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Nozawa - Trustworthy no more

I went to Nozawa today for the first time in about 2 years. Yes, it is true, the crab rolls were a quarter of the size that they used to be. I mean, it was a huge difference. That was a total shock because I just couldn't beleive it from other posts. I ordered the chef's special, which was mostly good. My 14 year old son had 4 orders from the menu and after he took a bite of his albacore, he had to quickly get it down with his water. I couldn't beleive it, because mine was so melt in your mouth good, so I picked up his other piece, popped it into my mouth and as I started to chew I got that "I'm going to barf" sensation and had to spit it out in my napkin. I'm confused, how could my peice of albacore have been so wonderful and his was so awful and possibly from an old peice of fish? This must have been on purpose and it pissed me off. Like if you don't "trust me", you get bad fish!! My god, he's only 14 and has a pretty impressive sushi palate for his age. The service was rushed and quick and there was a line out the door. my bill came to 78 bucks before tip and for the first time there, I felt totally ripped off. Thank heavens I live on the westside by so many near and dear sushi establishments. Nozawa style has always been my favorite, other chefs have finally risen above the master himself. Nozawa, you should be ashamed!

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  1. I think Nozawa is a delicious memory...

    1. Isn't a bit much to assume this slight (bad piece of fish) was done on purpose? I'm not a Nozawa expert, but it seems that a place that busy wouldn't have time or attention to purposely decide who to serve poorly. I'm assuming your son didn't call a lot of attention to himself...

      1. There's better sushi than Nozawa in Studio City anyway... next time get the $50 omakase at Tama.

        1. Your son got that piece on purpose. Nozawa is just an angry dude. He resents working for rubes, and saw your son as one.

          Totally agree on the Tama omakase rec, though you'll also do well a la carte. Last time we got a delicious (and complimentary) lotus root app. at the beginning of our meal. That's the kind of gesture that could not happen at Nozawa.

          1. Go to Takao in Brentwood - no attitude, great fish, interesting and delicious hot dishes plus the best tempura - made to order, once piece at a time at the sushi bar.

            1 Reply
            1. re: lizziee

              Takao (Brentwood) also has a large selection of Japanese salads, one of which is a tempura salad...quite tasty!

            2. I liked Nozawa the one time I tried it, but I am completely against his mentality and will not be going back again. To intimdate customers the way he does is just uncalled for, and honestly, his sushi is great but I've had better.

              I found his constant frown and grunting to be off-putting as well.

              1. Some people love Nozawa...as for me, if someone loves it I will sorta disregard their restaurant opinions for the most part for the following reasons:

                1. They don't care about decor
                2. They don't care about service
                3. They don't care about presentation
                4. They don't care about interaction between the sushi chef and customer
                5. They don't care about making an evening of dinner and lingering - compare to a recent dinner at asanebo, which took over 2 1/2 hours

                I'm not going to argue the merits of the freshness/quality of the fish - there is more to dining than the raw ingredients - at least for this diner.

                Personally, if I'm going to drop $75+ on dinner, I want to feel some hospitality and warmth - neither of which I receive at Nozawa.

                1 Reply
                1. as true a true chowhound one has to appreciate the raw ingredients. They are the foundation of any good dish....especially raw fish. He should do what some great sushi chefs do and get up early go to the fish market downtown and get good fish. I've avoided this place because of his attitude. One day an angry customer is going to fight back!

                  1. Nozawa is one of our top 10 sushi bars in LA.
                    There is a reason?
                    Nozawa is very aggressive about getting the best fish available and he's one of the only Sushi Chef's I see at 6am at the wholesale fish mkts in downtown!

                    We were at NOZAWA a week ago and it was very good as normal.

                    We also like Sasebune , URASAWA, Hiko, Mori, Gen, ANSENBO(big fave), Tama, Wa, King, Zo, Kirko, Sakura and some others.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: russkar

                      The point was that I too, love all the sushi places you mentioned above, Nozawa being the first that I ever tried and the chef that converted me to my love of raw fish. I looked forward to my lunch yesterday, the only thing that made my trip to the valley bearable. My mouth was watering the whole way there. The experience was a total disappointment in general. why? I am not sure, maybe the bad peice of fish, maybe the substantially smaller crab roll, or maybe the fact that he
                      has sold out. If you were going there 2+ years ago, I think you would know what I'm talking about.

                      1. re: Amanda Enclade

                        We've been going semi monthly for 8yrs plus.

                        1. re: russkar

                          I'd be interested in knowing your take on the change and evolution of the place. Help me understand.

                    2. Glad to hear he is at the fish market at 6:00 a.m. getting good fish that he obviously must withhold from rubes like myself. My fish arrived at table literally 1 minute after order, which would not have been possible unless it was pre-cut, and it was not good quality. I found the whole place gross from the torn seats to the filthy bathroom to the sloppy food.

                      1. I was just at Nozawa recently also... fairly regular there. It was quite good. Definitely a notch above other places. I don't find it off putting at all. I find that I have better food/restaurant experiences in general, and especially at Nozawa, when I don't project my expectations onto the restaurant and try to appreciate a place for what it is and it's strong points... given that the food is top notch. I DO care about service, decor, etc... but knowing what Nozawa is going in... and the service is not bad IMO and experience... and realizing that, doesn't bother me at all. If you're looking for a garulous and happy/friendly sushi guy that is glad handing you (not a bad thing), the it is quite likely that you won't like Nozawa regardless of other issues.

                        Also, I SERIOUSLY doubt that the OP's son was given a bad piece of fish on purpose.

                        Lastly, given how busy Nozawa is on a REGULAR basis, I doubt very highly that Russkar's opinion is a minority one in a greater sense.

                        1. Why do I not have trouble believing any of these posts? I know I'm the broken record on this but bottom line is that chef/owners who are particularly prone to fete regulars often don't have enough energy for everyone. Spago's usually the exception because there is a whole brigade of front line staff to support the hospitality. Nozawa is just one guy and to be real if he'd ask someone to leave his restaurant (as he's reputed to have done) he's probably not beyond a little symbolic flick of the finger so to speak to a guest he perceives as less receptive or who just got caught in the cross fire of whatever he was doing at that moment. That would certainly describe me at 14 and I'm not saying that applies to your son. As for the fish, I've had overcooked salmon at Water Grill and mushy Turbot at Spago. I've been to Nozawa twice and been treated like royalty because of who I was with and I'm far from the sushi expert. (Whew! Cuttlefish liver. Can you imagine?) But I was a bit of a wide eyed kid about the whole thing and he seemed genuine in every way... like watching Alicia Alonso dance before the end. (I remember asking Gino one lunch at Angelini if he would add peas to that amazing Carbonara. Jesus! I felt like Fredo Corleone begging Michael for forgiveness in Godfather II. What can I say? You can take the boy out of Barstow...) That's one reason I laud the AOC/Lucques folk because I believe they work hard to treat everybody equally. No bells and whistles. No sixteen course extravaganzas. This is what we do and we do it for everybody. Do I want a world of just that. Nope. But just like certain foods, chef's moods can be very organic. I liked being a wide eyed kid at Nozawa. (And I ain't no kid.)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: cvc

                            "I've been to Nozawa twice and been treated like royalty because of who I was with..."

                            And that, right there, along with your unsubtle name-dropping about Angelini Osteria, is why people bash LA.

                            I don't feel like I should need to suffer the whims of the chef's mood in order to get a good meal. There's a difference between getting a perk now and again because you're a regular and getting bad fish because the chef thinks you can't tell the difference.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              My point exactly. My aim was not to name drop (I mean the restaurant does bear his name and many on this board and certainly this thread know that.) but to respond to those who are familiar with certain operators and sometimes present their preferential treatment as if it were the norm. There's nothing wrong with that but I find it too often masks people's genuine queries as to why they might have been treated differently. Believe me I'm not likely to venture to Nozawa unless invited. Those few times I can even afford that kind of tariff I'd much rather spend it on a good steak... and I don't mean Cut. I much prefer the non preferetial innocuousness of a Ruth's Chris. But that's me.

                          2. I like Nozawa; haven't been there in years but I tend not to believe restaurants have fallen off until I see for myself.

                            That said, maybe it's time for Sushi Zo to assume the crown. Go go go if you haven't already.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: rameniac

                              I hear that Urasawa has long, long since taken the crown from either of those people -- even the horrible farshlepta discussions we keep having about "best sushi in LA" is a race for second place.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Urasawa didn't take the Crown from anyone. The Crown was passed from (Masa) Ginza Sushi Ko to his student Hirosan Urasawa who renamed the Restaurant. Crown stays in the family.
                                No existing Sushi Restaurant in LA will ever take the Crown from Hiro. Das your right, the battle is for Second Place.

                                Urasawa isn't just Sushi , but a complete Japanese Dining Experience. Shabu Shabu, Real Kobe Beef, Japanese delicacies, Tofu Dishes, the whole 9 yards and 4 hours.

                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                  yea but i don't really count urasawa since it's in a league of it's own. $250 per person for dinner doesn't really happen on a regular basis, not for me at least lol.

                              2. Unquestionably, if I were asked to name the best sushi in town, I would say Urusawa, but with the caveat that it almost is in a category of its own, as it seems russkar is suggesting. And it's not a realistic dining option for most folks, and even those who have been once or twice aren't likely to go weekly. So when we look over the contenders for "Best Sushi-not counting Urasawa" there are tons of viable options for #1.

                                Personally, I've never been to Nozawa, because I know sushi--I know great sushi, and I know a lot about the cuisine--but I can't guarantee that I will LOOK like I know sushi, and I also don't want to go somewhere I might potentially be treated like crap on whim. I don't doubt that Nozawa is a master who knows very, very well what he is doing, but why am I going to drop $50+ of my hard-earned bucks on his preferrentially bad mood and possibly bad fish? Particualrly when I can take that same $50 and go to Tama, where I feel welcome and equal to anyone else I'm elbow to elbow with at the bar, and get a killer omakase with top-notch fish? So to those who are loyal to Nozawa and get the best treatment there--great! Enjoy! It's all yours. I'll take Tama, or Asanebo, or Azami, or Chiba, or...on my best of best days, Urasawa. I know I'm going to get a great meal and have a positive dining experience at any of those places.

                                1 Reply
                                1. I just wanted to chime in a bit about the whole dynamic regarding different clients having different experiences when dining out. I will always pick a restaurant that ranges from Good to Very Good over a place whose range is Mediocre or Decent to Incredible.

                                  When I dined at L'Auberge in Carmel I had a stellar meal. Absolutely perfect in every way. However, while observing our diners next to us, I realized they were getting hooked up in a royal way. Their food looked better, had more rare ingredients thrown in, their portions of foie gras and fresh porcini were greater. I later learned we were dining next to the Sommelier from Le Louis XV in Monaco and his dining partner was some giant authority on Bordeaux. But I didn't mind one bit because it didn't detract from the incredible-ness of our meal.
                                  When the low end of a restaurant is serving bad fish, that's a serious, serious statement about a restaurant, regardless of any food nazi-ism. To me that shows a lack of pride and respect.

                                  1. OK, MAYBE I'm just a uncultured Philistine, but serving a funky piece of raw fish to anyone is pretty close to inexcusable, even when it happens due to carelessness, even at a place like Todai, or "Joe's All-You Can Eat Sushi and Tacos".

                                    For ANY diner to be served a piece of bad fish deliberately, in my view, warrants not only a discussion with the owner (and I DON'T care if he thinks of himself as a master chef or not), but maybe even, if not addressed appropriately by the owner, a call to the health department.

                                    If a diner at a sushi restaurant with prices like Nozawa gets a funky piece of fish, it's either (a) deliberate, or (b) because the chef thinks that his mere presence excuses sloppiness, which amounts to darn near the same thing. Neither works for me.

                                    Since Nozawa consensus seems to be:

                                    "1. They don't care about decor
                                    2. They don't care about service
                                    3. They don't care about presentation
                                    4. They don't care about interaction between the sushi chef and customer
                                    5. They don't care about making an evening of dinner and lingering",

                                    and there are places where, for the same dollar, I'll be treated decently, and not only when the chef looks kindly upon me, why would I give this guy my $$$?


                                    1. I'm with Russkar. I've never had a bad meal at Nozawa, recently or otherwise. Further, I find it silly to suggest that he's some kinda psycho who would poison customers on a whim. I don't think that the word whim and the word Nozawa go together at all. Anyone who's been there more than a few times would giggle at the idea. Nozawa+Whim=Nope. Perhaps a psychotic break might explain it? I haven't seen any bodies on Ventura Blvd. lately.

                                      And all you would have to do is sit at his counter once to see that fish is not pre-cut at Nozawa. He's fast. His assistant is fast. They've been doing it a long time.

                                      Really, I don't think that there are more than a handful of chefs anywhere who would deliberately serve bad food.That goes against a chef's purpose. And can you imagine the infrastructure that would be required to support two sets of food in the same reach-in refrigerator? How would they be labeled: "tasty" and "foul?" How did Nozawa know that the kid would order albacore? Does that mean that he keeps an alternate tray of bad fish of every type he serves? And did he give secret instructions to the waitress to give the "bad" tuna to the kid and the "good" tuna to the mom? None of it makes sense.

                                      If the fish was bad, it was probably an oversight. Not good news for sure, but not sabotage.

                                      Sorry to hear about one piece of bad fish. Maybe next time there'll be more space for me at the counter.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: NeNePie

                                        Just not true. It is pre-cut. I've been at that counter, and had that pre-made, pre-plated fish slammed down in front of me the moment after I assented to his "you can't choose" dictum. And no one's saying he's "poisoning" anyone, just dumping the lousy stuff on the teenager. He's not psychotic, just a jerk.

                                        Nozawa can either be an incompetent who doesn't know bad fish, or he can be a master sushi chef who acted willfully. He can't be both.

                                        1. re: Alimentary My Dear Watson

                                          The fish has got to be pre-cut. I am sorry - I don't care how "fast" anyone is - there is no way that four pieces of sushi could arrive tableside in less than 60 seconds if the pieces were not pre-cut. And two of my four pieces were bad; while the other two were mediocre.

                                          We seem to be living in alternative universes here. Just like rich celebrities rarely pay for the things that we mere mortals must shell out hard cash for and, until the IRS recently swooped in, got their free "goodie bags," the "beautiful people" at Nozawa must get fresh, good fish, cut to order, while the "little people" must make do.

                                          1. re: omotosando

                                            I've also been to Nozawa many times (though not recently) and all the fish I've ever eaten there, "trust me" special or not, was tender, succulent and delicious. Although I haven't been there recently, I seem to remember that he had an assistant (a latino guy) doing some of the cutting next to him. Since it is unlikely to me that Nozawa intentionally cut a bad piece of fish, maybe the kid got some of the assistant's cut.

                                            Mr Taster

                                      2. i've eaten at nozawa every few months for about a decade, usually for lunch. the fish is always immaculate. with as much fish as they serve there it's almost inconceivable that a "bad" piece would find its way into the rotation; and if it did then it probably happens at le bernardin, too. law of randomness. yes, his joint is austere & he's a martinet. however i didn't realize master chefs (or any talented artists, for that matter) had to be pleasant, sympathetic or otherwise touchy-feely; there's lots of chummy sushi chefs at mediocre sushi places. perhaps you'd prefer those? i will say that on my last visit, a couple months ago, i noticed that the fish did come out a little faster... pre-cut? possibly, but that would be pre-cut, like, 15 seconds ago knowing that most people upon being seated immediately order the chef's choice. everybody gets the same great fish in the same progression.

                                        and finally, you have to take some responsibility as a diner, too. especially if you're going to a place that has integrity. it's a reciprocal relationship, and you have a voice in the process. trust your palate, and have the courage of your convictions. the same principle applies at a quality taco stand, or at taillevent in paris. if i got a bad piece of fish at nozawa, i would definitely hand it to the server -- or his wife, who usually also serves -- and say, "this tastes funny." what would i be afraid of, getting thrown out? i have self-respect. and like any great restaurant, they do too. if they inadvertently serve something that's off, they'd probably be ashamed.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: mr.foodie

                                          No, he'd probably throw you out. he "doesn't serve bad fish"

                                          For his prices, a diner shouldn't even have to WORRY about potentially bad fish.

                                          1. re: Diana

                                            I don't agree. He doesn't throw people out for handing his wife a plate and quietly saying something like "this tastes funny." He rewards respectful behavior in my experience. The only time I saw him get angry was when some guy at the counter was acting like an idiot. I would have thrown that guy out of my place, too.

                                          2. re: mr.foodie

                                            I don't agree with equating chefs with artists completely. I think most chefs would prefer to be lumped with craftsmen.

                                            Another major difference is this is the service and hospitality industry. It's not enough to be a talented artist or what have you. I understand putting ones personal beliefs about good service aside for some awesome quality product, but not when it's over the top. Whether or not Nozawa is seen as being an over the top chef/nazi is case by case perspective, it seems.

                                            If someone were to pay me for services rendered, especially something that's going into their body, I would find it in me to be sympathetic and/or pleasant. Touchy-feely isn't necessary. Most people aren't into overly precious service, just correct and polite.

                                            ETA: I just realized my last paragraph could be misconstrued to mean something completely different...;p

                                            1. re: mr.foodie

                                              Perhaps I should have complained about my fish.

                                              The funny thing is that I had no idea I was in a supposedly "good" sushi restaurant. Thing is, I live in L.A. and until my experience last month at Nozawa hadn't eaten a meal in the SFV in something like 10 years (and perhaps had been in the SFV a half dozen times in that same time period). I don't really follow sushi restaurant reviews outside of my immediate neighborhood and only happened to notice Nozawa because I was starving and had a meeting down the block. The name sounded vaguely familiar (perhaps because I had seen the title of a thread on this Board, which I ignored because the restaurant wasn't in my neighborhood) and I was starving and needed to eat before I continued on down the block to my meeting.

                                              Anyway, I hadn't the vaguest idea I was actually in a restaurant that was supposed to be good and certainly neither the shabby decor, low-grade plates or filthy bathroom screamed out that something was amiss if I wasn't getting good sushi. It was only after I posted on this Board about my unpleasant experience at Nozawa that I learned that some people consider the restaurant the holy grail.

                                            2. Oh, how nice to be "Rewarded"!

                                              1. This guy sounds like the "Soup Nazi". Are you allowed to make eye contact with him? I am amazed as what appears the deference one needs to display in order to ensure a peaceful co-existence here.

                                                Notwithstanding the original facts of this OP, if you have a bad item or meal, you have every reasonable right to send it back. Sure, you need to have tact but to feel you need to do it in a "hush hush" manner seems unnecessary.

                                                It just seems to me that every restaurant owner should "reward" its patrons for nothing more than giving him (or her) the business. They should be privileged to serve us, the customer, not the other way around.

                                                Overall, it appears the food is considered A+ by its stauch yet somewhat fearful supporters. I would certainly settle for A- somewhere else that would appreciate my business with an more open and inviting atmosphere.

                                                1. The assembly line at Nozawa definately puts me off. Sasebune also started feeling like an assembly line once they moved up to Wilshire Blvd. Hmmmmmm. something about paying $$$ for assembly line/buffet style of preparation. Nozawa used to put more care into serving his customers even though he is not friendly. the fish never came out all at once piled on a plate. it was served fish by fish and as you were finished. It has become a rip off. it's still good but $$$ for a 15 minute rushed meal just does not make sense. For die hard fans try Sasebune and hiko. The same only better. And the crab rolls are amazing.

                                                  I will reiterate my OP though. I was served my plate of fish first. My son was waiting for the same 3 items which were albacore, halibut and yellowtail. I ate my albacore and said "yummmmm this is going to be your favorite today. It is amazing". So when his fish arrived a few minutes later............

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Amanda Enclade

                                                    Although I just posetd a sort of defense of Nozawa below, I just wanted to add that I'd be super bummed to find that someone had gotten bad fish from him. I hate to think he was discriminating based on age, and sort of surprised too - whenever I'm there, it seems there is at least one family with kids, all of whom are enjoying their sushi. I guess it could have been oversight, or just bad luck... who knows.

                                                    Anyway, even though I still really like Nozawa (I had my real sushi awakening there too; I'd had sushi lots of times, just never had *sushi*) I have been happier with some other places over the last couple of years. Hiro-zen and Saito are two... I'll take your advice and head to Sasebune (been meaning to for a while.)

                                                  2. I hafta say, from my experience, the notion that Nozawa is some sort of dragon chef ready to throw people out of his restaurant on a whim, or a moment's notice, is overblown. I've been there a dozen times and every time, as we are shown to our table, I look him in the eye and nod, and he does the same. When I get up to leave I repeat the gesture, and he does the same. He's not one of those friendly, talkative, sometimes overeager sushi chefs that you find around town -- and yes, the decor and the bright lights suck -- but his fish is absolutely first-rate.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Mr. Cookie

                                                      Yeah, there seems to be a lot of urban folklore surrounding Nozawa. I admit, on my first trip there (4 or 5 years ago) I was super nervous, having heard all the stories. But he's actually pretty sweet. Quiet, yes. But he always smiles and chats with us a little bit. Heck, he even asks if we have requests, after doing the standard 4 or 5 offerings.

                                                      I can understand that it's not everyone's cuppa, since it's a fairly quick, no-frills meal... but you don't go there to be pampered and fussed over for a 3 hour extravaganza. You go there for seriously good fish and a reasonably pleasant staff... his wife is really nice, the guys working there are sweet, and Nozawa himself is, in my experience, funny and sweet too, albeit slow to show those aspects of his personality. I've seen him smile and nod with a little satisfied laugh many times after my husband and I ooh and ahh over a particularly tasty oyster, or bit of uni, or monkfish liver handroll.

                                                    2. wow, this is weird.

                                                      I've been going to Nozowa's since about 1991. It's not the only place I go for sushi but I've never seen or experienced any problems their. I'm a bit pickier than most with sushi since I fish a great deal and catch plenty of tuna,etc. I've always been treated very well no matter if I"m by myself or with a group.

                                                      Sorry to hear some have had a bad experience there. Bad fish is not fun. Only thing is I know this guy has always been super picky about what he will put out where I know several so called high end places in the valley and west side that are not.