard Papa’s; or other ‘fad’ entrepenurial franchise operations like those) last week Dec.15 or 16th?. All sushi $2 (and To-go takeout orders too, for that sushi fix that sushi-sluts™ like Sarah and I are embarrassed to admit to indulging in regularly), except for uni which is $4.50, and ‘big toro’ was $10. haha, the little (shorter than Sarah) Japanese waitress, had some trouble trying to explain to me what ‘big toro’ is, showing me her hand rubbing her belly (which was certainly more plump that either Sarah’s or my tummy ;) ), saying it was the ‘fatty belly portion of the tuna”. Yeah, yeah, I know that, but what kind of toro, I asked? Was it chu-toro, I asked, and then received a blank stare? Was it ‘otoro’ then? “ah, yes, otoro; that is the Japanese name for it” she said, hehe. Well then WTF don’t you put that on the chalkboard, for fox ache! Lazy Americans need to learn the name of that pricey cut.

JP said: (before Sarah had finished her entry): “LOL Did you forget that “the boy” bought dinner for you two?! :) Seesh, no love! JP

LOL, I picked up the check in much the same manner for Sarah and another – later, afterwards I got a rhetorical remark from Sarah “are you insane!” (oh she did not intentionally insult me, but the end result is all that matters). Count your blessing jp you lucky dog; it could be much worse- I speak from experience ;)… and you can quote me “where’s the love?” *sniff* *sniff*

I’m wondering, is it me? Or does anyone else notice that Sarah must have been ovulating while she was writing the most recent entries. I mean, well all know her testosterone levels, unlike the monthly wildly swinging other hormones, are pretty much constant…so, this is the reason she’s especially naughty now?.

Sarah said:My mouth can handle some pretty big things, but sushi shouldn’t be one of them.

Umm, I think I shouldn’t touch that one with a 10 foot pole, err I mean a 10 inch *naughty*…well what do you expect after that ‘skin flick’ food pr0n reference photo???. Uh Oh, as Sarah would say “never mind”!!!

TMI Sarah, please, I beg of you; say no-Mori ;)


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