Quick-change artistry

Quick-change artistry

Osawa Shabu Shabu Sushi makes moving look easy in Old Pasadena

By Erica Wayne 02/26/2014

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Last April, one of Pasadena’s better Japanese restaurants closed its doors after 17 years. And, last April, one of Pasadena’s better Japanese restaurants opened on the same site. Presto-change-o! Shaab, whose sushi, sashimi and shabu shabu platters were lovely to behold and a delight to eat, morphed into Osawa, whose sushi, sashimi and shabu shabu platters are equally lovely and, more important, equally delightful to eat.   

The interior décor of Osawa is essentially unchanged from that of Shaab. The restaurant is airy and bright. Light wood tables and chairs line the center of the room. The south lateral wall contains the sushi bar (toward the rear), also of light wood and the higher L-shaped shabu shabu bar. And there’s lots of greenery placed around the dining area.

The new restaurant is owned by Sayuri Tachibe, wife of Chaya’s Executive Chef Shigefumi Tachibe. But Chaya fans shouldn’t go to Osawa expecting the same sort of Asian-European nouvelle-fusion cuisine for which Chaya’s four restaurants are noted. Osawa’s menus are made up of almost completely traditional Japanese dishes.

The sushi list is moderately long, with 18 types of fish and 13 rolls. There’s a minimum amount of pandering to those who prefer the exotic and bizarre to simplicity. A single crunchy roll, two spicy rolls and, a dragon and a red dragon roll pretty much cover it. Cucumber (kappa maki), tuna (tekka maki), salmon skin, yellowtail, soft shell crab (spider roll), rainbow and California make up the majority. Prices are moderate (sushi doublets $6-$10, sashimi $12-$20, rolls $5-$15).

Of course, just like Shaab, Osawa’s sushi chefs post daily specials on the blackboard behind the sushi bar. Here will appear the more esoteric imports that especially appeal to the sushi aficionado: e.g., aoagi (surf clam), kohada (gizzard shad) or namako (sea slug) but not likely to attract the same clientele that go for creations with names like Love at First Bite, Rock Over Roll, New York New York and Philadelphia Story. Those folks need to head over to B.A.D. Sushi around the corner on Holly Street or Octopus on Maryland Avenue in Glendale.

The lunch list at Osawa is relatively long: 12 entrees ranging from $9.75 (spicy green chili ramen with shrimp) to $19 (the “chef’s choice” sashimi lunch with rice and miso soup). We sampled the ramen last time we were in. The broth was perfect, spicy as promised, pork-based and rich with coconut milk, plenty of noodles, a slew of tender shrimp and lots of baby bok choy, nicely garnished with green onion and a sprinkle of sesame seed.

Another light mid-day choice is rainbow sashimi salad with mixed greens, daikon, cucumber, tomato and wakame (seaweed) topped with salmon, tuna, albacore, yellowtail, halibut, avocado and fragrant, sesame-scented vinaigrette ($13). Several of the entrees feature kurobuta pork, hogs bred from imported Berkshire black pigs and whose meat is thought to be the best in the world (their heavy marbling equivalent, in many ways, to that of beef from Wagyu cattle, Kobe and Saga).

And speaking of Wagyu cows, Osawa has Saga beef as one of its dinnertime shabu shabu choices for a mere $89 (half order - $39). If that’s not within your budget, Osawa’s non-pedigree rib eye is only $19 (at lunch - $14) and its prime rib eye is $24. Kurobura pork is $18 (at lunch - $13), and king salmon with spicy miso broth is $19. The meat is paired with tofu, napa cabbage and other greens, onions, mushrooms, peppers, noodles (either ramen or udon) and some exceptionally tasty dipping sauces.

But back to lunch for a moment. A favorite of mine is their baked soy-marinated black cod, served with salad, cold tofu, rice, potato salad and miso soup ($16). Black cod, also called sablefish or butterfish, is one of the most delicate, unctuous fishes out there. And, unlike the similarly butter-fleshed but much larger Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish), has not been fished to near extinction. 

Oddly enough, given its popularity, the cod isn’t on Osawa’s dinner menu. But something nearly as wonderful is: crispy yuzu pepper duck breast, served pink, with green onion and a side of thick roasted eggplant dressed with sweet miso and a smattering of sesame ($14). Also excellent is their $15 ahi tataki, seared slices of tuna topped with greens and avocado, scattered with crunchy popped wild rice kernels and served with sesame ponzu.

Osawa’s alcohol list is short and sweet. Three Japanese beers, nine cold sakes, the most expensive of which is Gekkeikan Horin Junmai Daiginjo ($29 for 300 ml.) and one hot one.  A moderately priced Syrah ($29), Cotes du Rhone ($28) and Sauvignon Blanc ($25) share wine space with two premium Kenzo Estate wines, Rindo ($85 for 375 ml.) and Asatsuyu ($75 for 375 ml.) And, of course, bottled plum wine ($8).

Desserts are relatively limited, but if you’re a fan of black sesame, which has a stronger flavor than the white or yellow varieties, you’re not going to want to miss Osawa’s black sesame soy milk panna cotta ($3.75), served in a small glass jar covered with decorative paper. The custard is light, not too sweet and topped with a generous coating of ash-like crushed black seeds which make the surface look a bit like a lava field after a recent volcanic eruption. Caramel flan (organic), equally good but not nearly as interesting, is available for the same price.

Parking is a problem with Old Pasadena restaurants (especially with all the newer restaurants opening during the past couple of years along North Raymond Avenue and Union and Holly streets). There are a couple of 90-minute free lots, and you can usually find a two-hour metered space nearby. As a last resort, opt for valet parking, especially if you plan on lingering. Whatever, a meal at Osawa is definitely worth the effort. 

Shabu Shabu Sushi
77 N. Raymond Ave., 
(626) 683-1150
Beer and wine
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