Here is the Drop-In Dining report from today's GO section. Drop-In Dining is a continuing series where a TNT staffer drops in unannounced and eats on the TNT's dime, then writes up a report about the experience. Have a restaurant you would like us to check out? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
5315 Point Fosdick Drive N.W., Gig Harbor; 253-858-5151
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closed Sundays and Mondays
Online: www.chefsatsuma.com (mostly in Japanese)
Price range: $-$$
By Craig Sailor
The scene: Nicely appointed Japanese restaurant with tables and a sushi bar. Photos of the owner with Ichiro and other Seattle celebrities adorn the entry. Traditional Japanese music plays in the background.
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Type of food: Gig Harbor's Satsuma Bistro has some of the most impressive Japanese food I've had in Pierce County. And that's coming from a guy who has eaten his way up the length of Japan.
Menu highlights: Bento box ($18, $27.50), nabeyaki udon ($10.25), sushi deluxe sampler ($18.50, 22.50), Washington roll ($6.75), chicken teriyaki ($9.75, $17.75).
People in the kitchen: Chef-owner Tak Suetsugu hails from the Satsuma region of the southern Japanese island of Kyushu (home of those delightful oranges). In addition to his restaurant, Suetsugu offers cooking classes and catering. He was the chef and owner of Nikko restaurant in Seattle's Westin Hotel. Suetsugu makes his own sauces from scratch and doesn't use MSG.
Dishes sampled: We sampled two appetizers. Deep-fried eggplant's skin ($7.95) was a little too tough to eat, but the flesh in a sweet sauce melted in my mouth. It's prepared with ginger, green onion and daikon. A cold soup ($6.50) made with somen (thin wheat noodles), egg custard, fish cake, onions and shiitake mushrooms in a sweet broth was a summer treat.
The Bento Box isn't cheap, but it has to be the most stunning I've had this side of the Pacific Ocean. The separate compartments of the lacquered box came with salad, chicken katsu, fish cake, tofu shinoda in a thick sauce, tempura, sashimi, spicy tuna roll and grated daikon. Little touches like a wasabi "leaf," carved fruit garnishes and a squid/shiso (herb)/oshinko (pickle) roll put it over the top. It'll feed one really hungry diner or two mildly peckish eaters.
The nigiri sushi sampler is chef's choice, but ours came with squid, hamachi, surf clam, ahi tuna, seared tuna, salmon, flying fish roe, eel, scallop and a spicy tuna roll. Each piece was fresh and carefully prepared. The nabeyaki udon's (thick wheat noodles) chewy texture might put off some diners, but the steaming bowl arrived with tempura shrimp, fish cake and mushrooms in a mild broth.
Chicken teriyaki came with sides of soba (buckwheat) noodles and grated daikon. The teriyaki sauce was made as it is in Japan: a light consistency, not the soy sauce-flavored goop used in many teriyaki restaurants. Salmon shioyaki was broiled and lightly salted. It also was simply prepared with the soba and daikon.
We sampled the Washington roll which is made with smoked salmon, apples, cucumber, flying fish roe and imitation crab. It was different and delicious. Entrees are served with miso soup, rice and salad.
Service: Attentive and personal. But keep in mind, chef Suetsugu makes his food without shortcuts so this isn't the place to go for a quick lunch. But it's well worth the wait.
Most unexpected moment: The ika (squid) sushi came with a shiso leaf tucked between the rice and squid. This traditional way to make ika nigiri sushi is hard to find in U.S. restaurants. Shiso leaves are expensive, and most Japanese restaurants don't use the strongly flavored herb.
Wild card: The bargain here is lunch, served only on weekdays. Prices go up for dinner. But, if money is no object, chef Suetsugu will prepare a 12-course Kaiseki (formal) dinner for $200 per person.
Pictured here: Chef Tak Suetsugu owns Bistro Satsuma, with his wife, Minae, in Gig Harbor where he perpares sushi and other Japanese cuisine. (Janet Jensen/The News Tribune)