A Tsunami of Flavor: With a new South Jordan location, are three Tsunamis better than one? 

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I gotta give props to the Tsunami boys: While other restaurateurs are tightening belts, scaling back, closing doors and crying in their sake, these guys are growing and getting better. n

The first Tsunami Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar opened on Highland in Sugar House back in 2002, followed not too long ago by a second, larger location in the Midvale/Sandy-area Union Heights development. Then, late this summer, a third Tsunami opened in the Riverpark area of South Jordan. I’m not quite ready to call it a veritable tsunami of sushi restaurants, nor a sashimi empire, but clearly there’s something going on at Tsunami that works.

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While the original Sugar House Tsunami combines contemporary design with traditional décor, the newer restaurants lean further towards the modern. They’re downright dazzling, with flat-screen TVs located throughout, sleek furnishings and design, well-planned lighting schemes, bold color palettes—eye candy, to be honest. These are really attractive, smartly conceived restaurants, and I especially like the sushi “lounge” concept at the new South Jordan location, where sushi and sashimi fiends get their own space and don’t necessarily have to rub elbows with the teriyaki-eating hoi polloi.

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But pretty restaurants are a dime a dozen nowadays. So how does Tsunami fare when it comes to what people actually go out to restaurants for? Food, that is. Well, there, too, I think things have improved significantly since my early visits to Tsunami 1.0. For starters, there’s much greater depth and breadth on the menus, as the Tsunami crew has gained skill and confidence—and their clientele has, perhaps, grown more willing to experiment with new flavors.

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To wit: the fish “popper” ($9.50). To be honest, I thought the idea of a sushi popper—a variation on the worn-out “jalapeño popper” theme—was a nonstarter. Instead, it turns out to be a devilishly delicious starter: Small nuggets of escolar are first wrapped in shiso (Japanese mint leaf) and then cloaked and fried in tempura batter, served with sweet eel sauce and masago (smelt roe from Iceland). At Tsunami, the deep fryer is also put to good use making tempuras (you can even get a single piece of shrimp tempura for $2.75); fried spring rolls ($5.50); crisp and crunchy calamari ($9.50); and fried chicken wings in Tsunami’s unique jalapeño-teriyaki sauce ($6.95). They might want to consider bottling that delightful sweet and spicy brew.

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My favorite way to kick off a Tsunami meal, however, is with raw meat, rather than raw fish or sushi rolls. I recommend sharing the very lightly seared (nearly raw) American Kobe beef carpaccio ($14.50), which comes sliced to about rice paper thickness and is served with a tangy garlic ponzu sauce, scallions and generous heaps of those burst-in-the-mouth fish eggs called tobiko. Another fun way to get the party started is with Tsunami’s green-lip mussel “shooters,” which come equipped with scallions, quail egg, tobiko and spicy ponzu ($5.50).

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Prices at Tsunami are not gentle, although I suppose you could drop in for a maki roll and a glass of beer and escape for under $20. But during one particularly extravagant lunch—admittedly the bottle of Pouilly Fuisse pumped up the bill—the hit my wallet took was softened by the enjoyable company of the crack team behind the sushi bar: Drew, Danielle and Nash. I learned some things about sushi I didn’t know, like precisely where on the fish belly toro (fatty tuna) comes from. That could come in handy if I ever come across any tuna roadkill.

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During that lunch, Drew prepared a fresh aji (horse mackerel) sashimi plate ($14), taking apart the whole fish and serving it in the traditional manner with the fried carcass as accompaniment. It was divine. And for an even more refined treat, try the kampachi (amber jack) served either as either nigiri ($3.25) or sashimi style ($19), enhanced beautifully with nothing more than fresh lemon juice and Maldon sea salt.

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I found the sashimi lunch special at Tsunami to be a relatively good bargain, given the generous slices of top-quality sashimi that arrived on my plate. For $15 you get eight pieces of sashimi—mine included sake (Scottish salmon, not the beverage), maguro, hamachi and kampachi—along with a side of steamed rice sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and a bowl of better-than-average miso soup. All in all, a pretty good lunch.

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One aspect of the Tsunami dining experience that’s improved considerably since the early days is the drink selection. There is an appealing selection of hot and cold sake, ranging from Gekkeikan Zipang Sparkling Sake to the ultra-premium Ama No To Tokubetsu Junmai, Akita Prefecture “Heaven’s Door.” Sake samplers are also an option, allowing novices a chance to try out different sake styles in a wine-flight type of sequence. A full range of liquor, beer and cocktails are available (even the classic Pink Lady!), along with a respectable wine selection by the bottle or glass. I’m a sucker for Burgundy, and I found the Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse ($48/bottle) to complement sashimi especially well.

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Tsunami blends traditional sushi and sashimi with contemporary fusion style offerings like jalapeño-teriyaki babyback ribs, miso-marinated black cod and its coconut-battered Cococabana roll. And yes, there are certainly cheaper places in the valley to eat sushi, but there aren’t many which offer excellent food and equally compelling atmosphere and service. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to find even more Tsunamis in more places in years to come.

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TSUNAMI JAPANESE RESTAURANT & SUSHI BAR
n2223 S. Highland Dr, 467-5545
n7628 S. Union Park Ave., 676-6466
n10722 River Front Parkway, 748-1178
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TsunamiUtah.com

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