Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Witnessing a Smackdown @ Hama Sushi (Little Tokyo)

On a boring Friday night, I was watching an episode of "Iron Chef" on Youtube featuring the very first sushi battle featuring my hero Masaharu Morimoto against a Edo-style sushi chef. The intro on the episode gave an interesting history about edo-mae sushi.

If memory serves me right (see, I watch too many episodes of Iron Chef) that edo-mae zushi dated back to Edo period where common folks can pick up sushi at a food stand. Sushi is not about raw fish (that's sashimi), it's about seasoned fresh fish on top of vinegar rice (I guess you can say it's about the vinegar rice). During that period, the raw fish was not cooked and can be eaten easily with hands like today's fast food. Think about it, during that era these type of salty and yet sweet fast food was very popular, but needed to consume quickly before it get spoiled as there was no refrigerator.

There are several forms of sushi with the most common one you see at most sushi bar called "nigiri-zushi" which the chef would clump a small ball of vinegar seasoned rice in his palm, rolled it up into a small bite-size candy bar, and place a fish on top of it. There are so many ways of incorporate an ingredient on to the rice. Some chef uses wasabi underneath the fish to give it more spicy taste. Other chef have also uses a seaweed string to tie the fish to the block of rice. Edo-style sushi tends to concentrate on flavors of one ingredient, but has since evolved to different types of creative sushi.

With so many choices of edo-style sushi in Little Tokyo to choose from, I chose Hama because it got good recommendations from some of my friends. It is a very small place inside of Hama as it only can seat 18 diners in the sushi bar with a few tables for a larger "group" if you happened to be the fool who thinks you can squeeze in that many people in this place.

The service was very prompt and very attentive throughout the night. I was very appreciative of the effort they put in that night as they were on the game whenever it seemed like we needed something. As in for the sushi chef, very friendly and cordial throughout the night (except for one instance which I'll get to at the bottom).

I have super urge to try out a simple item like a Yellowtail. Cut with precision by the sushi chef and was very fresh when I put it in my mouth. It was so good, I did ordered a 2nd round after my first round of orders.


My senses tell me that I have to check out their plate of excellent cut of albacore tuna sashimi. For $12, I thought it was a bargain only because it was one of the best dish of albacore I have had. With the lemon seasoning, pepper and roe, it felt like a mouthwatering ceviche that was beautiful to look at, but I devoured it in matter of minutes. I don't usually inhale raw food that fast, but for that delicious dish I made quite of an exception.

Albacore Tuna Sashimi ($12)

One big thing I always want to get is toro. The thing is, I don't ordered anything but from Blue fin tuna. Toro is a delicate part of the belly fat of the tuna. For the most excellent cut, it can't be damaged or scraped as it has to be smooth. One thing about toro is that it has to be careful in cutting this part of the fat where color, texture, and flavor can be maintain when it is removed from the tuna with a special cutting knife.

The toro I got was still in pale pink with some white streak, which tells me it is still in good shape it arrived from the market/vendor. As it was carefully cut and place into my plate, I can definitely tasted the difference between a blue fin toro and a regular tuna toro (don't get the tuna toro if you can get the blue fin). This was a very good piece of fatty part of the fish I got.

Blue Fin Toro and Unigi

The unigi that comes with the blue fin was not bad. For the life of me, I wish I can tell you why I got that when I thought it was better just to get to Sea Urchin.

The Chef highly recommended to me a hand roll of spicy tuna. I can't refused that I was a sucker for any spicy fish that night. Can I say that it was probably because it the first cut of the night for the tuna and tasted very fresh? Indeed it was.

Spicy Tuna Hand Roll

My first round ended with an order of mackerel and spicy tuna. That's what I was talking about earlier where the wasabi was incorporated underneath the tuna to make it spicy. Just like the hand roll that was given a short time earlier, the tuna was very fresh as I was one of the very first to get that. Mackerel was what I expected and didn't disappoint.

Mackerel and Spicy tuna sushi

With a large bottle of some hot sake, I really lived it up for the night. I felt like a drunken sailor after finishing that large amount of sake where I needed to ordered a 2nd round of few sushi just to make sure I can soaked up some of that rice wine. It was a very good night as I spent about $63 for 7 orders of sushi and a $12 plate of sashimi (before tax and tip) and a few drinks. It was more than reasonable price as I had order a lot less and paid tons more at some other "fusion style" sushi joints.

Large bottle of hot sake

Let me start of by saying this place was very liberal and a very loose atmosphere for a sushi joint. There was never a hint of Sushi Nazi attitude displayed by the chefs. In fact, I have seen some people over dipped the sushi with soy sauce and wasabi. Heck even some people were texting at the sushi bar (rude! in modern times). Even weirder, this place was even willing to offer a variation of California roll with only the ingredients at their disposal.

However, there was an incident where a patron decided to get bold and asked if the sushi chef can make a type of sushi with avocado in it. The sushi chef just turned his back against that patron and sternly said "we can't make that for you".

There was some loud snickering and even some admonished look from sushi aficionados. Heck, even the friends of that sushi noob was laughing at her. That poor gal never had a shot when she realized the humiliation of ordering something that was not allowed. At some other places, a disturbed sushi chef would have thrown her out (ask Charlize Theron about being escorted out of sushi bar when she wrongfully ordered an item). That poor gal quickly went to the restroom and hid while the rest of the patrons got a good chuckle out of it.

There is nothing fusion about the sushi I had that night. Traditional edo-style sushi where the chef pride on the quality of the fish and cut it with precision. He would be happy to let the taste for itself and indeed it lived to all of my expectations.

Fantastic night all around with a little sideshow at the end to entertain me for some good laugh.

Hama Sushi
347 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 680-3454


Hama Sushi on Urbanspoon


Alice Yoo said...

Hey there Pepsi Monster! Nice blog. I love uni!

Anonymous said...

Oh man...I'm craving some sushi now.....

When are you ready for Kanpachi??

Right Way to Eat said...

Hey Alice!

Glad you can find my blog. I love some uni right now too! :)

Hey Danny,

Let me know when Kanpachi because I'm dying to try that place out.