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May 24, 2009 08:48 PM

Isolationist Sushi (or, Good Sushi For When You Don't Feel Like Having An Itamae) - Sushi Zo [Review] w/ Pics!

(Formatted with All Pictures here:

Sushi is probably one of my all-time, favorite types of food. And after having "graduated" from Nobu / Matsuhisa to Sasabune, Nozawa and Shibucho, and then to Sushi Zo, Mori Sushi, Urasawa and Sushi Mizutani, I was surprised when I realized that I hadn't been back to Sushi Zo since my last Japan Trip in 2008. Before I left for Japan, Sushi Zo was easily one of my favorite Sushi restaurants in L.A., so it was with great anticipation that I returned to Sushi Zo to see how it compared to my last visit and my experiences in Japan.

Located on a low-key, mini-mall stretch of National Boulevard, Sushi Zo is the result of Chef-Owner Keizo Seki (formerly of Hide Sushi). The interior is a rather intimate space, with only a few sparse tables with the Sushi Bar being front-and-center when you enter.

On this visit (Wednesday), I enlisted one of my long-time Sushi Hounds to join me in this excursion. :) We were seated in front of Keizo-san, and when we tried to greet Keizo-san or make eye-contact, we noticed a palpable tension and uneasiness in the air. I knew of his gruffness and aloof attitude, but it was never as apparent as it was this evening (on my previous visit we ended up having a brief, fun conversation and his attitude had subsided (towards the end of the meal)). But it was about ~70% capacity at dinner time, and I decided it might be that he was too busy.

After the waitress took our drink order - we asked the waitress to have Keizo-san recommend a Sake for our fish tonight, which turned out to be Yukishibare Sake from Hokkaido, Japan - Chef Keizo briefly looked up after a few minutes and gruffly asked us if we had any fish that we didn't want (no greeting other than an angry facial expression). I spoke in Japanese to Keizo-san and greeted him, and at that point, he seemed to calm down a bit and returned a greeting to us. (The Yukishibare Sake was an excellent choice: Lightly sweet, with a sharp initial bite, ending with a very clean finish. Excellent.)

After that point, we sat back and watched Chef Keizo work. Keizo-san now has *2* assistants working with him at the Sushi Bar (versus the 1 assistant from my last visit), and even at only 70% capacity, we noticed he was furiously cutting and working away. He looked pensive and made eye contact with no one at the Sushi Bar and never looked around the restaurant, either.

Our first course arrived after about five minutes of waiting: Kumamoto Oyster. After having mixed results with Oysters in the month of May, I was pleasantly surprised by the stunningly fresh Kumamoto here. It was so sweet and exuded a clean, pure ocean breeze flavor. Excellent!

One more note on Chef Seki's attitude: Over the past year, I've encountered many wonderful itamae (Sushi Chefs) that I've been able to have good conversations with about the fish, where it's from, and interesting points about certain types of fish, etc., but at Zo, when I asked the waitress in Japanese about talking to Keizo-san about the fish, she looked *scared*, and then quietly told me that it would be really bad to talk to him about anything, and that he was too busy. (Hence why I don't have any of the origins listed like I normally do.)

As we finished the Kumamoto Oyster, our next course arrived almost immediately after, setting a tone for the rest of the evening: Maguro Sashimi (Tuna Sashimi). The Maguro was extremely tender and meaty, with a good structure (without being too soft). The dab of Wasabi with his Tare Sauce were the perfect complement.

The next course arrived at lightning speed after we just finished the Maguro: Uni Ika Somen (Sea Urchin Roe with Squid "Noodles"). The Uni was *so* sweet and fresh, and mixed with the thin strips of fresh Squid cut into noodle-like shapes to make a creamy, slippery, silky dish.

Our nigiri portion of the course began at this point, starting with: Hirame Sushi (Flounder). Seasoned with a touch of Sea Salt and Lemon, the Hirame itself was a nice cut, with no gristle / connective tissue (as expected), and a good freshness, but one shocking failure came shining through at this point: Gristly, mealy Sushi Rice.

While the fish / neta is usually the star and highlight of every piece of Sushi, the grains of Rice beneath each piece of fish is equally important in its own way. Perhaps I've just gotten spoiled with the legendary Sushi Mizutani and the amazing, custom-grown Rice at Mori Sushi, but the Sushi Rice for every single piece of Nigiri we had this evening exhibited the same disappointing qualities: Mealy, unappetizing Sushi Rice that undermined each piece of fish that we ate. It was really distracting. :( (This has never been a problem before, with Keizo-san's Rice being decent, but never this gristly.)

Next up was Aji (Horse Mackerel) served with Keizo-san's housemade Shoyu (Soy Sauce), a bit of Negi (Green Onions) and Yuzu Citrus Juice. This naturally oily fish was masterfully prepared with the Yuzu, Negi and Shoyu really minimizing any fishiness. The Ajji was meaty with an inherent (good) pungent quality. But it should be noted that the Rice once again distracted from the fish.

Continuing on, the Hotategai (Scallop) was another excellent preparation, beautifully tender and very fresh. It was very good, but fell short of the surprisingly bright purity of Chef Cimarusti's Scallop Sashimi I had at Providence, and Mori Sushi's Hotategai (which better exhibited the inherent meatiness without sacrificing tenderness - all thanks to Mori-san's great knifework).

Sushi Zo's Bincho Maguro (Albacore Tuna) was one of the biggest surprises of the evening: Normally it can be rather plain, but Keizo-san presents an absolutely *buttery*, shockingly delicious version of Bincho Maguro. Outstanding! :)

One of my favorite fish arrived next: Hamachi (Yellowtail). Like the Albacore that we just had, the Hamachi was extremely buttery and creamy and very fresh. It was much better than the Hamachi we were served on our last visit.

Toro (Fatty Tuna Belly) was the next to arrive.

I remember Sushi Zo's Ohtoro (Fattiest Portion of Tuna Belly) as being my favorite Ohtoro in L.A., but sadly, Keizo-san said he was out of both Ohtoro and Chutoro. While nowhere nearly as good as the Ohtoro from my last visit, the regular Toro was very tender and buttery. Unfortunately there was some gristle/connective tissue in each piece of my Toro (my guest also had a piece of gristle in each of their pieces).

Our next dish was a nice surprise, and a rarer fish around town: Ebodai (Pacific Pompano). Essentially a type of Butterfish, the Pompano had a gorgeous visual layering of its meat, and was surprisingly sweet and buttery despite of how lean it looked. The housemade Yuzu Sauce provided the final, perfect accent. It was excellent (except for the terrible Rice).

The Kanpachi (Greater Amberjack) was a disappointment. It was noticeably dull and flat-tasting, and the very potent and pungent Yuzu Kosho (spicy Yuzu Fruit and Pepper Paste) seemed more like an attempt to hide the lack of freshness than support the Kanpachi's inherent qualities. The Kanpachi from my last visit to Zo was much better, and Urasawa's Kanpachi was also far more enjoyable.

Thankfully, Chef Keizo bounced back with another rare dish: Hagatsuo (Skipjack Tuna). Normally, the Toro Nigiri would signal the end of the buttery fish and the itamae would move on to another facet of fish to celebrate for the evening, so I was curious as to why there were more buttery / fatty dishes after the regular Toro. Now I know why:

The Hagatsuo was insanely good! It was beyond buttery and creamy, and easily surpassed the regular Toro we had earlier (it was more like something inbetween Chutoro and Ohtoro)! There was just a touch of some finely grated Ginger and Green Onions to play off the silky, fatty qualities of the Hagatsuo to perfection. My favorite of the evening. :)

After that stunning success, the next dish continued that trend: Ankimo (Monkfish Liver). Served very warm(!) (they had just finished steaming it), it was like Foie Gras but even cleaner and purer: Tender chunks of Monkfish Liver. The Nori (Dried Seaweed) and Rice, however, fell short.

Continuing on, Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp) was another excellent dish with purity and freshness that only comes from a freshly dispatched Live Shrimp. Beyond the vibrancy of the Sweet Shrimpt was the great muscular texture and the preparation by Keizo-san: Highlighting the seductive silky qualities along with a great firm, yet supple, texture in each bite.

Keizo-san's Kinmedai (Alfonsino) was a bit flat, with a good toothsome quality to the meat and a nice chew, but tasting rather dull.

The Mirugai (Geoduck Clam) bounced back nicely, with a great pairing with Sea Salt, Yuzu Citrus Juice and Shiso Leaf. The Mirugai was very meaty and firm, but still gave way easily with each bite. While this was good, I felt the cut and preparation from Mori, Urasawa and Sushi Mizutani were ahead of this.

The Shima-Aji (Yellow Jack) was my guest's previous #2 favorite fish from our previous visit, so I was really looking forward to it again when Keizo-san presented it to us. It was lightly creamy and had a very clear and clean-tasting flesh, but didn't seem as vibrant as our last visit (again, the Rice didn't help at all).

The next dish was another rarity: Tara (Cod) just barely cooked through, served with a sweet Miso Ginger Mayo Sauce. The Tara was beautifully moist and tender (perfectly cooked), but the Miso Ginger Mayo Sauce overpowered the fish, lending an off-putting, cloyingly sweet quality to the whole dish.

It was also nice to try the Sumi Ika (Squid), which has a good creamy quality, with the meat disintegrating after each bite(!). I was expecting more chew, but the Sumi Ika actually broke down extremely fast.

Another previous favorite of mine at Sushi Zo was the Kurodai (Black Snapper), and generally this was a good cut of fish. There was a distinctive textural highlight here, with a good chew with each bite of this fish. The flavors were really well-balanced, not too oily, fatty nor lean.

The Madai (Red Snapper) was sauced with Keizo-san's housemade Shoyu, and tasted a bit too mellow and flat. It didn't taste overly fishy (old), but it lacked the brightness that you've come to expect at top Sushi restaurants.

The Meji Maguro (Young Tuna) was another favorite of mine from before, and I was hoping Keizo-san would have it in stock today, and thankfully he did. :) Served with his housemade Ponzu Sauce, the Meji Maguro was far more compelling than standard Maguro (Tuna) and the even, well-balanced Ponzu really helped to brighten up the Meji Maguro.

Next up was the Sake (Salmon), which proved to be really disappointing. It was overly sweet and a bit too mushy.

At this point, Keizo-san brought out a classic pairing of Uni (Sea Urchin Roe) and Ikura (Salmon Roe). It feels like I hardly run into good Ikura these days, but Keizo-san's Ikura was very vibrant and fresh, with little, lightly salty flavor explosions as I bit down onto each sphere.

The Uni was about ~85% pure. There was a noticeable briny aftertaste (bad), which was far worse than my previous visit to Zo. It could just be an off-night / bad timing, as Uni's shelf life is extremely short. It was good, but nowhere near the 99%+ of Urasawa or the perfect 100% Uni at Mizutani.

Next was Anago (Conger Eel), beautifully baked, clean-tasting and only lightly sweet from the homemade Tare Sauce.

Finishing up the regular course, Keizo-san ended with a Toro Roll (Fatty Tuna Belly Handroll). The regular Toro itself was nice and creamy, and thankfully without any of the gristle / connective tissue found in the regular Toro Sushi that Keizo-san served earlier. The Nori (Dried Seaweed) was decent, but nowhere near the sublime Nori from Saga, Japan used at Mori Sushi.

At this point, Keizo-san stopped his mad cutting, and asked us if we wanted anything else, as this was the end of the Omakase course. We requested one more round of the Ankimo and ended with his Tamagoyaki (Cooked Egg) to see how Keizo-san's skills were with this classic dish. The Tamagoyaki turned out to be extremely moist and light, with some nice layering.

And as is customary at Sushi Zo, when we asked for the check, our waitress brought out their signature Yuzu Drink, made with the gorgeous Yuzu Citrus Juice, lightly sweet, but never cloying and so full of the sense of Spring. While the Yuzu was precious, today's portion was very meager, with less than a normal shot of the delicious liquid (far less than our previous visit).

Service was really perfunctory and workmanlike: There were two waitresses covering the entire restaurant, so plates were haphazardly cleared, and drink requests were stalled a few times as we waited for one of the servers to make eye contact our way. With Keizo-san never making eye contact with us and just too busy to notice anything, that wasn't a route either (to have him get the attention of the servers to get more Sake or refills on Tea for us). In addition, one of the waitresses seemed to have adopted Keizo-san's gruff attitude, having a really poor attitude when we finally got her attention to ask for more Sake or refilles on Tea (she had an angry demeanor and made us feel like we were troubling her unnecessarily).

The Omakase course this evening (with the Sake) turned out to be $175 per person (including tax and tip), slightly more than our previous visits.

At this point in time, Sushi Zo has some significant problems depending on the type of Sushi experience you're looking for. They still serve a nice variety of fish, with some rarer offerings, but have failed in 2 key areas: The Sushi Rice and the Itamae (Sushi Chef)-Customer relationship. The Sushi Rice was so bad this evening, so mealy and gritty, that it distracted from every single piece of Sushi that we had (no hyperbole). :( There's simply no comparison with the rice from Mori Sushi, Urasawa and Sushi Mizutani.

Furthermore, the overall ambiance has become completely unwelcoming and uncomfortable. For example, the breakneck speed that Keizo-san was working at and presenting each piece of Sushi was really absurd, as we had almost no time to savor the current piece of Sushi before the next piece was put down in front of us. I didn't time it, but looking at the time-stamps for each of my photographs, we averaged *2 minutes* from the time a new piece of Sushi was put down to the time the next piece of Sushi came out. There were many times during the night that literally as either my guest or I had just barely put the current piece of Sushi in our mouths, Keizo-san was putting down the next piece. From the first piece to the final piece, we finished up the course in 59 minutes(!). Sushi Zo feels like a Sushi Factory at this point, with Keizo-san and his two assistants constantly prepping, cutting and serving dishes throughout the night, and rushing to shove the next piece of Sushi in front of the customer as if in the hopes to get them out the door as soon as possible.

To make matters worse - and maybe it's because I've met so many *nice* itamae over the past year or so - but Keizo-san's brooding, taciturn, borderline angry demeanor has really gotten worse over time. As a good Sushi Chef, how can you gauge how your customers - your patrons who keep you in business - are doing and what they enjoy or not, if you don't even make eye contact with them, and refuse to talk to them?

Now of course, not every Sushi Chef has to be "best friends" with every single customer that walks in, but to not have the decency to welcome in customers as they enter, nor when they sit down in front of you (he maintained the same gruff, silent attitude to all the other Sushi Bar customers that sat down that evening), is not something I look forward to for my Sushi experience anymore. We saw it with Nozawa and Sasabune, and after the warm, genial attitude by Mori-san, after having insightful and down-to-earth conversations with Urasawa-san, and really interesting discussions about different types of Fish and funny life stories with Mizutani-sensei (who many consider to make some of the best Sushi in Tokyo), Chef Keizo's isolationist, muted attitude is no longer worth it. I'd rather save my money and experience far more exceptional Sushi (and a far better dining experience) at Mori Sushi, Urasawa and Sushi Mizutani.

*** Rating: 7.9 (out of 10.0) ***

Sushi Zo
9824 National Boulevard, Unit C
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Tel: (310) 842-3977

Hours: [Lunch] Mon - Fri, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 2:00 p.m.
[Dinner] Mon - Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.

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    3 Replies
    1. re: exilekiss

      Thanks for the update and the writeup!

      LA / Southern Cal certainly has high standards for sushi, even now I would say Sushi Zo trumps a lot of places in San Francisco Bay Area for variety and seasonal offerings alone.

      Do you eat nigiri with your fingers? The finger experience at Zo was not very good for me (Sept 07), as the warm sushi rice crumpled or broke into 2 pieces, apart 80% of the time I tried to eat with my hands, I hope he worked on compacting the shari since then (although somehow I doubt the average hipster diner there uses fingers).

      The whole ganko oyaji / stubborn "sushi nazi" chef attitude gimmick or schtick is really getting old and tired. But I can imagine how stressed or busy he is with all that press he's getting. Isolationist is certainly a PC way of putting it. I originally thought Keizo-san came from the Sasabune or Nozawa school when I was first (and last) at Sushi Zo, but I wonder why he's emulating them in that vein.

      Speaking of gruff, old school Hong Kong comic book Old Master Q had a parody of the characters eating at a restaurant called "Kung Fu Noodles". The concept was that the chef/waiter was a tough mean guy wearing a karate uniform in black belt, verbally abusing the customer to eat quick and fast or get beat up (although the food was aweful). Me thinks these gruff sushi chefs might as well put on kendo, samurai armor, or karate uniform...

      I'm guessing you didn't get the bluecrab handroll at the end because you spoke Japanese to him.

      1. re: K K

        Hi K K,

        Thanks. :) Yes, we encountered the same thing as you with the Sushi Rice falling apart on a few pieces (about ~20% of the pieces).

        And yah, I agree, the "sushi nazi" / angry, pensive itamae attitude has just gotten old and stale. I just don't want that from my sushi experience any more.

        That's funny about Old Master Q. :) Yah it feels like that's what Keizo-san should do at this point.

        1. re: exilekiss

          too bad,
          this is a restaurant that owes a large part of its success to CH

    2. Hi exile, nice report (as always) - I agree that Zo's sliding a bit...

      Did you go on a Saturday night? My experiences tell me that offerings tend to be more meager on weekends (yes, including Saturdays) at sushi joints.

      Sushi Kanesaka in Tokyo sets my uni standard. The Awaji Shima uni there is simply transcendent. Urasawa's uni is 1st in L.A., but Mori's uni is very, very close 2nd in L.A.

      ...Which brings me to the topic of rice - Mori's rice is always perfect. Though I've never complained about Zo's rice before, he should know that rice "makes or breaks" that bite in the customer's mouth.

      Anyways, I hope Zo was simply having an off night the time you went.

      11 Replies
      1. re: J.L.

        Hi J.L.

        Thank you. I went on a Wednesday night (I always go to Zo (and any Sushi bar on a weeknight)). It was definitely disappointing.

        I'll have to try Kanesaka next time in Tokyo (thanks for the rec! :).

        And yah, I totally agree: Mori-san's Rice is truly amazing. I've really gained a greater appreciation for it once you've had it and then go back to places that aren't as polished.

        1. re: exilekiss

          "Mori-san's Rice is truly amazing. I've really gained a greater appreciation for it once you've had it and then go back to places that aren't as polished."

          E-kiss, I think you've hit in on the head. LA sushi restaurants traditionally do not place much emphasis on the rice. The emphasis was, and for the most part still is, on "meltingly tender fish" which is what the Nozawa/Sasabune crowd goes for.

          While I liked Zo, I thought the rice and knifework was a weak point and thus have made Mori-san my go to sushi spot in LA. The rice as JL mentioned is always perfect. The uni, nori, and buri belly are spectacular. Though Mori-san carries fewer varieties of fish, he predominantly uses wild and in season fish which is also more to my liking.

          I think Mori-san does okay, but I do sense that it is difficult for him to maintain his standards because it can be difficult to appreciate his skill. This makes his restaurant less popular and less profitable than Sasabune and Zo (we had a nice rant one evening about the lack of appreciation for sushi rice in LA a la Nozawa and Sasabune).

          Despite Mori-san's obvious skill he is always happy to discuss fish and has been friendly from the first time I visited him 5 years or so ago. While Mori is not cheap, it is not cost prohibitive like Urasawa.

          I really hope we get more itames and sushi restaurants more in the vein of Mori. In my opinion we have more than enough from the Nozawa/Sasabune school as it is: hot rice, farmed fish, ponzu drenching, gruff itames...unfortunately, the list goes on and on.

          1. re: Porthos

            Hi Porthos,

            Thanks. Great post. In the past Zo's Rice was definitely a weak point, but for this last visit, it was far worse than the previous times.

            I agree with your sentiments: I hope there are more Sushi Chefs that follow in the vein of Mori-san. Now I have to go back (and remember not to order any of the excellent, tempting premium Sake to keep my tab in check :).

            1. re: exilekiss

              Another thing I remember about Zo that threw me off a little bit, was his rather liberal and at times heavy application of his in house nikiri or brush sauce on a number of servings. When too much sauce is applied, no matter how great tasting it is, would seep over and wet the sushi rice pad...and thus break it apart.

              While it worked great for maguro and certain richer flavor fish, I would have preferred him NOT brush that sauce over white fish, like kinmedai (even though the sauce was nice and delicious by itself). Zo's nikiri is a bit more concentrated in shoyu (although you can still taste katsuoboshi and konbu dashi) so it would have been better if he prepared a separate nikiri for lighter flavored fish (less shoyu concentration, more mirin and konbu dashi ratio's) which would work great on silvery fish like kohada as well. Or if he wrapped/marinated the white fish in konbu (like Porthos's favorite madai no konbu jime at Mori), like how they do it at Sushi Dai at Tsukiji Fish Market (using kinmedai, a signature of the restaurant's).

              But again, even on Zo's average or sub average day, they are still a helluva lot better than what I have in San Francisco Bay Area....

              1. re: K K

                Hi K K,

                Great point. Yes, there was some liberal saucing on quite a few pieces that caused my rice to break apart at times. That's also a great point about having separate nikiri.

                1. re: exilekiss

                  Another thing we noticed during our visit in Sept 07 (and for anyone else who went recently and sat in front of Keizo-san to observe, please chime in in case he's no longer doing this) was that the lid was constantly covering the rice cooker (holding the sushi rice) when not in use.

                  So everytime Keizo-san needed to hand scoop rice for nigiri, he would remove the lid to get what he needed, then put the lid back. And he did this repeatedly (remove lid, get rice, cover back) for each order. The missus noted how inefficient and strange this was, although it didn't bug me as much until she kept harping on it (no worries, she was making her criticisms in lower decibel Mandarin...) At the time he only had one assistant, doing the searing, brush saucing/plating if you will. I can only imagine what the other guy is responsible for.

                  And strangely each time Keizo had to prep his shari for the nigiri orders, he had to rotate his body (if not as much of his waist as possible) almost 90 degrees (due his 3'o clock east). Perhaps being behind the bar and lowered a bit, this seemed like an illusion.

                  I guess this is not as bad as a Yelp report I read from a friend who went to this "sustainable fish for sushi" restaurant (Chinese chef) who was basically showing his fat behind to the customer while molding his nigiri, indicating he had his ingredients positioned very inefficiently (sounded like that rice cooker was BEHIND the chef, not even to his side).

                  Or on the other extreme, if you watch the Anthony Bourdain epsiode of No Reservations: Tokyo, at Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza, Ono Jiro was making nigiri the whole time without moving his head (and always faced front).

                  I'm sure this has nothing to do with the quality of the nigiri itself when the prep station is mispositioned for inefficiency, but I'm sure certain chefs would nitpick this type of malpractice over and over and have a laugh. At least Keizo does mold nigiri facing the customer. I would be appalled if I saw the chef's behind as if he was hiding something, while making nigiri...

              2. re: exilekiss

                Yes. Try to hold back on the premium sake so you don't scare people off by telling them that Mori's pp cost is $200+!

                I'm due for a visit myself.

                1. re: Porthos

                  Hi Porthos,

                  Yes, yes, but a good Sake with Mori-san's knifework is pure bliss. :) I'll see how many pieces I last before I break down and order Sake. :)

                2. re: exilekiss

                  you might try beer instead, mori's been carrying some hitachino which is very good

                  1. re: peppermonkey

                    Hi peppermonkey,

                    Yah, Beer is something I have to get used to with my Sushi. :) But Hitachino certainly helps and if they have Koshihikari Echigo that also helps. :)

                3. re: Porthos

                  I agree about the rice being better at Mori but I've had sushi at Zo unlike I've had anywhere else, including Mori and Yasuda.
                  I think his knife work is stellar. I do prefer it by far at lunch at Zo to at dinner. I've a feeling he may slip when it gets hectic.

                  Somehow I really like Keizo. I wish he would speak more but don't need it. He's a disciplined guy...

            2. Thanks for another great review. I'm sorry to hear that you did not receive warm and courteous service while you were there. The idea that you can spend $175 per person on a meal and not even be treated kindly is unbelievable! I haven't been in a long time because my husband refuses to go back there, specifically because of the unwelcoming treatment. If someone like you, who speaks Japanese and is an expert on the cuisine cannot get good service there, what hope do the rest of us have?!

              5 Replies
              1. re: Nicole

                Hi Nicole,

                Thank you. It's definitely rough and disappointing. :( I hadn't been back since my Japan trip, and before this last visit, I still enjoyed Zo, despite the attitude and gruffness. But this last visit was honestly, the most uncomfortable I've ever felt eating Sushi (worse than Nozawa and Sasabune (pre-move) and I didn't even have any problems with Nozawa-san or Kusuhara-san at their establishments).

                It's one thing if I, as the customer, did something wrong to cause the restaurant chef and servers to retaliate in some way, but my guest and I walked in - all smiles and excited to be back! - and from the moment we stepped in, through the end of the evening it was tense and truly uncomfortable. Add to that the poor quality Rice on each piece of Sushi we had, and some less vibrant pieces of fish, and I realize there are other places I'd rather go to, to enjoy dinner.

                1. re: exilekiss

                  Exile, I still have to read your original post above. But if you mean the atmosphere feels beyond uncomfortable and unwelcoming to the upteemth degree I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH YOU.

                  Instead of it being quiet, and calm in a serene way, it feels cold and uncaring.

                  I've been two or three times now since he garnered all the hoopla and changed over to the ONLY OMAKASE-style. Some don't remember but when he first opened, it was still traditional (no newfangled rolls and/or cream cheese) but you could order as you wished.

                  Anyhow, in comparison, the much heralded "sushi nazi", Kazunori Nozawa of Sushi Nozawa, is an utter sweetheart in comparison.

                  1. re: kevin

                    Hi kevin,

                    Yes, that's what I meant, and sorry to hear you had the same experience as I did.

                    1. re: exilekiss

                      what was the price of the sake? asking because if it was a 100 dollar bottle than 175 per might not be that out of line.

                      my bill usu hovered at between 140 to 150 with tax and tip and one beer, so i think my meal might have been more egrgegiously priced.

                      1. re: kevin

                        Hi kevin,

                        I don't have the receipt anymore, apologies.

              2. 100% right on the nose, EK. While the fish remains generally very good the Zo-experience has really become harsher with time. I will go on a Monday-Tuesday still, but not often, and I would not consider it later in the week.

                I will have to go back to Mori-san soon. Since going to Japan several times I find ALL sushi rice in LA lacking the "presence" (for lack of a better term) of rice in Japan.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ciao Bob

                  Hi Ciao Bob,

                  Thanks for the feedback. Definitely give Mori-san a try again; Mori-san's rice is definitely a big highlight. Let us know how it goes. :)

                2. agree with you about the rice, zo is popular to the general though b/c almost everything is melt in your mouth/tender as porthos stated. I don't know if anything's wrong with preferring one to the other, that's more a matter of taste whether it's traditional or not. I'm suprised you like the amaebi there. I found it not fresh and very "gummy" everytime. Now when they ask me if there's anything I don't like in the beginning, I just lie and say i don't like amaebi. I've never seen him cut a live shrimp, have you?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: peppermonkey

                    The "meltingly tender" jab wasn't to imply that one should necessarily chose one over the other or that it's wrong to like it. But some fish should be rich and silky (o-toro, buri belly, etc.), while others should be rich and oily (kohada, mackeral, etc.) and still others should be more toothsome or crisp depending on the type of fish. I don't want my sayori, suzuki, wild buri, my -dai and tai to be meltingly tender. I want to be able to enjoy the different textures and tastes that are unique to each fish.

                    Sasabune's formula is to please the entry level sushi palate with the albacore, salmon, tuna, farmed hamachi, scallop, saba, etc. They all have a very similar texture profile. As for flavor, it's not like you can really tell with all that ponzu anyways. And don't even get me started about the rice straight out of the rice cooker...

                    1. re: Porthos

                      agree with's just that most people tend to want everything to be "rich and silky" as opposed to "toothsome" or briny etc. I think it's partly d/t our rich, fatty american diets. And so I end up getting a lot of people who didn't like, even hated mori, yet love zo, sasabune, even nozawa more. Obviously they don't appreciate rice or knifework. They just want everything to be buttery, fatty, melt in your mouth, and not fishy. What am I supposed to say to these people? They don't care about what this or that type of fish is supposed to taste like. Either they like it or not. I can't really say their wrong

                    2. re: peppermonkey

                      Hi peppermonkey,

                      Re: Amaebi - Only on this visit. It was fresh for us, but not approaching the level of Urasawa's Amaebi. And like you, "no," I've never seen Keizo-san pull out any Live Shrimp from a tank.