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Oct 13, 2007 06:14 PM

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.

    2. 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.