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[whitespace] Jennifer Kwon
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Pretty as a Platter: Tsunami chef Jennifer Kwon holds an attractive array of ebi, Tsunami dragon roll and ikura tobiko.

Riding The Wasabi Wave

In the heart of Cupertino's Oaks Center, a sushi emporium named Tsunami unleashes a tidal swell of flavor

By Christina Waters

SITUATED RIGHT across the road from De Anza College, in the Oaks Shopping Center, Tsunami offers sushi with a prime location. Attractively decorated with lots of celadon fabric and sleek blonde woodwork, the Japanese restaurant offers islands of cozy seating crowned by a tiny, well-manicured bar. Sylvia and I were starved for sushi the other evening and came in out of the cold more than ready for some hot sake and crisp tempura. We got both, along with plenty of fiery wasabi.

Tsunami boasts a friendly staff and a menu filled with sushi's greatest hits, plus some special delicacies. From an appetizer listing that included softshell crab tempura and tataki beef, we ordered the house gyoza ($4.95) and hamachi kama ($6.95), the luscious grilled yellowtail cheek that is arguably the most succulent sensation you can put in your mouth.

Things got started with huge enamel bowls of assorted tempura ($4.95) and an order of soft, silky gyoza served on an oval platter decorated with crisp cabbages and daikon radish.

"Extremely crisp" was my first impression of an enormous prawn filigreed with delicate tempura batter. "Very crisp" was Sylvia's comment as she sank her teeth into one of those hemispherical slices of Japanese squash, flash-fried to glory. The dipping sauce provided was quite nice: a splash of sake, a bit of soy and maybe some other mystery broth ingredient. But the ponzu sauce, with its bold lemon edge, was even better; we loved the effect of the house steamed dumplings--the soft variety of gyoza--drenched with the clear, clean flavor of the dipping sauce. Sylvia grazed on tempura zucchini and carrots while I worked my way--more than my fair share, actually--through the half-moon-shaped dumplings, stuffed with some exotic blend of herbs and meats.

An enormous half yellowtail tuna head arrived, grilled crisply so that the cushy, creamy flesh of the cheek was cooked to moist perfection. This particular hamachi kama wasn't as cheeky as some--we had to poke and dig around for the bits of rich seafood. Even though there aren't too many bitefuls, this is such a fun dish to consume, allowing hands-on interaction with the huge fish itself. The cheek is the tastiest part of this fine cold-water variety--heaven for fans of marine treasures.

After these warm-ups, our sushi arrived. The lineup of rolls and slices was dramatically presented across a sturdy wooden plank like a troop of performers on a hand-hewn stage.

All of it was nicely made--textbook sushi in fact, right down to the rounded balls of wasabi and tiny mound of pungent pickled ginger. But there was something a little different about our slices of California roll ($3.75). In addition to the expected avocado and cucumber was the presence of real crab meat, not the chewier, brighter red faux crab meat. The subtler effect was exquisite.

With one bite of the spicy tuna roll ($4.95) I gained immediate respect for our chef, a cook who doesn't stint on the chile content of this sensuous creation. Sylvia couldn't get enough of this fiery sushi--and even I had to admit (once the feeling in my lips returned) that it was addictive. There is no wimpy sushi at Tsunami.

An order of beautiful maguro nigiri ($3.50) presented us with "dessert" of pristine, fresh ahi tuna. It was gorgeously sliced on the diagonal, draped over its oval of sticky rice. The flavor of perfect raw ahi and sushi rice with its hint of sweetness, all punctuated with the bright flash of wasabi paste and dipped in salty soy sauce, is one of the top reasons to live. When you're satiated with all the rock & roll sushi combos on the menu--and Tsunami has umpteen versions of crisp, hot, vegetarian and baroque sushi rolls--remember to return to the pure concept, just to remind yourself of the whole point of sushi. Maguro nigiri, Tsunami-style. Could be the flavor of the millennium. Go find out.

Tsunami Sushi
Address: 21271 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino
Phone: 408.996.8886
Cuisine: Japanese
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Sat. 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner daily 5-10pm

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From the December 9-15, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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