There’s a restaurant in town I treat as a kind of secret lover: I arrange a visit only when circumstances allow, and our times together are infrequent, intimate and always satisfying. Sansu, located in the Hannah Plaza off Hagadorn Road, is not the kind of place I’d go to every day for lunch. Nor is it the old, reliable standby I might end up at for dinner without a second thought. It is a special place — comely and unassuming on the outside, elegant and sophisticated inside. My most recent rendezvous occurred without much of a plan, a serendipitous twist of the day’s schedule that allowed for a bit of late afternoon delight.
My dining companion and I arrived as the restaurant reopened after its daily siesta (Monday through Saturday, they close from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.). There are three seating options: customary American table seating, private rooms with traditional Asian floor seating, or, where we ended up, a hybrid of the two. We slipped off our shoes and walked up onto a raised, polished wood platform. Like a stage with trap doors, the dining area features cutouts in the “floor,” from which tables stand, their tops rising to comfortable eating level. With piano jazz setting the mood, we settled onto circular floor cushions, our legs dangling toward the hidden floor beneath us. We admired the soft, earthy accents of the décor and the neatly precise placements of dishes, napkins and utensils on our table, like a crisply made bed in a well-attended hotel room.
Our meal began with a refreshing salad, the kind with ginger carrot dressing unique to Japanese and sushi restaurants. Ours was aggressive, light on the sesame oil (if there was any at all) and heavy on the acidity. The miso soup offered a counterweight to the overeager salad, its aroma gliding through the air, whispering from across the table as I ate the salad. Without a spoon, I cupped the warm bowl in two hands and gently sipped, eyes closed. If it had a voice, I’m certain the soup would have sounded like Kathleen Turner.
We decided to try the avocado boat as our appetizer, and like the salad before it, this dish was a bit excitable. The sweet and spicy sauces overwhelmed the natural flavor of the avocado, and the tempura around the avocado was a bit soft. We both loved the extra crumbles of tempura at the bottom of the bowl, which we continued to pick at even after we finished. We were a bit disappointed when the server took the unfinished plate away without asking.
We wanted to try a dish non-sushi eaters might enjoy, so we went with the chicken katsu. It came with another salad, this one with tender mixed greens and a creamy, almost-too-tart ranch dressing. The chicken itself, with its roughly textured and crispy panko coating, is plain enough and should please anyone who shivers at the thought of eating raw fish. The mild sauce tasted like it was made with some sort of radish. While my companion preferred a squeeze of lemon to brighten her chicken, I rather enjoyed the pine-y undertones of the sauce.
However, this tryst wouldn’t be complete for me without sushi. The sushi dinner comes with seven pieces of sushi, served nigiri-style (raw fish placed atop a small mound of hand-formed rice) and a tuna roll. Lined diagonally across a white platter, the sushi makes a striking visual impression. Vibrant red roe sit atop one piece, another is drizzled with just a touch of brown sauce. The iridescent striped sea bass is expertly cut, tapering down to a paper-thin end. The red tuna practically glows.
Of all the pieces, though, the white tuna is the one I savored the most. It’s a supple cut of fish, softer than the meaty red tuna. The texture is silky and delicate, yet it requires a firm bite. The flavor is subtle, with just a hint of the sea. Unlike some of the other sushi, I forwent the wasabi and soy sauce with the white tuna, choosing instead to enjoy this piece naked. The sensation deserved my full attention.
My time at Sansu is always well rewarded. Sure, the servers walk a bit hard on the raised platform and the bonsai tree and flowers are fake, but so what. Through the eyes of a lover, Sansu is flawless.
Sansu Sushi & Cocktails
4750 S. Hagadorn Road
11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday
3 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday