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Nov 12, 1999 12:40 PM

Sushi Roku or Matsuhisa

  • a

Both are obviously good, but I'd like to hear what evrybody thinks about them.

P.S. It's a date

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  1. This is a no brainer, Andrei. Matsuhisa, hands down. As a matter of curiosity, why did you limit the choice to only these two places? I assume you are interested in something other than traditional sushi, and are looking for something in the Matsuhisa vein. Is this assumption correct? The reason I ask is that there are lots and lots of sushi restaurants in Los Angeles that are far better than Sushi Roku, not just Matsuhisa. Scan through the Los Angeles board, or use the search feature for Los Angeles sushi, and you'll find a lot of them mentioned.

    1. j
      jonathan gold

      Sushi Roku is my single least favorite restaurant in the world--horrible food, contemptuous service. When I reviewed the place last year, the editor had to remove a passage where I daydreamed in print about splashing the place with kerosene, lighting a match, and sowing the ashes with salt so that nothing could ever again arise on that accursed spot. Although Matsuhisa is also a weird place for a date, at least a first date, if you don't know the menu well enough to recite it backwards. Why not try Ubon, Nobu's new, comfortable, casual place in the Beverly Center, which is sort of a Matsuhisa minus the sushi and the attitude. Most days I prefer it to Matsuhisa, and it's much cheaper.

      27 Replies
      1. re: jonathan gold

        Tried Nobu's and it was an awful tourist trap. For the real deal in Sushi where you are at the mercy of the sushi master who tells you what your having,go to Sushi Nozawa in Studio City. Expensive but better than Matsuhisa or any other sushi I have tried in LA.

        1. re: Bruce
          Tom Armitage

          I agree that Nozawa serves good sushi. But I have a real problem with his "attitude." I don't like Nozawa's policy of not giving his customers any choice over what they are served. If I want to order omakase, I feel that is my decision to make, not the chef's. If there are certain things I want, and certain things I don't want, I think I should have the right to control this. But my main complaint with Nozawa is different.

          When I first started going there, I expected to "pay my dues" in the sense of demonstrating to Nozawa that I wanted to go beyond the "standard" sushi items he serves to his predominately non-Japanese customers (e.g., maguro, hamachi, spicy scallops). I hoped that Nozawa would, eventually, introduce me to some new and unusual things, and help to educate and expand my palate. Perhaps a major part of the problem at Nozawa is that there are seldom any Japanese customers, and so he "Americanizes" his offerings. But on the rare occasion when there were Japanese customers, I noticed that they were served things that were not offered to me. When I asked Nozawa about what he was serving and indicated I would like to try it, he would either refuse or simply ignore me. I soon realized that, even though I was a regular customer, Nozawa had absolutely no interest in teaching me about sushi or expanding my knowledge and experience. And each time I was refused a dish that I saw a Japanese customer enjoying, it bothered me more. So, as much as I enjoy certain of his specialties--like his crab rolls packed full with blue crab meat and his marinated ikura--I stopped eating there.

          At the other sushi restaurants I now frequent, such as Shibucho, R-23, and Tsukiji, I have developed, over time, a relationship with the sushi chefs that results in being offered, from time to time, the special "treats" that they keep in reserve--things like abalone liver and octopus brains. Over time, they have paid enough attention to me as a customer to know that I am eager to learn and to experience new tastes and textures. By contrast, Nozawa seems to have little if any interest in his customers as real people, rather than just sources of income. He is a good sushi chef, but certainly not the best in town, and his arrogance and grumpiness wear very thin. Shibuya-san at Shibucho is, by contrast, a great sushi chef and a gracious and informative teacher.

          1. re: Tom Armitage


            Sorry you have been treated in a disrespectful way relative to your Sushi expertise and the discrimination that was exhibited to you because you weren't Japanese. Unfortunately, I don't have your expertise which allows me to be easily impressed and less petulant.

            1. re: Tom Armitage

              Wow. I'm pretty sure you've elicited shudders of horror from chowhounds all over with that sushi nozawa story.

              What strikes me is that it's pretty incredible that someone so burnt-in wasn't burnt out! In other words, that he could have such deep gaijen contempt for his customers yet serve them good stuff (you have great taste, and if you say his sushi is good, I'm sure it is).

              You'd think his contemptuous condescending attitude would be evident in everything he prepared.

              I'm tempted to go there and try to figure this all out. It doesn't fit my paradigm.

              1. re: Jim Leff
                Tom Armitage

                Well, it is very good sushi, Jim. His selection of fish is first rate, and Sushi Nozawa--for what it's worth--has always done very well in the Zagat ratings, so it has garnered a very solid reputation in the Los Angeles market. I think Nozawa does take pride in the quality of his sushi, even though his customers are almost exclusively non-Japanese (in contrast to Shibucho, where my wife and I are often the only non-Japanese customers). Can an artist take pride in his performance even if he is uninterested in his audience? Seems to me like the answer to that is, yeah, sure.

                1. re: Tom Armitage

                  I think an artist is OBLIGED to be "uninterested" in his audience at least on some levels...otherwise you start trying to please EVERYBODY, which is death to creative integrity because it leads to pandering and kills focus. You've got to do what you believe, and can't let the crowd be the sole feedback of your artistic pride. Miles Davis played beautiful, soulful solos with his back turned to the audience, and I understand why.

                  But there's a difference between ignoring/disregarding and out-and-out unbroachable contempt. The fact that you, a particularly enlightened customer, could not penetrate this guy's veil of scorn no matter how sincerely and knowledgeably you approached him makes me wonder how he could be turning out anything delicious for his customers (I DO believe your opinion of his sushi...certainly more than I'd believe Zagat!!), who he clearly despises.

                  If he can't even entertain the slightest notion that once in a while someone he's cooking for MIGHT have a clue about sushi, he's gotta be one serious hard-ass (sorry to be crude, but there's no other way to say it) to keep such exacting standards in such an absolute vacuum of respect and empathy. Wow.

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    people expressed similar feelings about Charlie Trotter-who produces exquisite food but doesn't seem to be able to relate to any of his customers-recently. Its hard to comprehend and not rational, but it happens. It happens everywhere you don't get the cooks best when you are not an insider, from Le Cirque to Chinatown. The guy just draws the line at buying second rate fish for his second-class customers.

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      I waited tables at a sushi bar where the sushi ranged from mediocre to truly extraordinary. On any given night ugly brown yellowtail might be served next to incredible bluefin toro. The specials were often Japanese delicasies rarely found elsewhere such as sea cucumber, sea bream, baby eel and barbecued crickets. After hours a chef might be cooking a favorite dish with tuna blood or showing me some baby abelone that he'd be eager for me to sample. As an occasional customer I'd be assured, at great discount, of dining on the best of what the house had to offer.

                      On to Sushi Nozawa. Whenever I have a chance to visit LA (my sister lives in Pasadena) I go there. Perhaps it is due to my lust for fatty fish (toro, yellowtail and basically all of the best tuna which will be what you get), but I have had several transcendent eating experiences at Nozawa. However hungry, tired and cranky and craving spicy tuna or King clam I may have been when finally seated, I have yet to be disapointed. I've even sat at the bar and had pleasant conversation with the owner. Our last visit this past winter my wife and I had lots of toro and the bill came to 90 bucks. I consider that to be quite a deal. I've always thought that the limited selection allowed the chef to serve great sushi at a reasonable price ie since he knows what everyone is going to order, food costs are kept low.

                      That being said, however it is distressing to hear that certain customers may enjoy specialities other customers cannot try even if they request them. Perhaps this is a reaction to the undeniable fussiness of certain LA customers, diet-obsessed or or warped by assertiveness training, who I've seen in other bars shove offending plates under the nose of the chef's face. Not that overly picky customers don't exist everywhere but in LA it seems to take on a different dimension.

                      If you go to Nozawa and, admittedly not having sampled many of the purportedly outstanding sushi bars in the area, I still recommend it, expect to eat fatty fish. Go in winter when such fish tends to be at its best. When your omakase is complete you may be invited to order whatever you like, but stick with items you've already enjoyed and wish to have again. Non-omakase items I have tried, though nothing esoteric, have been merely pretty good. That is unless you wish to somehow tease Chef Nozawa into parting with items stubbornly reserved for the disconcertingly scarce Japanes customers. Good luck.

                      1. re: Pwron
                        Tom Armitage

                        I think your comments about Nozawa are consistent with mine. Given the almost exclusively non-Japanese customers who eat there, I believe Nozawa caters to what he believes (probably based, in least in part, on previous experiences) those customers like, and what they don't like. So, if you want very good quality "mainstream" sushi, Nozawa is a perfectly fine place to go, especially if you're in the San Fernando Valley. In the days when I ate regularly at Nozawa, I always sat at the bar, and tried to engage Nozawa-san in conversation, always with some success, although he is a man of few words. But there comes a time, for me at least, when I want to expand my culinary horizons, and I quickly realized that Nozawa was not the place for this. And it did miff me--I believe one previous poster called me "petulant"--that I could not find a way to convince Nozawa to serve me the interesting looking things he served his Japanese customers. I understand that this may simply be another example of the frequently encountered problem of a waiter at an Asian or other ethnic restaurant telling you that "you won't like it," when you've ordered something unfamiliar to the American palate. But, if that situation is handled gracefully, most places will, at least in time, accede to your wishes. This sense of exploration, adventure, and learning is, after all, the core of Chowhounding.

                        While true that I've never had anything but high quality fish at Nozawa, the part of your post that I resonate to, and envy you for, is your description of your "after hours" experiences with the sushi chef, trying new and unfamiliar things, and growing in your knowledge and understanding of the cuisine as a result.

                        1. re: Tom Armitage

                          It may seem funny but I've always thought Nozawa's system to be oddly democratic in that no matter who you are you get the same excellent sushi. This is in contrast to most places where you have to establish a rapport with the chef to get the good stuff. Granted, this communal with the chef can be intensely gratifying, to sit at the bar, converse about the day's specialties, examine the contents of the sushi case and order adeptly, especially when you can see the chef thinking "how can I please this customer?" I was so proud when one owner, not a chef that day, told me "it's a pleasure to watch you eat." Never, however, has the sushi been as fine as at Nozawa's where the same fish was eaten by all. Your indication of an apparent Japanese elite obviously undermines my conception.

                          Cost is another consideration. I dined at the sushi bar at the Manhattan Nobu and was served one sliver of toro. It cost nine bucks, a shock when remembering how freely the toro flowed at Nozawa. Nobu is of course unusually high-end, but toro is uniformly prohibitively expensive and if it isn't you're not getting the real deal. There is the chowhound virtue of learning how extremely fresh fish tastes at Nozawa, an education that is bought far more cheaply than elsewhere. This is of extra value for the non-expert sushi eater who is otherwise dazzled by freshness-obscuring house special rolls. I am more than a novice but have happily learned a great deal from Nozawa.

                          There is the marked division at most sushi bars between bar and table customers where sushi sits for a distressingly long time until the over-burdened floor staff finds time to transport it to the table. Handrolls arrive with chewy nori and chefs resort to spraying sushi pieces with water to recreate a lustrous appearence. Believe it or not I've observed this at otherwise excellent sushi bars. At Nozawa the sushi is speedily delivered as soon as it is made. The nori on the handrolls is still delightfully crisp. And it should be noted that the cardinal rule of sushi dining - "always eat at the bar" - can be difficult to observe when you are dining with a group or where ridiculously long waits must be endured while standing for any type of seating at all.

                          Of course none of the preceding adequately refutes the experience of a regular customer who is made to feel as if none of his dutiful patronage has enabled him to rise in the chef's estimation above that of a mere outsider unworthy of the treatment of his fellow Japanese.

                          But please tell me, Tom, if the other sushi bars you now frequent offer the same virtues I have ascribed to Nozawa. What can I say? I love the place. It is certainly an atypical sushi bar - with limitations, but also glories.

                          I should reiterate that I am but a tourist to both coasts where fish has the oppurtunity to be served in its most pristine form. Unknown pleasures await.

                          1. re: Pwron
                            Tom Armitage

                            Happily for Los Angeles residents and visitors, there are a significant number of high quality sushi bars that offer sushi as good or better than that offered at Nozawa. My current favorite is Shibucho, located in downtown Los Angeles (Little Tokyo), for classical traditional sushi. On most nights, a steaming bamboo tray of freshly cooked anago (sea eel) is presented, and is better than any anago I've ever had. Simply divine! They also serve hot, freshly prepared tamago. And most patrons at the sushi bar receive various "treats" from Shibuya-san during the course of an evening. I also like Tsukiji (in Gardena), for a somewhat less traditional style of sushi. I used to like R23 because one of the sushi chefs there, Masuro, was experimenting with some new things (charred salmon, marinated abalone liver, sea snails), and was eager to have us try new things (like yamaimo, or moutain yam, which we saw him fixing for his Japanese customers). But, although Masuro still works there, the variety of available fish has at R23 has declined and Masuro's innovations have all but vanished. Although still pleasant and polite, Masuro has not been as eager to talk and teach as before. I still go to R23, but primarily because of the outstanding seasonal cooked specialties that are available on the "specials" menu written in Japanese, about which I have posted previously. I also used to frequent Katsu on Hillhurst Ave. in Hollywood, but, alas, it closed. One of the former sushi chefs at Katsu, Seito, has his own sushi restaurant on Sunset Blvd. east of Hillhurst Ave., and the sushi there is also very good. Hakone in Torrance is another good bet. And there is good sushi to be had at some of the Korean restaurants in Koreatown.

                            1. re: Tom Armitage

                              Thanks for the tips!

                              Next visit to LA, hopefully I can see my sister and my tiny nephew this summer, I'll go to Shibucho as well as Nozawa.

                              I am eager to try the anago which I tend to avoid because of the sticky sweet nitsumae (eel sauce) which usually drenches it. The restaurant where I worked meticulously cooked down eel broth for two days and then ruined it with a ton of sugar to suit American taste. This is the overwhelming norm. Traditional nitsumae, I am told, is not sweet. I did try Nobu's (Manhattan) unsweetened nitsumae and the anago was excellent.

                              1. re: Pwron

                                At Shibucho, the anago is served with no sauce, just a a mixture of salt and seaweed on the side. I think that nitsumae (sweet or unsweetend) is too strong a flavor for the delicate taste and texture of the freshly cooked anago, and just a small touch of the seasoned salt is all it needs.

                                1. re: Tom Armitage

                                  Ok, you're making me hungry. Good fish needs minimal accompaniment. If Shibucho serves its anago with just a salt and seaweed mixture, they must have confidence in its freshness. Italian and Japanese cookbooks insist that live eels must be dispatched right before cooking to be any good at all and this is probably the case at Shibucho.

                                  1. re: Pwron

                                    Phil and Tom,

                                    I'm so enjoying your "conversation" about sushi. Makes me feel guilty for my current non-sushi/sashimi phase.

                                    1. re: Dave Feldman


                                      Guilt over not eating sushi!?
                                      Maybe you're boycotting for the wrong reasons.

                                      1. re: Pwron

                                        Not to sound flippant, Dave, especially as someone who has only recently posted to this board.I looked up some of your recent postings and found them to be honest, gung-ho food writing.

                                        1. re: Pwron

                                          I'm not boycotting sushi, although I am a boy.

                                          I went through a period of eating sushi almost every day and overdosed, and now the pendulum has swung too far the other way. I was just mentioning tonight that I've been eating so much Latin food lately that I'm starting to o.d. on rice and beans, just like I did on sushi years ago.

                                        2. re: Dave Feldman

                                          Last night I overcame yet another food phobia when I consumed several pieces of sushi at Ningaloo in Arlington, VA. I've eaten veggy sushi in the past, but this was the first time with the fish. This was the second breakthrough for me, as last week I ate a raw oyster.

                                          All this may seem awfully tame to many of you, but these are giant steps for someone who grew up with traditional midwest cooking. It's certainly gratifying to be expanding my repertoire.

                                          1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                            congrats, Jim!

                                            but...most did you like it?

                                            next time, post here before you do something like that. We'll give advice on where's best for first-timers to lose their chowhound don't want to place your trust in the wrong nori...


                                            1. re: Jim Leff

                                              Well, it just sort of happened. I met a couple of guys at Ningaloo and a sushi platter was ordered ... The guy who ordered it is from SF, and eats sushi regularly, so I had some guidance.

                                              How did I like it? It was good enough that I had 3 or 4. Enjoyable, and I'll do it again.

                                            2. re: Jim Dorsch

                                              Way to go, Jim. I've never deflowered a sushi virgin without a satisfied customer. Despite the idea of sushi repelling many folks, the actual taste is mild and delicate. I know people who don't like cooked fish who enjoy sushi.

                                              My usual strategy with the sushi-phobic is to start them with an eel roll, sort of the equivalent of getting to second base.

                                              1. re: Dave Feldman

                                                I was indeed surprised by the delicate taste: no nasty fishiness, just soft, easily chewed, mild. I will definitely do it again.

                                                I'm always been fascinated by how people (myself, for example) are so scared to eat a new food. I suppose that what we put in our mouths is a deeply personal decision.

                    2. re: Tom Armitage

                      For fans of NOZAWA, I also recommend SASABUNE on the corner of Nebraska and Sawtelle on the West Sides' Little Japan. Have you been? Similar spirit, if you're ever in the neighborhood. A little more expensive than NOZAWA, but not much. A little friendlier, too.

                      An incredible bonito sashimi "starter."

                      Any other favorites on the West Side would be appreciated.

                      PS. NOZAWA is still my fave in LA. Sorry his attitude pissed you off. A small price to pay, in my opinion.

                      1. re: Max Pross
                        Tom Armitage

                        "Nozawa is still my fave in LA. Sorry his attitude pissed you off. A small price to pay in my opinion."

                        I don't think you are understanding my comments about Nozawa. If you want to endure his disrespect for the palates of non-Asians, I guess that's your gig. But it isn't mine. My comments about Nozawa's "attitude" go much deeper than his surliness. Have you ever been to a sushi restaurant where you're the only non-Asian? The attitude I'm talking about can run both ways.

                      2. re: Tom Armitage

                        Couldn’t agree more. I have been eating sushi for 25 years and refuse to be treated like a moron by a sushi chef. It amazes me that many people don‘t mind being disrespected this way.

                        1. re: Tom Armitage

                          Hip Hip Hooray! I second your entire message. I had a similar history @ Nozawa and felt very much the same way...and have stopped going there. And with the mulititude of sushi restaurants/chefs available to sample in LA, I don't miss it in the least. It was simply another case of "The Emperor has no clothes!"

                    3. As this is a place to respectfully disagree, I will do so. While I totally agree with Tom A. in terms of the fact that this is a no brainer, and that there are other choices, especially for a date, I feel compelled to defend Sushi Roku, despite the fear of being torched by Jonathan G. I have been to both locations and have found the food delicious, more specifically the food off the menu as opposed to the Sushi. The sushi does not even begin to compare with the care and quality to be found at Matsuhisa. However the Tofu steak, and the Tuna Carpaccio salad are EXCEPTIONAL, among other things. The place also feels more like an event, with the easy distractions that might make for date conversation. I just felt like saying some good things about a place I have enjoyed but would still not pick over Matsuhisa... ever...if it were just about the food. You may have much more fun at Roku. Also try TAKAO in Brentwood some time. It is small, and not ambiance-y, but the sushi is serious. Listen to Tom and search the boards....theres more stuff out there.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Michael S

                        I have to agree with Michael to "check out Takao". I believe the omakase meals are titled, according to price; great, excellent and speachless, which isn't far from the truth.

                        1. re: Michael S

                          Try Samurai Sushi on La Cienega between Gregory and Wilshire.

                          Awesome sushi, great selection of both hot and cold sake and some of the best staff I've ever seen at a Sushi Restaurant!

                        2. SUSHI ROKU! Sushi Roku has always been a fabulous experience! I have been several times, at least 20 times, always polite, great food, atmosphere, great people watching, but the food is what keeps me coming back! Don't listen to these "Other Burger King Eating Boneheads" take it from a veteran and an LA local, Sushi Roku ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                          p.s AND THE BARTENDERS ARE HOT!!!!!YUMMY!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Melissa

                            Hot bartenders aside, Sushi Roku doesn't come close to making my list of good sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, of which there are many. And Jonathan Gold (who authored the most scathing remarks on Sushi Roku) is an "Other Burger King Eating Bonehead"? Sigh!!

                          2. I can only say that Sushi Roku is one of the best Restaurants I have visited. The experience was wonderful. I must say the food and service was excellent especially our humurous latin server. I will keep coming back.