Sawa (Sunnyvale, CA) – The Sashimi Club

Sawa – it is one of the most incongruous high-end dining experiences in America – located in Sunnyvale (re: nowhere) in a strip mall (re: next to Subway.) Menus and prices are not offered, merely discovered. The place settings, irony at its finest, depict the typical pieces of nigiri – none of which will be served. The fish, of the highest quality available in America, can come in such large quantities that one wonders if the ocean might just quit after the meal. The naysayers decry that Sawa strokes its customers’ unchecked egos but, masters of the universe or not, the regular patrons merely celebrate the brilliant seafood hidden beyond that neon Sawa sign.

Raw Scottish lobster, killed seconds before serving

Sawa is more like a private club than restaurant, many of the customers fiercely loyal and oft-repeating. Yes, much of the clientele is wealthy and male – many of the conversations revolve around exotic cars and watches – that’s just the demographic of the place.1 But more so than most places, customers build a rapport and relationship with Sawa, thanks to the intimacy of the restaurant.2 It is a continuous journey through the seasons with Steve-san serving as your guide.3 The first-time visitor can be intimidated but if their love of food shows, which should be hard to suppress with fish this sensational, the fish club will be more than welcoming – we are there to eat.

The pictures below were from a five-hour meal last week, enjoyed with three friends (and a few more sitting at the bar – the place is like Cheers.) Not everything is pictured – only the photos that turned out. Note-taking mode was turned off – this is a post to keep your virtual appetite whetted while the Noma, Geranium, and The Sportsman posts write themselves. It was a sensational meal and it has been included in the A1 Best Meals category.4

- chuck

1 – If you listen closely at Masa, Urasawa, or Kuruma; you will hear the exact same conversations. If you are fortunate enough to visit Japan, and visit a top-tier sushi restaurant, the men having these conversations (most 45+) are also accompanied by 18yr old women with day-glow fingernails and glitter mascara; again, it’s just the demograhic.

2 – There are rarely more than 5-6 customers at any given time.

3 – I have been on this journey for 10 years now!

4 – A trend that will be repeated with upcoming posts.

  • Food Snob




  • chuckeats

    those are next Paul – soon…

  • Sharyn Post

    wow. that is all i can say. (my panties are wet. hahahahaa)

  • will smith-but-not-that-guy

    I think what made me salivate the most (and all these fish pictures made me salivate….ALOT!) was the melon at the end. What a stroke of genius from this chef! Was it what, honeydew? Did he just dust it with salt, or was there more to flavoring it than appears? Or was it simply “the thing itself” after all that gorgeous parade of Omega-3? Anyway, beautiful essay, thanks for sharing as always!

  • Vanessa

    Ciao Chuck,
    great post- may I ask how much damage do you have to account to your wallet for this fine, Subway-neighboring experience?

  • Jack Everitt

    Damn, that looks like a perfect meal! Well, my idea of one! (Sashimi slut I am.)

    Extremely envious!

  • chuckeats

    sharyn – you’re a married woman!

    will smith – the fruit @ sawa is always ridiculously ripe – i don’t know how he does it. this was a musk melon.

    jack – we’ll have to drag you down here one day.

  • Dan


  • Faine G

    Absolutely glorious. Still lamenting that sushi of that caliber seems to be about as common as unicorns in Northern California.

    by the by, we visited Etxebarri this month – the sea cucumber was just as magnificent as stated on your blog.

  • Roberto

    Hi Chuck, one question, is the second photo sea cucumbers? If yes can you check where do they get them from because as far as I recall they only exist in the coast around EL Bulli in Spain ( gerona ).

    The dish of Uni, looks incredible. My two favourite sea creatures are up till now, sea urchin and sea cucumbers.

    Best Regards

  • chuckeats

    Roberto, the 2nd pic is a live scallop – I like sea cucumber grilled (a la Etxebarri) and I do know I dislike (raw) sea cucumber intestine!