Bookend tidal waves frame the sign for Sushi Gen, which proprietor Toshiaki Toyoshima opened in a Little Tokyo plaza in March, 1981. The Japanese restaurant has earned a reputation for market-fresh fish and bringing relative value to a cuisine that doesn’t normally deliver much of it. Of course, handing the keys from our meal to luxury-minded financial analyst Daniel from Effing Dericious eliminated any possibility for value. Still, since it was a birthday dinner for our mutual friend Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang, we were willing to splurge, and the decision paid premium dividends.
There’s seemingly a perpetual line to sit at the sushi bar, or in a dining room that’s visible through wood slats. We waited an hour to secure a table, then let Effing Dericious order, since he eats at Sushi Gen bi-weekly. Sushi Gen sells standard dishes like fried chicken, chicken teriyaki and California rolls, not that we saw any of them. Instead, Mr. Dericious proceeded to shower our table with prized sea creatures.
Low quality monkfish liver has a crumbly texture and has been known to resemble sea feta. No such issue at Sushi Gen, which presented a firm, slightly creamy slab of Ankimo ($6) in a savory, scallion-sprinkled ponzu broth, topped with mashed radish and a shavings of a ginger variety called myoga.
My friends were quick to poke and prod the pair of broiled fish heads ($15). People valued the cheeks and eyes most, but the meat under blistered skin was still plenty juicy. Mashed daikon and pickled vegetables joined the heads.
A meal that started with relatively rustic preparations transitioned to deluxe sushi platters, two pieces of each, per person, including snow white hamachi toro, firm giant clam wrapped in nori belts, well-marbled, rosy-hued toro with wasabi between the fish and rice, and aji (mackerel) with silver skin, scallions and grated ginger, best dipped in savory ponzu.
One of the only dishes that would have worked better at the bar was an oily toro hand roll with wet nori paper, negi (green onion) and crunchy pickled daikon. At the bar, there wouldn’t have been a lapse, which allowed the seaweed to absorb the fish’s natural oils.
To drink, we enjoyed a 720ml bottle of Wakatake “Onikoroshi” Sake, Junmai Daiginjo from Shizaoka Prefecture, a sake house that dates to 1832.
This was a blowout meal of epic proportions. The only luxury item we missed was live lobster, which we saw on the bar, but requires advanced ordering. That’s fine. We’ve got to save something special for when Kang turns 30.