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Sushi Zo: My First Visit - A Review & Comparison

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Sushi is one of my personal loves, and I'm always hoping to try the next best thing in this category. For a little background, I "graduated" early on, from the Matsuhisas and Nobus of the world (went once and never went back), to a much more down-to-earth (and IMHO far better) affair with my current favorite Sushi Sasabune (with Nozawa and Shibucho (OC) being a close 2nd and 3rd). That being said, I wanted to try one of the more beloved LA Chowhound favorites, Sushi Zo.

I called up 2 of my long-time fellow Sushi Hounds, who've been with me in the search for great Sushi, and we decided to try it out tonight. Sushi Zo is located in a nice little section on National, near the 10 Freeway, and its decor from the exterior to the moment we stepped in, shown more brightly than any of my current Top 3. It's a very clean, simple and professional-looking establishment, and is more "homely" and comfy than Sasabune's current location, and more enjoyable than Nozawa's more run-down locale. We were lucky enough to get seats right in front of Chef Keizo-san(!), and all 3 of us ordered the Omakase (of course), and let him introduce us to his restaurant. None of us have any fish we really dislike, so there were no hesitations to let him give us his best. Here's what we had tonight in our fist encounter with Keizo-san: (I'll be including notes for a comparison to my current faves)

* Raw Oyster – sauced – This was OK. But I felt Sasabune was better.

* Meji (Maguro) (Baby Tuna) – sauced – AWESOME! Succelent, wonderfully unique texture, unlike anything I've had before. #4 Favorite tonight.

* Special Uni with Octopus dish (raw) – AWESOME! Never had this anywhere else. A wonderful combination of the milky Uni as a "sauce" for the Octopus. Great textures.

* Homemade Miso Soup – Wonderful aromas and flavors. Definitely the best Miso Soup I’ve ever had (even better than a homemade one from my friend from Tokyo's family).

* Ibodai with Miso Sauce (Japanese Butterfish) (cooked) – sauced – Amazing. Wonderfully done and I liked it better than Sasabune's by just a touch.

* Hamachi (Yellowtail) – Disappointing: a little bit “old fishy” taste (just a touch). Sasabune and Nozawa were both better.

* Sake (Salmon) – Good, but I liked Sasabune & Nozawa's much better.

* Tai (Red Snapper) – Fresh, but a little too chewy for me (this cut). My friend got some “gristle/tendon” in his cut. I like Shibucho, Sasabune and Nozawa's more.

* Yellow-striped Jack – Distinctive, wonderful textured fish! Very unique (for me), as it’s the first time I’ve had it. Definitely a favorite!

* Shima-Aji (White Trevally) – Excellent piece of fish! My friend J’s #2 favorite tonight.

* Mirugai (Geoduck Clam) – Fresh, good texture, but I felt Sasabune was better by just a touch.

* Anago (baked) (Sea Eel) – sauced – Light and "Fluffy," with no bones and no fishy taste that usually accompanies this fish most of the time. Better than Sasabune's.

* Chutoro Hand Roll – Excellent. The seaweed wrap was still nice and crisp and wonderfully prepared!

* Aoyagi (Round Clam) – Very good. Great texture and freshness, but I felt Sasabune's was better.

* Maguro – sauced – Very good and great texture, but I prefer Nozawa and Sasabune's more.

* Saba (Mackerel) (cooked version) – sauced – Wow! Very good. No fishiness normally associated with this fish, and Chef Keizo's version was the best cooked version I've ever had!

* Hotategai (Scallop) – Amazing! Super tender and fresh. Shibucho (OC) is better, but this is very close! Better than Sasabune and Nozawa.

* Kanpachi (greater Amberjack) – Wonderful and distinct. It's prepared differently from Sasabune; different styles. I like them both, but now prefer Sushi Zo's version. :)

* Shiro Maguro (Albacore Tuna) – sauced – AWESOME! Melt-in-your-mouth goodness! So Fresh, So Wonderful! My #2 favorite tonight. I felt it was a tie with Sasabune, but no complaints. It's great!

* Kurodai (Black Snapper) – I love how Keizo-san surprises you. I've never had Kurodai before, and it was buttery awesomeness! :) My #3 Favorite tonight.

* Ohtoro (fatty Bluefin Tuna) – ... This is just RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME! #1. Hands-down THE best Ohtoro I've ever had anywhere. One bite and I was transported to the top of Mount Fuji, overlooking the blooming Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Trees! The taste, smooth buttery texture, freshness... There is nothing better that I've had anywhere in the U.S. Definitely better than Sasabune and Nozawa.

* Saba (Mackerel) (raw version) – Very, very good. Normally not a fan of this fish (at most places, due to its usual "fishiness"), but it was great here. In fact, it's the best Saba I've had anywhere so far. Tops!

* Ikura (Salmon Roe) – Very fresh and wonderful! Better than 99% of the stuff out there. I prefer Sasabune's, but think it's better than Nozawa's and Shibucho's.

* Uni (Sea Urchin) – Amazingly fresh! Better than Sasabune's, but Nozawa is better by just a touch. There was just a touch (super miniscule touch) of “sea / aftertaste” but 99.5% Sweet Purity. :) Nozawa was flawless when I went (100%). Sasabune was always about ~90-95%. Everywhere else I’ve tried before (and what most people associate with “Uni,” is around the ~30-50% mark (i.e., tastes gross / super-fishy / ocean-y). Regardless, it’s fantastic here!

* Fresh-squeezed Yuzu Drink – AWESOME! Wow, all the CH'ers were so right about this drink! Wonderfully delicious... not too sweet and nothing like any of the citrus beverages we have here in the States.

* There were also another ~2-3 pieces that Keizo-san let us try, but it's late and I forgot what they were. :)

We shared a bottle of their excellent Tokubetsu Junmai “Tsukasabotan Senchuu Hassaku” Sake. Wonderfully light fragrance, and an excellent choice by Chef Keizo! It paired nicely with all the fish we had tonight. Sushi Zo definitely has a better Sake Menu than either Sasabune or Nozawa. Even their Green Tea (wonderfully rich and flavorful) was great. Total bill came out to $145 per person (including tax and tip).

I had heard many horror stories about Chef Keizo, and his gruffness / rudeness. Since all 3 of us were prepared and trained from eating at Sasabune and Nozawa for the past few years, we just sat back and enjoyed good food and watched Keizo-san do his mad preparation for the whole restaurant (w/ just him and his assistant only!). It was impressive, and by the end of the night (after chatting with him a little bit throughout our dinner), Keizo-san thanked us and opened up a bit more and even smiled and chatted it up a little. :)

Overall, I’d come back for their RIDICULOUSLY ICHIBAN Ohtoro, Shiro Maguro, Kurodai, Yellow-striped Jack, Shima-Aji, and their sheer variety of different fishes, as well as the Yuzu drink. But for the other cuts of fish I tried tonight, I’ll be going back to Sasabune and Nozawa.

In the end, I think it’s wonderful that L.A. has so many great, top Sushi restaurants that each have their own unique strengths and highlights. Sushi Zo is an amazing Sushi establishment and I have to thank all the Chowhounders here for the recommendation, especially Porthos and Westsidegal :). Thank you. I'm so glad I found Sushi Zo and now have to put it up in a tie for my favorite Sushi restaurant with Sasabune (and above Nozawa and Shibucho). Just my *opinion*. (^_~)

Next up is Urasawa (which I’m expecting to be in a class by itself :).

# Sushi Zo
9824 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034, USA
Phone: (310) 842-3977

# Sushi Sasabune
12400 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Phone: (310) 268-8380

# Sushi Nozawa
11288 Ventura Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91604, USA
Phone: (818) 508-7017

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  1. Heh, Keizo-san wins again. While I love down-to-earth places like Sushi Ike and Shibucho in Costa Mesa, Zo seems to, for lack of a better expression, kick it up a notch.

    1. Try Jinpachi in WeHo as well. I found it to be right up there with Sushi Gen and the Hump, as did my friend, who's a chef. The desserts are to die for, which is rare for a sushi place.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mbh65

        what kind of desserts?

        1. re: fdb

          The wife of the sushu chef used to be a pastry chef at Granita. I read elsewhere on the boards that they have a pumpkin pie/ice cream offering as well now. Check out the website. They also had roasted green tea ice cream which was great.

          http://www.jinpachisushi.com/

          1. re: mbh65

            Oh nice, a sushi place with great desserts would be a must try :D

            exilekiss, thanks for the detailed report! sounds like there are more unique fish at Zo than what i had at sasabune

            1. re: burumun

              I love the ice cream at Kiriko. It's all home made and the flavors are unique and wonderful. My favorite is the the weirdly wonderful truffle, although I didn't see it last week. Perhaps with the price of truffles this year, they are not doing it.

              I love Zo, but I miss that ice cream at the end of the meal that you can get at Kiriko.

      2. Nice report, and thanks for the comparison to two other widely mentioned places. I want to give Sasabune a try, but it's so hard for me to go somewhere that's NOT Zo!

        9 Replies
        1. re: writergirl

          don't get yr hopes up too high for sasabune

          1. re: epop

            Epop,
            Disagree, we've had many excellent meals at Sasabune here and Oahu. Several great meals at Zo , Kirko, Mori, Wa, Nozawa, Ansaebo, Urasawa, Hiko, Sushi Gen, Shibucho (LA) etc.

            1. re: russkar

              russkar, i've had great meals at the same places but Sasabune has disappointed me since in their new location, including sitting with Nobi, once.

              i'm looking fwd to Urasawa this week.

              1. re: epop

                I'm so jealous but will be at Urasawa also exactly 2 wks from today, yum!
                When your at Sasabune do you order the Chef's Special Omakase (75-) or just Omakase? There is a big difference.

                1. re: russkar

                  no need for jealousy, only patience.

                  i've ordered the special omakase and more. at the old location i had great meals but somehow in the new it was very disappointing.

                  do i really dare try again?

          2. re: writergirl

            check out the pictures that others have posted for sasabune before going.

            if you're used to zo, as i am, the puddles of sauce and the precut fish at sasabune might be hard to tolorate.

            1. re: westsidegal

              Hmm, good to know. I tend to like sauce, but have always felt the fish at Zo has enough. Puddles might be a bit much. But I'll give it a chance.

              1. re: writergirl

                Sasabune is best when you call ahead to reserve Nobi (owner) at the Sushi Bar. Don't be put off with the Naysayers about the pre-cut fish. We hardly ever see anything at Sasabune but freshly cut fish to order so there is a discrepancy with others accounts, excluding the Albacore (first course). Many fine Sushi Restaurants pre-cut fish (within reason) and it's not a problem. Looking forward to Urasawa again in a couple of weeks.

                1. re: writergirl

                  Hey Writergirl,

                  I agree with russkar (and in my original post above), I've had no problems with Sasabune and it continues to be one of my favorites. You should give it a try and form your own opinion about which places you like the most. Enjoy~ :)

                  (And russkar, darn it! Lucky dog, to be going to Urasawa again! :)

            2. Are you sure the scallop was hotategai? At Shibucho, I tried to order it, and Shibutani-san corrected me, saying his scallop was called something else. I can't remember what, I think it started with a 't'. When he has it, you're right, it's amazing.

              He (or maybe it's just Naga-san, I'm not sure) also does a special Ikura that has been marinated in sake or something. It adds a sweetness and a coolness to it, that I preferred over the regular Ikura there.

              I must say though, that all these great reviews of Zo is making me want to go, cost be damned. How often does Keizo-san get Shako?