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Say it Ain't So, Zo...

Right after I had made my umpteeth post raving about Sushi Zo and how reasonably-priced it is, I had my first somewhat disappointing experience there on Saturday night. I went with a friend who had never been there before. Turns out that Keizo and my friend are on a first name basis, from when Keizo was at Hide. My friend had been asking for him after he left but not surprisingly, nobody at Hide would fill him in.

We both ordered the omakase. They didn’t ask what size and we didn’t specify, although we should have, because the bill for Saturday night’s “regular” omakase was about $70 each (pretax and tip, omakase only, drinks not included… I think it was $69, to be exact), compared to the $45.50 “small” omakase I had a few weeks ago. This is how they compared, and all are one piece unless noted differently:

Both omakases had the following: hamachi, albacore, red snapper, black snapper, toro, salmon, yellow-striped jack, sweet shrimp, scallop and a blue crab hand roll.

The “small” omakase had a kumamoto oyster, five pieces of steamed monkfish liver, pompano, butterfish, anago, shirako and skipjack.

The “regular” omakase had 3 pieces of amber jack sashimi, 2 pieces of bluefin tuna nigiri, mackerel, halibut (I don't remember if it was one or two), giant clam, another bluefin tuna and a big-eye tuna.

After recovering from the sticker shock, paying the bill (an even $100 per person after the drink, tax and generous tip) and leaving, my friend and I talked about how it was a great dinner but so much more expensive than either one of us thought. It was about 40% more than the small omakase and over three times more than my first visit to Sushi Zo, when I went a la carte but left feeling full. Saturday night neither one of us was exactly stuffed, either. It was a shame to leave there anything but elated, as I’ve done after every previous visit.

In comparing the two I would have to say that the small omakase was about the same size, I was more full after the small omakase, the small omakase had slightly better pieces (esp. considering the relatively rare shirako). I’m trying to figure out why Saturday’s tab was so much higher for about the same size and not-as-great selection omakase. I’ve concluded that the bill on the small omakase was a mistake. Or that if you indicate that you don’t want and/or can’t afford the “regular” one they’ll charge you less for basically the same dinner. Or maybe the bluefin is much more expensive. Or they'll cut you breaks until you become a regular. Or if you’re a woman dining alone. Or maybe he figured my friend could afford more (though we ended up going dutch.) I have no idea, it could be anything.

Regardless, I’m still a Zo fan, but from now on I’m either going to order a la carte or specify the small omakase and readily admit that I can’t afford the “regular” one. Hopefully Saturday was the last time I drop three digits there.

Input please?

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  1. I never know how much the omakase is until after I receive the bill. Unlike other places, there isn't a set price for omakase - Keizo makes a note of everything you're served and tallies it up at the end. Naturally, the "better" the pieces are, the more your bill will be. Whenever I go, I just assume I'll be paying at least $70-90 (at the least).........

    Having gone enough times, my sister and I designed our own "menu" and order a la carte. The bill came out to about $40pp. Of course, we didn't eat as much as we normally would have if we did omakase, but at least we didn't have to pay $4.40 or something for an item we particularly didn't care for (the needlefish or ikura, for instance. I can totally do without and would rather have another order of shimaji or uni).

    2 Replies
    1. re: MeowMixx

      this is correct, the omakase is not a set menu nor price. the items are tabulated on the sushi menu sheet, probably at the end and not as the meal progresses along.

      i was just there last fri night for dinner and there was an error on the bill for 2 of the items, 3 crab rolls instead of 1 and 4 kanpachi sashimi pieces instead of 6.

      i do think that zo is pricey however. charging $2.8 per piece (same as nigiri price) of kampachi sashimi comes out to $8.4 per dish of 3 slices. also, the size and cut of the fish over nigiri could be more generous. i was not full at the end of meal but it was getting late and i had been there over 2 hrs. i'm usually full when the bill totals $150 for 2, no sake (nozawa, azami, tama).

      1. re: zack

        Funny that you bring up the error in the billing -- I've encountered that a few times. A friend was overcharged $20 awhile back. Staff has always been really gracious about it; they seem pretty overwhelmed when it gets packed. I've noticed that they experiment with different ways of taking orders from tables -- sometimes they have people order in "bulk" (4 orders of scallop, 2 blue crab rolls, etc), and sometimes they go around and get each person's order. The accumulation of so many little slips of paper probably adds to the inadvertent errors!

    2. the thing is if you order off the menu, you can control how much the price is going to be, but then again, 35-40 per person, will not get you much sushi.

      sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it sounds like the 45 per, you paid for the previous small omakase, was definitely an outlier, mistake, or he just really liked you and wanted to give you a deal for being a great customer or new customer or whatever.

      lastly, when you listed al the those items previously for the "small omakase" my first reaction was that doesn't really sound small to me.

      1. I'm inclined to agree that your previous "small" omakase price was a mistake because the number of items on that list seemed to be the same or more than we've had on our two visits to Zo where we had omakase at around $75 or so. In fact I was kind of incredulous when I read your other post, and I thought maybe it had been a mistake.

        I remembered Keizo from Hide and I hadn't eaten at Hide for many years, and he remembered me as evidenced by him greeting me by first name on our first visit to Zo, and I don't think that we got any special treatment other than superb food, nor would I have expected any special treatment (not that you did), thus strengthening my conclusion that your "small" omakase price was a mistake.

        I didn't even know until reading your other post that there was a "small" omakase option because I didn't think it was a set price. At least we had some input on how much we wanted to eat. On our second visit I specified I didn't want the ikura because I didn't really like the way he prepared the ikura even though I like ikura in general. I think I requested double uni instead since his uni was so freakin' delicious.

        I think the fish quality at Zo is fabulous but sadly it's too expensive not to mention too far away from home to eat there as often as we would like which would otherwise be once a week because it's so good.

        1. My first time to Zo I was surprised by an $80 tab for omakase. I still go once in a while, but I've learned not to stuff myself silly, and that usually gets me back to around the $50 level.

          It's expensive, but still... it's a good place to tide me over until I can get to Shibucho in Costa Mesa. :)

          1. Yeah the bill for the "small" probably was a mistake. Actually, they apparently made mistakes my first two visits. The first time I ordered a la carte and I added it up in my head and it came out to about $5 more than what they actually charged me. Then the "small" omakase must have been a really big mistake. The third time I went I wasn't that hungry so I ordered a la carte from a table. Was charged the correct amount to the penny. Then I guess we were billed the correct (high) amount for the regular omakase.

            The other thing that was a little off putting was that when they asked, I specifically said I didn't want mackerel or the red or black snappers. Mackerel because I had hated it at another place eons ago, and the snappers not because I hate, but because they didn't seem to be anything special. But he served us all three. The snappers he may have forgotten that I had specifically said no, but the mackerel he intentionally made me try. He kept saying, "close your eyes, you'll like it." I did like it, but I didn't really like that my request was disregarded.

            Oh, later today I remembered that he also served us tamago on Saturday, but that shouldn't have added much of anything to the bill.

            I get the feeling they are rubbed the wrong way when people don't go omakase, which I think is a little unfair. For instance, that night I ordered the "small" I sat next to a guy that goes in alone and sits at the bar a couple times a week. Not only has he never gotten the omakase but he orders the same three things every time (yellowtail, albacore and mackerel, I think.) Keizo wouldn't speak to him and the guy laughed about how Keizo hates him because he doesn't venture to try anything new. He was good natured about Keizo's chilliness but I think it's odd to treat a regular loyal customer that way. Even though he may not drop $100 every visit, he ends up spending that much per week by going in there so often.

            I'll probably come up with my own a la carte menu that will be less fish but at least it will be priced right and I'll get exactly what I want (I think I've tried everything now.) They might not like it but that's too bad!

            Thanks everyone for your input.

            4 Replies
            1. re: chowmominLA

              If a chef served me something I'd specifically told him I didn't want, I'd never go back.

              Did he charge you for it?

              1. re: Alimentary My Dear Watson

                Because it was an omakase and the bill isn't itemized, I have no way of knowing for sure, but because it was $70, I'm guessing, yeah, I was charged for all three things I specifically said I didn't want.

                The other thing is, the time before that when I went a la carte, I ordered salmon but the waitress brought me mackerel, thinking I had said "saba". I said I was sorry but I ordered salmon, and that I actually really don't like mackerel. Anything else I probably would have just eaten. So she took it back and they didn't charge me for it (and brought me salmon instead.) Maybe Keizo forcefeeding the mackerel to me stems from that misunderstanding, maybe I offended him. Who knows....

                At least I discovered I really like mackerel, I'll give him that.

                1. re: chowmominLA

                  With the proliferation of more clones in the vein of Nozawa, with the tuna sashimi at the beginning and the blue crab hand rolls at the very end, most of the new joints that are opening should really do something more to set themselves apart, or else why not go to Nozawa or maybe Sasabune (which when you think about it are really not pricier than Sushi Zo if you take a look at the median bills for Zo). But anyways, one thing Zo did at the beginning that was pretty darn great was the fact that you could actually order by the piece off the menu at the actual Sushi Bar, you weren't constricted to the omakase route at the bar. At other sushi joints in the Chef's Choice:Trust me vein you have to order the Omakase at the bar, and only the tables are reserved for your own personal a la carte.

                  I applaud Zo for at least allowing you to order by the piece, which is a good idea. Not to mention the fact that on a different note they served a couple Japanese beers on tap, something you don't see very often at other sushi bars that only have bottled beers. Oh, and Zo does have a decent sake collection (compared to the token one or two sakes served at Nozawa).

                  But if Zo's prices are creeping up, and he's not be as accomodating as before what sets him apart? Nozawa still has some of the best fish in town (on a mostly consistent basis, there is the occasional blimp where it's just ok, which in my opinion still beats the heck out of most sushi joints around town). On my three or so visits to Zo the fish was good (better than Echigo) but nothing truly special. Granted he does offer more variety than Nozawa since he serves by the piece so you can try a great number of different species (trying getting some black cod or pink scallops or kanpachi or the highly praise shirako at nozawa) but still Nozawa/the newSasabune on Wilshire is better quality wise (recent bill at Sasabune was a little over 60 with tip, so not cheap, but in the same ballpark as Zo). I enjoyed the fact that you could order on your own at Zo's bar, but now that they are truly frowning on that, what sets it apart?

              2. re: chowmominLA

                the times that i've been there he's NEVER given me anything that i had asked him to avoid. i'm surprised and sort of saddened to hear this news.