Sexy, salty and citrusy in Thousand Oaks
Over the grade
By Ron Russ 06/06/2013
3637 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Kanda Sushi is the only restaurant in Ventura County that I’ve actually been intimidated to write about. The most trusted “foodies” that I have in my life have all proclaimed it to be one of, if not the best sushi place in the area. As I have invested a lot of time to learn about the art and culture of traditional Japanese cuisine, I felt that this was my time to formally introduce the world to Kanda Sushi in Thousand Oaks.
We arrived early on a Sunday to try and beat the dinner rush. I do this because I’m self-conscious about the involuntary sounds I make when eating high-quality sashimi. From the moment I walked in, I was impressed by the perfectly organized dining room and sushi bar — nothing was an inch out of place and everything was exceptionally clean (as it should be). The sushi chef, Mitsu (aka Mits), had a warm and welcoming smile on his face as soon as we walked in the door. We ordered some cold Japanese beer and fresh green tea to get going, and then we did what I recommend everyone do and said the magic word, “Omakase.” This means, “I trust you” to create the best menu for us using your freshest and finest ingredients. I also recommend that you give a dollar total per person that you want to spend. (And do yourself a favor and set it at $10 under what you really want to spend, because you will fall in love with something and demand it again. Trust me, you will!)
Sushi can sometimes be intimidating, so it was great to have a traditional chef keep things a bit informal and light throughout dinner. Even when it got crowded and families began their “tempura-palooza,” chef Mitsu kept a calm demeanor and moved about the bar with the utmost poise. We offered him a glass of our beer, but he declined, saying, “I don’t drink at work because I like to keep focused. Some sushi chefs drink all night. I don’t know how they do it. I like to keep my concentration.” I loved hearing this! Don’t get me wrong — slamming down a sake bomb with the sushi chefs has a special place in my heart, but to see how seriously and proudly Mitsu approaches his craft was very refreshing.
Mitsu began our meal by serving us three shigoku oysters on the half shell with raw seaweed, spicy miso and sudachi ponzu. It was about the sexiest way to start a meal that I could have asked for. The oyster had that perfect ocean taste and creamy texture, the seaweed added that umami flavor, while the ponzu brought the salt and citrus to round the dish out perfectly. Following that opening act came a plate of three different types of sashimi, including tuna bachi maguro (big-eye tuna), spanish mackerel aji and sea bream (snapper). My favorite on the plate was the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the tuna, but the flavor of the Spanish mackerel earned best-in-show honors on that particular plate.
Then we moved on to one of the most visually pleasing plates I’ve seen in a long time. We all know we eat with our eyes first, and this was definitely the case when Mitsu presented the saikoro sashimi, which is very similar to a plate of ceviche. Typically, when I eat ceviche, I’m always a little turned off by the strength of the acid of the lemon and lime juice used to “cook” the raw fish. This version was impeccably balanced. It had tender chunks of raw salmon and snapper with some tomatoes, micro greens, yellow bell pepper, lime and a flawless citrus/ponzu sauce that replaced any strong taste of acid with a flavor that was bright and refreshing.
Things moved from the playful to the serious with five pieces of artfully, yet simplistically prepared sushi. The five different cuts of fish include blue fin tuna, octopus tako, salmon, mackerel and kinme dai. I must take a second to explain what happens when blue fin tuna is placed before me. My eyes go wide as if it’s Christmas morning, and my hands involuntarily fly above my head with childlike enthusiasm. When Mitsu added that the blue fin cuts were from a 600-pound tuna from the Mediterranean, I almost fell out of my booster seat. I don’t think you can debate that, when you’re talking about tuna, size really does matter. As for the rest of the sushi, the octopus had a nice smooth texture, the salmon was marbled and delicious, and the kinme dai, with its unique and almost tangy flavor, was a close runner-up to the tuna. Well maybe not that close.
As I mentioned before, you always want to leave a little room in your stomach and wallet for an add-on, which we so wisely did. After the sushi, we wanted something with a punch, and we went with a plate of soft-shell crab, which was lightly fried and covered with bonito flakes and roe. It was the perfect fireworks show to close out this sushi party.
There was not a single thing wrong with my meal, my service or my overall experience. Everything was flawless and I don’t have a single criticism. Chef Mitsu is a true artist and I can’t wait to see him again.