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Sushi Zo: Caveat Emptor

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OK, so I've eaten at Sushi Zo 4 times now. 3 times omakase and 1 time a la carte. 1st time (omakase) - absolutely fabulous. 2nd time (omakase) - great as well. 3rd time (a la carte b/c friends didn't want omakase) - TERRIBLE attitude by Keizo. 4th time (omakase) - fabulous again.

What was so terrible about the 3rd time? I'd gone w/ 2 friends who didn't want to do omakase so we ate at a table. Halfway through the meal I realized that I was charging up much more than my friends who were eating at half my clip. So I politely asked the waitress if I could separate my portion of the check. A few moments later I heard Keizo yelling in Japanese, "Damedayo sonnano imagoro yuttemo!!!" (No way!! Too late to speak up now!!!). I didn't think he would be yelling something so rude when I was at a table right in front of him, but a few moments later the waitress returned and said, "I'm sorry, we can't..." OK. No problem. I wasn't offended at the fact that they couldn't split the check (it might have been dumb of me to ask in the first place) but no need to be so rude about it. Sheesh.

I didn't go back for a while b/c of that, but returned this week b/c I missed the sushi. Had omakase and he was a sweetheart. The food was divine. I left a happy camper.

So tonight. A friend of mine took his whole family there b/c I had sung Sushi Zo's praises to high heaven having just been there. I advised him to do the omakase. But he opted for the a la carte. He arrived around 7 p.m. and spoke to the waitresses in Japanese. He was seated at a table. Apparently his order was taking a long time. When he ordered something he heard Keizo yell, "Jikan kakarutte yuttoite!!!" (Tell 'em it's gonna take a long time!!!) When my friend called me to complain about that and just the general rudeness he experienced, I was SO disappointed. I thought Keizo might have yelled in Japanese when I was there not knowing that I'm fluent in it, but my friend was speaking in Japanese to the waitress the whole time. So there's no excuse there. That's just rude.

My conclusion: Keizo is nice to regulars and omakase customers but rude to a la carte customers. Much as I enjoy his sushi, I don't think I'm ever going back. If I'm gonna drop $120+ on a meal, I don't wanna feel like he's doing me any favors. Plus, when I recommend a restaurant to a friend, I don't want to follow it w/ a disclaimer that although the food is divine, the sushi chef may be an a-hole...

Very disappointed. I generally don't rant b/c "good service" is so subjective, but Keizo clearly crossed the line this time. Caveat emptor guys.

On a brighter note, Sushidokoro Kirala's sushi chef really made my friend and I feel welcome when we had omakase there last month. No attitude. Even a yummy oyster tempura w/ truffle on the house. Though I would rate the sushi slightly lower than Zo's, it was overall a much more pleasant experience b/c of the lack of attitude.

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  1. Great post. Never been to Zo, and won't be in now. Bad attitude is a dealbreaker.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Adsvino

      gee,
      so sad to hear.
      i go to zo regularly, both ordering off the menu and having omakase.
      last thursday, i took my teenage daughter there for her first omakase as a celebration of her birthday.
      we had a WONDERFUL meal. Keizo san was lovely and gracious.
      as a matter of fact, he has been lovely and gracious EVERY time i've been there.

      1. re: westsidegal

        I know... I was sad when my friend called to tell me about his experience.

        I know you love Sushi Zo b/c you're always defending Keizo-san, which I think is nice and much needed. He does have 2 sides. If some are going to call him out on what they perceive to be his gruffness, others should give him credit when he is in their opinion lovely and gracious.

        Having seen both sides of him first hand, I don't think it's out of malice. I think that's just the way that he is. Still, some won't stand for it.

        Plus, IMHO it's entirely possible that people are having different experiences w/ him not just b/c they react to his behavior (assumed to be the same towards everyone) differently, but b/c he actually is treating some people differently than others.

    2. "I didn't go back (to Sushi Zo) for a while b/c of that, but returned this week b/c I missed the sushi. Had omakase and he was a sweetheart. The food was divine. I left a happy camper.

      "On a brighter note, Sushidokoro Kirala's sushi chef really made my friend and I feel welcome when we had omakase there last month."

      So you still haven't tested the second place, because you had no issues with Sushi Zo, until you veered away from omakase. Just saying.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PommeDeGuerre

        Yeah, very true. Was wondering about that after I posted.

      2. Then I was absolutely right in my guess that K-Zo is seemingly a perfectionist. Meaning he has a way of doing things, he knows his routine and all, and any interruption would break that, and annoy him. So the verbal nuke outbreaks, while very unprofessional to hear and witness from a customer standpoint, are not necessarily directed at the customer, just a reaction (like a bad rash outbreak) to stress or anything that goes wrong.

        Ino Sushi in San Francisco is somewhat like that (emotion wise). I've never heard the guy explode but others have heard him chew out the waitress and even his wife in Japanese, in front of all the customers.

        Makes you wonder if one of those guys will at some point flare up so much and become a Super Saiyanjin (Dragonball Z reference)...

        1 Reply
        1. re: K K

          I agree. I think it's just a reaction to the stress.

          IMO if a la carte is going to throw off the rhythm of omakase, a restaurant should just have omakase on the weekends (or whenever). But any sensible businessman would never do that b/c omakase customers aren't guaranteed. So it could be that currently at Zo a la carte customers (who aren't regulars, i.e. potential future omakase peeps) are just filler and are bumped down in priority when the omakase peeps come strolling in.

          OK, I'm gonna stop now. I just wanted to represent and explain my (and my friend's) perspective and I hope I was able to communicate that effectively, fairly, and respectfully. Peace.

        2. I think I don't get what the big deal is. If the chef is running behind, and he knows it's going to be awhile before I get my order, I'd rather get a heads up then just be sitting there wondering what the hell is going on. I think him telling the waitress to pass that along isn't such a big deal. ( I think in general there's more yelling in sushi restaurants than in other restaurants, at least that's been my exprerience.) Japanese is his first language, so I'm not sure why he shouldn't have yelled it in Japanese. I'm not a regular, but every time I've been he's been really nce, and remembers me. He's always been really sweet actually, and teases me because he knows my husband doesn't like sushi and I only come when he's out of town. Maybe I'm not as sensitive, but his comment wouldn't have upset me.

          2 Replies
          1. re: writergirl

            The problem wasn't the fact that he yelled in Japanese but the Japanese that he used. Japanese has roughly 3 politeness levels: Very formal (used when addressing VIPs and customers), formal (used when addressing strangers), informal (used when addressing someone very familiar, animals, children, etc.). He used informal. May seem overly trivial to Americans (I know b/c I'm Japanese American) but it's understandable for someone socialized in Japan to be surprised and annoyed.

            1. re: writergirl

              Also, there's a lot of energetic yelling at sushi joints but they're usually saying, "Irasshaimase!!" (Welcome!!) or "Arigato-gozaimashita!!" (Thank you!!).

            2. emmaramma, your take on the situation is thoughtful, fair, and correct (as well as very well written). What the chef said and the form used were rude and enough for me not to go to Sushi Zo. Ever.

              1. i had a great meal at zo shortly after it opened. but i didn't like his attitude and i think i got overcharged. haven't been back.

                i normally go to sushi sushi. but i received horribly rude service from a B**** waitress on my birthday dinner, and i used to eat there once a week.

                sigh....

                3 Replies
                1. re: modernist

                  Sushi Sushi used to be my favorite. Had many excellent omakase there before. I haven't gone back since I start hearing complaints from my friends about the chef's attitude. And now even the waitress catches on....sad. What's going on with all these sushi places???

                  1. re: fdb

                    i also had a super frustrating dinner at sushi gen, when the, at the time, new host gave away our table, while we were waiting outside. of course we had been waiting for over an hour and a half already and i was starving and grouchy. its just too much sometimes.

                    and i have seen ken at kiriko loose it too.... during lunch with an empty restaurant no less!

                    i think the stresses of being the sole chef or chef owner is just too much for some people.

                    1. re: modernist

                      Yes, that happend to me also at Sushi Gen last Friday. The host bypassed my name while I was sitting right in front of him the whole time (30 minutes at about 1:30 pm...I had reminded him a couple time). He skipped a few names and gave away my table to someone I suspect are regulars.

                2. This is reminding me of the recent HUGE thread on Zo. Emmaramma, I think you hit the nail on the head. Keizo is rude and unwelcoming if you order a la carte and are not a regular. When people say this, his defenders get up and arms and say that Keizo has always been very gracious to them, even when they order a la carte. Yeah, I know, that's the point--he's very nice to the people he knows, and you are among them. That's great for you, but for others it is frustrating that there are two tiers of service. And personally, I think EVERYONE deserves to get treated well at a restaurant. Sadly, it seems that the average person walking in off the street ordering a la carte at Zo should expect unwelcoming treatment.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Nicole

                    i stopped going to Zo and stopped ranting about the place a while back. the sushi there is truly one of the best in LA but the restaurant format (one piece at a time) is not my cup of tea. if i'm at a table i like having it all on a plate. it's more festive and fun and having one piece is too fussy. keizo was not rude but not friendly which can border on being impolite. i was with my mother and her friend. all three of us are japanese from japan and we felt they were a bit unwelcoming. combined with not being too keen on the presentation and attitude we all agreed that there are plenty of places in LA that's just as good and we wouldn't be going back to Zo. and you know what? we really don't miss it.

                    1. re: Nicole

                      I'm not a regular at all. I've only been three times in well over a year, and each time he's been really nice, and the last two he remembered me. But clearly some his manner is such that it puts some people off, who knows, maybe he is rude to certain people. But, I'm glad I'm part of the lucky "liked" crowd, because I do love his sushi whenever I get a chance to eat there!