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Sushi Zo -- Only if you'll pay $150/person to be insulted by the rude and arrogant Keizo

WINNER!!!! of the most rude and arrogant restaurant award!!!! I've been lucky enough to dine at most of the top sushi places in LA, NYC, SF, Honolulu and some great places in Tokyo. After over 35 years of having the pleasure of eating at various sushi bars, I might not be an expert, but I can hold my own.

O.K. I've read the numerous accolades of this sushi bar. I've also read the numerous reviews of how rude Keizo can be. I find it interesting that patrons also try to make excuses for him by calling it his own brand of humor. Now, how incredible does a restaurant have to be in order to justify being rude and arrogant and still believe the customer will return? Is heavenly enough? Is very good enough? It is obvious that Sushi Zo believes that their customers are ignorant (and probably stupid) diners that know nothing about sushi hence the constant comment of no soy sauce. After a couple of times, it gets annoying to say the least. BTW, on a Saturday night at 8PM, 3 tables are open and the sushi bar is 2/3 emptyl.

Especially in this time of economic recession, let alone, at any other time, IMHO, the restaurant business is a service business. Yes, there is a large creative component and yes, the customer is not always right. However, for me, there is no excuse for rude and arrogant behavior.

Sushi Zo is supposedly the best sushi bar in LA besides Urusawa. To even compare it in the same breath as Urusawa is a joke. With Keizo, Kazoo and the helper in the front, it was strictly a production line. I found it better than the new Sasabune which is also a production line and slightly better than Hide. Maybe on par with Hump, and not as good as Nakamura and not nearly as good as Mori. Forget about comparing it to Urusawa or the late Ginza Sushiko. Not a chance!!

In my first and only visit to Sushi Zo, I dined alone at the sushi bar having the mandatory omakase. I found a number of misses as well as a number of very good dishes. Definitely the combo uni & toro sushi was a big miss. Scraps of frozen toro combined with scraps of uni. Not too good. For a place that supposedly prides itself on authenticity -- just read the Sushi Etiquette sign at the bar (NO KIDDING!!), pushing scraps of toro seems not too authentic. Anyone that has worked or been near a sushi bar knows that the tartare or handrolls are where the restaurant puts the scraps. I thought the orange clam and the spanish mackerel were quite good and were the highlight of the evening. The toro nigiri sushi had much too much sauce (there was definitely no reason to tell me to not put soy sauce). The salmon was non-descript as was the unagi. The hot chunks of monk liver was not good and the sardines were so-so at best.

Anyhow, to my point, at the end of the meal on this Saturday night, I commented that there was no scallops or no ono or pompano. So, I asked what days were the best in terms of selection of fish? The immediate response from Keizo was that every day was the best and if I did not like it, don't come. I was shocked to say the least, especially after racking up a $145 tab all by myself.

I've heard people complain about how arrogant French restaurants can be and that can be true. Having lived in Paris, I can comfortably say that Sushi Zo is by far the most arrogant and rude.

If you were treated like this, would you go back? Would you recommend it to your friends?

I think not.

Now, who do you complain to? Keizo the owner? I wish I could find out who the financial backers, if any.

Now, to all you Sushi Zo lovers -- before you rush to his defense, donate a $1 to your favorite charity. That will be much more worthwhile than defending Keizo. I really don't think he needs defending, just much fewer customers and a large serving of humble pie.

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  1. Excellent review.

    I like Zo, but I don't adore it. Keizo's never been rude to me, though.

    Most hounds already know how I go on and on about having sushi in LA Tuesday through Friday only.

    Having said that, I ask you to try Zo again, but this time on a Tue, Wed, Thu, or Fri - no guarantees about service or attitude, but at least you might find the seafood offering to be wider and fresher.

    I'm not defending Keizo's rudeness - I just believe that, unless the first visit was a total catastrophe, every joint deserves a second chance to redeem itself.

    1 Reply
    1. re: J.L.

      I can't agree with you more on Tues - Friday. I avoid Saturday because it is usually too crowded or because there's more competition for the best fish and the restaurant you go to will likely run out or not get the best stuff.

      So, my issue is that with all the accolades that Sushi Zo gets -- next best thing to Urusawa, etc., then they should have no problems getting the best fish on Saturday. I was there early enough, sat down at 7PM, that running out should not be a problem. They definitely were not busy -- 2/3 empty when I left. So, it seems to be that they just don't have the "pull" to get the best stuff which immediately places them several notches below the 2nd tier of sushi places in LA. As for attitude and service, I avoid sushi on Thurs, Fri & Sat. because again, it gets too busy and the one-on-one service that is an essential part of eating sushi gets watered down very quickly. With the assembly line process that Sushi Zo uses, Keizo, helper and Kazu, unless you're fortunate enough to sit in front of Keizo, although with his rude and arrogant behavior that wouldn't make sense, you still don't get that one-on-one connection.
      Lastly, what is up with the "secrecy" behind the food? Every other top notch sushi place is glad to tell you where the fish comes from. At Sushi Zo, they treat it like some type of secret that if they tell you, they have to kill you. Are they that paranoid and for what reason? It is good, but not great. It's not cheap + being insulted by the owner -- STRIKE 3 and You're OUT!!!

    2. I posted about it at the time, but I did not have a good experience at Sushi Zo. Instead of being made to feel like I was having a wonderful dining experience, I was made to feel hurry up and eat as much fish as we can possible put in front of you as quickly as we can put it in front of you and then pay a huge tab and get out. That was almost exactly a year ago, it was my first time there and I haven't been back. And, it was a quiet weeknight. As I write about it I remember my anger, which lasted several days after the meal.

      1. It is a MAJOR gaffe in Japan to ask "what's fresh?" because it implies something is not. There are sushi chefs who can never accept that many Westerners see nothing wrong with the question.
        I agree that maybe it's time for Keizo to acclimate, but the behavior is not unique. It's quite easy to insult Mori or Nishimura, for example, I have seen it happen.
        And, IMO in Paris they're just a bit more subtle...

        2 Replies
        1. re: cls

          Obviously the solution is to add "don't ask what's fresh, it's offensive" to their how to act in a sushi restaurant guidelines.

          1. re: cls

            While you might not want to ask what's fresh, you can (almost) always ask what is especially good or at its seasonal best now.

          2. We've been to Sushi Zo a few times, when the restaurant was new, and delicious fare was something that we came to rely on. At the time, Keizo was an enjoyable host. Hubs and I live in Sherman Oaks, and typically we don't travel to the west side as an every day Sushi excursion, because we have some favorites over here. Normally we keep restaurant reviews slightly at bay, because we like to form our own judgments. That being said, this thread has had enough corroboration that Sushi Zo will not be re-visited by us. Our Sushi dollars will be better spent elsewhere. Not happy, but nonetheless thankful for the original post.
            Cheers all,

            3 Replies
            1. re: JeffW

              I can tell you that I really do love Sushi Zo. However, with his success came a huge difference in how people were treated and how food was served to you. Back in the day when it first opened, I didn't feel like my food was coming to me from some "production line." Nowadays, the original poster really hit it on the mark with the "production line" tag. I really don't appreciate that feeling when I'm dropping three figures for sushi.
              Keizo has never been rude to me when I've dined there. However, I can echo some of the other's negative experiences on this board when you don't do "omakase." The only time I went in for a "non-omakase" dinner, my friend and I sat for a painfully long time before we got any of our stuff. The food came out like a very slow drip and, the experience was just as annoying as a slow drip! While the food was awesome, the experience sucked, to say the least. I was embarrassed that I had brought my friend there. However... I kept going back (sans friend or anyone else) for Keizo's omakase.
              Like the OP said, the constant reminder of "no soy sauce" on certain items that OBVIOUSLY shouldn't have soy sauce on it is really annoying... especially if you're a customer by first name basis. However, I was appreciative of the guidance at first, as a newbee.
              Luigisdad: Like cls said above, I can see how you might have offended Keizo. I'm not defending Keizo by any means, I'm just saying that I can see it from his side too.
              However, like JeffW, your review put the last straw on this ass' back. I'm sorry you had such a terrible time. Thanks to your extremely eloquent review, I am able to put words to why I'm just not a huge fan anymore. I'm done with expensive "production line omakase sushi." I'm done with a place where I'm not sure if I can bring my friends. I'm done with being treated like an idiot who never learns... I'm done with Sushi Zo... I hope that makes you feel better.

              1. re: banquisha

                yep, i also commented on the production line issue when i reviewed sushi zo on another board. i do enjoy keizo-san's offerings, but have been turned off by the henry ford approach to meals there....it's beginning to feel sasabune-esque now. in addition, it felt (during my last outing there 1.5mo's ago) that the knife-work was a tad sloppy compared to my earlier visits. i had dangling pieces of flesh on 3-4 pieces of fish and a lil gristle as well...not a good sign.

                1. re: wilafur

                  I was there for the first time last week and I too was put off by most of the same elements as the OP. Though our chef (not Keizo) was not overtly rude, he was running around frantically as if something was perpetually on fire and about 50% of our fish looked sloppily cut, with little bits missing and dangling. Some of the offerings were delicious and well cut, some looked pretty mangled. We were there on a mid-week day and the restaurant was not completely full, so we were a little surprised after all the great reviews of Zo. Overall it wasnt a bad experience, but I think for the money I wouldn't rush back.

            2. What's interesting about Keizo's attitude now is that he got his start at Hide Sushi. Hardly a temple of strict sushi authenticity.

              1. thanks, I'll write zo off my list.

                1. Thanks for the review. I'm one of the many who went to Zo shortly after he opened and had a truly amazing evening. I'm one who has dubbed it "2nd only to Urasawa". But this was some time ago and I haven't made it back since. Will probably keep Mori as my standby now.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: fooddude37

                    Hi fooddude37,

                    Me, too. I also enjoyed Zo, but I haven't been back in about 8 months+, and not since my Japan trip. This is really sad to hear (I was never treated badly by Keizo-san, but all these experiences listed here leaves a bad taste in my mouth). Given that, I think Mori-san will be my new #2 as well.

                    1. re: fooddude37

                      Unfortunately, even Mori is not as reliable as it used to be also (sigh). I had a quite mediocre omakase there 3 weeks ago. Disappointing, given Mori's track record.

                      "The world's going to hell in a handbasket", as Gramps used to say (in Mandarin).

                    2. After reading all this: wow, this is borderline complete consensus.

                      1. Sasabune does the same no soy sauce nonsense every time. Very annoying.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: chestercopperpot

                          Im not here to say that he may have been rude to some, but i have eaten there many times and found that if you are respectful (and that only consists of basic manners, which are sometimes greatly lacking in this town) he is generally very gracious. As far as his food goes, I have always found it to be amazingly fresh and to always have an interesting selection.

                          1. re: carln

                            Same here. Been there a few times, always thought the omakase was great, never once saw any sign of rudeness.

                        2. I agree the service is not warm.
                          However, my biggest problem is always the fish itself.
                          At least four times I have given Zo another chance doing omakase and it's always the same story: the food averages out to be just okay, maybe a bit better than average. I keep waiting for that Zo epiphany that people seemed to be having in the early days and it's just not there.

                          1. Thanks luiquisdad. You just saved me about $300 and an uncomfortable experience. I deplore rudeness and arrogance in a restaurant. Doesn't everybody?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Baron

                              Obviously not! How do you think The Bucket existed all those years?

                            2. Makes me glad I never got around to going here. I'll just save up a little (okay a lot) longer and go to Urasawa for a reliably pleasurable experience.

                              1. I like Sushi Zo a lot. I go there mainly for lunch solo or for dinner during the week with a friend and always sit at the bar. I have gone at least a dozen times, and am not on a "first name basis" with the chef, though he knows me and my friend and is always courteous. His server is always friendly and solicitous. I'm not interested in interacting with the sushi chef. He has a job to do and I have sushi to eat.

                                I think, comments about the food aside (and I posted a while ago about the assembly line quality of the food one Saturday night when I went), anger about the chef's attitude seems to be largely a function of people's expectations. I don't expect chefs to be friendly, really any more than I *expect* a doctor or a lawyer to be friendly. They are professionals working diligently, and sometimes, under a lot of stress to provide a quality service or product. In most restaurants, unless you are a regular, a big shot, or an investor, you never see the chef. Why do we expect a sushi chef to be friendly? Is that part of the tradition? Why do diners, who probably would never dream of querying a chef in another type of restaurant why they aren't serving such-and-such have the temerity to challenge the sushi chef about why scallops or pompano aren't being served? Why didn't you just ask for scallops if you wanted them? I have frequently requested certain items that I haven't got, or requested that he give me another piece of something I really liked. He is always obliging in that respect, or if he doesn't have it, he tells me why. One time I asked about barracuda and he laughed at me and said it was seasonal. OK, so now I know. And he knows that I like it and gives it to me when he has it.

                                I perceive Keizo as trying to gauge what each diner likes and is interested in -- he remembers that my friend doesn't like clams and considers his blue crab handrolls an aphrodisiac (she usually has several at the end of the meal), and when you go there the first time, he simply doesn't know your taste or experience.

                                I do agree, however, that unless you are talking about Sunday or Monday, you should always get quality regardless of the day of the week. Admontions to not go because it's a weekend place too much burden on the diner. A restaurant should be good every night. Having said that, it's much more pleasant on a weeknight, when the place is less jammed.

                                21 Replies
                                1. re: NAspy

                                  "Why do we expect a sushi chef to be friendly? Is that part of the tradition? "

                                  Yes; Sushi Gen dropped about 15 ranks in my book cuz I find their itamae's to lack soul.

                                  1. re: NAspy


                                    I think comparing a sushi chef to a regular chef is a bit off, esp. if you are sitting at the bar. There is direct interaction between diner and sushi chef at the bar -- in fact, that's one of the main appeals of sitting at the bar.

                                    In that situation, the sushi chef almost takes on the role of a quasi-server. He takes your order, finds out what you like, and serves you your food. Given that role, it isn't unreasonable to "expect" a certain level of professional courtesy or friendliness, if you will.

                                    And, really, in food as in all things in life ... it never hurts to be nice to people.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      "...the sushi chef almost takes on the role of a quasi-server. He takes your order, finds out what you like, and serves you your food."

                                      Keizo does all that, but maybe is not solicitous enough for some people. If his diffidence is too much for you, it's very easy to find inferior fish elsewhere. I agree the sushi chefs are more friendly in other places , but I don't go to a sushi bar for a friendly chef. I go for good quality sushi and Zo provides that. I do put the priority on the quality of the food, not the personality of the chef. If that makes me naive about what a sushi bar experience is supposed to be about, so be it. More room at Zo.

                                      I still wonder why the OP didn't simply ask for the fish he wanted instead of challenging the chef with regard to their absence from the omakase. I think, by any standard, that's rude.

                                      1. re: NAspy

                                        This is soooo lame.

                                        Look....if you want super fresh sushi/sashimi...you can take your seasoned rice on a fishing trip, and have ahi/yellowtail/sand bass and barracuda, right off the coast...so don't give me any crap about this or that fish being fresher.

                                        NO...any CH'r KNOWS that a restaurant experience is the sum of all parts, and if the OP was not happy with his sushi experience, so be it.

                                        Keizo-san can keep his attitude and his super-duper sushi for those fooling themselves into thinking that they are somehow superior for taking his attitude with vigor!

                                        Best Regards,

                                        STeven Garsson

                                        1. re: STevenGarsson

                                          I don't take his attitude with vigor. I eat his food with pleasure and his attitude is irrelevant. To me at least. That's the only point I was trying to make. It's always instructive to see people become so hostile over truly minor things.

                                          Very Truly Yours

                                          1. re: STevenGarsson

                                            Wow, that's missing the point of sushi entirely. Catch a fish and eat it raw? IMO you have a limited understanding of what sushi is and what a sushi chef does.
                                            Perhaps Keizo and many sushi chefs deal with this attitude a lot and their admonishments are a result of those experiences.

                                            1. re: cls

                                              Like the OP, I have been to some top quality sushi restaurants all over the world...and some pretty bad ones, as well(including Tokyo, Kyoto and Fukuoka).

                                              I am by no means denigrating the Itame....it is a very demanding job, and I respect it thoroughly...and may very well have "limited understanding of what sushi is"...and don't give it much concern, either.

                                              I know what a good experience is with a restaurant, and when I have it, and am willing to pay for it....otherwise, I can go to Zion Market, and get a nice piece of sashimi grade sake and have a pleasant meal at home, without the hassle, expense or attitude.

                                              Knock your socks off.

                                              Best Regards,

                                              STeven Garsson

                                            2. re: STevenGarsson

                                              Wow - road rage internet-style... Cool off your keyboard with some canned air, take a nice slow sip of that Balvenie, and think good thoughts... :)

                                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                                I'm sorry that fellow CH'rs are misinterpreting this as some sort of personally directed anger.....that is not the case at all......everyone has a right to eat where and what they want, and hopefully get it prepared and served by the person they want it from...if that makes any sense.

                                                The OP came on with some very good observations, and there have been equally well worded counterpoints....I am simply voicing support for the OP's premise that life is too short to pay big money for rudeness and arrogance wrt to FOOD.

                                                If someone disagrees with that....also perfectly free to do so....it is just probably someone that I would not want to share a meal with.

                                                Best Regards,

                                                STeven Garsson

                                                1. re: STevenGarsson

                                                  FWIW, I respect your follow up post. If you don't care or want to deal with a sushi chef and decide that therefore you're going to do your own thing, all the best to you.
                                                  It's different than the attitude that I AM CUSTOMER and therefore the chef should do whatever I want. (That's a bit OT because I know that's not what the OP had in mind.)

                                        2. re: NAspy

                                          Second your post on all points

                                          1. re: NAspy

                                            I'm greatfull for the information here. When a thread gets this long, and I've tried a particular restaurant the law of averages usually is consistant. That being said I find the following comment in general ludicrous

                                            I don't expect chefs to be friendly, really any more than I *expect* a doctor or a lawyer to be friendly.

                                            Lawyers, Doctors, and "Chefs" are not God, are not special or different (as people) then any other person. They've learned a craft, kudos to them. It doesn't cost any more, or take additional time to be friendly, and actually would probably relieve their stress. I expect everyone to treat me as I would them.

                                            DISPLAY KITCHENS: and Sushi Bars probably led the way, the chef is out in front and he had better well be at least, nice. You really want to look at someone the whole meal that looks annoyed. THere are plenty of restaurants for them to be their nasty selves in the back room.

                                            1. re: LuigiOrtega

                                              Ah but, we all have a different idea of rude and polite and those ideas change depending on culture. The sushi chef is sometimes easily insulted by Westerners, but I don't think it's any different in most other cultures. Americans tend to mostly mirror European values and generally find it easy to get along. Far Eastern culture is much more difficult for most of us, so it may require a bit more patience and understanding. Don't forget, most diners scoff at the idea of a non-Japanese sushi chef and want an "authentic" experience. Given that, it is understandable that you have insulted Keizo based upon a set of values with which you may not be familiar or even aware of. Don't take it too personally and recognize it could happen anywhere, although in most restaurants we instinctively know where to tread lightly.

                                              1. re: cls

                                                I somewhat agree with both of you... I can completely see where Keizo-san gets his approach toward the relationship between him and his guests. In fact, I remember chiming in about this to a certain degree on a similar Sushi-Zo thread last year. Anyway, IMHO, Keizo-san falls in one of what I consider to be two schools of itamae personalities.

                                                The first is the itamae who is congenial, relatively soft-handed, and more-or-less a partner - albeit a (hopefully) better schooled partner - in the understanding of this particular cuisine. There can be a fair amount of interplay between you and this type of itamae. Seeing eye-to-eye is more of a possibility here. Your likes, dislikes, and level of adventure are somewhat to very important. This itamae probably constitutes the younger half of the itamae population, may or may not have received a formal apprenticeship in the art/craft of sushi, and may have left Japan because he or she was "the nail on the board that stood out." At the end of the experience, the guest may feel a new friend has been made.

                                                The second school is who many regard as the Sushi Nazi. Far more heavy-handed, very specific rules may apply, less consideration as to what the guest may or may not prefer, and the itamae in this case is obviously not a partner but the Alpha-leader. Based on what this itamae has found to be the best at the market, and what most likely he (as opposed to 'or she') considers the optimal way to serve these particular finds at the market, you will find little or no wiggle-room in his omakase. This school of itamae is old school. Probably at least a generation older than the average "partner" itamae, he falls in the older half of the itamae population, was schooled differently, much more regimented from day one, and the classic Japanese feudal-based superior-subordinate based relationship that exists with everyone he comes in contact with is firmly entrenched in his psyche. If this itamae was to eat at a humble ramen stand that is his favorite go-to place, he would be the subordinate. But in his realm, he is and always will be the superior. Through massive iterations of following another itamae's path, he is highly honed in his skills, knowledge, and intuition, and like his predecessors, the guest can be rest assured that this itamae has cleared the way for the most exceptional experience based on what he as to work with. Nothing else that was offered to him at the market earlier that day would pass his discerning eye; therefore, only what appears before you as a guest is worthy of eating today. This obviously varies depending on the day or season, but questioning this itamae, and how the question is posed, obviously can bring mixed results. It is clear that Keizo-san is in this school.

                                                I think some other factors have played into Keizo-san's behavior. Just his place's popularity on this site alone (and other sites as well) has probably drawn far more novices to his place. I think if 90% of his guests were Porthos- or Exilekiss-like, he could operate on cruise-control. However, being the stickler that he is, if Keizo-san feels that even the remotest of possibilities exists where a given guest(s) might defame one of his creations, he is quick to guide, no insist, that one should approach this or that particular sushi in his way.

                                                Another issue that comes with fame is volume. We all know that this particular type of food experience is quite different than most others. Experiences like omakase and kaiseki were never meant to be assembly-line. In general, I think Keizo-san has surpassed the optimal level of his and his place's abilities to do things as he probably wants them to be. Having tons of business is a great thing in general, but in this case, he may not want to admit it, but he may have to change his formula. I am sure he has wrestled with this conundrum time and again, but many in his position in small businesses have a very difficult time changing their business model to accommodate growth. And in this particular case, where quality is so important, Keizo-san probably perceives no one else can do it the way he does. In his mind, what option does that leave him with?

                                                As much as I think many of us may or may not understand this itamae's frame-of-mind, at the same time, as I mentioned in my post down-thread, this is not Japan - this is LA. Tempering his approach may be a favor Keizo-san can lay upon himself. But then again, he is old-school, and one may just have to take him at face value. And that is where your dollars decide what is important to you...

                                                1. re: cls

                                                  The idea (see CLS, above) that a sushi chef has to be Japanese makes about as much sense as the idea that a Mercedes mechanic needs to be German or a Ferrari mechanic needs to be Italian. There is no mystical or instinctive ability that comes from matching the ethnicity of the worker with that of the product. What does matter is skill and understanding, and both of those things can be learned. Other things that need to be learned are that courtesy is best repaid with courtesy and that unhappy customers don't come back.

                                                  1. re: bagdoodle

                                                    Although I agree in principle, tell me how many sushi bars helmed by non-Japanese chefs there are? Not that I think it's right, but it is the way it is. If you disagree, tell me which sushi bars you frequent? So, accepting that most diners want a Japanese chef (I think that point is incontrovertible) doesn't it make sense that a different standard comes with that?
                                                    Courtesy means different things to different people. Understanding other people's definition is called class, not making an effort to understand is arrogance. My point is directed at the "he's in America therefore he should run his restaurant according to American standard of politeness" people. Outside of America, the customer is not always right.
                                                    I was not at Sushi Zo for the OP's experience, nor am I saying that Keizo was right. What I am saying is that perhaps there are two sides. I find it incredible that there is so much resistance to the idea that others have different values and cultures, especially considering that we, the customers, have asked for it.

                                                    1. re: cls

                                                      I was surprised to discover that there are a lot of sushi bars with Korean (or in one case, even hispanic) chefs, and the ones I've tried have generally been thoroughly enjoyable, if not either particularly pricey or pretentious.

                                                      Other people certainly have the right to different values. Perhaps that was why, when I've had sushi in Japan, and have dipped it in a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi, my Japanese hosts have never been so discourteous as to "correct" me.

                                                      Incidentally, I can't recall ever seeing anyone ask the chef for his passport or birth certificate before ordering sushi. Perhaps the preference for genuine Japanese sushi chefs isn't all that "incontrovertible".

                                                      1. re: cls

                                                        Yes, outside of AMerica, the customer is not always right.

                                                        Keizo isn't wokring outside of the US. He isnt working at the Japanese consulate.

                                                        If people are upset with his behavior, they have every right not to go and not to be labelled provincial or limited because their expectations aren't being met. Keizo has a business license issued by a US agency. He is inspected by US public health officials who do understand that perhaps things are done differently abroad, but if you do certain things here, you'll get a C.

                                                        Apparently, Keizo is not wanting for customers. Unfortunately, he will not be able to rely on certain posters here for his livelihood.

                                                        Full disclosure, I am perfectly happy with the shibucho restaurants for my serious sushi needs. I don't mind being told soy or no soy as it makes me feel as though the chef is concerned with my enjoyment of the dish. As well, if there's already ponzu or nuta or some sauce on it, I wouldn't dip it, but i don't mind being told in a solicitous manner.

                                                        As well,I'm not a fan of the spicy anything rolls or insane futomaki of some sushi bars. If the fish is fresh, why add mayo and chili? that's a personal thing, and i was pleased when shige explained at shibucho to a new customer that he didn't make that kind of roll. When the customer insisted and offered to walk Shige through the steps of making a spicy tuna roll, Shige suggested that the customer find a bar that would accomodate him.

                                                        A bit of rudeness - yes, shige told him that what he had ordered to that point was on the house but that the meal was over. And he wouldn't serve him, and the customer and his friend left.

                                                        But, the customer had every right to feel slighted. I don't go to Noe because I love foie gras and hate it sweet. So I don't go. Is the customer right in this case? Well, I'm right in that I don't patronize places where I dont care for the cuisine or where the attitude or service makes me uncomfortable.

                                                        And so it goes.

                                                        (provincial, I?


                                                        1. re: Jerome

                                                          Great story about Shibucho, Jerome. Shige-san is all class. Love his stuff.

                                                          This has been an unexpectedly long thread, punctuated by occasional bursts of eloquence. Perhaps I am oversimplifying, but I'll say it anyways:

                                                          We are blessed with many dining establishments in L.A.
                                                          If you like a place, go back.
                                                          If you don't, don't go back.

                                                  2. re: LuigiOrtega

                                                    Sorry you think that response of mine was ludricous. Certainly, doctors, lawyers and chefs aren't god. Nor are patrons of a restaurant who expect a chef to supplicate themselves to a diner's need to show off by inartfully criticizing the chef's choice of what he serves.

                                                    My comment was merely meant to say that I find it puzzling that some diners seem to think that a friendly sushi chef is as indispensible to the experience as the quality of the food. Some have pointed out that they do consider that part of the experience and I respect their views. Yet you choose to be insulting of those who disagree with you. That is apparently how you treat people, and it is not surprising that you were invited to take your patronage elsewhere.

                                                2. i agree that a friendly chef is very important.
                                                  i find the personal relationship between chef and customer to be crucial.
                                                  i ate here with my sister when they first opened.
                                                  we both agreed to food to be phenomenal.
                                                  but the guy said some things that made me literally roll my eyes back.
                                                  i also suspect he overcharged us on that meal.

                                                  i live basically a half mile north of this restaurant and i never went back.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: modernist

                                                    when they first opened and i ate there, there were 2 meals for which i'm pretty positive i was undercharged.

                                                  2. I don't think Sushi Zo is that bad (in terms of service and quality), but I do agree that it is a bit overpriced. It's almost ludicrous to mention Urasawa in the same breath as Zo, since I don't think I've ever received better service and a better experience than at Urasawa.

                                                    Anyway, I mainly wanted to comment about the repeated soy sauce warnings. I'm pretty sure sushi "nazis" didn't start telling Americans not to use soy sauce just to be snobs or sticklers. They probably started doing it because every guest in their restaurants started mixing the wasabi and soy sauce (and sometimes even the ginger) and dunking their painstakingly crafted pieces of fish in that little concoction. You have to remember, most diners out there aren't Chowhounders and don't pay attention to this sort of thing.

                                                    21 Replies
                                                    1. re: andytseng

                                                      my sushi partner and i did a 'side by side' omakase competition about 3 months ago going to mori one night and to sushi zo the next.

                                                      we both agreed that mori won it in the categories of:
                                                      charm of the itamae,
                                                      flair in presentation, and
                                                      variety and presentations of fish.
                                                      sushi zo won it hands-down in the category of:
                                                      exquisite flavor of the fish

                                                      i guess it comes down to what criteria you feel are the most important.

                                                      1. re: andytseng

                                                        I went to Zo with my mom and her friend who was visiting from Japan a few yrs back. My mom and her friend are very Japanese and every time our pieces came out they'd announce "no soy sauce". After a while it was sort of obvious to all three of us. Being native Japanese and all it was even more obvious and it became rather annoying. I'm not sure if I can think of an American equivalent but maybe serving a burger w/ catsup and telling the customer how to eat it? hmmm...maybe not...in any case we liked our sushi but we all got annoyed at the one piece at a time ordeal and the announcement. and really, who cares if you put extra soy sauce or wasabi on your sushi? sure, it may be not how you're supposed to eat it but you're paying for it.

                                                        1. re: trolley

                                                          I was trying to think of an equivalent to the "no soy sauce" rule -- it'd be like telling someone no soy sauce on your rice or no sugar in your tea in a chinese restaurant?

                                                          1. re: Sarah

                                                            Also you'd have to be in a foreign country like let's say Paris and you go to an American restaurant and each time the waiter tells you how to eat your mac and cheese dish. Zo isn't bad for sushi but it takes a certain person to like it with their particular service. It's too bad the Keizo-san is not very friendly. He was pretty neutral to us but it didn't really phase us b/c I think we had other issues. The sushi chef should be nice especially b/c he's out in front dealing w/ customers face to face.

                                                            1. re: trolley

                                                              I guess you've never ordered frites in Paris and asked for ketchup. They'll tell you how to eat then. Or try ordering a cappuccino in Italy after noon, or parmesan with seafood pasta, or going to Providence and wanting tartar sauce, or, or, or... I'm just sayin'

                                                              1. re: cls

                                                                I actually lived in Paris for 3 months and not once did I get a comment on how to eat my pomme frites. I believe several time I did ask for ketchup but never got a comment from the server. But why would I go to Providence and ask for tartar sauce? Soy sauce is an integral condiment for sushi but tartar sauce is not. I don't think it's inappropriate to dip your sushi in soy sauce.

                                                                1. re: trolley

                                                                  When my wife was still in high school, the family was on the Brittany coast one year and visited a well-known oyster house. When Papa asked for lemon, the waiter sneered, "Monsieur, this is a restaurant, not a fruit stand!" Damn good thing he hadn't asked for cocktail sauce...

                                                                2. re: cls

                                                                  There is one fundamental flaw with what you're saying. None of those examples are sitting on the table in front of you. If they really want to dictate where and when soy sauce should be applied they should remove it from their tables. Don't serve me a plate of french fries and then scowl when I pick up the salt.

                                                            2. re: trolley

                                                              "but we all got annoyed at the one piece at a time ordeal and the announcement."

                                                              What do you mean by one piece at a time ordeal?

                                                              Anyway, I think the equivalent would be ordering a steak at a nice restaurant and dunking it in A1.

                                                              1. re: andytseng

                                                                i LOVE the fact that they serve one piece at a time!
                                                                that way, the temperature is perfect for every piece at the time it goes in my mouth.
                                                                once they served some fish to a couple when the husband was in the bathroom. they took the husband's piece back and discarded it and served him a fresh piece of fish when he returned to the table.
                                                                i doubt that they would still do this, but still, very impressive dedication.

                                                                1. re: andytseng

                                                                  so you don't use soy sauce when eating sushi? i don't use A1 when eating steak and sometimes enjoy a balsamic glaze but always use soy when eating sushi, except when it's pre-dressed. my point was that we got tired of the reminder of soy or no soy. to a native japanese person it's pretty obvious. we've been eating this stuff forever. honestly, we sat at a table since we would have been split up if we sat at the bar. it was the first time for all of us and thought the sushi would come out on a plate.

                                                                  1. re: trolley

                                                                    I still don't get what you mean by the one piece at a time ordeal?

                                                                    I've had omakase lunches and dinners in Japan, and they served it one piece at a time as well.

                                                              2. re: andytseng

                                                                exactly. Look there is a sushi chef in SF that is well known for the same thing and is known for having one of the very best sushi bars in the Bay Area. In fact, I was there once when a patron was scolded for keeping his sushi sitting in soy. I can understand, i guess, being a bit annoyed by the reminders, but I have no doubt that, every day, he has people coming in asking for a Dragon Roll, or Cream Cheese Roll or....well you get the idea.

                                                                Signs on etiquette at the bar??? So what? Ignore them, as you would a "no shirt, no shoes, no service" sign. There arent alot of truly good sushi bars. There are thousand of mediocre ones. If these are his minor attempts and education, then so be it. Doesnt bother me at all.
                                                                And as far as the fish, I thought it was the best i have had stateside.

                                                                1. re: andytseng

                                                                  speaking of AUTHENTIC JAPANESE...
                                                                  I had brought some friends, fresh off the airplane from Tokyo. They were speaking to Keizo san in Japanese and, it was obvious they were natives. My friends were rather offended by how "the chef told them how to eat their sushi." Perhaps it is a cultural thing. I'm not Japanese and, I am really annoyed by their constant reminders of what to put soy or no on... especially when it's been like, my 27th time there. Perhaps I should've just saved all that money from Zo and gone to Urasawa.
                                                                  Another thing my Japanese guests commented on was, there is not one single respectable sushi place in japan that serves sushi on warm rice... its like serving your Champagne at a cabernet temperature... it just isn't right.

                                                                  1. re: banquisha

                                                                    If any of you saw Anthony Bourdain's Tokyo episode where he ate at Sukiyabashi Jiro, he also got a standard omakase (of mostly typical seasonal items but nothing uber exotic). Every item was pre-sauced and judging from other CHers comments that is the way sushi is and apparently has been. Only difference is that Jiro doesn't have a sign that says "trust me, no big ass stupid name rolls please" and he doesn't tell you "soy sauce please" or "no soy sauce please".

                                                                    Sushi rice should really be at room temperature. The "warm" Keizo rice is very similar to Sasabune's hotter rice with frozen fish. My biggest beef about the nigiri at Zo is that 80% of the nigiri I picked up with my fingers broke apart by the time I put it in my mouth. I'm pretty sure that does not happen at Mori, Urasawa, Yasuda or Masa. Also too much presaucing causes drippage and/or soaking into the rice, causing the shari to crumple. Pretty much a big no no here.

                                                                    But on the upside, when I went a year ago, good selection, 22 kinds of fish (some common fare but others were spot on). Great in house seasoned konbu soy sauce reduction (finger licking good). And how can you not love that yuzu nectar thingie.

                                                                    1. re: banquisha

                                                                      Your point about your Japanese guests' comment on the nigiri's temperature is well-taken. At the same time, I think since this is LA, and Sushi-Zo is Keizo-san's show, he has the license to serve things as he feels fit. Open forums like this one help us all navigate through the maze of places and styles that are out there.

                                                                      I know this is obvious to you and others, but maybe it begs repeating. The thing to remember about cuisines from other countries that are represented outside of their geographic locales is that they are often transformed, bastardized, evolved, altered - whatever one wants to call it - for an endless number of reasons.

                                                                      Does authenticity have a place in the food world? Sure it does, but I personally don't think this standard has to be held to every dish that is presented to every eater. As refined as your guests' understanding on the topic of authentic Japanese sushi seems, maybe they're misinterpreting the experience that they hopefully enjoyed nonetheless. Maybe Keizo-san wasn't planning to blindly follow each and every dictate of traditional Japanese takes on what sushi is and how it is to be served.

                                                                      I personally like nigiri to be warm, as I do rice in general. Using the "champagne served at cabernet temperature" reference, I do enjoy some white wines at or near room temperature. Reason being, I can better pick up on certain notes in the bouquet and certain taste aspects of the wine are amplified when served at or slightly below room temperature. I feel sushi is the same. When a beautiful slice of o-toro in all of its unctuous glory is placed upon the warm nigiri and eaten immediately, the warmth of the rice melds with the o-toro in my mouth, giving the o-toro a more sublime buttery texture and amplifying the somewhat subtle flavors. I think this transformation is true for many ingredients that are used in making sushi. So many of the treasures pulled from the sea have very subtle flavors, particularly when eaten raw, and a slight increase in temperature coaxes out certain flavors and essences that one might not pick up on as easily if the rice were at a cooler temperature. This is intuitive for Keizo-san, and regardless of tradition, his take on what sushi is and how each type of neta should be served to experience its highest potential is defined by him. And I think this is what omakase is about. Put your trust in the itamae, and hopefully he or she will elevate your eating experience to a level that otherwise you may not have been able to achieve on your own...

                                                                      1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                        i couldn't agree with you more.
                                                                        beautifully stated.

                                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                            delightfully eloquent, bulavinaka. I think there is a tear in my eye.

                                                                            1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                              Since I'm certain this subject will come up a few hundred more times, can we get bulavinaka's response stickied for future reference? It should be required reading for LA sushi eaters.

                                                                              1. re: creamfinger

                                                                                I would hope that all diners read bulavinaka's post. A restaurant is a place where you are coming into someone's house. I wonder how many of you go into your friends houses and tell them what is wrong with there furniture. I understand that you are paying for a product, but you also have a choice on where you spend your money. If you find it rude to have a trained chef suggesting how you eat HIS food to make it more enjoyable, then maybe this is not the right spot for you. I have never been to this restaurant, but I am guessing he is very passionate and just wants you to have the full experience. Our country is being saturated with bad food and chefs that are aspiring for fame, I think we should appreciate this passion and welcome it; not defame it on a website.

                                                                        1. I"m curious if the OP has been to Shibucho on beverly blvd or the Shibucho in Costa mesa? for my money - shige an dshibutani are two fo the best sushi chefs around.
                                                                          in fact - shige often declines omakase for patrons he doesn't know. but will do it at insistence. (kawasaki was another great chef - at sushi go 55 for a while and elsewhere, no idea where he is now). Definitely worht trying - attitude as well, but less harried (at least shige - shibutani never throws attitude).

                                                                          As fro a restaurant is someone's home - i respectfully disagree. A retaurant is a place of business, specializing in performing a service that one doesn't usually get at home. A larger selection of dishes, possibly beaiutiful settings nad cutlery - possibly being served by someone who isn't eating with you...getting food that you might not prepare or that anyone might not prepare at home...

                                                                          I'm not going to expect my hosts to have a selection of over 20 kinds of fresh raw fish at the ready.
                                                                          This is a busines and these are professionals - or should be. Drinks should be checked and offered, the place should be clean, and I will pay - and I woul dhave no problem if service were always included if it assured professional service.

                                                                          Don't kid yourself - no matter how pleasant the front of the house is, or how friendly the staff, this is a business. And you should pay. And if someone is treating you in a manner that's unacceptable TO YOU, let whomever is in charge know, and take your custom elsewhere.

                                                                          One coudl see Keizo's instructions as being solicitous and trying to help you enjoy the piece as it's designed. I've seen people (one e.g. from Taiwan) drench nay drown sushi in soy. If you're insulted, you know your options.

                                                                          Check out the shibucho places.

                                                                          And i repeat - even at Babita - you are really not in anyone's home - i don't tip the hostess when i'm invited to a dinner party.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Jerome

                                                                            I second on your recommendation of Shibutani-san (Shibucho in Costa Mesa), As for Kawasaki-san, he is now working at Sushi Kiyono (255 S Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills 90212). I know that you knew both of them when at different times, both used to occupy the current Sushi Go 55. Both of them have always been IMO excellent itamaes. It is really a shame that Kawasaki-san has not really been able to find a suitable place to open up again. I know for a fact that his fans have been helping him on the side but no word yet.

                                                                            1. re: jotfoodie

                                                                              How is Sushi Kiyono? I live nearby.

                                                                              1. re: omotosando

                                                                                The only reason I went there was because of Kawasaki. Frankly, I would not recommend it. He told me that he did not have much freedom to get the fish he wanted, as he had in his past stints all over Los Angeles. He just have the basic sushi fare to serve on whatever the owner ordered from the fish purveyor, nothing really special. Sorry

                                                                              2. re: jotfoodie

                                                                                Shibucho is not really on the level of Zo.

                                                                            2. I just returned from Sushi Zo, and I have to say, it seemed just as good as the last 5 times or so that I've been there -- except it was much more crowded than usual. Keizo was even making faces and cracking jokes, something I've never seen him do before.

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: webb

                                                                                Is he doing the yuzu thing? That yuzu concoction is sooo good.

                                                                                1. re: J.L.

                                                                                  Yeah, yuzu at the end of the meal -- very tasty.

                                                                              2. Man what a long and controversial thread. I have not gone to Sushi Zo and am curious about it (haven't decided to go or not). The only few things I can say is that I think there is a difference between rude and reserved/not so friendly/but respectful. I don't think anybody should be nasty to somebody for no good provocation.

                                                                                Even though sushi is a Japanese cuisine, most people don't eat it everyday or even that often in Japan. Why? It's damn expensive. A lot of my Japanese friends, who aren't exactly poor, are so amazed at how much cheaper sushi is here compared to the homeland. And most people in Japan who do eat it, don't often get to eat it the best way (I do believe the best sushi places always serve it on warm rice and room temp fish) because of cost. Think about this, how many Americans get to eat dry-aged, prime steak at a Peter Luger's, Wolfgang's, Cut, or even Morton's (wet aged)? Chances are most Americans go to Chili's, Carrows, Norms, or some other diner for steak. I'm not knocking on them, but you can't tell me that just because most people eat steak like that, that is the proper way to have it.

                                                                                That being said, I totally agree with the post saying that these are businesses and not homes, so unnecessary rudeness need not apply. Even if the food is great, it's not worth it in my opinion.

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: martiniman

                                                                                  I guess where i disagree with the direction of this thread is that he (Keizo) is rude in the first place. I've been there many times and i only have seen him yell once at a customer who he asked to end his cell phone call and who pretty much ignored him. I think its incredibly rude to be having a cell phone conversation in a restaurant so i sympathized with him. Other than that one instance, i have found him to be a pretty nice guy and am not sure where this reputation comes from. Just my personal observations and opinion.

                                                                                  1. re: carln

                                                                                    I have had sushi at most of the places mentioned in the US top lists and place Zo right there along with Yasuda in NYC. Something went wrong with the original OP's meal, granted. I don't like any sushi place for dinner as much as I do lunch and the weekends are when even the best can get sloppy.

                                                                                    As for Keizo, I will defend him wholeheartedly, based on my experience alone. He is stern but also sincere and disciplined. I'm not there to make friends with him, though I kind of do. So I guess I trust my gut on this one. Zo it is. Be careful, always, about who you are getting your advice from.