Mushy Fish, Soggy Nori - My Lunch at Nozawa - Or The Worst Sushi I Have Had in 7 Years
I'm rarely in the San Fernando Valley, but found myself in Studio City at lunchtime today, Monday. Spotted a little sushi bar on Ventura called "Nozawa." The name seemed vaguely familar as a sushi bar touted as good. I was suspicious that it was open on Monday, but decided to give it a try. The place was packed. Only one seat open at the sushi bar and the seats were so jammed together (kind of reminded me of the subway in Tokyo at rush hour) that I opted for a table.
Ordered yellowtail, red snapper, crab roll and sea eel roll. Yellowtail and red snapper arrived together literally one minute after I ordered (making me think they had been sitting around, pre-cut). Plated very unattractively on a cheap, round Western-style plate. In my mind, part of a good Japanese meal is presentation and the plating at Nozawa made me feel like I was in a cheap diner. Which would have been okay, if the fish was good, which, of course, it wasn't.
The yellowtail was mushy and tasted very fishy. The red snapper was mushy and flavorless. Next came crab roll - small hand roll for $6.00 - not great, but the best of the lot, with the exception of the soggy low-grade nori (yes, there is a difference between high grade and low grade nori). The sea eel roll was also soggy and tasted just plain strange. Still hungry - ordered another crab roll since that was the best of the lot. Total lunch bill, including the $1.75 (or $1.95, I forgot which) for iced tea was $31.34.
Picking up on the cheap diner theme of the place, Nozawa has very uncomfortable red vinyl upholdstered chairs, some of which had rips in the vinyl. The bathroom was gross. My table was shoved between a large red metal pole and the window (didn't quite understand the function of the red metal pole).
All I could think as I paid my $31 bill iwas s that I could have had chirashi with pristine pieces of fish at either Sushi Tenn or Kiriko (my usual lunchtime haunts) for a mere $18 (including miso and salad), as opposed to this truly awful stuff for $31. The other thing I thought was that Nozawa was truly the worst sushi I had eaten since I made the mistake some 7 years ago of venturing into a place in NYC called "Monster Sushi."
On the bright side, I will no longer take for granted my easy access to lunch on Sawtelle. Even the workmanlike sushi at Hide Sushi is better than what I ate today.
see the thing with nozawa is it is usually consistently good.
some people believe it should be serving the style of sushi that kiriko or mori serves, but that's not nozawa.
Is Nozawa a dump? Yes. No question about that. It's interior is crappier looking that one of those fly by night fake tommy's stands around town.
The fish is it of the highest quality? Usually, a very resounding yes. I don't think I've ever had a truly smelly, old piece of fish at Nozawa.
Has it always been exceptionally good? Not always, but then again it's consistency and freshness is much better than joints like sasabune and echigo which serve the same style of sushi.
I quote from the "bible" - Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji: ". . . with its many small courses - each a work of art on which much time and thought are spent, the receptacles, too, constituting an important part of the experience."
This place reminded me of McDonald's. I wonder if Japanese people actually dine there.
Also, re being "way too off the mark to be taken seriously," I had a dim memory of hearing about Nozawa somewhere previously and I just did a search, and came up with the following from restaurant critic Jonathan Gold's sushi roundup (I believe last year in L.A. Weekly):
"But sushi has moved on, and Nozawa hasn’t. His practice of dictating the pace and the content of each meal, which once engaged and enlightened his customers, now seems to distance him instead, and while he still cuts the fish, an assistant serves it up on worn plastic plates. On a recent visit, there was a rote, rapid-fire barrage of big, sloppily cut pieces of fish pressed onto indifferently molded blocks of rice, deli-counter sashimi and that crab roll. Nozawa never looked up. And the experience it reminded me of was less a glorious 1980s Nozawa meal than a quick, cheap sushi lunch at a faded Little Tokyo drugstore."
So I guess Mr. Gold and I are off the mark. If you like it great. I'm just trying to warn off anyone who expects a traditional Japanese dining experience.