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Another Sushi Zo Rave- #3 All Time

Porthos Jul 7, 2007 10:17 AM

Yet another Sushi Zo rave. I went for lunch on a Tuesday and was one of the first people in at the bar in front of Keizo. The personal attention was nice. As things picked up, the cut and rice wavered slightly. I counted 42 pieces between the two of us and the total bill was a respectable $145 before tip. Price aside, I may give Mori a slight edge for now since Mori’s seasonal stuff is a little more interesting. If you figure in Quality/Price ratio, Zo is a better deal and also has a larger selection.

We had:

-Kanpachi sashimi with salt and yuzu. Delicious and very fatty kanpachi. Some of the best I’ve had anywhere.
-Saba
-Kummamoto oyster: excellent, sweet and delicious.
-Giant clam
-Orange clam
-Toro (probably chu toro). Decent, but nothing remarkable
-Albacore
-Hamachi
-Halibut
-Bonito
-Shima Aji. Delicious. Served skin off
-Scallop
-Uni. Santa Barbara. Very sweet.
-Steamed Ankimo. As good as everyone says it is. However, Ino in SF still has my vote for best of all time Ankimo.
-Iwashi
-Sardine. Excellent quality.
-Isaki. A seasonal fish. Very fatty and delicious. One of the best items of the day along with the kanpachi.
-Butterfish. Seared and lightly cooked.
-Ono. Also seared and lightly cooked
-Sweet shrimp
-Sumi ika. Pretty good but just maybe a day old.
-Shoyu ikura. Very good but the ikura wasn’t as crisp and didn’t have as definite a pop as some of the others I’ve had.
-To end, the obligatory blue crab handroll.

Overall an impressive array. My favorites were the kanpachi, isaki, sardine, and shima aji. I felt the seared butterfish, ono, bonito, and albacore were the least remarkable. He also lists “madai” on the menu but judging from the price of $2.80, I doubt it’s real madai and probably just “red snapper”. The fresh wasabi was nice and he was very friendly, even taking time to make a joke about isaki. Zo is definitely tied with Mori for my all time favorite in LA and # 3 all time.

*******
My personal list with the caveat that I have not been to Urasawa in LA or Masa in NYC and that those two may get higher than a 10.

10- Sushi Yasuda (NYC). Perfect rice (his own mix), 40 types of fish, 5 types of fatty toro, 5 types of fatty hamachi, and multiple types of fresh grilled eel. True madai, impeccable kinmedai, warasa, and hiramasa. Yasuda is the gold standard. Plus, he’s crazy and you have to love him.

9.75- Kuruma zushi (NYC). Stellar quality of fish and a nice variety. The variety and rice does not approach Yasuda.

9.0 - Mori Sushi (LA). Great quality and knife-work. The rice is wonderful. Perhaps the best I’ve tasted outside of Yasuda. The variety is somewhat limited (around 20 types) but he does have fine kohada, needlefish, barracuda, and winter buri. For all practical purposes, Mori and Zo are about equal in the quality of fish. Mori’s rice and knife-work have a slight edge while Zo has a greater variety of fish in general. The imported/seasonal stuff are about equal.

9.0 – Sushi Zo (LA). Excellent quality and variety. Keizo is young but already has the mischievous half-smile necessary that all great masters possess. His knife-work and rice is a little inconsitent at times (some slices are more strips and some pieces of rice were much smaller than others) but he does do a true omakase offering seasonal items such as isaki. Keizo also uses fresh wasabi.

9.0- Jewel Bako (NYC). Again, great quality, and great variety, but the size is a little precious and the chef's skill is nowhere near Yasuda's. Recent downgrade because I haven’t been in a while and have not heard any great reports about the place.

8.0 to 8.25-Kiriko (LA). The quality at times can be excellent but at times it can be slightly off (especially their kohada, aji, saba). The rice is a solid 8. On occasion, they do have fresh wasabi. The house-smoked salmon is excellent. The fresh matsutake soup is a must when in season. Not too much in terms of exciting variety although I did have live japanese mantis prawn and pristine baby bluefin tuna here.

8.0- Kaygetsu and Kappa (SF). Both have excellent fish quality, but limited selection. Kappa’s ranking is only for the quality of the sashimi since they don’t serve nigiri. Kaygetsu's fish may be upwards of a 8.5 if Toshi hides the good stuff behind the counter.

8.0- Nishimura (LA). Great quality, limited selection. Horrible attitude by the waitstaff. A very unpleasant dining experience. A 6 if you take the entire experience into account.

8.0- Kitsho (Cupertino, SF). The fish is great and the variety is excellent, not only for the southbay but for the SF area in general. Howard brings in some really good stuff like seasonal suzuki and kawahagi. His kinmedai and shima-aji are occasional misses. However, the cuts are a little bigger and less refined. The rice while improved is still hit or miss.

7.0- R23 (LA). Good quality, live abalone is available but in general, a limited variety.

7.0- Ino (SF). Great ankimo. Best I’ve had to date. Even better than Sushi Zo’s steamed ankimo. He has a small imported variety from Japan. Pikefish was memorable. Way too much wasabi.

6.0- Zushi Puzzle (SF). I want to like Roger but his fish was too warm for my taste. He does get some very interesting fish (like his pencilfish) but he may be more of a "interesting rolls" type guy vs. pure nigiri specialist. Roger did have Japanese uni on my visit.

5- Sasabune (LA). Good crab hand roll. Otherwise, watch out for the precut fish and don't be surprised if the skin is left on the mirugai. The hot rice is poorly seasoned and readily falls apart. It’s even worse when doused in sauce.

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    NAspy Jul 8, 2007 02:17 PM

    Thank you so much for this post! It was torture to read while I was hungry. I have also never been to Urasawa and have not tried Mori, so Zo is my #1 in LA with Kiriko one back.

    Luckily I am going to Zo with a first timer friend on Wednesday evening and can't wait to try some of the items on your list if they are available.

    One thing he served me at lunch a while back was barracuda, which was absolutely fantastic; I have not had it there since.

    1 Reply
    1. re: NAspy
      Porthos Jul 8, 2007 07:34 PM

      Forgot to add that I also had kinmedai that day. If it's available, I would highly recommend it along with the isaki while it's in season.

    2. liu Jul 8, 2007 02:25 PM

      Tough job, Porthos...thanks for your list!
      Have you tried Sushi Iki in Tarzana? I would love to see how you place this on your list.

      Sushi Iki
      18663 Ventura Boulevard

      4 Replies
      1. re: liu
        Porthos Jul 8, 2007 07:26 PM

        Liu, I wish this were my job. But then again, don't we all.

        I have not been to Sushi Iki or Ike Sushi for that matter. How you rank them in comparison to Sushi Zo?

        1. re: Porthos
          liu Jul 8, 2007 08:24 PM

          Hi, Porthos!
          I have had really fine sushi at Sushi Iki and never been disappointed. However, I have not been in many months but have no reason to believe that the quality has changed. It is, however, quite $$$$. Perhaps Zo is a better value?, but I might place Sushi Iki along with Zo on your list. I think Iki shines most when the customer just lets the chef perform his magic!

          I did not care for Sushi Ike at all. The quality was very spotty and mostly "off" for me, and I found the experience to be very noisy and frenetic. Sushi Ike is not on any of my lists.

          1. re: liu
            Porthos Jul 10, 2007 08:38 AM

            Good to know about Sushi Iki and especially about Ike. What in particular would you say were standouts at Sushi Iki?

            1. re: Porthos
              liu Jul 10, 2007 11:17 AM

              Sushi Iki's standouts for me: his live servings and his omakase...allow him to be your chef. He really seems to enjoy pleasing an appreciative guest. That said, be prepared to pay.

              I do hope someone that has been there pretty recently -- within the last months -- will chime in.

      2. g
        GreenEyeStan Jul 8, 2007 07:29 PM

        Reading this post made my mouth water like a hungry cat sitting at the sushi counter. I've been hearing so much about Sushi Zo from friends and coworkers, so I guess they're all on to something.

        1. e
          epop Jul 8, 2007 11:27 PM

          i agree in general, porthos. sasabune doesn't deserve the high numbers, imho. but i still greatly prefer both Kiriko and Zo to Mori. I do like Mori's rice but think the fish is much better at Zo.

          Yasuda used to be my favorite when i lived in NY. i'm going again this week, actually. my memory tells me Zo is better but i look fwd to the test. he had the best oysters i've ever had. plus great toro.

          19 Replies
          1. re: epop
            Porthos Jul 9, 2007 02:42 PM

            Hmmm, I don't think Kiriko's variety or quality is on par with Mori's. Other things (such as the matsutake soup) are strong at Kiriko but the fish, I feel, is a notch below Mori and Zo.

            Yasuda's strength isn't just toro and hamachi. You go for stuff you can't find in LA like warasa, hiramasa, and madai. The rice is really in a league of it's own and so are the multiple types of fresh grilled eel. I feel Yasuda tops Zo based on the quality, unique variety, rice, and skill of his knifework. It's a different feel. One is more sushi temple, the other is more comfortable and relaxed.

            1. re: Porthos
              e
              epop Jul 9, 2007 05:08 PM

              i will let you know when back from nyc; i once loved Yasuda, just having been since moving out west. i can see how you like Mori more than Kiriko. i guess i find kiriko greater at times but part of that is that i like the chefs there much more than at Mori. i had a couple annoying experiences at the sushi bar at Mori (arrogance issues), with the lessor chefs.

              1. re: epop
                Porthos Jul 9, 2007 05:29 PM

                There's never an excuse for arrogance. I found plenty of attititude at Nishimura and even went back a second time just to get the same sort of attitude and that empty feeling after having dropped $300 on sushi.

                My ratings are heavily biased towards fish quality, variety (especially rare stuff), rice, fresh wasabi, and knife work. I don't count as much towards ambiance or cooked dishes. As you mentioned, Kiriko is also a favorite of mine when they have matsutake soup.

                The goal of my list was to set up a relative scale for sushi restaurants between cities so one would know what to expect when they ask for "best sushi". Obviously, placing one ahead of another will be influenced by personal preference. Some place Kuruma above Yasuda based purely on the fish and I can understand it and may even agree. However, if I factor in variety and rice, for me, that puts Yasuda above Kuruma.

                Enjoy NYC. Try to get Yasuda on a Wednesday or Thursday when it's a touch slower and when your chances of kama toro are higher.

                1. re: Porthos
                  e
                  epop Jul 10, 2007 12:28 AM

                  i agree that it is about the quality first. as for "best sushi"-- it is
                  the balance of finding the ultimate piece served at the right time and then
                  also the overall element of surprise, the secrets these great chefs have
                  hidden, waiting for us at the bar. it has happened for me twice at Zo (out of several visits) but nowhere else in a while. hopefully Yasuda (on a wed.) will deliver. i will hit it with my full madness and sobriety. thx for the word

                  1. re: epop
                    Porthos Jul 10, 2007 08:37 AM

                    I agree. It's not wanting to stop because you want to know what's coming next. Don't be afraid to ask Yasuda for Madai or kama toro or seasonal stuff midway through if he hasn't set you down that path already. He recognizes me now so he sets me down that path sooner than when I first started.

                    Sushi of Gari (east side) is also good. The sushi quality is about a 7-8 but the stuff he does is interesting...torched toro (no longer unique), maguro with tofu sauce, kanpachi with yuzu gelee, etc. I don't know a place in LA that does it. It may be worth a shot if you have time.

                    I could have had more at Zo but he gave me the sumi ika and the blue crab hand roll back to back. I took that as a sign that he was all out of fish for me to try.

                    1. re: Porthos
                      e
                      epop Jul 11, 2007 12:31 AM

                      wilco re: yasuda.

                      Zo probably was not suggesting the end. he laughs when i say "is there no more?" he has so much there, actually. but as it is a smaller place i know he doesn't have the variety of each fish that yasuda does.

                      1. re: Porthos
                        e
                        epop Jul 28, 2007 05:39 PM

                        so, porthos, back in LA, but Yoshi at Yasuda was once again great, starting us off with the stronger oily fish and oysters, then going to the milder. the standouts were the sea urchin from russia, the oysters, the pompano, 2 kinds of japanese whitefish, excellent squid.
                        as much as i enjoyed myself i was disappointed to be hit with a $200 omakase lunch (minus sake), considering i barely ordered extra. more importantly than that i still enjoy Zo more than Yasuda, ounce per ounce. i felt like Yoshi didn't offer as complex as a meal on the flavor spectrum and the quality of fish wasn't the same.

                        1. re: epop
                          Porthos Jul 28, 2007 06:33 PM

                          I've had omakase in front of Yoshi once. He's friendlier but definitely less skilled than Yasuda. The knife work, the shaping of the rice, and the order and pairings that he chooses. What happened? I thought you had reservations in front of Yasuda? I agree that on a quality/price ratio, Sushi Zo is hard to beat. But as you said, sea urchin from Russia, 5 types of oysters and clams, 2-3 types of fresh eel, and various imported Japanese whitefish that you can't get anywhere else. Not even Zo. Did they have Madai? I still find that the variety, quality, and rice at Yasuda are worth the slurge. I take it they didn't have kama toro when you were there?

                          I continue to put Yasuda at the top of mine as you put Zo on the top of yours and that may come down to how well Yasuda knows me and how well Keizo knows you. I think we both agree that they are in the same tier and that there's a clear distinction between those two and the next tier (Kiriko) and the next next next tier (Sasabune).

                          How was the rest of your trip?

                          1. re: Porthos
                            e
                            epop Jul 28, 2007 11:51 PM

                            ah, my error, in a way, but Yoshi i've sat with for years and so have what might be a rapport with him.

                            the eel was outstanding but i don't like eel (after having eaten an entire one alone on the Adriatic) too much anymore. no Madai or kama toro but i do remember having the latter before at Yasuda, and it was great. also his toro handroll was by far the best i've ever had (another thing i won't touch usually).

                            we're lucky to have these experiences and enjoy the discussion with you. as for the rest of the trip, well, it was frighteningly humid there so my appetite was compromised. went to Babbo and it felt like it dropped a bit. they denied changing a couple of the recipes i know very well (although they admitted to having a new pasta chef). my problem was more with the sauces. great desserts still-- my friend and i had about a dozen of them.

                            discovered the following: ny was home but i guess LA now is.

                            was going to go see Keizo tonight but postponed it. hope all's well on your side of things

                            1. re: Porthos
                              Porthos Jul 28, 2007 11:57 PM

                              I will say this though. There's nothing at Sushi Zo that I haven't had at Yasuda before (except for the seared ono and butterfish which I didn't care for), but there's plenty that I've had at Yasuda that I didn't have at Zo and that I haven't seen anyone post about (kama toro, tuna cheek, *true* madai, warasa, hiramasa, buri, fresh shirayaki eel, fresh unagi kuro, fresh sawani eel, bluefin tuna from Spain, scallop reproductive sac at the peak of scallop spawning season, gensaba...) The guy stores and ages his fish in cedar paper and keeps all his fish in separate boxes to keep the flavors pure. That's some serious knowledge and dedication. Yasuda has close to 30 years of experience in Japan and New York. Keizo doesn't look a day past 30 himself.

                              I guess I'm always looking for the itame to show me something new and after 7 years with Yasuda, he still continues to show me something I've never tried before. Zo and Mori will be my go-to places on the west coast though and we'll see what kind of seasonal stuff they put forth in the future. I like Mori's more interesting seasonal stuff and Keizo's selection. The best thing Keizo has going for him is his youth and the fact that he will only improve with age.

                              1. re: Porthos
                                e
                                epop Jul 30, 2007 10:20 AM

                                experience counts, for sure. and the discipline at Yasuda is impressive, as is Keizo's. they're all meticulous. Keizo has been a sushi chef for over 25 years (i think he's almost 50). He makes a delicious squid and uni "spaghetti" which i haven't had elsewhere.

                                i can see why you feel the way you do about Yasuda. the breadth of the quality is definitely unique.

                                1. re: epop
                                  Porthos Jul 30, 2007 06:51 PM

                                  What?!?!? Almost 50? The guy without a wrinkle and braces? Get out of here. You think it's the sake?

                                  I know what you mean about humidity killing your appetite (maybe that's why Babbo and Yasuda didn't dazzle you). I'm in Miami for a year. I thought I'd be in sushi hell but I found a place that serves kawahagi sashimi prepared from a whole fish. Go figure.

                                  1. re: Porthos
                                    e
                                    epop Jul 30, 2007 10:38 PM

                                    maybe so but he won't take the sake, i've tried.//

                                    now i'm mad at myself for not going to aqaugrill. i canceled 3 rsvp's there, + le bernardin and picholine, thx to the nyc weather.

                                    1. re: epop
                                      Porthos Jul 31, 2007 05:04 AM

                                      Interesting, neither does Yasuda. I've tried. At least not while he's working. He likes to drink beer at home.

                                  2. re: epop
                                    b
                                    bulavinaka Jul 30, 2007 08:47 PM

                                    One of my uncles in Japan who is on my father's side is 82, almost no wrinkles, and used to be a liquor distributor. Maybe it is the sake... or the fish... or maybe they both just love what they do... or all of the above...

                                    1. re: bulavinaka
                                      mollyomormon Jul 30, 2007 10:14 PM

                                      Is he a sake distributor? Maybe he stays young for the sake of the sake...

                                      1. re: mollyomormon
                                        b
                                        bulavinaka Jul 30, 2007 11:13 PM

                                        Ohhh Mollyo...you're a live one... so is your sake... Mitsuwa has Otokoyama Yukishibare Tokubetsu Junmai is on sale @ $20/bottle. But it does not indicate, "nama," which means raw or fresh. Not sure if this is the one you've been looking for, but just thought I'd pass this along...

                                        1. re: bulavinaka
                                          mollyomormon Jul 30, 2007 11:31 PM

                                          Thank you, thank you, thank you! As soon as I can get a minute off work I'm there! Even if it's not the one I've been looking for, I'm always interested in trying new drinks....for the sake of the sake. :)

                                  3. re: Porthos
                                    e
                                    epop Jul 30, 2007 10:31 AM

                                    as for those unusual fish, i've had those at either Zo or Echigo or kiriko (and Kuruma in nyc) as well, and the scallop sac at Hump, a great memory. i can't say for the eel b/c i don't have that so much anymore. Keizo loves to serve the baby squid as well.

                  2. e
                    epop Jul 10, 2007 12:30 AM

                    btw, when did you last go to R-23, Porthos? my 2 visits 6 and 12 months ago were highly disappointing, as compared to 3 years ago.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: epop
                      russkar Jul 10, 2007 07:52 AM

                      Exactly!
                      R-23 is a mere shadow of it's former self.
                      Sushi Gen is a much better choice.

                      1. re: epop
                        Porthos Jul 10, 2007 08:30 AM

                        You're right, last R-23 visit was probably a good 2 years ago. I don't know if I should delete it or just keep it on the list as a reference point.

                        1. re: Porthos
                          eatdrinknbmerry Jul 10, 2007 10:10 AM

                          Thanks for the detailed list. Next time i'm in SF, I'd like to try Ino since you said it's better than Sushi Zo's, which i find to be the best i've eaten.

                          1. re: eatdrinknbmerry
                            Porthos Jul 10, 2007 12:32 PM

                            Whoa. I only said the ankimo at Ino was better than the ankimo at Sushi Zo. Sushi Zo clearly beats Ino everywhere else (except maybe the shoyu ikura). Zo has a higher quality of fish and uses fresh wasabi. Ino doesn't.

                            1. re: Porthos
                              eatdrinknbmerry Jul 10, 2007 06:51 PM

                              well you've got me interested. i'm an ankimo whore.

                              1. re: eatdrinknbmerry
                                Porthos Jul 10, 2007 07:54 PM

                                Actually, if I remember correctly, Mori had pretty good ankimo also. Not steamed liked Zo's but served cold like the one at Ino.

                          2. re: Porthos
                            omotosando Jul 10, 2007 08:42 PM

                            I last ate at R-23 3 or 4 years ago and thought it was awful. The last time I remember it being good was something like 10 or 12 years ago. I love Yasuda and Kuruma zushi - probably Kuruma more because Yasuda is just too much of a scene for me. Haven't made it to Masa yet, but Bar Masa is surprisingly mediocre.

                            1. re: Porthos
                              e
                              epop Jul 11, 2007 12:32 AM

                              unfortunately for R23 2 yrs, when it comes to sushi, is very old news. i wish they hadn't lost their touch

                              1. re: epop
                                mollyomormon Jul 28, 2007 06:21 PM

                                I really love the crab salad and the lobster tempura but I was at R23 a couple of weeks for lunch ago and we ordered a huge variety of sushi for the table and there really wasn't a single piece that I was impressed with. Clearly, I have been completely spoiled by Zo.

                                1. re: epop
                                  b
                                  brunello Jul 28, 2007 07:06 PM

                                  It's not so much losing their touch as losing Nishimura, the founding chef. I used to go in the mid-late 90s all the time to R23 and loved it. I loved the adventure of navigating to a NYC kind of sushi house bar buried in what was skid row and then opening the door to a really beautiful restaurant with the appropriately grumpy head sushi chef with all his junior sushi chefs cowering before him. It was great. An old college buddy and I used to go all the time and Nishimura always recognized us upon entry and took over our table. [We made a particular big splash one night when the two of us ate 3 of the marble slabs worth of sushi; the first slab a junior did and then once Nishimura realized how serious we were about sushi, he took over the rest. Post dinner he came to our table next to the bar, grunted once, nodded approvingly and then left. After that, he always did our sushi personally.] Once he left, the place went downhill fast. Within a year, I stopped going.

                            2. Luthien Aug 8, 2007 07:02 PM

                              I am very curious if you have tried Sakae in the SF bay area. I knew SushiMonster was a user to trust since zie was also of the opinion that Sakae's toro will make you throw stones at other toro.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Luthien
                                Porthos Aug 8, 2007 07:59 PM

                                I've since removed Anzu from my list but Anzu was generally regarded as superior to Sakae. I had put Anzu just below a 9.0 prior to the retirement of Takahashi-san for the sheer variety. I know SushiMonster well and have tried to convince both him and KK to do Sushi Zo in LA or Yasuda in NYC. SushiMonster's list gives emphasis to the quality/price ratio and is specifically for sushi on the Penninsula.

                                SF has an unexplainably weak sushi scene when compared to LA and NYC. Variety is lacking and fresh wasabi is near impossible to find (only had it at Anzu and Kaygetsu). The attention to rice is not there either.

                                1. re: Porthos
                                  Luthien Aug 10, 2007 11:52 AM

                                  Of the ones on SushiMonster's list that I've tried, I'd say they were in the correct order without regard to price (yea, I'm aware of the peninsula specific, but it's what's close to me ;) ). I've tried a lot of bad sushi to try to find something local and less expensive than Sakae but of at least the same quality as Akane . But I will have to try Sushi Zo the next time I am down there (and can get away from ShinSenGumi).

                                  1. re: Luthien
                                    Porthos Aug 10, 2007 01:21 PM

                                    Sakae is way too expensive for what it is. A recent diner walked away at $210 for two without having had anything unique. I had lunch at Zo and walked away at $145 for two (before tax, no drinks) and we consumed about 23 pieces each. If toro is the standard by which you measure, Mori's o-toro was more white than red and better than Zo's average chu toro. In the bay area, Sebo may be your best bet and Kaygetsu's quality is stellar. But neither are cheap.

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