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Sushi Zo new policy

i just called sushi zo to see if i could come in tonight and order a la carte.
they told me that on friday and saturday nights they will only take omakase customers.

despite being disappointed, i have to say that i understand completely.
from a business point of view, they probably should have done this long ago.

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  1. I was there last Friday (the 12th) and they certainly didn't mention this policy. But I think it's a good idea. Tagine (in BH) has that policy.

    1. that seems hard to believe. even at a table?

      4 Replies
      1. re: epop

        they told me omakase only on friday and saturday nights.

        1. re: westsidegal

          well, at least it's not every night of the week. also, is seating at the bar always omakase?

          anyways, zo was decent in the first couple weeks, but it was nothing really special afterwards. you can get a better meal at sasabune.

          1. re: kevin

            isn't sasabune the place with the precut fish?

      2. To be perfectly frank...

        This affects me in no way whatsoever, as I've always just told Keizo-san, "I trust you."

        25 Replies
        1. re: SauceSupreme

          maybe thinking beyond one's own needs is a good idea; that's the case with a number of us but we sit at the bar. i hadn't heard of a
          restaurant doing this at the tables too.

          1. re: epop

            Well, beyond my own selfish and egocentric reasons, perhaps the elimination of a la carte ordering allows him to develop a rhythm as he would be serving everyone (assuming; I don't know) the same volley. Since I've never been a sushi chef, I don't know how much an interjected a la carte order affects my thinking while preparing other omakase orders.

            1. re: SauceSupreme

              Or it simplifies operations and everyone gets the same "omakase". I'm not going to say a la Sasabune because that would insult the quality and style Keizo offers but it sounds like it's headed down that semi-oxymoronic fixed-omakase path. I find it hard to believe you can tailor omakase to people at the tables since there is no interaction.

              Keizo, fight the temptation my good man! Epop, say something to Keizo the next time you're down there.

              1. re: Porthos

                i can't believe that limiting a la carte ordering would mean that keizo san is on the slippery slope.
                i just think it means that if i want to order from the menu, i need to come in on days other than friday or saturday.

                1. re: Porthos

                  thx, and hello, porthos. i will talk to keizo about it. i've been a couple times lately (not on the weekend) and have had transcendent meals. nobody i've been to here tops him.

                  i dread that sasabune atmosphere entering the mindset. fortunately for us i think he's quite stubborn which hopefully means tradition will take over.

                  we're forced into a predicament. we wish him much success financially but if he gets it i'm afraid to say it will be at our (or quality's) expense.

                  Yasuda is able to acheive the balance but his space is much bigger. + he's more tolerant about serving the non-traditional, which is a large part of his revenue.

                  Time will tell but I want to trust Keizo on this one.

                2. re: SauceSupreme

                  even if everyone is not having the 'same volley,' but just having a 'similar volley' to each other, it seems to me that it should be much easier to manage a full restaurant of people ordering omakase than it would be to include a few a la carte folks.

                  from what i understand, they will still accommodate a la carte folks on the other days of the week, just not friday nor saturday.

                3. re: epop

                  Maybe the integrity of the food and the chef himself comes before all, and I believe a true appreciator of food would respect that. If this allows Keizo to uphold his standards then I'm all for it. Especially since I've only gotten the omakase there anyway.

                  1. re: fooddude37

                    You can spin this all you want but the bottom line is, top-tier sushi places in Manhattan don't force patrons to do omakase at the tables or at the bar for that matter on Friday or Saturday.

                    Mori doesn't limit his patrons to omakase on Fridays and Saturdays either.

                    I'd say it's more about increasing profitability than maintaining craft since other top chefs find a way to do it. I personally don't have a problem with that as long as he keeps his prices relatively low compared to the aforementioned places (since I don't ever plan on sitting at a table). I do suspect you're going to hear more negative posts about Zo from now on, especially from the people having omakase from the tables. The timing and personal experience won't be the same, not to mention the handrolls/anything with a nori wrapper being a little soggier when they reach the tables (another reason why this has less to do with craft and quality control).

                    1. re: Porthos

                      Top tier in Manhattan? How about Japan where plenty of sushi restaurants are omakase only? Are you saying Mori isn't concerned with profitability?

                      1. re: cls

                        No, I am saying that Mori, who has been around longer than Sushi Zo, is at least as good, clearly is profitable, is able to maintain quality and craft, yet does not limit customers to omakase only at the tables on Fridays and Saturdays. But then again, Mori is more expensive than Sushi Zo.

                        As I said, I have no problem at all with this being a business/bottom line move and it won't affect my experience there, but I'm not buying the spin that this is about integrity and quality especially since certain items, when served at the tables (especially nori wrapped items), can be significantly inferior in quality.

                        As for how many places in Japan do omakase only, even if you sit at table, I will defer that to others since I have not been to Japan, yet. I would suspect that most of those omakase only places are usually bar only setups. Again, omakase at a table seems a bit odd to me since you don't get the interaction, timing, and personal fitting that you would otherwise get in front of the chef.

                        1. re: Porthos

                          Aggreed about Omakase at the table, I have never seen it in Japan.
                          I would suspect that Zo's policy is not as selfish as you might think. Consider that the chef is simply unable to produce a daily seasonal menu as well as table orders and keep up the quality.

                          I, for one, have never had a problem with Omakase. It usually results in a better meal and experience. If one wants to order from a menu, there are plenty of places that will accomodate.

                          1. re: cls

                            When I was at Zo early September on a Thursday night, quite a lot of tables had the omakase as well.

                            Most fans of Zo and I would say any serious sushi place no matter where you are in the world, know that in order to unleash the best selection and maximize your chances of trying the seasonal imports from Japan, the best way to do that is omakase. To be fair, it's not like Nozawa or to some extent Sasabune where you will be met with scorn and maybe a boot up the behind if you say you cannot eat shellfish, or dislike uni and raw ika (or even natto and anago) for example. Zo has so much variety that he can circumvent fish you cannot or won't eat and you can still try a good # of things.

                            In some cases, omakase may actually rule in one's favor. Remember Keizo-san is the only guy keeping tabs of partron's meals at the bar, with servers helping to (and more accurately) with those at the tables. If you are lucky the human abacus might get some #s lost in the mix and you might end up with a better value meal than expected (especially on busy nights).

                            Also with weekends, Zo knows very well they will be packed to the gills, and it would be easier to move product and inventory almost equally across the board, if omakase only was enforced.

                            At some point in your meal you may even be asked if you have any requests, assuming you've eaten a decent # of pieces. This helps if you want another piece of what you've had already or you specifically know what you want (and can always ask if they have it or not). There might be more flexibility at the bar with Keizo-san, and of course you need to reciprocate with the thank you's, this is delicious, and even better if you learn the Japanese phrases for it (and the names of the fish).

                            But I agree, omakase only at the table sucks. I'd only do omakase at a bar.
                            Keizo-san should be more flexible with that, or conversely he could ask for a minimum charge at the tables for a la carte, which is more friendly than the forced set menu.

                            1. re: K K

                              ok, so you go there on a weekend night, when it's only omakase, how much does it run for right now (and please don't quote the minimum, because knowing me and my luck it'll always be more than that).

                              1. re: kevin

                                it is all based on what is being served that night and how much you eat before asking him to stop.
                                this means that there is no 'standard' price.

                                1. re: kevin

                                  Whenever I eat there, it works out to around $100pp including a couple of drinks. We usually order a few extras, so I suppose you could get out for less than that, but not by much.

                              2. re: cls

                                and i, for two, have never had any problem at zo with either omakase or ordering from the menu.

                                in my opinion, the bang for the buck at zo is unbeatable.

                                comparing his policies to 'top tier in manhattan' where prices are through the ceiling or comparing the service to 'other great chefs' who charge multiples of the zo prices and can afford tons of help in the kitchen is, to me,
                                completely OUT OF LINE.

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  Yasuda's omakase starts at $75 pp for 15-20 pieces which is what Keizo charges (shocking but true). That's why I chose to compare the two. I'm not comparing Zo to Masa or Urasawa or even Kurumazushi. Yasuda also pays higher rent and has a larger staff (ie more overhead). The comparison is not out of line.

                                  Again, omkase at Sushi Zo at the bar is great. I am a fan. In fact, I never do anything other than omakase at the bar when I go for top end sushi. I agree there is no better way to experience the full spectrum of what a chef has to offer. However, forced omkase at the table is not the norm and doesn't really showcase a chef's full potential either.

                                  It's whatever the market will bear and more power to him if he can find someone to take those spots. I like the guy and I hope his success brings in more chefs catering to that style of sushi and a trend away from Sasabune sushi. I'm not saying he's wrong for doing so, I'm just saying it's not all about the craft and quality. It's streamlining and smart business. There's nothing wrong with that. I don't understand why people are up in arms.

                          2. re: Porthos

                            I agree with Porthos that this is likely more about increasing profitability than maintaining craft, since the omakase experience at tables is likely to suffer from lack of interaction with the chef, and other great chefs don't seem to have a problem maintaining quality while also offering a la carte dining.

                            1. re: Nicole

                              the way other 'great' chefs handle 'maintaining quality while offering a la carte dining,' is simply that they charge more. when you charge more you can hire more help behind the sushi bar. it is no mystery/secret.

                              my preference is that keizo san continues to offer excellent quality at reasonable prices and i will happily work around whatever schedule he needs in order to do this.

                            2. re: Porthos

                              the 'way' they find to do it is to charge very high prices.
                              sushi zo, imho, serves excellent sushi at very reasonable prices.

                              also, i've had handrolls at zo while sitting at a table, and ALWAYS the nori has been crisp--NEVER soggy in the least.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                With regards to the crispness of the nori:

                                When I went last week we ordered everything at once a la carte. Mr Boo went to the restroom just as our waitress was bringing out his blue crab handroll. When she saw that he was away she scurried back to the bar with the handroll and Keizo made him a fresh one 2 minutes later when he returned. Keizo is absolutely dedicated to the quality of his food.

                              2. re: Porthos

                                Snoot Manhattan?

                                I'd say most places in LA which are good, if not better, don't do that either. Why don't we for once try to keep regional pride and one -upmanship between east and west coast out of it, eh?

                                Then again, think about Urasawa, whcih is ALWAYS OMakase. and amazing, and pricey. Probably akin to the aforementioned top-tier palces in Japan.

                                True Omakase is NEVER "pre-set" but is insted what the itame feels is his best and freshes or tastiest at the time and the day.

                                Some places do the same set meal over and over again, day in, day out, week in, week out, all year long. That is NOT omakase, really.

                                1. re: Diana

                                  It's always a sensitive topic comparing between NY/SF/LA and people always get upset because it's viewed as one-upmanship. I love all 3 cities and for the unique strengths/cuisines that each city excels in.

                                  I bring up Yasuda in NY because it's the best I've had to date in any of the 3 cities. I bring it up constantly (and yes, I know it's constantly) because I don't want to have to fly cross country for that. I want to be able to get that level in LA. Sushi Zo and Mori have rapidly closed the gap in this $100-$150 pp range sushi which is a huge blessing. 5 years ago, prior to Zo and just around when Mori opened, the board consensus was that LA ruled the sushi universe because of Sasabune. Just imagine how horrible it'd be if we were still stuck in that mode of thinking and too proud to admit that there could be better sushi out there.

                                  I agree that regional pride should be put aside. We should embrace and try to import what each city excels at. Bring some Yasuda and high end dining out west, send some Korean and Mexican back east, import some bread making skills from SF and NY...we'd all be eating better. Ultimately, that's what it's all about.

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    At risk of going way off topic, Sasabune was better five years ago than it has been since. I noticed a decline probably starting around 2004 and have not been back much since the move to Santa Monica.

                                    I'm a huge fan of Mori (though expense and distance conspire against frequent meals there) and ... haven't tried Zo yet. I've been meaning to for months.

                                    1. re: Schweinhaxen

                                      Folks, please help us keep this board focused on great chow you can find in LA. If you'd like to share tips on great chow in NYC, please post on the Manhattan board. For discussion of the traditions of omakase or sourcing of fish, please start a thread on the General Topics board. Thanks!

                          3. i dunno. to me, omakase = eating at the bar and interacting with the chef. dunno how the full experience can be mimicked sitting at the tables.

                            1. Why would you go to Keizo-San's and think you know better what is good and fresh?!?!
                              I've been trying Sushi places all around town and finding out what Sushi Zo is about.

                              1. I'm not sure of the details, but I was told by a friend that Keizo-san would not serve him a la carte at lunch either. I'm not sure of the day of the week; it may have been Saturday.

                                Is this true or was was Keizo intentionally turning away my friend?

                                15 Replies
                                1. re: emosbaugh

                                  Why do you suppose he would turn a paying customer away from his restaurant?

                                  Keizo-san often does not serve a la carte at the sushi bar, which he prefers to save for omakase. I'm guessing the new omakase-only rule at the weekend extends to lunch too.

                                  1. re: emosbaugh

                                    dunno about lunch, but i was just there tonight for dinner and i was allowed to order a la carte.

                                    1. re: emosbaugh

                                      Last I checked, Zo is not open for lunch on weekends.

                                      1. re: emosbaugh

                                        My guess is that he did not mean to turn away your friend, but rather was trying to get him to order omakase. We went there once when the restaurant was completely empty, and we were strongly (to the point where is was uncomfortable) encouraged to order omakase rather than a la carte. I can see how a slightly different phrasing and the same unwelcoming tone could communicate that they _will_ not serve a la carte, when Keizo meant to communicate that he would _rather_ not.

                                        Some people are so defensive about Sushi Zo! I still agree with Porthos...it's about money and smart business, but there is nothing wrong with that. It's not like admitting that he wants to make more money makes him a bad chef...it is a business, after all. And I agree that some of the comparisons to New York prices are unfair because the rent and other overhead is a LOT more in NYC...prices will be higher there regardless of whether there is more help behind the sushi bar, simply due to greater overhead.

                                        1. re: Nicole

                                          To play devil's advocate on this issue of Keizo-san doing omakase only on weekends to boost profits... One thing to remember is that fish is not fish year around. The quality of many types of seafood are better at certain times of the year as are their availability. Bluefin tuna is a classic example. During the colder monthes, they fatten up resulting in a very fatty buttery flesh that can remind one of a well-marbled Wagyu. During the summer monthes, Bluefin can be scarce and they tend to lean out, where the flavor will not be as rich.

                                          Keizo-san knows these issues covering peak flavor and availability far better than I ever will, and probably better than most on this board as well. He knows his skills and what works with each type of seafood at any given time, based also on the availability of other ingredients and when they are at their peak. Yuzu sourced in So Cal is usually only available around late fall/early winter. Sure, he can freeze the juice and zest (and probably does) but to get this at its peak is only during this short period. I don't know if this is still the case, but fresh yuzu fruit was not allowed by the Ca Ag authorities to be imported from Asia because of potential pest issues. If Keizo-san's ability to source certain critical ingredients are limited, and his reputation rests on offering food that must past his scrutiny and skills, then his reasoning for offering only omakase on the weekends may be a very reasonable conclusion that he came to. Weekends are probably his busiest period per hour - why not streamline the menu options and set everyone up with only what he considers to be the best at hand?

                                          I can imagine Keizo-san (and any other well-learned chef) having this multi-dimensional matrix going on in his mind, analyzing it and trying to determine where the highest concentration of intersections are and this is what will be best for his guests.

                                          Boo has already pointed out an example of their commitment to quality (the nori example). I know being at the bar and interacting with the Itamae is part of the experience for many. But I think that Keizo-san can meet his tabled patrons halfway on this issue. His staff seems to have a very good handle on quality-control issues which to me is most of the battle in the effort of seeking out great sushi and sashimi. Quality must be scrutinized at each step, from sourcing, to storing, to preparation, to presentation. If his staff is scrutinizing each plate, each piece, and each patron's status relative to their meal, then I can live without schmoozing barside with any Itamae.

                                          I don't know what the current status of sushi culture is in Japan at the moment, but when I spent a fair amount of time there back in the early 80s, omakase was defacto in many places, and no matter where you sat. It wasn't so much that an Itamae and a patron came to the agreement to lay the trust in the Itamae, but more so that the Itamae knew what seafoods were currently the best at the local markets and that's what they served to everyone. I could go to five different pretty decent sushi places in the span of three to five days, and each place was serving roughly the same combinations of seafood. To serve a less than pristine slice of raw fish that wasn't at its peak would be an insult to their customers and a mark against the Itamae's reputation.

                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                            Outstanding post. What's the emoticon for a forehead gently touched to the tatami?

                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                              m (._. ) m Domo arigato, Capone-san!

                                            2. re: bulavinaka

                                              Okay, but then why not offer only the freshest items a la carte? That's the major flaw in your well-articulated argument.

                                              1. re: Nicole

                                                The omakase experience is almost as close to the concept of synergism as I can personally think of when it comes to enjoying food. IMVHO, the only other type of food experience that trumps this is kaiseki.

                                                Omakase in its entirety is much greater than the sum of randomly ordered sushi dishes presented to a diner. Even if one orders these "freshest items," from the list of what an Itamae intends to serve, in his mind, the diner won't experience the sushi as intended as he or she would with the omakase. As you might have experienced or know, omakase has a rhythm to it. It's not only what the Itamae feels is the best of what he has to offer or in the way it is prepared and served, but the order in which it is served as well. If one views omakase as a play or any other performance, to get the full impact, one should not only take in each part, each chapter, each segment of the performance, one should experience it in the order which it was intended from beginning to end, so to appreciate the performance to its fullest. To order a la carte would be nice, but in Keizo-san's eyes, I'm guessing it's more of a distraction from that all-important rhythm. If Keizo-san were a musician, he probably would want you to listen to the whole piece of music - not just segments of it.

                                                I think if one looks at detailed reviews of places offering omakase, the writer will usually try to list what was served AND the order in which it was served. Often comments will refer to how well-paced the experience was and how each dish played off the previous one, as well as certain expected dishes being served at some specific time in the course of the meal, as well as some surprises. These detailed reviews are the writer vividly reliving a meal that was more like a well-symphonized experience.

                                                I'm speculating here, but I think it's fair to say that omakase is what Keizo-san prefers to do but not only for just the money. Of course he makes more money on average per diner, but looking at it through his eyes, slicing fish becomes a job. Rather, if using his skills, creativity and knowledge on the best ingredients that he could gather for that moment makes him a happy man and hopefully makes his diners happy as well, then maybe these eaters will be enthralled enough to pay whatever the Itamae feels is a justifiable price of admission.

                                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                                    Love your multi-dimensional matrix and musician explainations but the simple explanation is usually the correct one.

                                                    Keizo-san is skilled enough where an a la carte order or few isn't going to ruin his rhythm or "disrupt his art" or "prevent him from writing poetry". He doesn't strike me as that fragile.

                                                    I've had table "omakase" at the same restaurant where I've also had omakase at the bar. There is no comparison. As you said, the timing and the spontaneous deviations are not there when you're sitting at the table.

                                                    The blanket policy affects the people at the tables more than the ones at the bar and their inferior experience can't be in the name of maintaining craft.

                                                    It's unfortunate but inevitible and affects all highly popular top end restaurants. Chez Panisse's set menu costs $55 on Monday, $65 Tuesday-Thursday and $85 on Friday and Saturday. It's what the market will bear and on Friday and Saturday nights, it bears more. At the same time, it will get more people to come in on slower nights. Smart business. Nothing wrong with it. No need for excuses.

                                                    1. re: Porthos

                                                      I think NAspy's explanation below sums up what I envisioned. I know where you're coming from, and from reading your other posts relating to the realm of sushi, you have few equals. But as I suspected, it sounds like Keizo-san is just trying to take the best possible position given his circumstances - a position that would make most Itamae a little green-eyed...

                                                  2. re: Nicole

                                                    maybe because the a la carte menu, is geared to items that can be gotten year round (i.e. octopus), whereas the omakase menu can be geared to those items that might just be available seasonally.

                                                  3. re: bulavinaka

                                                    I prefer omakase but in regards to your argument... why carry the a certain fish at all if its not at its finest? Why not just offer a chalkboard with what you have available and let the masses order?

                                                    1. re: Asia

                                                      In the eyes of the truly discerning Itamae, this would fall on deaf ears. For the masses, there's definitely many places for this to go. I think I've already mentioned that I believe Keizo-san is just carving out a weekend niche for himself. If I were as talented as him and in the same position of being maxed out on weekends, this would be a logical step. And as I have already said as well - his strategy will play out in the market. If he has the goods and the talent, the market will honor him, like in the same general vein as other Itamae that have headed toward exclusivity. I look at this as a natural progression for him. I get the sense that many feel snubbed, unimpressed, or betrayed by this move and I don't think this is his intention. He needs to do what is good for him as well but seems to be willing to keep his more typical M.O. intact during the week (for now). Names like Masa and Nobu probably headed down very similar pathes - would any of us wish to aspire for the same success and notoriety?

                                              2. This thread makes me not want to eat at Sushi Zo.

                                                I've been wanting to try it -- even been planning for it on a special occasion.

                                                But, eff-it -- there's too many rules.

                                                37 Replies
                                                1. re: PaulF

                                                  You should still try Zo. Sit at the bar, order omakase. It's still one of the best quality/price ratio I've found anywhere not to mention the excellent variety.

                                                  This thread is more philosophical than anything else.

                                                  1. re: Porthos

                                                    i completely agree with you that the quality/price ratio at zo is better than excellent.

                                                    1. re: Porthos

                                                      Heartily agree. This thread is interesting for those who've eaten at Zo, and I could see how it could be so confusing as to decrease a person's desire to try it for the first time, but please don't let it! It's really not as confusing as we're all making it seem. Decide to go omakase, make a reservation, and show up. The food will more likely than not delight you. Simple!

                                                    2. re: PaulF

                                                      Or even go on a non-weekend night and order a la carte. There aren't as many rules as it might seem from reading this thread.

                                                      1. re: PaulF

                                                        My husband feels the same way as you--he doesn't feel welcomed there, so he'd rather just go somewhere else, even if it isn't quite as good.

                                                        1. re: Nicole

                                                          i completely agree, and have no clue what's up with all the raves.

                                                          he really got real cocky (to his detriment in my very humlbest of opinions) when Sushi Zo took off from all the raves.

                                                          1. re: kevin

                                                            kevin, I seem to recall sometime back when you wrote about an experience you had at Zo and you said something about Keizo-san being careless in his execution of the sushi he was serving (and here I have paraphrased so please forgive me if I am not quite accurate in my memory of what you said).

                                                            I'm curious. The times I have been to Zo I have always found the presentation of Keizo-san's food to be absolutely meticulous in its execution and presentation. What was it that you experienced that made your dinner less than you were expecting that night?

                                                          2. re: Nicole

                                                            Well stated -- nice post.

                                                            Despite the generally strong reviews for the food at Zo, this thread (and others) have turned me off from wanting to try this restaurant.

                                                            I'd rather go somewhere else.

                                                            And at least one other person (your husband) feels the same way.

                                                            1. re: PaulF

                                                              To be fair, I think any restaurant held under the Chowhound microscope would provide you many reasons not to try that restaurant. I still recommend a visit for yourself, as one should never allow other people's judgment to replace one's own.

                                                              1. re: SauceSupreme

                                                                I couldn't agree more! No matter what the restaurant is, no matter how many raves, there are always a few who feel completely the opposite. It's the nature of the Chowhound beast. I think you have to balance the raves with the Nays, and as even Kevin (a "nay") says, there are far more raves when it comes to Zo.

                                                              2. re: PaulF

                                                                paul, if you haven't been at all yet.

                                                                judge for yourself. at least once. although it is expensive even for the quality. and sometimes it's off. but you may not want to listen to me due to the fact that i'm one of the very few naysayers regarding zo.

                                                            2. re: PaulF

                                                              I've never been told a do or a don't at Sushi Zo, except for "no soy sauce" on certain pieces. I wouldn't have known that some people think there are too many rules if I didn't read this board. Don't let the supposed rules stop you! I've never found them to be obtrusive. Keizo-san has always been very nice and welcoming to me, and always remembers me even though I only go there once every few months.

                                                              1. re: PaulF

                                                                I hear you Paulf.

                                                                I've been to ZO many many times (and love it ), but I think I have just about had it with all the rules. I started going to Zo when you could sit at the bar and order a la carte. Then you could no longer sit at the bar if you weren't doing omakase. Fine. Then you could not make reservations if you were not ordering Omakase on weekends. Fine. Next, you were informed you would have very slow service if you order a la carte at the table. Not cool. Now you can't have a la carte on weekends? Honestly, service and ambience is big with me and there have been a few times that I have felt uncomfortable at ZO. As Zo has become more popular, there has been more pressure for you to order omakase and servers rushing you after your last bite. Once you are done they want you to leave. I don't like feeling rushed. Sometimes Keizo is really friendly and sometimes he is not. I always feel I have to dip my fish in soy sauce while he is not looking. I'm tired of feeling guilty about dipping my fish and about not ordering omakase.

                                                                While I understand that it is more efficient, traditional, and cost effective to do Omakase, I was under the impression that Keizo wanted Zo to be a more casual neighborhood type place. A place where people like me could get excellant sushi without a heavy price tag. Not to mention that there really isn't a difference between the omakase and the a la carte menu, except he gives you the more expensive stuff. He won't put anything on the a la cart menu that is not good and you can always ask him for whatever specials he has or what he recommends that is not on the menu and he will give it to you. The only time I have omakase is when I want the yuzu.

                                                                As other have suggested, try it out for yourself. I think you'll find it good but may not be worth it. In the end, I am addicted so I 'll never say i'll never go, but the rules are becoming more and more obtrusive.

                                                                1. re: sugarpie

                                                                  he's a real meanie when it comes to the sweetened yuzu juice. i still haven't tried it because i never get the omakase. and his a la carte menu which is roughly the same just doesn't do it for me. and he doesn't cater to the individual person like the places in Japan from what i saw it's more the same omakase served to each person

                                                                  now i do want to try the yuzu juice, but then again i'm not willing to put up with his gruffness/meaness (he actually was pretty darn cordial at the beginning when first opening up), and the cost of an omakase at 100 or up for that juice.

                                                                  1. re: kevin

                                                                    i find him to be one of the kindest people in LA that i've come across.

                                                                    make a yuzu lemonade with honey at home and you'll be set

                                                                    1. re: epop

                                                                      i find him kind AND i find that the omakase he serves me ALWAYS is geared to my favorites.
                                                                      i never have to remind him about the kinds of fish i don't like.
                                                                      i've even seen him create an omakase for kosher customers (no shellfish, all fish must have had scales).
                                                                      also, i rarely see most of the menu offerings (other than the tuna and the halibut) served as part of omakase.

                                                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                                                        rough but kind would be my description of Keizo as well. Of course, who knows what he is like in his private life but as a chef I think that's the image he portrays.

                                                                    2. re: kevin

                                                                      My omakase lunch yesterday was only $60.

                                                                      1. re: SauceSupreme

                                                                        with or without abalone?

                                                                        thanks for the info.

                                                                        1. re: revets2

                                                                          With abalone.

                                                                          1a. Abalone
                                                                          1b. Amberjack Sashimi
                                                                          2. Bluefin tuna
                                                                          3. Bonito (AWESOME)
                                                                          4. Yellowtail
                                                                          5. Skipjack (AWESOME)

                                                                          At this point I lost track, but it included scallop, salmon, a bluecrab handroll and something else or two, as well as two glasses of namazake (it was a birthday celebratory lunch -- kanpai!)

                                                                          I should note that the actual bill was $120 for two people after tax.

                                                                          1. re: SauceSupreme

                                                                            We were there for lunch yesterday too...he started us out with the oyster not the abalone but proceeded as outlined above...also, there was a butterfish, monkfish liver, toro, black snapper and scallop (not necessarily in that order)...

                                                                            fyi, when we made the lunch reservation, they specifically asked if we were ordering omakase...

                                                                      2. re: kevin

                                                                        That's exactly what I was getting at kevin. He was really nice in the begining then he started being very gruff and that there really is no differnce between what you get during the omakase and the a la carte. The best he can do is to pick things that he remembers you like, but that's only if you're at the bar and it's not busy. But I can do that too, it's called a la carte.

                                                                        To save money kevin you should try eating a very light meal before hand and then just tell him to stop after a few pieces. You can tell him to stop at anytime. I think he has caught on to people doing this because the pace of the omakase is pretty fast. The last time I did the omakase I ate about 7 pieces and told the server I was done, but she said that he had already started another piece for me. So I felt bad and took the piece, of course that piece just happen to the toro. But still my omakase runs more like $45.00.

                                                                        I think in the future I may try to beat him at his own game and tell him that I don't want any of the Tuna family (which I am not a huge fan of) just to avoid the more expensive pieces. Although like I said in the earlier post, the vibe has just changed and I am tired of him and his staff being so pushy with the omakase so I think it's time to start searching for a new place.

                                                                        Also, no one has complained about his staff but I have had a few uncomfortable moments with some of them. Anybody else? I think they must be family. They don't seem to have a lot of experience.

                                                                        1. re: sugarpie

                                                                          i go to zo fairly often, sometimes ordering omakase and sometimes ordering a la carte.

                                                                          i have NEVER gotten the sense that they are 'pushing' the omakase.

                                                                          i most certainly, know, though, that their omakase is terrific--imho much better than most of the others mentioned on this board--and i fully support their 'drift' toward being more focused on serving omakase dinners as opposed to a la carte dinners.

                                                                          if your primary goal is to come out of a meal for $45 or so, honestly, you'll do better at hide.

                                                                          in response to your comment about 'beating him at his own game,' imho you will primarily be beating yourself because although you'll be saving money, you absolutely won't be getting the taste experience of a keizo san omakase.

                                                                          every restaurant does some things better than others. at zo, the best thing they do is their omakase. once you start 'gaming' the ordering process, you will likely be losing some of what is special about this restaurant. that said, in all honesty, it doesn't sound like you have much of an appreciation for what is being offered there in the first place.

                                                                          it may be that zo just isn't for you.

                                                                          1. re: westsidegal

                                                                            ditto. it isn't really a 50 dollar place, as much as i'd like that. my lunch alone costs 200 dollars usually. but i have great meals.

                                                                            for me having omakase isn't about the chef intuiting my inner taste but giving the best of what's in wraps.

                                                                          2. re: sugarpie

                                                                            I am with you on this, sugarpie. But we are clearly in the minority, and the majority is passionate! I smiled when you wrote:"The best he can do is to pick things that he remembers you like, but that's only if you're at the bar and it's not busy. But I can do that too, it called a la carte." Yes, we have had uncomfortable moments with the staff as well. Here's my guess: the people who spend a lot of money get warm, welcoming service, and thus love Keizo and will defend the place at all costs. Then the people like you and me who spend less and/or order a la carte don't get as welcoming treatment. And then everyone wonders why some people think that Keizo is the nicest person in the whole world, while others find Zo unwelcoming. I'm guessing there's a very simple economic explanation for the diverging opinions. (Ok, I am putting on my flame-retardant suit! And leaving this conversation.)

                                                                            1. re: Nicole

                                                                              Exactly, Nicole. I guess the likes of me will have to Hide.

                                                                              1. re: sugarpie

                                                                                i'll see you at Hide on sundays, when zo is closed.

                                                                                1. re: sugarpie

                                                                                  i think hide is not very good at all, pedestrian at best.

                                                                                  call me crazy but when i spend 45 to 50 per i want a much better than decent meal.

                                                                                  1. re: kevin

                                                                                    so, what $45 sushi meal do you prefer?

                                                                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                      i'd prefer echigo over hide for starters.

                                                                          3. re: sugarpie

                                                                            There are really only 6 seats tops at the sushi bar that will put you in the closest proxmity to Keizo-san, starting at the leftmost side of the counter, which would face his right side. Then the two seats in front, and maybe the 1 or two adjacent to that, which is within comfortable and maybe talking range. Beyond that towards the right you'll be served by his plating and saucing assistant. It makes perfect sense to sit here, at the expense of ordering omakase only, since you are right at the source of the man who will be preparing everyone's meal.

                                                                            If you end up at a table and are forced to do omakase anyway, I say go back another time and make a reservation in advance and specify one of those seats.
                                                                            Then again you'll be watched like a hawk since the master is in front of you :-).

                                                                            My wife requested and got another shot of yuzu juice. Either it was because we were out of town visitors, or K-Zo san liked us enough to grant the ok (I think he was very busy at the time, I think the decision was made after the waitstaff and mgmt were mulling near the kitchen). Of course it helped with a little pouting and the fact we were paying our bill.

                                                                            My report here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/437185

                                                                            Whether KZ's nigiri needs additional dipping in soy sauce is a personal matter. I felt that some of his white fish really did not need the konbu shoyu nikiri (his own kelp soy sauce based reduction which was finger licking good), like the golden eye snapper/kinmedai, which its natural sweetness would have been enough. If the sauce was lighter, perhaps it would not overpower, but it certainly worked well with the two kinds of maguro he had that night. Other items that already was seasoned with salt and lemon juice, was sufficient.

                                                                            Unless things have changed, you should be able to request a few items during your omakase, at least K-Zo gave me that option about 2/3 of the way through.

                                                                            1. re: K K

                                                                              he generally gives me that option when i order omakase too

                                                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                maybe i migh, emphasis on might, try it again. so if i walk in and there are seats in front of Keizo and they push me towards the seats where the assistant is at would it be gauche to walk out at that point?

                                                                                at the very least i don't want to spend close to a hundred on getting the asst's wares?

                                                                                also, if you get a really cheap omakase (as sugarbeers has) do you still get the prized yuzu drink? thanks.

                                                                                1. re: kevin

                                                                                  The assistant just helps with the accoutrements, Keizo-san makes all the sushi himself.

                                                                                  1. re: kevin

                                                                                    i really wouldn't knock the compentancy of the assistant. he is actually quite good at what he does.

                                                                                    hrhboo, iirc the assistant actually prepared everything during my last meal at sushi zo. then again, i was busy blabbing with friends....

                                                                                    1. re: kevin

                                                                                      I don't know about LA, but in general if I am going to a well established sushi restaurant when I am visiting from out of a town, a good rule is to make reservation in advance, and specifically ask to be seated in front of the head chef or whoever you request. That's just best practice to ensure the smoothness of your experience in advance. For me I did not request that but did make a reservation the morning I was going to arrive, and perhaps I was the first to call for that Thursday night, and somehow ended up with seats in front of Keizo.

                                                                                      Kevin if you get ushered to another side of the bar when there are empty seats in front of Keizo-san, it doesn't hurt to ask if you can sit there. Worst they can say is no, or no those seats are reserved (could be for anyone or even regulars who knows). Personally I never let waitstaff push me over and I'd be more proactive about taking that power back (like my wife pushed for a yuzu juice refill).

                                                                                      On that fairly busy Thursday night, Keizo-san's assistant did only preparation of plating and saucing.

                                                                                      Under $80 + tax for 22 items (each item either being a bowl of something, or a single piece of nigiri, not including miso soup, yuzu juice). A "cheap" omakase would require you to keep your own tabs of # of items, and perhaps eat half that amount, but you'll still be starving. If you don't get a yuzu drink, it won't hurt to ask the waitstaff.

                                                                                      Do check the menu and the sign if there is a minimum order. I would not be surprised if that were enforced but I don't think it is a ridiculous sum.

                                                                                      1. re: kevin

                                                                                        Yes, you still get the Yuzu even when you don't spend a lot. Unless there is some new rule.

                                                                                        Perhaps I am not a big eater, but even when I have eaten until I am quite full, I have spent no more than $80. Most pieces are about $2.80 + or - 40 cents with the exception of Toro and other MP fish. Keep in mind that when he gives you sashimi he is going to charge you about $2.80 for each piece on that plate, so that will run closer to $9. If possible, I would skip the miso soup because at $3.00 I would rather spend it on a piece of fish. Hope this helps.

                                                                              2. that's why i keep telling people that Zo is in the same vein as Nozawa and Sasabune but just not as great.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: kevin

                                                                                  Sushi Zo carries seasonal fish. Sasabune is the same tired stuff over and over again without seasonal variation. Plus, the precut fish pretty much eliminates it from any serious nigiri discussion.

                                                                                2. Folks, let's all try to stay focused on great chow you can find in LA. If you'd like to discuss the definition of omakase, please start a thread on the General Topics board. Thanks!

                                                                                  1. This has been a very interesting and thought provoking discussion about specifically, the reasons why Zo is now apparently "omakase only" on weekends, and then more generally, about Zo's "rules" and the chef's "tude."

                                                                                    I think he's doing omakase only on weekends because he is simply too packed to be able to accomodate variations in orders. Last night a friend and I went to Zo and had an 8 PM reservation. The place was *jammed* and we had to wait about a quarter of an hour for our two seats right in front of Keizo. A party of four also had to wait for their table.

                                                                                    I have been there probably close to 10 times now, both singly or with various friends as a duo, and have always sat at the sushi bar, and except for the first time, have always ordered omakase.

                                                                                    The volume I think is what is creating the omakase only rule. We watched that guy basically be a sushi action adventure hero for over two hours -- there was never a lag, no down time whatsoever, and I couldn't help but think that a la carte orders would have stopped the whole machinery in its tracks. I don't think it's about money at all. I think it's about the fact that his place has become immensely popular, he wants to do all the fish cutting himself and maintain quality, and it's simply not possible to do that and serve people in a timely or coherent manner if some tables are ordering a la carte.

                                                                                    I still prefer going earlier on weekdays where the pace is less frenetic. There was literally no opportunity to relate to the chef whatsoever. He made half dozen or more of the same nigiri at a time, put it on a large platter and had the servers bring it to us on several occasions.

                                                                                    He served some top quality fish last night as usual -- for the first time, I had bonito and golden eye snapper. We also had amberjack, skipjack, red striped jack, scallop, oyster, ankimo, butterfish, salmon, yellowtail, big eye tuna, toro, orange clam, red snapper, blue crab handroll and probably a number of others I'm forgetting. He did run out of sweet shrimp. Everything was fantastic. I did note for the first time, that when I asked for another piece of big eye tuna,toward the end of the evening, he made it out of two smaller pieces of fish, rather than one piece.

                                                                                    At the end of the evening, he set out four bowls and a platter and made dinner for the staff. That looked good too. All in all a very enjoyable evening.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: NAspy

                                                                                      Thank you for confirming what I envisioned. Everyone has to make money - Keizo-san is no different. However, I think he has struck the best position that will satisfy most people's expectations.

                                                                                    2. I don't known if this has been mentioned, but I called for a reservation last friday and the policy is that they only take reservations for omakase on the wkdns, a la carte is available on the weekend but only for walk-ins. I have never been so I don't know how long the wait would be with no res.

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: augustus gloob

                                                                                        Thanks for the clarification. If that is the case, this entire thread is much ado about nothing.

                                                                                        Depending on what time you get there on a weekend, the wait could be anything from 10 minutes to up to an hour probably.

                                                                                        1. re: augustus gloob

                                                                                          I've actually walked in before on weekends and been told we could only be seated if we ordered omakase so this probably changes depending on how busy they are.

                                                                                        2. Certainly there is enough great sushi in Los Angeles for every niche. There is room here for the creative rolls, value nigiri, omakese only, kaiseki style, sake pairings, etc. If Sushi Zo will retain or even improve in quality with this new policy I am all for it. Now that sasabune has faded, it would be great to get another mid-sized omakese centric sushi house.

                                                                                          Mori, hide, kikiro are all good options if people need a la carte

                                                                                          1. I just ate at Zo and was informed that they are still serving a la carte on weekends for walk-in customers. The seats at the bar can be reserved in advance for omakase. All non-omakase diners can show up and be seated immediately if it is not busy, or given the option to wait for a table if it is.

                                                                                            Nobody will be forced to have omakase at a table, contrary to the information posted above.

                                                                                            11 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: hrhboo

                                                                                              Boo, are you saying that the original post has been rendered moot? It wouldn't surprise me if the Chowgrumbling were voiced directly to Keizo-san.

                                                                                              Isn't the soul of 'omakase' supposed to be about the chef being attuned to the customer's wishes?

                                                                                              1. re: SauceSupreme

                                                                                                It has never been his intention to serve only omakase at the weekends. Keizo-san laughed when I asked and said that omakase at the table would be impossible, and he serves omakase to people seated at the bar only. He could serve it to a table if they asked, but prefers not to. I think Westsidegal must have misunderstood what was said when she called.

                                                                                                1. re: hrhboo

                                                                                                  Exactly. Omakase at the table would be impossible. And he prefers not to because the quality of omakase at the table would be compromised. That, is maintaining craft and quality.

                                                                                                  Thank goodness Keizo himself put an end to all the speculation and the crazy spinning as to why omkase even at the tables is a good thing.

                                                                                                  1. re: hrhboo

                                                                                                    Interesting. I used to be a Zo regular (once a week), but am now pregnant, so I'm on hiatus, but when my husband and I first started going, we usually sat at a table and were always asked if we wanted omakase. We were never discouraged from ordering omakase or encouraged to sit at the bar if our preference was omakase. In fact, I've never had anything but omakase at Zo and have sat at a table probably about 10-12 times (mostly at first and then when we were with more than just the two of us). Also, I just wanted to add that Keizo-san has always been very nice and gracious to us--I've never experienced or witnessed anything less from him.

                                                                                                    1. re: hrhboo

                                                                                                      maybe what they meant was that they will only take RESERVATIONS for omakase on the weekends.
                                                                                                      in any case, i won't go there without having a reservation first, so, for me, this means that i'll only be going on the weekends if i'm intending to order omakase.

                                                                                                      certainly, they have allowed me to make reservationsto come in for a la carte ordering during the week since the original post.

                                                                                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                        It all makes perfect sense now! They let me make a reservation for a la carte yesterday as well.

                                                                                                      2. re: hrhboo

                                                                                                        Hmmm, Keizo may prefer omakase for bar patrons only, but I've seen folks at tables having omakase frequently. Obviously the experience is different but it's certainly not impossible. I've been observant of this because its occurred on nights where I've ordered a la carte while most of the restaurant is doing omakase, and have suffered very slow service as a result (and the server warned us that service would be slow for our orders because omakase orders are given priority). Last week a friend went to Zo on a weeknight (Thursday) and had omakase and mentioned that other patrons had a la carte. However, as the night got busier, Zo only accepted those who ordered omakase. A few months ago I had omakase at the bar and asked Keizo about the different "rules" regarding omakase/a la carte/bar seating/reservations etc. He didn't express a preference for omakase vs. a la carte and their respective seatings and was very friendly about the whole thing. It seems to me that he institutes or changes the "rules" on a temporary basis, depending on how business goes and how crowded it gets. I don't mind the rules so much, as long as there is consistency and I know what to expect. It's frustrating when one evening, walking in a ordering a la carte is no problem while the next evening may be omakase only. The quality of the food is consistently fantastic, but seating and service speed is what varies, and this unpredictability makes it hit or miss for me in regards to those aspects.

                                                                                                        1. re: Skorgirl

                                                                                                          Like I mentioned above, he said he does it but prefers not to. If people prefer a table and want omakase then naturally he would oblige. Likewise, if the bar is full he'll serve omakase at a table. I'm just going by what he told me last night. Maybe he changes his mind sometimes.

                                                                                                          1. re: hrhboo

                                                                                                            I think this is exactly right. It is his restaurant and he's free to run it how he likes, after all. It seems like he's less likely to allow ordering a la carte, the busier the night. So go during the week if that's your preference.

                                                                                                            1. re: mollyomormon

                                                                                                              of course, don't go if you don't want to. right now, he aint' hurting for business anymore which is why he might be doing the more limiting omakase shtick nowadays.

                                                                                                              1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                "of course, don't go if you don't want to. right now, he aint' hurting for business anymore which is why he might be doing the more limiting omakase shtick nowadays" - that same paragraph in a sense can also be applied to Nozawa and Sasabune (who have been doing the shtick for way way longer.)