Here in the bleak midwinter, where nerves are frayed and even the optimists among us are growling at those near and dear to us, we need something to get us through. It’s really okay if that “something” is dinner, and fantastic if that dinner can manage to be visually appealing, delicious, reasonably healthy, and a little luxurious.
Sansu can deliver. Not literally deliver, mind you. While you can order from them online and have your food delivered, it’s better for most restaurants’ bottom lines if you pick up your meal rather than using a third-party delivery service. If we want to have lots of dining choices post-Covid, we have to help our favorites stay afloat after almost a year of reduced earning capacity.
As a dine-in restaurant, Sansu offers an elegant room, Japanese-Korean fusion food, and a sense that one is not near the train tracks on Hagadorn Road but instead, someplace far away and special. I’ve had big family dinners there, dined with a group of women and several bottles of sake, and memorably, enjoyed an evening of sashimi with a visiting friend, who is kind of an expert. We sat on the side of the restaurant where one sits on the floor with feet dangling into an opening and ordered the Sashimi Omakasae, or chef’s choice. He said he hadn’t even had better sashimi in Manhattan or San Francisco.
Last night Captain Carnivore and I ordered takeout from Sansu. He wanted sushi because we haven’t had any for so long we couldn’t remember. So we went over Sansu’s extensive offerings to find the right thing. The selection is vast, but we immediately knew vegetarian rolls were not an option for this particular carnivore, and the simple rolls and spicy rolls were too small.
If I’d been having sushi I would have ordered my “usual,” the Pink Lady, which is a spicy roll with shrimp tempura, masago, avocado, cucumber, and spicy sauce wrapped in soy bean paper instead of seaweed, but I was unable to convince him that he wanted to risk his first shot at sushi in 2021 on anything called a “Pink Lady.” What he did want was a Barbarian roll, a double-sized roll filled with soft shell crab, tuna, eel, cucumber, avocado and eel sauce. The online menu allowed for a degree of customization, and he added jalapeno, tempura crunch, and extra eel sauce.
Not only was the Captain’s roll delicious, but it also survived the trip home looking as elegant as only sushi can look. Think about it: you may find lasagna to be the best food on earth, or a burger, or a tofu stir fry, but they are beautiful only in the way a filthy child is beautiful to their mother. Sushi, with its self-possessed spirals and intricate colors and textures (not to mention the delicate pink pile of pickled ginger and the carefully-placed whorl of green wasabi) is beautiful like a gothic cathedral, or an apple tree in bloom, or Timotheé Chalamet doing pretty much anything. The Barbarian Roll came with a salad of iceburg lettuce with ginger dressing, and a cup of miso soup. There was enough for the Captain to have dinner, lunch the next day, and share a piece with me so I could confirm its goodness.
I ordered a Bento box because I really like them and because they provide an assortment of what the house has to offer — in my case, teriyaki chicken, rice, tempura vegetables, seaweed salad, three pieces of sushi, and two pieces of sashimi. I customized only with a request for brown instead of white rice and was pleased to notice that not only the scoop of rice with the teriyaki was brown, but also my sushi and sashimi.
I’d also been a little curious to see how a bento would be packaged, and how well it would travel. The answer is that, although I missed the loveliness of the red-lacquered box, the separate parts of my meal were packed up in a way that was logical and preserved the integrity of all textures and flavors.
I ate the tempura first while it still had its heat and crunch, and I was not disappointed. I got a large (!) shrimp, eggplant, sweet potato, zucchini, green bean, and sweet potato in super light and not at all greasy tempura batter with the standard dipping sauce. Maybe it wasn’t as piping hot as in the restaurant, but overall it was a miracle of to-go packaging.
The teriyaki chicken itself was tender with beautifully fanned slices and came in a slightly sweet sauce with a generous scoop of brown rice. In a separate package, there were three pieces of California Roll and two pinkly gorgeous pieces of sashimi, which was interesting, because in the restaurant a bento comes with two pieces of sushi and no sashimi. (I am choosing to believe Sansu has joined my immediate family in noticing that I am special.) There was so much food that after the tempura and a few bites of chicken and rice, I saved everything else for a glorious lunch the following day.
If you crave sushi, if you hate sushi, if you want a bowl of bulgogi, if you’re a vegetarian, and/or if you have picky children, Sansu is clearly able to wrap up your favorite dishes along with some beer, wine, or sake to enjoy at home. Until we can eat in the restaurant again, this is a pretty good substitute.