By Marissa Willman


When editor Tracy Dietlan asked me to recommend a good restaurant for this week’s column, I hesitated to share what has been my best-kept sushi secret for months. But for the sake of the greater good, I’m going to introduce you to Sawa Sushi.

When it comes to sushi bars, I have one all-important rule of thumb for judging whether I’ll be back: The quality of their salmon sashimi.

Let me explain. Several years ago, I thought I knew what fresh salmon was supposed to taste like. What I failed to realize was that salmon and other fish travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to grace our plates here in the desert. With that kind of travel time, loss of freshness is a given. If you’ve never had truly fresh fish, it’s easy to settle for the pale slices that are often served in the desert.

Then I moved to South Korea, where I watched as a fisherman sliced me a piece of his fresh catch at one of the country’s largest wholesale fish markets. The salmon melted on my tongue and I realized I had been living a lie when it came to quality fish.

My quest for fresh fish didn’t end there. I’ve eaten fresh-caught tuna from chefs in Tokyo, sampled sashimi in Singapore and watched the fishing boats return with dinner off the coast of Thailand.

You could say my sushi standards are high—a sushi snob, if you will.

I wouldn’t expect a sushi bar in the middle of the desert, where the nearest ocean is hundreds of miles away, to have Japanese-quality salmon gracing their bar. Yet somehow Sawa Sushi serves sashimi so fresh, I’d swear I was back in Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, salivating as the fisherman served me another slice.

The true stars of Sawa Sushi’s menu are the 26 different combinations of fresh fish and vegetables the chefs have created for their special roll menu.

On a recent trip, my boyfriend and I ordered from Chef Eric’s special menu. I indulged in the spicy Miami Vice roll, which includes salmon, cream cheese and shrimp tempura topped with crab meat, jalapeno slices and special sauces. The mellow salmon and cream cheese blend well with the kick of the jalapeno, and it’s easily one of my favorite rolls.

My boyfriend went with the towering Rainforest Roll, which is a shrimp tempura and avocado roll topped with salmon, tuna and scallions. We were pleasantly surprised with the generous fish portions, and my boyfriend found himself playing a precarious game of Jenga on chopsticks while trying to devour the lofty pieces.

We ordered tempura shrimp and cream cheese won tons, both of which were served to perfection. The tempura shrimp was light in both color and taste, not over-fried in old oil, and the won tons were almost overflowing with cream cheese.

Sawa Sushi also serves a full menu of Chinese dishes, including staples such as orange chicken, chow mein and fried rice.

Plenty of deals can be found here, too. The lunch and dinner bento boxes combine two or three menu choices with miso soup, steamed rice and a green salad. Chinese entrees are also featured during Sawa Sushi’s lunch special and are served with soup, salad, and egg roll and rice. The daily happy hour offers buy one, get one specials on all beers and you’ll also get a free California roll when you order two rolls off of Chef Eric’s special menu. If you order three, you’ll get a free spicy tuna roll.

When you go, order a few pieces of salmon sashimi—and feel free to share the secret.

Sawa Sushi

78995 Highway 111 Ste. 6, La Quinta