A true taste of Japan in Port Hueneme
Sticking with tradition
By Ron Russ 11/21/2012
457 W. Channel Islands Blvd.
It’s the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, hands-off-the-wheel, daredevil approach known as “Omakase.” No, it’s not Japanese bungee jumping, it simply means, “I’ll leave it to you.” It is the letting go of what you know (or what you think you know) and trusting that a qualified chef will deliver the freshest and best offering that he possibly can. While there is a menu, I highly recommend that you remember this term when dining at the very traditional Tokyo style Sushi Hanada in Port Hueneme.
As Chef Hanada artfully slices sashimi behind the counter, his wife runs the restaurant floor, leading you to feel as though you might be a guest in their home. While many sushi restaurants look to create a fun and funky ambience and come up with clever names for their sushi rolls, Sushi Hanada is deeply and proudly rooted in the traditions of Japan. If you want neon lights and techno music to go along with sake bombs and “cowboy rolls,” this is definitely not your place. It’s hidden away in a small strip mall and is understated both inside and out. What Sushi Hanada may lack in ambience, however, it more than makes up for in the quality and thoughtful preparation of the sushi.
After reading in the restaurant that “Chef Hanada travels before sunrise to the Los Angeles fish market where the fish is flown in daily from all over the world,” I knew that I wanted to embark on my “Omakase” journey of trust. Despite a good variety of prepared rolls on the menu, I was guided in the direction of sashimi and edo-mae sushi, which is basically a slice of a raw fish atop rice lightly seasoned with vinegar. I willingly deferred, but first I needed to run a quick test of my own.
You know how you can often tell how good a restaurant is going to be based on its bread? That’s how I feel about sushi restaurants and miso soup. This miso soup has never seen a can. Rather, it’s homemade and will be some of the tastiest you’ve ever tried. After I slurped that down, the first plate arrived, carrying sashimi — thinly sliced scallops, whitefish (fluke with ponzu) and toro (tuna belly). It was served with hand-cut daikon (shinier when hand-cut), cucumber and lemon slices. Do not mistake these for “garnish” as they are a thoughtful accompaniment to the flavors of the fish. For me, the fatty perfection that is toro was the standout, along with the scallop with its delicate texture. The next dish to arrive was Japanese oysters. The creaminess of the oysters was very well-balanced by the pool of citrus of ponzu and the delicate scallions perched on top.
Shortly thereafter, I was staring down at an enticing plate of pure art. Ten kinds of sushi: fresh sea eel, squid, kohada, jumbo clam, yellowtail belly, zuke (marinated tuna), engawa (halibut fin), Spanish mackerel, salmon roe and sea urchin. The eel, which is first boiled and then baked, literally began to melt in my mouth. The marinated tuna had such depth, it didn’t seem to want to end. My other favorite was the Spanish mackerel, which was perfectly accented with ginger and scallion. The squid and the jumbo clam left room to be desired both in flavor and an all-too-rubbery texture. At meal’s end, maybe just to prove that his eel is fresh from the sea and not frozen, Chef Hanada handed me a small plate of flash-fried eel bones, which I happily crunched on and named “sea Cheetos.”
Now I do want to reiterate that this place is not for everyone. There are a few rules and guidelines such as: do not ask for wasabi as it’s already in the sushi, don’t dunk your sushi into soy sauce (unless instructed) as it will mask the delicacy of the fish, ginger is to cleanse the palate between different tastes, and lastly, there is no pepper on the table because it’s incompatible with Japanese flavors. At the end of the day, everyone has different preferences, so if you prefer to have your raw fish smothered in spicy mayonnaise or doused with Dynamite sauce, this may not be for you. If you, however, are like me and looking to open your mind and taste buds to something that seems new but is drenched in tradition, then Sushi Hanada is an excellent choice. Just keep the holster of soy sauce at home — it’s like putting A1 on Wagyu beef.