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HIKO SUSHI | Great sushi, Heartbreaking Experience [moved from LA board]

I am a Chowhound fanatic. I love reading this board - namely because every single recommendation I've taken from this board has always turned out to be a positive experience. I love the whole concept of this board, enough to even buy a nice camera to help document my eating adventures in Los Angeles.

I experienced the *worst* dining experience ever at any dining establishment tonight. I am sorry to say I will never goto Hiko Sushi again. Having grown up in different places in the world, I've never put a premium on service when eating at a restaurant. Great service is always a positive in my book, but if I've had lackadaisical service, so be it. I'm originally from Hong Kong - I've had great food with the worst service ever but I'm still fine with it. It's when the OWNER/CHEF - insults your intelligence - that's when it got to me.

Let me tell you the story...

I wanted to take my friend who supposedly HATED sushi to an establishment I really liked. Now, I only discovered Hiko out of luck - previously I had always gone to Sasabune or Nozawa to get my warm rice sushi fix. I stumbled upon Hiko through blind sushi luck.

I was determined to "convert" my friend to like sushi, or at least appreciate it. What better place than to take them to Hiko, which decidedly became one of my top spots for sushi.

Granted, I loved eating and I decided to capture my experience with photos - I wanted to post up photos of delicious food and spread the word. The experience was MINDBLOWING. I love eating at Hiko. Fresh fish & warm rice with a cold glass of beer. Simply heaven, right?

I took photos of every piece of sushi I ate - up until the last plate, the waitress said "Sorry, no photos". At that point, I was slightly confused but obliged - if there were no photos allowed then I should have been warned way in advance. For God's sake, there were at least ten "No Cell Phones" signs posted in the restaurant, they should post "No Cameras". I walked in the restaurant with a big ol' DSLR. Anyhow, that's besides the point. After that moment, we decided to leave since they were closing up.

Upon paying the bill, which was close to $170-180 for two people, we walked out of the restaurant. Then...

Chef Nazi asks: "What are you taking the photos for?"

I replied: "I like to take photos of food, and I like sharing the pictures with my friends."

Nazi: "If you had common sense, you would have asked for permission first."

I paused for second and didn't believe what I was being told. Dumbfounded..

I replied: "I'm sorry, I should have asked."

Nazi repeated his words sternly: "You should have asked for permission if you had common sense. But that was ONLY if you had common sense."

I walked away insulted, embarrassed, and everything that I had enjoyed - developed a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. Sad to say, I won't go to Hiko Sushi ever again. Quite unfortunate, as I thought I had such a great meal...

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  1. Sidenote - Granted, I should have asked for permission out of respect for the chef - I realize that. However the nazi chef could have been more tactful in the way he talked to me - I was, at the end of the day, a patron. He's not the first to invent warm sushi nor the last... respect your clients and they will keep coming.

    1 Reply
    1. re: thehungryman

      Sorry to hear about your experience. I've heard several similar things about the chef there. No food is worth insult and humiliation.

    2. Thanks for sharing your experience.
      I agree 100% with cfylong 'No food is worth insult and humiliation.'
      Definitely, we wont' be going to Hiko Sushi.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lvgoodfood

        Terrible experience you had. I went here w/ my gf after reading Gold's LA Weekly article about him being an omakase warrior. The overall caveat of this place was that fish was pre-cut, even when it was slow during prime time. Everything tasted fine, but the temperature of the fish was warmer than usual. Nothing really blew my pants off here. He was a nice chef but not a man of many words, but that doesn't bother me - I'm used to chef Keizo of Sushi Zo. I'm glad I tried this place out, but will probably try other places for their omakase.

      2. There's too much good sushi in this town to bother dealing with an itamae who makes a customer feel that way.

        1. Just have to share my Hiko experience. My husband and I went a few weeks ago. I was looking up a phone number on my blackberry to give to my husband. I was not using my phone nor sending emails....just needed to give him an imporant phone number. Yep, you guessed it, I was scolded for having my blackberry out of my purse. I agree with the no cell phone policy but not sure I'm willing to pay to have my every move controlled.

          4 Replies
          1. re: priscilla2

            Wow, wonder if cell phones and blackberries are allowed in the restrooms, or does chef have cameras monitoring the stalls too ;-). Maybe he should just put in walk-thru metal detectors at the front door and have security employ 'the wand'...

            1. re: silence9

              He had a sign that says no cell phones. While no one should be scolded, but if people would read and follow the sign there'd no need for "scolding".

            2. re: priscilla2

              While I agree with you about the "scolding" part, no cell phone means no cell phone. I cannot understand the need to have cell phones at everywhere, restaurants, concerts, lines in coffee shops, grocery stores. Even though you were not actually calling anyone, just to have your blackberry on means someone may call you and your phone would ring, thus disturbing others who were there with the expectation that no one would use cell phones.

            3. that sucks, however, it is common courtesy to ask for permission prior to taking pictures inside a restaurant. however, i do not condone him waiting till you were done with your meal to berate you. that just plain blows.

              10 Replies
              1. re: wilafur

                Is it common courtesy to ask first? I wouldn't have thought twice about it. Hungryman was taking photos in order to document his delicious meal and share the find with others, thereby popularizing the restaurant. I do this all the time myself and witness many others doing so as well. $180 for two people would make this a special occasion for most people, and I really can't see what he did wrong. Perhaps the chef is paranoid of sushi spies or something?

                1. re: BobtheBigPig

                  if they dont care that you take pictures (and eagerly help you with the pictures) at Urasawa, i really don't think people should have a problem.

                  i bet its because the chefs are insecure and worried people will "steal" their ideas

                  1. re: clayfu

                    There is a Kaiseki place in Toronto that doesn't allow you to take pictures -- they take them for you. They are worried about less than great picture of their food being seen. This way, they please their diners and don't have to worry about their image being tarnished.

                  2. re: BobtheBigPig

                    I think it's more that it's really annoying for other diners. Especially if the flash is used.

                    1. re: hrhboo

                      There is nothing more obnoxious than a camera flash going off throughout one's meal. If pictures are taken discreetly and without disturbing the other diners, then I don't have a problem with it.

                      But I do understand where the chef is coming from -- which isn't to say I condone how he expressed himself. I would think a chef wants his customers to relax and experience the meal, not analyze it as if it were a science experiment.

                      www.infinitefress.blogspot.com

                      1. re: hungrygirl106

                        I agree about the flash. However, aside from that, I actually like seeing people taking pictures of their food - they are enjoying it and are enthusiastic about the dishes.

                    2. re: BobtheBigPig

                      Yes it definitely is common courtesy to ask first. Esp in high end restaurants others don't want to disturbed by cameras clicking away.

                      1. re: PeterL

                        I really doubt that the clicking of camera shutters will drown out the laughing and talking in the restaurants I find myself eating at.

                    3. re: wilafur

                      Why should someone have to ask? What if they are reviewing the restaurant? To ask permission to take photos -- instead of doing so surreptitiously -- would be breaking cover.

                      1. re: Covert Ops

                        Professional reviewers usually schedule to have pictures taken after they have been the restaurant.

                    4. while unfortunate i would find out, if you want to, what the japanese etiquette is regarding this sort of thing. perhaps he just couldn't take it at the end and then told you so.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: epop

                        Well, we're not in Japan. If he bought the food, it should be his to do with as he pleases, including taking pictures as long as it doesn't bother anyone else.

                        1. re: epop

                          The Japanese etiquette regarding this sort of thing... the chef wouldn't have done that in the first place. I think that if a Japanese sushi-ya saw a guest taking pictures and was uncomfortable with the situation, he would apologetically ask the guest to please not take pictures.

                        2. there was no need for the chef to be rude, but i do think it would have been more respectful to ask first. i'm an avid photographer and and i always ask before taking pictures in a private establishment.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mandela

                            I'm sorry dude but you had it coming to you. You're lucky you can even go back--I've heard of patrons being 86'd for way less. You were smart to hold you tongue! :-)

                          2. Thats outrageous. There was no need for him to be so insulting, especially to a customer. It's particularly shocking because he insulted you so personally, questioning your intelligence etc, as opposed to some other places where they're rude to everyone but not so personally.

                            1. I'd like to weigh in.

                              It *is* common courtesy to ask permission to photograph food, especially when you are sitting right in front of the chef. (You know what I mean -- sushi chefs are generally right in the same room as their diners.)

                              It *IS* insanely annoying to have flashes going off in a restaurant. You don't say if you used a flash, but constant picture taking IS a disturbance to other diners, flash or no flash.

                              Yes, it doesn't make sense that they waited until you were on your final course before saying anything, but I suspect they were hoping you'd stop doing what you were doing before they had to confront you. Nobody likes a confrontation, and doing it mid-meal would have been awkward for all concerned.

                              So, I get why he said it as you were leaving.

                              Does an establishment really have to post signs for every little thing, or can they assume people will act with decorum and consideration of others?

                              I don't see why you feel humiliated or heartbroken or feel that you have had your intelligence insulted.

                              I also take issue with your observation that this was the "*worst* dining experience ever at any dining establishment..." Clearly, you had a great time until the end and the food was as good as you've always experienced -- "mindblowing" and "heaven", right?

                              What you are feeling is shame and embarrassment, because you transgressed and they called you on it, and regret because you feel you cannot return to your favourite sushi place.

                              I urge you to take the lesson as it comes and learn from the experience. It's too easy to push blame back onto them, when the offense lies at your feet.

                              Just my 2c...

                              7 Replies
                                1. re: Maxmillion

                                  Max, I completely agree with your post. Completely!

                                  1. re: Maxmillion

                                    Completely agree with Maxmillion. This whole Camera thing has gotten way out of control.
                                    Urasawa is a unique situation where Hiro is used to a thousand Pictures being taken of his food creations. But your also paying around 400- pp for the Artistic experience, which is far different than a Basic Omakase experience at Hiko. The Chef at Hiko is very serious, close friend of Nozawa(which should give a little insight) and makes very good Sushi even thought we normally go to Sasabune, Zo or Mori more often.

                                    1. re: Maxmillion

                                      Max - I totally agree with you - in fact if I were ever to take photos again i would definitely ask the chef first.

                                      Just a sidenote - if you saw my photos you'd notice that a) I didn't use a flash b) sit in front of the chef. In fact I was tucked away at the back of the restaurant.

                                      If you are going to post signs about no cell phones, you might as well post no cameras, no talking, no smiling.. well the list can go on.

                                      All in all - Hiko has really delicious Tuna. I just have to find another place to satifsy my tuna cravings..

                                      1. re: thehungryman

                                        I honestly think you should go back there, after a bit of time has passed, if you really love their food and still feel like patronising that restaurant. It's not as if you were banned. It seems to me that you are punishing yourself more than the chef by not returning.

                                        Thanks for taking my comments on board -- I really thought long and hard about posting such strong opinions.

                                        I dunno, I've never really agreed with that whole "the customer is always right" notion. I think we are guests (albeit paying ones...) at any given establishment.

                                        For some reason I feel it's important to grant sushi chefs (even the rude or difficult ones, with all their rules) MORE lattitude to be eccentric (or insistent on certain rules) than you might do at, say, another type of establishment *mainly* because these chefs are right there in the same room with you.

                                        And as someone else pointed out elsewhere, sushi chefs *are* "artists" -- perhaps not much more so (to a greater or lesser degree) than other chefs, but the extensive training (and no doubt personal cost) that goes into attaining a high level of sushi expertise is not to be underestimated.

                                        1. re: Maxmillion

                                          Maxmillion: the points you raise above are duly noted. However, to play devil's advocate on the issue of sushi chefs being granted more latittude for eccentricity due to their unusually nearby proximity to their patron -- an argument could be made for just the opposite view: that unlike a crazed culinary Van Gogh or Pollock whose behavior is borne of their isolation from humanity, a sushi chef is directly before their patron/guests and therefore might be presumed to raise the standard of decorum and empathy with a fellow food lover ensconced mere feet or inches away from the altar of piscean worship. Put another way, isn't the high priest on better behavior, when they turn around and look into the eyes of their congregants? Of course, the same may be then presumed of the congregants/diners, as far as higher standards of behavior go...

                                      2. re: Maxmillion

                                        I don't agree. Rude is rude. The chef was rude. He should have said something immediately, many people don't understand local rules. The chef has a thing for control and doesn't like cameras, phones, etc, fine. So, say something up front and don't be an ass at the end. That's just mean.

                                      3. You were wrong but should have been corrected earlier. The longer they waited, the more you had reason to think it was OK. But he could have easily been more gracious about how he spoke to you. Coming from the 'the customer is always right' school, I would tend to think that he is just an an arrogant jackass for using the condescending words he did. He obviously either doesn't get the personal nature of such an attack (culture/language issue?) or he doesn't care if he loses your business. Too late now.

                                        1. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience.
                                          I also take photos of the food I eat to put on my blog. Sometimes I ask permission and sometimes I don't, I guess it just depends on the place.

                                          When ever I've asked they have been more than nice about it and want to know where and when the photos will be posted. I even made up business cards with my blog information on it, and it says, "Your restaurant will be featured soon on this blog" I got tired of writing it out all the time. ;-)

                                          I too love sushi and found a great restaurant in Lemon Grove, San Diego county.
                                          It's called Sushi Time. I did ask if I could take pictures and they were more than nice about it. Pictures of this sushi experience can be found at www.kokoscorner.typepad.com toward the end of the post about girls weekend.

                                          I do agree he was rude.

                                          1. I don't see why you should have to ask permission to photograph a plate of food that you have paid for as long as you're discreet about it and not disturbing the other customers... if you were taking shots of the whole restaurant or the chef at work that would be a different story, but you've BOUGHT your plate and you can do what you want with it!

                                            1. I've been pondering this one for a while. And i think it is important to remember that sushi is not "just food". While most chefs realize the importance of presenting their food in an attracive manner, many sushi chefs really consider themselves to be artists, they are creating edible artwork.

                                              I suspect if you had asked the chef to pose in front of his work, he would have been greatly pleased, acted terribly embarrased, and said NO the first TWO times, then "reluctantly" agreed the third time you asked. After that you probably would have gotten some extras showing up on your table.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                I totally agree with your assessment on how many Itamae view their profession as elevating food to an art. The finer sushi houses expect everyone, the Itamae, the staff, and the guests to take a zen-like approach to the dishes created before them - it's all about focusing on the food.

                                                About Hiko's Itamae. I think you'd be right 99% of the time... but this Itamae at Hiko is in that 1%. I think most who have suffered his wrath would agree that he is the real life incarnation of the soup nazi from, "Seinfeld." He reminds me of my childhood days at J-school, where the teachers from the old country behaved like heads of POW camps and treated us like the prisoners...

                                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                                  ^ worse than Nozawa?! (god, your childhood experiences sound awful)

                                                  1. re: Maxmillion

                                                    this is traditional japanese dining, basically, in an intimate atmosphere, more like a home than a restaurant. politeness between cultures sometimes doesn't translate well. i have a feeling hiko stored it up til he just couldn't take it.

                                                    nozawa and hiko have both been unusually pleasant people to me, when i've sat at the bar. yes, not your typical smiley subservient people. i found them to be no-nonsense, humorous and refreshingly simple.

                                                    1. re: Maxmillion

                                                      Hi Maxmillion,

                                                      Yes, those were some cruel days... this generation of teachers were out of the militaristic days of Japan... no kidding... life is better now!

                                                2. The etiquette in Japan is always ask first, they can get really pissed if you don't. Pisses me off because I figure I pay for the food if I want to wear it as a hat, that's my right. Anyway the good guys will almost always give you the go ahead for photos. This guy cuts his fish ahead of time and serves warm rice sushi and he has the nerve to high-hat a customer like that, in Japan the pre-cut fish is for kaiten sushi.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: steamer

                                                    We are apparently in the minority of people who have dined there, but I also thought the precut fish at Hiko tasted exactly like a kaiten sushi. I loathed Hiko and, having spent time in Japan, found it the antithesis of a good Japanese restaurant experience. But as they same in another culture: chacun à son goût.

                                                  2. i asked a lawyer about it-- you had no right to take the pictures to begin with. i think the basic courtesy is to ask when photographing-- they may have let you get away with it a couple times but then finally felt they had to say something. i defend Hiko on this one.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: epop

                                                      Legal or not, bad manners on the part of the host is never a good idea. I think the OP must have pushed the boundaries too far, and and and.... but it does not excuse poor behavior no matter how samurai Hiko was feeling that night.

                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                        which came first, chicken or egg? some of us think turning the meal into a photo op may not have been the best of etiquette

                                                    2. I'm sure everyone will think I'm a nutjob, but, here it goes.

                                                      If you really love the food at this place, I think you should go back (sans camera, of course.) I used to, as a matter of principle, refuse to patronize places--even places I loved --if I had one really bad experience there. Over time, I found that I couldn't go to my favorite bagel place, my favorite drycleaner, my most convenient post office, and so on. It's true, I was sticking to my principles, and mustered up a certain satisfaction whenever I walked by muttering to myself that "I'll never eat at that place again..." but, in the end, I realized all I was doing was depriving myself. The bagelry did fine without me, as did the drycleaner, the post office, and so on. And I was eating at the lousy bagel place, having my clothes done at the drycleaner who left spots on my clothes, and going to the far away, pain-in-the-behind post office.

                                                      I realize the chef was rude--but, unless you think you can never ever enjoy a meal there again, why deprive yourself of chow you really love? The only person you're hurting is yourself.

                                                      Also, my two cents, I'd remove the photos from your facebook album. He obviously didn't want the photos taken--maybe he's an artist and feels you're disrespecting his craft. Maybe he's hiding from his ex-wife/the tax authorities/the local bookie and is afraid to have his photo recognized on the internet. Maybe it offends his religion. Who knows. You yourself seem to recognize (in hindsight) that perhaps you should have asked permission. I realize that maybe it feels like you're getting the last word (and you are) and that that feels good, but, if you believe in karma or the golden rule or whatever, it might actually feel even better to bury the hatchet. Take the high road. (Insert here whatever sappy platitude works best for you__________.) And, of course, the longer you leave the photos up, the harder it will be for you to go back, if you ever decide that you miss your favorite sushi.

                                                      Life is too short to eat second-best sushi and carry a grudge in your heart.

                                                      ~TDQ

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. He could have handled it a lot better IMHO. Slipping you a note about no photos, telling you something the first time he saw you shoot, saying if you come back, please no photos...

                                                        UNLESS he really didn't want you to come back, and was making sure you didn't.

                                                        Guess he didn't think you'd post this on a board where 1000's of people would read it, either.

                                                        1. It's a bummer you had that experience. We go there at least 2x a month, if not more and love it. It's sort of a known fact that the chef is super old school (he's very old!) and in his world no cell phones probably also means no photos. He gives people the evil eye for dipping their sushi into soy sauce when you're not supposed to...

                                                          9 Replies
                                                          1. re: mbrickman

                                                            I've seen pics from there on Yelper if I'm not mistaken.

                                                              1. re: Servorg

                                                                He's still the closest to Nozawa style too.

                                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                                  I haven't eaten there, but as an avid non-flash food pic taker/sushi nut, this topic is of interest to me.

                                                                  While the quality of the fish and rice don't always come through in pics, that is some of the most unartfully presented sushi I've seen from a sushi nazi in a while just sayin'... :/

                                                                  And more to the topic - yes, OP could have asked, but that kind of parting dig from the proprietor, under those circumstances, isn't worth going back anywhere, much less in a locale like LA imo.

                                                                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                    You may just be very correct.

                                                                    But it sure tastes pretty good.

                                                                  2. re: Servorg

                                                                    I went for a full omakase there 2 years ago, and took photos of every dish (my usual M.O.) - Not a peep.

                                                                2. re: mbrickman

                                                                  The OP and almost all of he replies were written in 2007, almost 7 years ago. A lot of the original replies said that the OP should have asked permission before taking photos. Since then I think most people, especially those who post on food boards, have become a lot more tolerant about restaurant photography.

                                                                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                    Thanks for bringing that to our attention. Can't speak for anyone else, but the date of the OP totally escaped me. :)

                                                                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                      I have to say that I don't think this is, at it's heart, about the etiquette of taking pictures except as the act that resulted in the OP's treatment. It may be a cultural thing, but a direct, personal, insulting verbal attack as described in the OP , IMHO can't be defended period.

                                                                      Assuming the facts were truly as presented, there was most certainly no call for what the chef did. I hope that I would have had the presence of mind to ask him if he really wanted to totally destroy a customer relationship that way, but I probably would have had trouble getting my jaw working again soon enough. Following a patron outside to insult them after the fact, when it should have ( and seemed to have been handled politely early on?