Second son Spencer lives in Japan, where he teaches Japanese literature and culture. About twice a year he comes home for vacation. As a special treat and to celebrate his visit we usually go to dinner (with other family members) to Sasabune, where Spencer kids around in Japanese with the owner and the sushi chefs.
All of us, with one exception, order the “chef’s selection” (omakase). Over the years omakase has consistently consisted of a few plates of sliced raw fish in various sauces, followed by a number of varied pieces of sushi, then a crab hand roll, a piece of sushi filled with salmon eggs (a type of caviar), a few pieces of sea urchin sushi, and finally some sea eel marinated with a sweet soy sauce. Everyone expects these dishes as they usually appear at a traditional Japanese sushi feast.
Last month Spencer came home, and we rounded up five family members for our typical outing to Sasabune. The meal started out as always, until the end of the sushi courses. Then, all of a sudden, with no prompting, the waitress brought the check!
“What’s going on?” Spencer asked in Japanese. “Where is the Ikura, the Uni, and the other dishes?” We were all astounded by her reply: “I am very sorry,” she said, “but those dishes are now only served to Japanese people, not to Americans that do not appreciate them.”
“But I am Japanese,” Spencer said. “I live and work in Japan.”
No use, policy is policy.
So Spencer asked her to please send over the owner. He arrived quickly, and confirmed the new policy! So I asked, “But what about tea? Do you not serve tea to Americans?”
That, he acknowledged, could be arranged, and soon after the waitress brought over tea.
We looked at the check while still in a state of disbelief. We noticed that the “chef’s selection” was now a tad less expensive than it had been in the past. For five people the bill was only a bit over $300, while we were accustomed to spending more like $100 a person with drinks.
In looking at reviews on the Internet, I notice that recent patrons no longer mention the special dishes. So I assume that some financial adjustments are taking place, as the most special dishes are also more expensive. Is this why they have been dropped from the “chef’s selections?” And whose idea is it to say that Americans do not appreciate these dishes?
For the most part, the local restaurant scene is so much better now than in years past. Sasabune may be the exception that proves the rule.
If you go, order a la carte.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
If You Go
12400 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, Calif.