by Nancy Silver
Tsunami is another famous sushi restaurant & bar located in the Vista area of Columbia. There are two other Tsunamis in the Charleston, SC area, and a fourth is currently in the works around the Harbison area where it will be close to the popular Columbiana Centre Mall and other area restaurants.
Seeing as how I would be attending this restaurant on a Saturday night, I called ahead to schedule my party of five only to find out that Tsunami does not take reservations or call-aheads. Restaurants often refuse to take reservations to eliminate “no-shows,” but it is an incredible hassle to the average diner to have to wait long periods for a table. On this note, my husband and I planned to arrive early to save the rest of our guests from the wait. When we went to put our name in for a table, we were told it would be an hour to an hour-and-a-half wait; apparently we weren’t early enough. If you come on a weekend, make sure to get there early to beat the rush, or save yourself the trouble and come in on a weeknight where you can get some good specials. If you are on a time table, do not eat at Tsunami – you will be waiting for a table.
The restaurant is kept dark with red and chocolate stained furniture. Asian-inspired artwork decorates the walls and a large colorful fish tank can be seen from practically any seat. There is also a large sushi bar which is quite inviting. The cocktail bar sits to the left of the front doors, making it a busy standing area which crowds quickly build upon. We decided to flee from the club scene onto the outside patio where we found an empty table. It was a cold night for SC but surprisingly pleasant outside when we felt the heaters blowing down on us from above.
When we were finally seated, we ordered a number of sushi dishes including the following: Philly Roll, Crab Crunch Roll, Dynamite Roll, Phoenix Roll, Tuna Roll, Salmon Skin Roll, Baby Octopus Nigiri, and the Best Sushi Roll Ever. The Philly Roll, Tuna Roll, and Salmon Skin Roll were the usual safety choices. The Crab Crunch Roll is crab rolled with tempura flakes and spicy mayo. This roll was new to us and enjoyed by all. The Baby Octopus Nigiri was only consumed by my husband, the riskiest of us all. He said it was chewy, gooey, but good. You have to have a big mouth to eat it this one all in one bite. Our friend Jessica ordered the Best Sushi Roll Ever which contained tempura shrimp, tempura flakes, cream cheese, eel, and avocado. It sounded delicious but ended up being a bit of a disappointment. It was definitely not the best roll ever as she preferred the Crab Crunch Roll or Dynamite Roll over it. The Dynamite Roll and the Phoenix Roll where similar in the fact that both contained a spicy fish, avocado, and were deep fried. The Dynamite is a favorite and a usual order by our guests. The Phoenix Roll was a new item to our menu and was delicious. The combination of flavors from the spicy salmon, asparagus, and avocado blended surprisingly well together and was probably the most flavorful of all the rolls. The only warning with this one is that it will leave your mouth on fire so be sure to have some water on hand or another roll to cool you down.
Besides sushi, Tsunami also offers traditional Japanese appetizers and entrees. They have tempura dishes, hibachi, katsu, and yaki udon dinners. Having had their hibachi before (which is wonderful by the way) I decided to try a katsu dish. They offer this dish in four varieties: shrimp, pork, chicken, and oyster. Katsu is a popular dish in Japan usually served as beef or pork which has been coated in an egg and panko (breadcrumb) mixture, deep fried, then sliced into strips when served. I decided to go with the traditional pork. The plate came piled high with deep fried pork strips, fried rice, and tempura battered vegetables which consisted of zucchini, sweet potato, and bell peppers. While traditional Katsu is served with a side of cabbage, I saw that my pork sat on top of a bed of shredded cabbage, using it as more of a garnish than a side dish to appeal to the clientele. I was very impressed that Tsunami was sticking to traditional cuisine so thoroughly while adding some creative flair. Also accompanying my plate were three sauces. I had the traditional shrimp or white sauce that you would normally get when ordering hibachi; it is good on anything. I also had a traditional tonkatsu sauce which is made up of ketchup, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, and spices. It is an acquired taste due to the mix of spices in it, unlike anything I have ever tasted before. I would describe it as an asian steak sauce and it worked well with the pork dish. For the vegetables, I had what they call a tempura sauce. This sauce was a nice light touch to complement the vegetables; it tasted like a combination of soy and melted butter with a hint of sweetness, probably my favorite of the three.
While the atmosphere and crowds make Tsunami a hip, fun place to gather with friends, it is actually quite an authentic Japanese restaurant. It has a number of traditional Asian dishes made from fresh ingredients. And with its vast array of entrees and sushi, there is something to appeal to everyone’s tastes. Overall, I rate this restaurant a 4 for its exotic interior and authentic cuisine. My only complaint is with the refusal to take reservations or at the very least call-ahead seating. If you can’t get people in to try the food, they’ll never know what they are missing.