457 W. Channel Islands Blvd. • Port Hueneme
In mid-September, I received an email about Sushi Hanada to promote its excellence, with the writer adding: “I fear that . . . I will never get a seat at the sushi bar again!” With a recommendation like that, how could I resist?
Closed on Mondays, we opted for a Wednesday night. Situated in a small strip mall along Channel Islands Boulevard with a renovated McDonald’s as a standout anchor, we found the quaint sushi bar — a little-known landmark of sorts, having remained there for 19 years. In fact, my companion, who had lived in Port Hueneme for many years, noted that she had never made it there due to another sushi place just a few blocks closer to her home. And so, in we went, jazz music playing over the speakers, black and white photos of big city life a part of the décor, white table cloths and black booths and a just fine sushi bar — and if you sit there, you must only eat sushi. No chicken teriyaki or udon at the bar. Two sushi chefs, one the owner, Yuki Hanada, native Japanese, were carefully slicing fresh fish, though the restaurant wasn’t so busy that night.
We were greeted by a server, a kind young Japan-native man studying English at the nearby university, who explained that Yuki does not serve American rolls, aka cream cheese-stuffed rolls with who knows what other ingredients. Yuki sticks to “edomae” Tokyo-style sushi (raw fish and sticky rice) and sashimi (raw fish only) preparation or, as the server put it, very traditional preparation. While many other sushi joints do serve it the traditional way, it’s not highlighted as a focal point. But there was more to it at Sushi Hanada than what we had observed elsewhere. Here, Yuki prepares the fish with seasoning and prefers that his customers not season themselves. We all agreed to let his preparation speak for itself.
With this sort of altruistic appeal of allowing tradition to shine through, we chose an assortment of sushi: sea urchin, mackerel, halibut, octopus, albacore and red snapper. As our sushi order was underway, we chose shishito pepper (fried Japanese pepper) and edamame to start.
With a name like shishito, we were all a little intimidated about what was about to hit our taste buds, but we were totally wrong about that. Important to note, both of our starters came in cute little woven baskets and were served on top of paper doilies. The peppers, bright green and slightly charred, were the best little pepper appetizers I ever had. Usually, any appetizer with pepper in the name comes deep-fried and filled with oozing cheese. But these were fresh, with a little hint of heat and salt, not overwhelming in any way. Even my one companion who simply cannot do spicy was trying to get her fair share.
Out next, in lovely rows of four different sushi on one plate, came our sushi dinner. I don’t know if fresh sushi is supposed to have this sort of delicate beauty to it, but . . . this plate did. I really felt swept away to a little hole in the wall in NYC that all the locals keep to themselves.
All of the sushi has a different appeal: served just colder than room temperature, the mild steak like-textured octopus came lightly sprinkled with a reserve of eel sauce that the owner had started 19 years ago. The sea urchin, a mustard color, had a nice mild sea flavor with a pudding-like quality; the mackerel, splashed with seasoning of a lightly smoky flavor under a wrap of thin, clear slices of kelp. The halibut, according to my companion and lifelong fisher friend, was “very good”; and he has caught and eaten right-out-of-water halibut and everything else on our table. The albacore was light and silky, served with just the tiniest amount of scallions and ginger. The red snapper was similar to the albacore in flavor and texture except that it was served with a mildly spicy shiso leaf. Maybe it was the leaf or some wasabi, but I did find my sinuses cleared up after the first bite. We wanted to try the pickled shad kohana but another patron got the last order. Better luck next time.
As we wrapped up our meal, our server advising us to come on Tuesdays and Fridays, the days Yuki goes to the fish market, I was thinking over the attention to detail as I washed my hands in the bathroom. It did not surprise me to find fresh tiny purple orchids in a vase. It’s rather stunning to think about how much time we spend on thinking that quantity is the most valuable part of life while we blow past the importance of quality — and quality isn’t always expensive. If you want to rework that quantity-versus-quality scenario, Sushi Hanada is a good place to start