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Apr 11, 2007 12:56 AM

First visit to Sushi Zo...whoa!

Since our usual suspects (Sasabune, Irori, Kiriko, Echigo) have been feeling a tad played out to us lately, my BF and I decided we were in the mood for new sushi last night. We finally took the plunge and tried Sushi Zo, having done my due dillengence on CH and threatening to for months now. There are few things worst than dissappointing or overrated sushi experiences, which keeps us normally adventurous 'hounds from trying a new sushi place every week. We've all had at least one bad sushi experience that has scarred us to some extent.

Anyway, when we arrived, we were pleased to find that they had a table open for us since they were fairly busy for a Mon. night. The small restaurant is really nicely designed, spotless, and they had some good jazz on. I was wondering what type of reception us non-regulars would get from behind the sushi bar after some of the reviews I've read here, but we got a warm welcome and lots of smiles.

On to the sushi. Ok, I'm officially KICKING myself for being so darn risk-averse all these months. (I'd done the exact same thing with Sasabune...) I knew from the moment I trepidatiously popped the first piece of hamachi nigiri on my tongue, that Zo was opening new doors to the amazing universe of sushi. The hamachi, and every single piece we sampled after it, knocked our socks off in a spectacularly-mind-numbingly-buttery-melt-in-your-mouthful kind of way. The one exception might've been the scallop, which was of fantastic quality, but we like how we get it a Irori with just a little lemon and rock salt sprinkled on top.

We like to do Omakases once in a while, but eat sushi too often (at least once, if not 2x/week) to have it all the time, so we usually order a la carte, which is what we did this time around at Zo. Our order included (i might be forgetting something):
2 pcs. hamachi
4 salmon
2 skipjack
3 red snapper
4 butterfish (literally dissolved in our mouth)
2 black snapper
2 halibut
2 scallop
2 zuke
1 special scallop roll
2 blue crab rolls

And the rice was the perfect temperature, not hot like at Sasabune. Speaking of Sasabune, we like other on CH have been, sorry to say, underwhelmed by the experience there overall of late. It's really become a sushi factory of sorts and it's showing in the sushi. No so at Zo. (Ha.) Seriously, not only is the quality, flavor and texture of the fish in a whole other league, but you can just tell that there's a lot of thought and care going into cutting and preparing it.

Service was attentive and quick as well. I should note that we did catch an error in the bill (knew to check after the reviews, here, thanks!). There was a spicy tuna roll on there we didn't have. Our server took it off right away. Our order above plus a Kirin draft beer and tax came to $83. I'm wondering how that stacks up with the small omakases there?

Anyway, my BF and I woke up with Sushi Zo on the brain this morning, which makes it our official new haunt.

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  1. Glad you liked it! After going twice a la carte and once omakase ($40, so very close to our usual $40-50 a la carte bill), I would say I prefer a la carte. The only thing we got omakase that was incredible was the kumamoto oyster, and I'm sure if you asked they would be able to get you one a la carte.

    Plus, my favorite is the ankimo nigiri and I never want to risk not having one.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Pei

      Do you know about how many pieces you get with the $40 Omakase?

      1. re: purediva

        let me try to recreate it in my head. I might be forgetting some.

        kumamoto oyster
        butterfish (I suspect this is escolar)
        blue crab handroll
        I don't remember snapper, but it might have been in there.

        Note: I called ahead a reservation for a party of 6, and the person I talked to indicated that omakase starts at $50, but I asked if we could do $40 and they agreed. I don't know if that's only because we were a large party, or if the $50 starting price is always flexible.

        1. re: Pei

          To purediva, listen to Pei on her suggestion for ankimo monkfish liver. it is wonderful. Steamed beautifully... it actually has texture compared to most places that serve it cold with a p√Ęte-like texture. glad you got the butterfish which is my favorite. another tip from someone who has been there 4 times... if you don't want to be shocked by omakase prices.... state your limit to Chef Keizo. if you tell him to do whatever he wants... you'll easily rack up a $100 bill. but then again, you will get the more expensive stuff and part of the fun in eating omakase is the anticipation for the next mystery cut of fish.

          1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

            Thanks for the omakase list....I'm assuming that's 1 pc. each, which would seem like you definitely get more sushi for the money a la carte as we've always figured.

            Yeah, we had some bad ankimo which is why we never order it anymore. Very pate like. So Zo's is more like foie gras?

            1. re: purediva

              Yes, it's very much like a good seared foie gras. In fact, Sushi Zo's is the place I finally realized why people always say ankimo is the foie gras of the sea.

              It jiggles when they set it down!

              1. re: purediva

                i cannot explain it. it's soft from being steamed, but still has a light 'bite' to it. not chocolate bar bite. it is definitely unlike the cold, hard chunks of ankimo you're used to.

                1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

                  I wonder if Scoops would make ankimo ice cream.......okay, I just grossed myself out.........

                  1. re: MeowMixx

                    j just told me that someone gave scoopsman a tin of caviar...he is going to make some kind of ice cream concoction this weekend. i shall try it...

                    and yes i would definitely do ankimo ice cream, ankimo burrito, ankimo taco, ankimo enchiladas, etc.

                    1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

                      haha shirako fish sac ice cream!

                      "is that vanilla?" the kid said.

                      "is wasabi grean tea?" Scoopsdude replied.

        2. re: Pei


          1. re: Pei

            I've ordered the oyster a la carte many times. They used to indicate the specials on the chalkboard, where I first saw the oyster, but now it seems to permanently say "No cut rolls" or something like that.
            Mmm, I knew I shouldn't have logged into chowhound at work! No good sushi around here.

          2. I'm in agreement with Sushi Zo. They're sushi seems more skillfully hand crafted than the mass production of Sasabune even though the quality of the fish is comparable. Also the service is so much better.

            BTW, my usually omakase there is about $70. If its available, next time you go, try asking for the Cod Fish Marrow, really unique and good.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jwpark

              I believe it's actually cod fish milt, not marrow. I agree it's delicious!

              1. re: hrhboo

                Just got back from our second visit to Zo (that makes 2x in one week). Another revelatory experience! This time our a la carte order included:
                skip jack
                shima aji
                salmon (double order)
                red snapper
                blue crab rolls (double orders)

                Pei and weren't kidding about the ankimo. Holy !@#$%
                My BF could hardly contain himself. Amazing texture and flavor, nothing like the cold stiff slabs of bad pate-like ankimo we had (our first and last...before now) at the Hump in SM. We tried to order another round but we had the last ones. Chef Keizo said they'd have more on Mon. BF said we just may just have to come back for it in a few days.

                We were going to order sweet shrimp instead but they were out of that too, so we settled for some toro. ;-P (They didn't have any kumamoto oysters either or we would've gone for those as well.)

                The tab for two of us including a glass of sake and kirin draft came to $90 before tax/tip. Obsession thy name is Zo!

                p.s. jwpark & hrhboo...not to rain on your parade in case you aren't already aware and wouldn't want to know, do know that cod fish milt is..., er, cod sperm, right? Saw another post about it on CH. I'm usually one that'll try anything once...but I might have to draw the line there.... :)

                1. re: purediva

                  Hee hee..I know it's sperm, but I only found out after I had eaten it! I would get it again, it was really really good.

            2. Had a non-shellfish omakase lunch today at Sushi Zo. The chef and I recognized each other from years of visits to Hide Susi, the Sawtelle establishment where he used to work. I thought the quality of the fish was very high, the space was nice and service was good.

              That ankimo was just wonderful. Mmmm. Warm and sitting on the rice base, it smelled delicious. I thought of having a second but decided to go for variety this time. I was impressed at the variety of fish that chef offers.

              Highlights were the butterfish (cooked), toro handroll, chutoro sushi (omg - this was insane), and ikura.

              Red snapper, black snapper, salmon, skipjack, amberjack, hamachi, pompano and several others were also part of the meal.

              The yuzu beverage at the end is a nice way to end the meal.

              I will be back soon. It was about $60 + tip.

              The combination of the quality and variety of fish offered really makes Zo stand out for me. It also doesn't have the "temple of sushi" vibe like at Mori. It joins Hide, Irori and Echigo on my westside sushi faves list.

              1. I just made reservations for this weekend... my first visit to sushi zo! I can't wait after hearing all about your first two visits.

                When I called to make reservations, the man that answered asked me if I was going to order omakase or a la carte, and since I've read the posts on here, I said probably a la carte. He then told me it might take a long time for my orders if the restaurant is busy and I don't order the omakase.

                Well, I guess we'll see how the service is, but I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks for your posts!

                12 Replies
                1. re: spicychow

                  I love Zo but lately, I have felt like a second class citizen if I don't order omakase. Has anyone else had this feeling? It seems like if you don't order omakase you are forced to sit at the end/corner of the sushi bar, even if the place is empty. I also had a guest change his mind (when we arrive at Zo) about going omakase and the server was very irritated or panicked, couldn't tell, but her reaction seemed inappropriate. Zo's omakase is not that different then his a la carte menu. Does it hurt their bottom line if you change your mind when you arrive at the restaurant?

                  Plus, did anyone notice that the price of tuna went up $.60? Ouch! $3.00 a bite. I am afraid I may not be able to afford ZO for very long :(

                  1. re: spicychow

                    Spicychow - hmm, I don't like the response he gave you about it taking a long time if you order a la carte at all. Our pacing was perfect on both visits for us when we ordered a la carte but I do feel there is some level of pressure (like at a lot of the other edo sushi restaurants) when you first call and first walk in, as sugarpie mentions below. I've never had a guy take my reservation, only a hostess and I think to some extent b/c I'm so definitive in my answer of "a la carte," they've never pushed it. I'm wondering if the fact that you said "probably" a la carte made him think he could strongarm you into changing your mind.

                    IMHO if places like Zo aren't that jazzed about doing anything other than omakase, then they shouldn't offer an a la carte menu in the first place. I have to say, that my BF and I enjoy a great degustation menu as much as the next Hound, but when it comes to sushi, we gotta-have-it far too frequently to be able to do omakase each time on our salaries. By being able to order a la carte, we're able to eat high quality sushi at places like Zo once a week, going home full for under $40pp.

                    It's great that you're still giving them the benefit of the doubt. (If they'd tried that with me...I don't know if I would've ever made it there. :) I still stand by the greatness of the sushi and the overall experience based on our visits, and I know you're going to enjoy it.

                    Pls. do report back and let us all know how the service went. And don't let 'em push you around (not that you would)! ;)

                    1. re: purediva

                      I'm also a big Zo fan but for Keizo to tell you your food may come out slow if you order a la carte is kind of tacky. I assume it's him since he's the only male who has answered if I've ever called to make a reservation. It's been awhile since I've called and when I have, he or she didn't ask me if I wanted omakase or a la carte. Warning someone that service may be slow doesn't reflect well on your restaurant (especially as a first timer!), and indirectly pressures you to go the omakase route, both of which are inappropriate. My recent experiences have always been great, so I've been more forgiving when I hear these minor but negative incidents. I am starting to hear this little not-so-nice voice in my head about Zo lately, and I really hope some positive experiences will make it go away! The last few times I went to Zo, I've sat at a table, so I haven't had as much direct Keizo contact. During my last visit, my friends and I ended up staying in the restaurant for three hours, eating and drinking the whole time (slowing down at times), and I was anticipating that they may politely ask us to finish up or pressure us to leave at times when we weren't eating. Keizo and his staff totally left us alone to eat and enjoy in peace and I appreciated it.

                      1. re: Skorgirl

                        Some places, like Echigo, reserve the sushi bar for omakase, while the table seating can be a la carte or omakase. Perhaps this is what Zo was trying to do?

                        When I went for lunch I ended up ordering omakase, but they did not ask me before seating me.

                        1. re: Senor Popusa

                          i think you're right, plain and simple, senor.

                          1. re: Senor Popusa

                            If that is what Zo is moving towards, I have no problem with that. I wish he or his staff would just say that directly instead of strategically seating guests or pressuring someone to have the omakase. At one point, I thought they wanted to seat people for omakase at the bar and a la carte at tables, but they don't seem to consistently ask which you will be having. I've walked in with a party of six, all a la carte, and have been seated at the bar with no pressure to get omakase. So it's hard to tell what they prefer. Zo is clearly a "play by the rules" joint yet people still love it, so if he outright stated that the bar is for omakase only, I don't think his patrons would be terribly upset. I wouldn't, at least.

                            1. re: Skorgirl

                              i think it is assumed at a restaurant such as this one that emphasizes omakase and has a small sushi bar.
                              a steak house doesn't need to say "please use a knife, not a machete, for your filet mignon"

                              1. re: epop

                                What a silly comparison. I hope you're joking. The sushi bar doesn't explicitly say one way or another that the bar is omakase only, and it's certainly not common practice among all sushi restaurants that the bar is for omakase customers only. I can say that I have never seen anyone bring a machete into a steak house. Can you say you've never seen anyone order a la carte at a sushi bar?

                                1. re: epop

                                  Yeah, if they want to reserve omakase for the sushi bar and open up the tables to a la carte (like Sasabune et al.), great. All they need to do is say as much. With any of the sushi restaurants, including Zo, it just doesn't make sense to offer an a la carte menu to customers but then make them feel weird or get "slower service" if they opt for that route.

                                  I still love Zo and have been treated well when dining a la carte. I just don't like to hear the kind of stuff that happened to spicychow, epop. I don't think you'd appreciate being treated that way.

                                  1. re: purediva

                                    i agree, and i was jesting. but i do think there's more to the story. i go in there for a major omakase fairly often but even when alone and ordering a la carte I sit at a table. it is something i intuited. maybe bringing 6 people to the sushi bar and ordering a la carte struck a nerve of keizo's-- i don't know. he has the memory of an elephant so who knows what took place, culturally and in between them?

                                    1. re: epop

                                      i go there fairly often, sometimes ordering omakase (like tonight) and other times ordering a la carte.
                                      it seems to me that if they aren't too busy, they will still seat me at the sushi bar even if i'm ordering a la carte; if they are busy, however, they will seat me at a table.

                                      i am always sure to specify, before being seated, how i will be ordering so that they are not blind sided.

                                      in any case, i've always had wonderful meals there, wherever i am seated.

                                      1. re: epop

                                        To add some more info, the staff knew we were ordering a la carte with 6 people and still seated us at the sushi bar, and not at our request, they just started gesturing us towards the area. Service was great the whole time. My point in bringing up that example was that I did not experience the omakase pressure, even with so many of us taking up the bar, which is why it seems unusual now that people are pointing out these experiences. And I agree, his memory is insanely good; not just of faces but seemingly insigificant details as well.

                        2. Alright, so now I can post about my experience this past weekend.

                          Let me preface by saying I had 3 very good meals this week, including gonpachi and Nobu Malibu. I know this post is about Sushi Zo, but I do have to say I had the most amazing meal at Nobu Malibu. I know, some people are pretty down on Nobu, but I thought the service, attention and the presentation was spectacular. Gonpachi, not so much. The food was alright... although the decor is amazing.

                          Anyways, about Sushi Zo. I did end up ordering a la carte, and was given the corner spot at the sushi bar. I had absolutely ZERO interaction with the sushi chef, which was
                          a bit disappointing. I love to go eat sushi where the sushi chefs make comments or make you feel welcome. I was sitting in front of the sous chef (is that the right term?) and he did not even look at me once, which is so unusual at a sushi restaurant! I thought the sushi was good, esp the blue crab roll, ankimo, kanpachi and salmon. Scallop was ok.

                          Me and my BF were actually not full, but we decided to stop ordering because I just didn't enjoy sitting at the sushi bar with a stone face sushi chef that didn't try to talk to us once. Not even to ask if we wanted more food, or if we were enjoying dinner. Is this typical of Sushi Zo?

                          I think we'll stick with Hiko, Sushi Gen and Sasabune for now (even though I hate the new Sasabune location... it is exactly like a sushi factory). Or maybe just sit at a table next time, since there really is no point in sitting at the bar at Sushi Zo. Not sure if it was because I wasn't sitting in front of the head sushi chef, but a bit disappointing overall.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: spicychow

                            Just wondering spicy chow, was it crowded? Busy? I was just there tonight and decided to go with omakase. He was very nice. He said hello and actually said my name. So I would say that he usually doesn't ignore his patrons but does tend to seat you at the corners if you are not ordering omakase. Sorry to hear your Zo experience was disappointing.

                            1. re: sugarpie

                              I really think it was because I didn't order omakase... I didn't have his "approval" or something. It wasn't that busy for a Sat night, there were couple of empty tables.

                              I'm definitely willing to go back and try again. Maybe order omakase next time, if the chef feels that strongly about it. I'll let you guys know how that goes!

                            2. re: spicychow

                              i had a similar experience at Mori having omakase and it does stink. on top of it he intentionally served me what i told him i didn't like but he wouldn't tell me that it was what i thought it was. he just kept smirking.
                              but at Zo the head chef is usually very jovial. this is the problem with a one man show, if others are around