2233 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City ; 801-467-5545
Five-year-old Tsunami skillfully crafts fish and other Japanese items, with standbys for less adventurous eaters.
Cuisine: Sushi, Japanese
Hours: M-S, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Su, 5-9 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Recommended Dishes: Sashimi, nigiri, maki rolls, fresh wasabi, salmon skin handroll, baby back ribs.
June 7, 2006
Innovation is on a roll at Tsunami in Sugar House
By Lesli J. Neilson
When I try out a new sushi restaurant, first it has to pass some basic requirements. If the place smells funky, the fish is too cold or cut wrong, or the rice is unpleasant in flavor or texture, I will not return. On the other hand, if the chefs look like they know what they are doing, have great knife skills and the fish is fresh and served at the right temperature, I will return.
Because the range of creativity with Japanese cuisine is so vast, you need to frequent a sushi restaurant many times to discover its full personality. Tsunami in Sugar House possesses a high level of innovation, offering expertly prepared Japanese food that will keep me coming back. On a recent busy night, it was unique and refreshing to see three skilled women manning the sushi bar.
I have to disclose that I am an avid sushigoer. I am game for anything, be it uni, sea urchin roe, or natto, fermented soybeans. I even have eaten inago, caramelized crickets, but I won't go into that now.
Business must be good for co-owners and chefs Scott Coulter and Kris Bodeen. In April they opened a second Tsunami in the Union Heights development at 7628 S. Union Park Ave. in Midvale.
Sugar House Tsunami's menu is a bit more intriguing than other sushi menus, thanks to a list of 20 small entrees, but like most Utah sushi menus, Tsunami's is maki-roll heavy. The menu has more than 22 special rolls and 20 standard rolls (6 to 10 pieces per order) in addition to daily roll specials.
I mostly stick to sashimi or nigiri for two reasons: I find rice fills me up faster and I like to taste individual fish flavors. Obliged to sample Tsunami's rolls, I was pleasantly surprised. In the D.T.H. ($10) tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado are all tempura-fried, rolled and served with a mayonnaise-based spicy-sweet sauce. The Lush roll ($14) combines shrimp tempura with cucumber, which is wrapped in steamed spinach and house-smoked salmon with tobiko, flying fish roe, and the same spicy-sweet sauce. A fetching caterpillar roll ($12.50) combines unagi, fresh water eel, and cucumber wrapped in avocado and glazed with eel sauce. Each roll was a colorful intermingling of flavors and textures.
As for sashimi, fish such as wild white king salmon ($4, 1-piece nigiri; $20, 6-piece sashimi) or succulent bonito tuna, katsuo, both from recent special menus ($2.75, 1-piece nigiri or $15, 6-piece sashimi), are excellent. Request fresh wasabi ($2), which has a cleaner, less lingering taste than its powdered counterpart, for the salmon. The katsuo comes with ponzu sauce, a blend of citrusy yuzu, vinegar and soy sauce. Or, leave it up to your sushi chef to create a chef's choice sashimi plate ($17, 8-piece; $29.50, 16-piece). Some may think this is how the chefs use up less-favored fish but Tsunami's chefs try to accommodate diners' requests, within reason.
Though not officially on the menu, pretty much any of the standard sushi rolls can be made into temaki, or hand rolls. Salmon skin hand roll ($4.75) with cucumber and daikon sprouts was delicious. The four-bite cone was at once sweet, smoky and crunchy. A spicy tuna hand roll ($5.95) was customized with tobiko, or flying fish roe, and a quail egg (50 cents). The tobiko added a textural element while quail egg softened the tuna's spicy kick.
Nigiri sushi either can be ordered individually or as a 5-($12) or 9- ($22.50) piece chef's choice. One of my favorite nigiri creations combines smoked salmon, avocado and paper-thin lemon ($3.25). Fresh, smoky and briny uni ($4) is easily one of my must-orders.
Among Tsunami's small-plates offerings are the restaurant's fall-off-the-bone signature baby back ribs ($12.95), basted in roasted jalapeño teriyaki sauce. The ribs are just as good as when The Tribune tasted them in 2002. Dynamite scallops ($8.50), a gratin dish of tender bay scallops, mushrooms, green onions and masago, smelt roe, in a spicy cream sauce packed some serious heat.
Cubes of agedashi, or deep-fried, tofu ($5.95) with ginger, green onions and bonito shavings could make a main course for a pesco-vegetarian. An escolar poppers special ($9.50), a fatty white fish similar to endangered Chilean sea bass, had the fish pieces wrapped in peppery shiso leaf, tempura-fried and served with sweet eel sauce and a sprinkling of masago.
Less-adventurous eaters can opt for large entrees such as steak ($15.95) or chicken teriyaki ($12.75) and come with rice and tempura onion rings. For starters — do not be deterred by its name — try the squid and seaweed salad ($5). The squid is thinly sliced and expertly marinated while the seaweed is smoky with a tinge of heat.
My final test for a sushi restaurant is if it makes its own tamago ($2), or egg omelet. It may seem like nothing special, but crafting the delicately sweet and fluffy egg rectangle, seasoned with mirin rice wine, sake and dashi broth, takes serious skill. I ran out of room last time, but I bet Tsunami will pass that test too.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
October 25, 2002
Novice Diners Swim Against a Wave of Menus at Tsunami
By Nancy Hobbs
It is half-past noon on a weekday afternoon, and every stool at Tsunami's semicircular sushi bar is taken.
Several of the booths also are filled with diners enjoying the food and the sunshine that slips in between real-looking bamboo shoots that serve as decor and privacy screen.
It is a typical lunch hour at the restaurant, which has been courting Sugar House locals since last February and appears to have developed the symbiotic relationship the owners were hoping for.
"We were looking for a neighborhood location and have always loved the Sugar House area," said Scott Coulter of choosing the heart of the community -- the site of the old J.C. Penney store, in fact -- for the Tsunami restaurant he operates with co-owner and fellow sushi
chef Kris Bodeen.
Both men learned the restaurant business during a decade of work at Salt Lake's Mikado. Their concept for Tsunami takes a different spin. Besides such traditional Japanese dishes as tempura and teriyaki, and sushi, of course, the owners wanted to diversify with entrees like pork cutlets, breaded and served with a Japanese-inspired barbecue sauce ($14); beef tenderloin with wasabi
mashed potatoes ($22); or the Tsunami house specialty: baby back ribs, cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness in a jalapeno-teriyaki sauce ($14.50 to $19).
Most intriguing, though, is the long list of creative and
especially tasty "smaller dishes," intended for more petite appetites or for mixing and sharing, akin to a Spanish tapas bar, Coulter said.
"My concept and hope was that people would come in groups of four or five and order several different sushi rolls and a few 'smaller dishes.' "
In fact, that was our dining choice on a couple of occasions. We started with some of the most traditional items -- a fresh spring roll and gyoza (also known as potstickers) -- to whet the appetites of timid and brave. The rice paper on the spring roll ($4.25) was a little dry and the filling too bland. Instead, choose the fried
spring roll ($4.50), filled with pork and vegetables and cooked to perfect, not greasy, crunchiness.
For lunch, we chose a chef's combination, a mix of eel and California rolls, and five sashimi -- raw fish on sticky rice -- selected by the chef. (Served with a bowl of miso soup and rice, the cost is $12.)
We also couldn't pass on the restaurant's most popular "special" roll, the "D.T.H." Made with fresh tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado, it is tempura fried and served with a creamy, delicious eel sauce.
The "smaller dish" menu has a couple of especially tasty
offerings: sushi poppers made of smoked salmon and green onion wrapped in seaweed, then tempura fried and served with a spicy sweet
dipping sauce ($5.75); and Tsunami shrimp ($6.50), tempura-fried shellfish baked with a spicy sauce and generously garnished with bright orange smelt eggs.
The creamy unagi, or eel, sauce used in several of Tsunami's dishes can also be tasted in the baked green-lip mussels that come two to an order ($4.50). More adventuresome diners might take it a step farther with spicy green mussel "shooters," topped with caviar
and a quail's egg for $4.50 each.
For more timid eaters, the "lunch box" is a full lunch, with soup, salad, rice and gyoza served with different combinations of teriyaki and tempura, such as chicken teriyaki and shrimp tempura ($9). The dinner menu offers the full salmon teriyaki or shrimp tempura dinners
for $15 and $16, respectively.
Besides the four-page sushi menu, which is given to diners at lunch and dinner, there is a one-page lunch menu and a substantially larger dinner menu. A menu of specialty drinks, wines and beers is also given to dinner patrons. It can be a bit confusing and bothersome to go through all those menus and remember where, and on
which menu, listed an item that looked especially good.
Regulars get to know what they like, said Coulter, and the kitchen is happy to serve anything from the dinner menu at lunch, such as the baby-back ribs. But wouldn't it be easier for the patrons to have it all on one menu and specify the "lunch only" items?
Although service on both visits was efficient, servers tend to expect every customer to be an expert on Japanese dining. It would be nice to have more explanation about the items being served without
having to ask, for example, what raw fish are on a "chef's choice" combination plate. And for those who may be new to Japanese food, a brief introduction to the dipping sauces, wasabi and ginger might be helpful. It could greatly improve the dining experience of a "novice"
and encourage more gustatory ventures, from neighbors as well as those making a special trip to the Sugar House hot spot.