1909 Hwy 17 N.
With a successful downtown location running along nicely, Tsunami sets its sights on Mt. Pleasant with a sleek new store. The formula seems largely the same — a little youthful, a little brash, with a focus on drink as much as food. If it works downtown, why wouldn’t it here?
The Mt. Pleasant sushi bar and restaurant is dark. Black ceilings give way to muted wall colors, dark wood booths, and bamboo-surfaced tables. The darkness in the bar is punctuated with plasma televisions and illuminated bar decor, and in the dining room with a tasteful freshwater aquarium and, inexplicably, another plasma cranking out ESPN in the corner. The dining room houses a three-fridge sushi bar to one side — perhaps the TV is for the sushi guys. There was a good crowd for a Tuesday night, with couples in the muted lighting sipping champagne, most bar stools filled, and steady business at the sushi bar.
Our table bore a “table tent,” usually a list of featured items the establishment wants you to know about — in Tsunami, that’s shots on one side and specialty cocktails on the other. “Shots. Interesting,” I thought to myself as I stared at the World Series of Poker glaring into the room. In addition, the table bore pre-set wine glasses, although we never received a wine list. (I asked for one late into the service, and discovered that it is a short list, with competent, reasonably-priced selections, but nothing truly notable to it.)
The food quality was as varied as the classic rock pumping through the too-loud audio system. Sushi and first courses were good to very good, while other dishes were more uneven. Unagi (eel) was standard — tasty but nothing special, while inventively named and innovatively prepared rolls were excellent and generously portioned (“Dude, Where’s My Crunch” and “Crunchy Tiger Hidden Wasabi”). Pan-fried beef dumplings were seemingly handmade and delicious, served up with a simple sauce of vinegar and soy. Salads were standard but nice renditions of the classics — seaweed salad ($4.99) and the house salad ($2.99) the mix of iceberg and a few veggies with the classic ginger dressing you hate to admit you love to eat.
Entrées were where the, er, wave broke. Our foursome spread our orders through the categories of the menu: one, ordering udon noodles in broth; one, those same noodles pan-fried; one, heading to the hibachi section; and a fourth, to tempura-land. There was much sharing, largely due to the levels of satisfaction with one’s choice. The udon pan-fried with shrimp ($10.99) were a bit disappointing, with smallish, rubbery shrimp no doubt frozen at the farm, and the dish lacked any real flavor — we all tasted it and immediately looked around the table for soy and chili paste. The hibachi scallops ($14.50) were even less impressive, with pencil-eraser shellfish mercilessly cooked to death alongside a pile of tired “hibachi vegetables” and a bowl of rice. Much better was the tempura chicken ($9.99), with strips of breast meat perched on top of a stack of zucchini, sweet potato, and onion, all in the airy (although not terribly crisp) tempura batter I expected. I would have liked a different dipping sauce, which appeared to be the same soy-vinegar served with our appetizer. Udon in broth with shellfish ($9.99) was satisfying, with mussels, squid, shrimp, and vegetables in a tasty broth accompanied by the fat, wriggling noodles, although I’d have preferred my squid in steak form rather than the tiny cut rings, and the shrimp were again of that tasteless, frozen ilk.
I’ve got to say one word about the vegetables in each dish, and that word is “zucchini.” The stuff is everywhere. From the tempura to the hibachi vegetables to the udon soup to the fried udon, zucchini appeared prominently in literally every main dish and side dish that graced our table. Enough with the zucchini, already.
Service was very good (if a bit informal), with our server accommodating our random ordering pattern with aplomb. She didn’t seem to miss a beat, even with the Steve Miller Band belting out “Jungle Love” over our heads, and Doyle Brunson pushing “all-in” on the TV dominating the room. For dessert, we passed on a fried banana and went for green tea ice cream — it was about all we could handle after our gastronomic tour of the menu — which was agreeable and without surprises, two big scoops, enough for everybody to have a few bites.
I feel an identity crisis here. Is Tsunami a sushi bar with a hibachi problem? Is it a bar with a shot menu and TV in the dining room? I left feeling a bit confused by it all. I’ll go back for sushi, where I can sit at the sushi bar and watch the slicing instead of the TV, but for a full-on dining experience, I’m not sure I’d make it my first choice. Tsunami certainly has the dining room to provide an excellent dining experience — now all they need are a kitchen and an atmosphere to do the same.