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Sushi Zo - two bad experiences

Been going to Zo ever since they opened last year. Use to love their fish but I will NEVER go back again.

Sat down at 7:45pm for dinner recently and by 9:20pm, we had only been served 4 orders of sushi (2 pieces each order). An hour a half for 4 orders!! Meanwhile, the two tables of four next to us were served repeatedly and I noticed the time it took for us to get one order, they got four! I asked the waitress about the rest of our order and she said the chef is very busy with serving the omakase first. The place was full on Friday but I didn't know you become the last priority if you're not ordering omakase. I've been to Hiko and Echigo when they're packed and didn't have the same problem even tho I didn't order omakase.

I gave Zo a second chance last night. I occasionally order their spicy tuna roll which is very good and has been on their menu ever since they opened. However, last night the chef rudely said "no more...we don't served spicy tuna rolls. If you want one, go down the street for one"....basically half-kicking me out. Fine, down the street I will go. I'm not a sushi beginner and I understand all the sushi "rules" and the "no california roll" blah blah but do you have to be a jerk? If you don't want to serve it, don't put it on the freakin' menu!! This kind of service is ridiculously unnecessary and uncalled for.

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  1. I had omakase at the bar there a few nights ago. My first time. I had read all the chowhound reviews about how great this place is...but, I didn't get it. The chef was definitely gruff, I saw him practically bark at a couple to get their attention as he handed over their crab rolls. A lot of rules and regulations (no cell phones, etc), which I'm fine with, except that the atmosphere was hardly tranquil (extremely bright flourescent lighting, ugly decor, hard surfaces and a lot of noise). Fish was good but very basic nigiri and sashimi. Not a worthwhile experience at $100/person.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mehfactor

      i think keizo's gruffness is usually tempered with a wink. he's just joking, it's part of the act, and he kind of lets you in on that. if you aren't part of the conversation itself (i.e. if you're just witnessing other customers getting barked at) it may be hard to tell.

      if not then i'm guessing he might have been having a bad day? i've never had one there though...

    2. Ouch - sounds like you either had an awful run of bad luck or their success may have gotten to their heads? I normally don't do sushi stuff but once in a blue moon, as I had more than my fill growing up, but this is one of the places that I put on my own to-go list if the yearning or need arose to find a great local sushi/omakase place (these two had been one in the same to me - alot of the sushi places I went to while visiting in mostly Hiroshima always put their good hats on). This is even more sad because I was planning on taking my bro-in-law who is visiting from Singapore in May. I guess instead, it will have to be Mori or Kiriko or... hey - there's plenty of good omakase in LA - more than enough to humble even the divus attitudes of these folks. I am sure it was word-of-mouth that made them so popular - I am sure it will be the same that will knock them down to earth as well.

      1. I am quite saddened to hear about your less-than-brilliant experiences at Zo recently.

        Just months ago, while he was empty, watching the door, and trying to get himself up-and-running, we Chowhounds posted loudly for him with rave reviews; he was good!

        I do hope anyone with any further RECENT experiences -- good or less-than will post here. I'd rather not go back and erase my glowing posts -- but I'd really like to know if he has what it takes to stay. I wholly agree with "bulavinaka" in that we have lots of other really good choices in L.A.

        2 Replies
        1. re: liu

          Hi Liu. I finally went to Sushi-Zo today for the first time. I really liked it, plus the tea was quite good! To me, when the tea is good, it shows me that the restaurant is paying attention to the little details and that the place is a labor of love, not just a sushi factory (Hiko comes to mind, for instance).

          Plus, I loved the idea of a good sushi bar blooming in an unlikely location, such as a shopping center in the middle of nowhere (I guess people who live near Sushi-Zo don't consider it in the middle of nowhere, but it's a bit far from my normal hunting grounds).

          I was a little shocked when Keizo-san addressed me by name - he remembered me from Hide. I think it's great that he left the cocoon of Hide and opened his own place. Long live entrepreneurship!

          1. re: omotosando

            Whew! I finally scored one with you, omotosando! I think I have sent you chasing before, and the destination was not your favorite. However, I also like Sushi Zo and Keizo-san a lot! And I do remember the tea as being very good! (As you know, for me it is not just a peripheral detail, but an important part of the sushi experience.) Did you have the yuzu drink at the end of your meal?

            Your story of Keizo-san calling you by name, remembering you from Hide days past, I had a similar experience. We bumped into him at 888 while having dim sum one Saturday morning. He came over to our table to offer a warm greeting and visit a few moments.

            I support him and very much respect his high standards; I would be sad to learn that he is compromising in any way. I thank you for your very positive report, and I am really glad that you enjoyed a delicious meal there!

        2. I've never understood sushi chefs that are rude.

          I can understand, and even appreciate, sushi chefs that are strict (e.g. Nozawa or Sasabune) when it comes to what they will serve you. Because in some sense these chefs are simply being true to their craft, which is admirable and should be totally respected.

          But when a sushi chef is simply rude, or off-putting, then it's totally uncalled for. This is especially puzzling when eating sushi, esp. at a bar, is such an intimate experience and the rapport you build with the chef can make or break a dining experience.

          If this becomes a pattern at Zo, then it is zo, zo zad ...

          1 Reply
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Yeah the experience seemed rather "Nozawa-esque" to me (albeit even more expensive), which can be okay if you're in the right mindset, but wasn't at all what I was expecting given the descriptions on this board.

          2. I just went back last night, and I still love it (third time this month!). Granted, I've been lucky enough to go only when they're not very busy, but I could care less that the head chef is gruff. Just don't sit in front of him.

            The waitresses are all extremely friendly and gracious, and the second sushi chef is all smiles too.

            I don't know if the head chef is just not a people person or if it's a gimmick (sushi nazi), but for the sake of enjoying my meal I'm happy to play along. If you smile at his gruffness or gruffly joke back at him, he almost always cracks a grin to let you know he's just joking--even if he's a bad comedian and ends up offending some. Maybe he's just not a people person, maybe he has a short temper. We can't all have candy-sweet temperments, and I don't see any reason why he should. He could probably be more polite, but there are different ways to deal with different people and he's certainly not impossible.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Pei

              I've been there four times. The first time was the worst... he was rude and very upset that we were taking photos. understandable. he is definitely mr. passive/aggressive, but we loved his food too much to let his demeanor/attitude ruin our food. like pei said, just don't sit in front of him. because we didn't have to deal w/ him, it was definitely an enjoyable experience at his restaurant. his new assistant is really a nice guy - we sit w/ him now and say 'oishii' occasionally which pleases Chef Keizo. but to everyone's point, no sushi chefs shouldn't be so rude. and as for nozawa, he was the nicest guy when we sat directly in front of him. he wasn't upright welcoming but nor did he say/do anything that would boil our blood. you can say that we've developed a numbness to LA sushi chefs.

            2. wow!
              i go to sushi zo about three times a month and have NEVER been treated poorly and have ALWAYS been served an excellent meal.
              sometimes i order from the menu, others i order omakase.
              always excellent.

              5 Replies
              1. re: westsidegal

                Yeah, I go there about once a week and chef Keizo has aways been friendly with us.

                1. re: Snoopy

                  the sushi is truly outstanding at Zo but i don't understand why unfriendly service is excusable when it comes to this place. he's not personable but he should maybe try to be pleasant b/c after all he is in the business of servicing customers. IMO, food itself cannot carry a good restaurant experience. plus, there's plenty of great sushi places one can go like kiriko and recieve decent treatment.

                  1. re: trolley

                    Different people have a different level of tolerance.

                    The 1.5 hour wait for 4 orders of sushi was inexcusable, to be sure.

                    But I really do think Keizo's attitude and personality are more funny than hostile. It's like how people used to go to Ed Debevic's (sp?) to get yelled at by snarly staff, or how the souffle restaurant Cafe Jacqueline in San Francisco thrives even though Jacqueline snarls at almost everyone who walks in the door. Or how you enjoy grandma's food even if she hits you with a wooden spoon and scolds you not to put your elbows on the table.

                    I find any number of divey Chinese restaurant servers to be much more hostile and less friendly than Keizo, and all those restaurants do just fine. Sushi-Zo makes no pretense of being a fine dining establishment. The location, the ambiance, and the service are casual, which is fine by me.

                    1. re: Pei

                      exactly my point. 1.5 hrs wait for 4 orders of sushi is bad service. as for keizo's attitude? well, that's probably another issue. as you say people are all different and have various expectations and tolerance levels for not so friendly service. some people don't mind it and others do. zo is not fine dining but do you have to go to fine dining to receive friendly service?some people find attitude amusing but for myself i really can't accept it even at my take out spot. basically my point is if you don't like the service go some where else. we are lucky enough in LA that we can patronize somewhere else and eat sushi as good as Zo.

                    2. re: trolley

                      i've always had excellent service as well as excellent food

                2. From the delay on nigiri, he probably wants to drive a la carte customers away. Sounds like he's confident he can fill the seats with blank-check omakase buyers.

                  And the roll thing is pretty rude. I had a recent experience with Katsu (who I would take over Keizo any day) at Tama. I took a date there who wanted a spicy tuna roll. I winced, but he immediately set to work. And it was great, actually. Then my date asked him for a "halibut roll." Katsu lit up with delight, suppressing a giggle. "Halibut roll?!" He paused, looking for a polite way to demur. "Halibut's not good in a roll." It was clear that she had, for him, ordered the equivalent of pickle cheesecake, but there was no outrage, no pointing at the door -- just a gentle correction.

                  When you know you're good, you don't need people to kiss the ring.

                  1. Zo has long been an overrated darling on this board. I loved it the first time and have enjoyed it less and less each subsequent time. It is overpriced for the amount of food, the omakase is nothing special (the yuzu juice thing can be had at any Japanese grocery), and to hear about rudeness and poor service, now, well, you just took it off my list...

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: jcwla

                      i'll have to disagree here, although i tend not to factor price into whether a place is good or now, i do think that the fish at zo is just that much fresher than anywhere else i've had it in town, including places like tama, irori, r-23, kiriko, and possibly even nozawa (but if so, just barely). mori i can't remember since it was a looong time ago and before i really started trying out many sushi places. urasawa i'm still buying lottery tickets for...

                      1. re: jcwla

                        I totally agree with you...THere is no reason I would EVER choose a SUshi Zo Omakase over Sushi Sushi...The head chef at Sushi Sushi pre-flavors all his Sushi to ensure optimal taste...I hardly see this technique used outside Japan...

                        Better fish, superior ambiance, friendlier staff...Plus Sushi Sushi is less than 10 min away from Zo...

                          1. re: westsidegal

                            THere are 4 omakase at Sushi Sushi...

                            $50, $70 (this is what i usually get...15 pieces of fish and 3 appetizers plus desert), $90 are all listed on the menu...I guess there is a higher level one according to some on this board..But I haven't had it...

                            The $70 omakase is most definitely efficient...I've never left feeling like I didn't get enough to eat...

                          2. re: ronnie_gaucho

                            I have had incredible meals at Sushi Sushi, but others that weren't quite as stellar. I also wouldn't say the atmosphere at Sushi Sushi is better than at Sushi-Zo, particularly at lunch. I think it depends on your tolerance for being squeezed into the sushi bar next to loud-talking people in the entertainment industry, of which there always seems to be a surfeit during lunchtime at Sushi Sushi. I have nothing against the entertainment industry, but the people in the business do seem to be louder than your average American. Perhaps I inadvertently sat next to that director who is featured on You Tube screaming at Lilly Tomlin.

                          3. I love Sushi Zo. I recently had a not-so-great experience - we also had to wait quite a while for our orders because it was so crazy packed that night.

                            I can understand how some people might consider Keizo strict, but not mean or rude. Like other posters, Keizo has his rules, but he plays it off with a wink or smile here and there. One time, a guy at the sushi bar raved about the uni and asked where it came from. Keizo "gruffly" replied that it came from the ocean and smiled before he turned away. I guess if you didn't catch the smile, you would think he was just being mean. Personally, I have never had a bad experience with Keizo himself and I will still continue to go - just during off hours when it's not so busy.

                            1. I have to speak up. I'm a big fan of Zo, but only get there about once every three months or so because my husband hates sushi. Whenever I go Keizo remembers me and asks if my husband is out of town. He's never been gruff, and certainly never rude. He's always been very friendly actually, friendlier than most restaurant staff. I do think it's hard to joke in a language that's not your native tongue, and maybe his attempts at humor aren't going over well. That being said, the OPs wait for sushi was pretty bad...but it also could have been the wait staff forgetting to put in an order or something. Or, who knows, maybe he's a jerk sometimes. I've just never had that experience (good thing to because I l-o-v-e his omakase!)

                              1. wow, i'm so surprised to read all of this. i've gone about 5 times and i had the fortune of enjoying good conversation with him the first time since there were only a few parties. the following 4 visits, he remembered my name, asked about my family, my new marriage, and other details we had discussed during my first visit. it's like we're totally friends now, hehe. i've never had such a positive service experience like that.

                                as for the sushi, it speaks for itself. i don't know where i can get fresher sushi at the same price point.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: greengelato

                                  He does have a very good memory. I went one time, didn't sit in front of him but was served a few handrolls by him. Second time, sat at table with a large party, he might have caught a glimpse of me on the way in.

                                  Third time, again didn't sit in front of him, but he remembered me and jokingly said "No camera this time! Very good!" and gave me a thumbs up. Again, a comment that some would have found rude because his tone is brusque, but which I found amusing.

                                2. strange: while i don't mean to take away from your experience i've found Keizo to
                                  be about a kind a chef as there is. i don't think business has gotten to their heads, either; my impression is that they're rather slow usually.
                                  + the sushi is about as good as i've had anywhere

                                  1. Quite a good mix of posts in this thread... I can only chime in about men of Keizo-san's disposition from my experiences growing up in the culture, both here and Japan. A poster has already mentioned that maybe his attempts at humor do not translate as well as he might intend them to. Judging by the other responses about him, I feel that this probably carries a fair amount of weight, as I used to get this routine alot from Japanese language school teachers that were straight out of Japan and were also products of the very regimented upbringings of Japanese culture prior to the end of WWII. Some were true disciplinarians that would make the camp commander in Bridge Over the River Quai look timid, while others put on that face, only to turn out to show signs of being frustrated comedians. Keizo-san seems to fall on the scale somewhere towards the latter.

                                    As just about everyone agrees that the OP's first experience there was unforgiveable, maybe the second experience was a half-witted attempt at his "sushi-tyrant" gig. Japanese humor can border on insanely sadistic/masochistic, so Keizo-san's perceived shots at humor are probably pretty mild in his book - if that is truly what he is doing... maybe stomach the tongue-lashing and wait for the wink? If he winks I think we're all good... If he doesn't, I'm not paying to have horrid flashbacks of my days at Saturday Japanese Language Torture Camp... =)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      Bula, nice insight. My gf and I are over Keizo's attempts at becoming a comedian. We have both seen his ugly side (straight up rude) and we've seen his playful side (rude + wink). As someone had posted, I had asked him before about the origins of one of his fish. He quickly replied "from the sea". With his head down and attention on the fish, I could see him laughing under his breath... waiting for a response from me. Apparently, he has a script of jokes much like Emeril that he practices before each night. We ended up ignoring him the rest of the night as we talked to his sous chef in front of us. The funny thing is.... every question we directed at his sous chef.... Keizo answered as he eavesdropped. After we left, he thanked us graciously. That is just his way of saying he's cool with you. The only things that really tick Keizo off are:

                                      (1) cameras
                                      (2) cellphones
                                      (3) people that do not eat a certain piece of fish (he will put you under the hot seat or clearly show you he is unhappy with a headshake)
                                      (4) violate his 'no-soy sauce' rule on certain fish

                                    2. sorry to hear about two bad experiences in a row. i've seen people ordering spicy tuna there before as well. i am not discounting your experience, although i am surprised to hear.

                                      was there at 7pm last saturday with a party of 9...table, not bar. we were suppose to be eight, but they were very accomodating. we're pretty avid sushi eaters. we ate at URASAWA the night before and one of my guests was lamenting a not so good meal at MASA in NYC last week loved it so much he and his wife are putting it on their regular route.

                                      the food came so fast, actually too fast, it was actually embarassing as another one of my guests felt pressured to down each course as they came in rapid succession. i would have preferred they would have waited until the table was cleared first.

                                      sushi was top notch, excellent as usual. one of the less expensive omakase's i've had there in a while. tab for nine was just under $700 with three bottles of sake at $50 each. lots of people waiting for a seat at 9:45pm.

                                      we'll be back.

                                      1. I just had another meal at Sushi Zo. Fantastic, as always. Food and service were top notch.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: hrhboo

                                          as for ambience, i like sushi zo--- it is as clean a place as one can find and that should
                                          really be noted. + the incredible sushi i've had, wink and all