Most Influential

Most Influential, Hospitality: Keiji Tsukasaki

Chef, restaurateur

By Chris S. Nishiwaki February 12, 2024

Keiji Tsukasaki

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Originally a club DJ traveling the world for gigs large and small, Keiji Tsukasaki is applying a musical and harmonious approach to his tony and tiny sushi restaurant, LTD Edition Sushi on Capitol Hill. With an attention to detail and guests alike, he has found a cult following and national praise. The New York Times recognized LTD Edition Sushi as one of the top 50 places to dine in the country, the only restaurant so recognized in Western Washington.

Volume in music is like seasoning food. Raise the volume too high and it warps the sound. Overseason the perfect bowl of crispy, warm, golden french fries with too much salt and you might as well be choking down a full salt shaker. The right balance of rhythm and harmony is akin to the balance of salt, fat, and acid in food. Try listening to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” minus the bass line. Or Patti Smith or Bruce Springsteen’s “Because the Night” minus the piano melodies. It’s like red pasta sauce minus the tomatoes or a baked potato without sour cream.

Instead of playing for crowds of more than 1,000 guests, Tsukasaki plies his craft in front of 16 diners on weekdays. He interjects humor and interacts with guests, feeding off audience feedback like he did during his music career as he feeds others. Pejorative, he is not.

“One thing I can tell you for sure I don’t want to be is, is a teacher,” he says about his experience with willing guests who often pursue reservations for months.

For his food, Tsukasaki relies on seafood brokers who deal with fishers in Japan, with an emphasis on wild caught and sustainable fishing practices. He selected an intimate location knowing that much of the fish he sourced was available only in tiny quantities and couldn’t supply the volume to service a larger dining room. He will surprise guests with specialties like Japanese sea snail, monkfish liver or squid liver.

Tsukasaki moved from his native Japan to Portland in 2008 to pursue his music career, regularly playing in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Las Vegas. By 2013 he had decided he wanted to settle down and pursue a career in sushi restaurants. He moved to Seattle to apprentice in sushi making under two of the best sushi chefs in the country: two years under Shiro Kashiba of Kashiba in the Pike Place Market and five years under Taichi Kitamura of Sushi Kappo Tamura on Eastlake.

When it came to designing his restaurant, he was inspired by many of the underground clubs where he performed across Europe. Austere and with concrete hard surfaces, the interior design is understated, the better to keep the focus on food.

Since striking out on his own, he has hit sushi gold with his intimate destination restaurant on Capitol Hill, tucked away off an alley facing Cal Anderson Park. With only 16 seats and two turns a night (5-7:30 p.m., and 7:45-9:45 p.m.), reservations are highly coveted and book out months in advance. He has had vacant seats only “two or three times” in the two-plus years he has been in business, primarily due to Covid.

Seating could become even more exclusive. Tsukasaki plans to remove the table seating and extend the bar to seat 12 guests in the entire restaurant by the end of 2024, preferring to give all guests his undivided attention from his perch behind the sushi bar.

“I want to size down from this,” Tsukasaki says. “It’s easier to control the vibes. I want to make sure everyone has a good time.”

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