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FIRST VISIT TO SUSHI ZO

After reading so many amazing reviews about Sushi Zo I decided to venture out to LA from the OC and try the omakase for lunch. After 1 hr and 15 mins of driving we finally arrived. We went on a Tues at 1.30pm the restaurant was about 75% full with people mostly finishing up. We told the waitress we had reservatiosn and she removed the reserved sign from a nice seat right in from of the Famous Chef. The chef looked very young to me and I had to ask the waitress to see if that was indeed him. He was very nice and courteous. He asked us specifically what we liked and did not like. I don't understand why some of the previous reviews said he was rude and short. He always smiled and looked me in the eye when he gave me the peices of sushi. We started off with the oysters in the light ponzu sauce.. it was plump and decadent. I LOVE oysters. Then next came the albalone. I'm used to a more softer abalone that is served at Chinese restaurants, this one was a little more chewy and crunchy. That green paste that he serves with the abalone is absolutely amazing. It was peppery and had a nice kick. Even hrs after I had left the restaurant the thought of that paste made me lick my lips. I wanted to ask what it was but I was a little fearful that he would give me a sarcastic answer.. (from reading previous reviews). We also tried the "LIVE SAKE". I"m not a Sake expert but I really did enjoy the "Live Sake" very much. It was smooth and had a very nice soft, sweet after taste. I'm not a fan of Mackerel but the way the Chef prepared it .. I loved it! It wasn't as cooked as the ones I've had before. I liked how each peice of sushi was complemented with a little dab of the chef's special spice concoction. The dabs of light sauce helped compliment the fish perfectly. The quality of fish I had was probably one of the best I've ever had. I've never had warm rice with sushi before and I think I really liked it that way. It just seemed to melt in your mouth. I think we had a total of about 9 to 10 peices of sushi ea. not including the oyster and abalone. I was a little dissappointed that they did not have the uni spaghetti that I read so much about. Uni is my absolute favorite. The Chef told me that it usually depends if he finds good calamari that day. So I guess I was have to go back. Another slight dissapointment was the rather small portions. Towards the end of my meal I noticed that the peices of fish got thiner and smaller. Almost like tiny little sample slivers. The monkfish liver was probably my favorite and I requested for a second. I loved the texture.. a little bit of heaven. The blue crab roll was probably this best crab roll I've ever had. Nice chunky peices of sweet crab.mmmm
I've had omakse at 3 different Nobu's and I'd say it beats out all of them. And for the price I think compared to Nobu is a bargain. It's unfortunate that I just found out about this place recently. I could have avoided the so commercialized Nobu's and had a better omakase experience. So at Zo's the damage for 2 people was $212 before tip including.. 2 cups of Live Sake and 2 small beers. The last time I was in Nobu in Vegas we spent $430 on 2 omakase dinners, 2 bottles of sake and 2 beers. I felt like I got raped... and very regretful.

Is there anything that like Sushi Zo in Oc? In terms of freshness and creativity?I just feel that the Sushi Joints I know of in OC are so Californian and the quality is very average. They mainly have just cut rolls piled iwth creamy sauces.
I loved Zo but the drive out there is killer!

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  1. Green paste with the abalone -- was it citrus-y? Might it have been yuzu-pepper paste?

    1. The two sushi places in OC that seem to get talked about the most are Shibucho in Costa Mesa, and Sushi Wasabi in Tustin. I've only been to Shibucho; it's excellent, but Shibutani-san tends to stick to more standard fare (his son thinks perhaps it's because he's getting older). He puts sauce on his sushi only occasionally, although with omakase you're sure to get one with lemon-ginger-scallion sauce, and somethting with ponzu sauce - usually unagi, but very occasionally something he told me was "squid ear" (whatever it was, it was fantastic, and much better than ika IMHO). He also doesn't get that many exotic items; I don't believe he's ever had monkfish liver when I visited, abalone and giant scallop are absent (or not good enough for omakase) at least half the time, and live colossal shrimp (his wife makes soup with the heads), what I think was baby squid, and the aforementioned "squid ear" I've only had one time each. He sometimes doesn't get matsutake mushrooms when they're in season. It's a much more modest sushi-ya than the two he had in LA back in to 80s or whatever, so he can't always afford to get the really pricey stuff.

      Oh, and it sounds like his cuts of fish are more generous than Zo's.

      13 Replies
      1. re: mrhooks

        Thanks Mr hooks I will try Shibucho since Costa Mesa is pretty local to me. I've had Sushi Wasabi many times in Tustin. It's a nice local sushi joint but I do feel that it leans more towards the Californian style sushi with creamy sauce all over their sushi. I don't think their sushi chefs are the best.. they seem to be more like trainees. The quality of fish is so so at Wasabi... but I so like their giant scallops. I really have a problem with the sauce they put in their oyster shooters. Instead of using a mild ponzu.. they use the saltiest soy sauce. So when you shoot the shooter in your mouth it's like drinking a large shot of salty soy.. ugh.

        Btw, I really enjoyed the Live Sake..where can I get Live Sake?

        Liu- it was slightly citrus -y... love it!

        1. re: karynx78

          Hi, karynx78!
          Did it look like this?
          http://www.slashfood.com/2006/02/17/y...

          If so, you can buy it in a Japanese market, such as Nijiya, Mitsuwa or Marukai. You can buy it green, or you can buy it red (with spicy pepper added); both are quite tasty!

          If you liked the flavor of that, Zo also serves a yuzu drink with his omakase dinner -- oh, WOW! Now you will have to go back!

          1. re: liu

            Liu,

            You are my hero! That is the paste! I will go to Mitsuwa this week and get this paste.. I wonder what else it would be good with. Only raw seafood?

            I did have a shot of this sweet drink after the omakase.. but it wasn't peppery... more citrus-y and sweet. I have to go back just to try the uni spaghetti everyone's been raving about... I was so bummed when he told me " NO UNI SPAGHETTI TODAY!"

            1. re: karynx78

              karynx78 - I am so glad that you experienced the yuzu sweet drink at the end of the meal. I was so "dazzled" by it that I marched myself straight to San Gabriel Nursery to buy a yuzu tree...now in our garden and thriving! (However, with the two fruits that it produced to date, I was not able to duplicate Zo's yuzu elixir. He told me at the time that he imported it from Japan and it was not available to my common type for purchase. I searched the store shelves, but never found anything close.) It was truly a memorable treat...a flavor that I had never had!

              You will find the yuzu paste in a jar like the one in the photo I sent you; the jar is 1.76 oz. and called "yuzu koshou" (citron, pepper and salt). The label is in Japanese with a small English tape-on. Once opened, it has a pretty long fridge life - many, many months. The red one is also a citron base but much spicier because of the added red pepper. Try both if you want, but if you are going to purchase only one, get the green one; it's a little more citrus-y. I like it on everything from cottage cheese to rice to marinades. Google "yuzu" and also "yuzu koshou" and you will find more information.

              I have definitely seen it at Nijiya Market on Sawtelle, and also at Marukai in Gardena. Perhaps you can call ahead to be sure. The jar in the photo is the same jar that I see in the sushi bars and the one that I purchased; I can't vouch for any other brand.

          2. re: karynx78

            One time in the city next to Los Alamitos deeper in OC, I had this Izakaya place for lunch- they had steamed sole with some kind of sticky yum with cherry blossom leave all steamed again in a cheese ball looking entree and it was quite good. With it they served three pieces of sashimi, sansai gohan(rice), house made pickled nappa etc. This all fit in a neat tray and it was about $12. Cannot remember the name though..

            1. re: karynx78

              I thought Live Sake was just another way of describing nigori "unfiltered" sake. If that's the case, just look for any sake that says Nigori or Unfiltered.

              1. re: SauceSupreme

                The live sake at Zo is definitely not the unfiltered sake widely available. While I love unfiltered sake, the live sake may be the best sake (and maybe even alcohol) that I've ever had. It's very clear with a very crisp, sweet flavor and none of the burn of other alcohols. I would LOVE to know where to buy it!

                1. re: mollyomormon

                  I'm confused with this term "live" sake as well. Do you know what the Japanese term is? Is it nama-sake, as in unpasturized sake?

                  1. re: E Eto

                    It could be. I'll ask the next time I'm there which will probably be this weekend since I'm very curious too.

                    1. re: E Eto

                      I think you are right, E Eto. One of the waitresses told me that live refers to unpasteurized.

                      1. re: Skorgirl

                        I think the "live" sake you're referring to is Otokoyama Yukishibare Sake - Unpasteurized Premieum Pure Rice Sake?

                        My sister and I love it so much, I saved the label :)

              2. re: mrhooks

                Shibucho's monkfish liver is great. We get it everytime he has it. He told us that he only offers it during winter months, though I am not sure why.

                1. re: sweetestliz

                  The Asian variety of monkfish are seasonal (winter) in when they're caught, though I believe American monkfish are year-round.

                  I've only had monkfish liver at Zo, and it ranks right up there with sweetbreads and foie gras as my "offal" of choice.

              3. Although I prefer Zo (which is fortunate because it also has the advantage of being significantly closer to me), Bluefin--in the Crystal Cove Promenade in Newport Beach--is excellent and inventive. Unlike Sushi Zo, Abe does offer cooked dishes at Bluefin in addition to his sushi and sashimi offerings. I had the small (6 courses for $75) omakase dinner tonight and it was wonderful--though I did feel compelled to supplement with an order of the Copper River Salmon sushi and a spicy scallop handroll (the only disappointment). The six courses were an assortment of appetizers (prosciutto-wrapped fig with gold leaf, a crab "shooter," a smoked salmon and radish roll, an heirloom tomato and mozarella salad and a fried wonton stuffed with uni), a sashimi salad, a nice piece of cooked halibut wrapped around a shrimp and asparagus spear, a sausage-stuffed quarter of quail, six pieces of sushi and dessert.

                1 Reply
                1. re: New Trial

                  I tried BlueFin in Newport about 6 months ago and was actually very let down. Maybe I was there on a very off night but the service was horrible. I think they were short staffed and I was a little annoyed when waitress told me the 3rd thing I ordered was all sold out. It was a normal Wednesday night around 7.30pm how could they run out of half the appetizers on their menu. So that was a total turn off. Everything was just mediocre for me. They even forgot to bring out the most expensive entree.. the chilean seabass with foie gras. I've read some nice reviews about Bluefin and thought I'd give it another try.. but none of the dishes left any impression on me. =( I wanted to like it.... but just didn't work for me.

                2. After reading about Sushi Zo constantly on this board, I decided to stray away from my favorite sushi place, Hiko Sushi, and give this one a try. I went for lunch and many of the tables and places at the bar were reserved and soon after we got there the place filled up. From what I could tell most of the patrons were ordering off the menu but we had Omakse. We had about 12 pieces each including the monkfish liver (the best!), oysters, mackarel, spanish mackarel, snapper, yellowtail, and more that I just cannot remember. Everything was very good. The fish was fresh and the portions were decent. I will definitely be back!