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

e
exilekiss May 24, 2009 08:48 PM

(Formatted with All Pictures here:
http://exilekiss.blogspot.com/2009/05...

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.

 
 
 
 
  1. e
    exilekiss May 24, 2009 08:50 PM

    Attaching more Pics. For all remaining Pictures, please see Link in Original Post above. Thanks.

     
     
     
    3 Replies
    1. re: exilekiss
      K K May 25, 2009 12:30 AM

      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
        e
        exilekiss May 25, 2009 10:17 AM

        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
          c
          cls May 25, 2009 10:36 AM

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

    2. J.L. May 25, 2009 12:54 AM

      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.
        e
        exilekiss May 25, 2009 01:05 PM

        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
          Porthos May 25, 2009 10:46 PM

          "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
            e
            exilekiss May 26, 2009 09:14 AM

            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
              K K May 26, 2009 10:13 AM

              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
                e
                exilekiss May 26, 2009 01:37 PM

                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
                  K K May 26, 2009 02:08 PM

                  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
                Porthos May 26, 2009 10:41 AM

                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
                  e
                  exilekiss May 26, 2009 01:38 PM

                  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
                  peppermonkey May 26, 2009 11:12 AM

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

                  1. re: peppermonkey
                    e
                    exilekiss May 26, 2009 01:40 PM

                    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
                  e
                  epop May 26, 2009 04:27 PM

                  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. n
              Nicole May 25, 2009 03:31 PM

              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
                e
                exilekiss May 26, 2009 09:19 AM

                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
                  k
                  kevin Jun 5, 2009 10:22 AM

                  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
                    e
                    exilekiss Jun 5, 2009 10:32 AM

                    Hi kevin,

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

                    1. re: exilekiss
                      k
                      kevin Jun 5, 2009 09:11 PM

                      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
                        e
                        exilekiss Jun 7, 2009 08:07 AM

                        Hi kevin,

                        I don't have the receipt anymore, apologies.

              2. Ciao Bob May 26, 2009 09:29 AM

                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
                  e
                  exilekiss May 26, 2009 11:21 PM

                  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. peppermonkey May 26, 2009 09:59 AM

                  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
                    Porthos May 26, 2009 12:25 PM

                    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
                      peppermonkey May 26, 2009 01:35 PM

                      agree with you...it'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
                      e
                      exilekiss May 26, 2009 11:23 PM

                      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.

                    3. wilafur May 26, 2009 11:01 AM

                      these are the reasons why i have not been back to sushi zo in well over 7mo's.

                      the last time i went, not only did my dinner feel rushed (very assembly line feel ala sasbune) , a handful of the fish was cut poorly (dangling flesh hanging on by a thread) and the ambiance was ice cold.

                      i am sad to say, but sushi zo is turning hide-esque at 2-3x the price.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: wilafur
                        e
                        exilekiss May 26, 2009 11:24 PM

                        Hi wilafur,

                        Wow, that sounds worse than my latest experience at Zo. :( I still haven't been to Hide yet, but it sounds like I don't need to from your notes. Thanks.

                        1. re: wilafur
                          k
                          kevin Jun 5, 2009 10:24 AM

                          yes, ambiance is ice cold (too put it diplomatically) while the fish is poorly cut at times (but then again some of the pieces are cut by his assistant chef).

                          But i disagree on one note. It's about five to six times the cost of Hide (interstingly enough, the sushi chef at Zo worked at Hide for a number of years).

                        2. j
                          JE33 May 26, 2009 01:32 PM

                          Great review. And that's a hard place to review insofar as everybody who has ever been there and posted has basically had the same thing and been treated basically the same way. He sure doesn't change his routine that much.

                          Question: do you think he was extra-gruff, moved you out extra-fast or shorted you on yuzu because you were taking pictures every two minutes? It wouldn't surprise me.

                          I have no idea how that plays out, and it seems as if everybody else there had basically the same experience, but it would be naive not to think that at least in some circumstances it has some impact on some level.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JE33
                            e
                            exilekiss May 26, 2009 11:27 PM

                            Hi JE33,

                            Thank you. I wouldn't say that the pics had much to do with it. From my previous visits, he had the same attitude and only changed / warmed slightly at the very end of the meal when I managed to have a brief conversation with him (on a previous visit). In addition, this time, he treated everyone at the Sushi Bar the same way: No eye contact. No speaking except to ask for any fish you don't like at the start of the Omakase, and that was it. He didn't greet anyone, and didn't thank them (or us) for eating with him when people were leaving. Oh well.

                          2. e
                            exilekiss May 26, 2009 11:28 PM

                            Adding updated Chow Place link.

                            -----
                            Sushi Zo
                            9824 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                            1. martiniman Jun 5, 2009 01:04 AM

                              Just went there today and was sorely disappointed. I sat at the table because I wanted to just sample a few pieces, but had no choice but to do omakase. So I did and ended up spending $200 per person with tax,tip, and sake.

                              I was expecting to be blown away by past reviews here, but wasn't. Sure there were some good pieces such as the aji, uni ika somen, kumamoto oyster, etc. But the quality was inconsistent. Some of the rice was not well formed, cold or warm, etc. By far the biggest disappointment was the toro. It had a mildly odd aftertaste.....something I didn't expect from an "elite" sushi place.

                              Anyways, I'm not going back to that overrated place. For $200 I'd rather go to Mori.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: martiniman
                                e
                                exilekiss Jun 5, 2009 06:52 AM

                                Hi martiniman,

                                My condolences on your visit, sounds even worse than my latest visit. I agree with you that I'd rather go to Mori at this point.

                                1. re: martiniman
                                  Porthos Jun 5, 2009 07:21 AM

                                  A word of caution, even at Mori, the table experience is also a noticable notch below the bar experience. I usually rank Mori a 9/10. I'd give the Mori table experience an 8/10. Still better than most places out there.

                                  1. re: Porthos
                                    e
                                    epop Jun 5, 2009 10:04 AM

                                    what then is your 10/10, Porthos?

                                    1. re: epop
                                      Porthos Jun 5, 2009 10:19 AM

                                      Of course Yasuda-san on a perfect day. The caveat being that the scale may be reset after Jiro, Mizutani, Urasawa, and Masa.

                                    2. re: Porthos
                                      K K Jun 5, 2009 11:33 AM

                                      What was wrong with the Mori table experience food wise? Did you order a la carte or do nigiri omakase, and if the latter was it Mori-san or someone else who made it?

                                      1. re: K K
                                        Porthos Jun 5, 2009 12:54 PM

                                        I suspect some pieces weren't made by Mori so the shape and size of the rice was a bit off. Also, critical pieces that contained the ultra premium nori had time to soften and I didn't get that nice crunch that you get when eaten within with first 5 seconds of creation. And obviously, timing was off.

                                    3. re: martiniman
                                      k
                                      kevin Jun 5, 2009 10:26 AM

                                      Here's another thing?

                                      How in these recessionary times can people still go to Sushi Zo en masse when the QUALITY is just not there? I just wish we could get some of our hard-earned money from a poor meal (the last time i was there the only person that was truly nice to me was the waitress, but perhaps that was because she was new to the job).

                                    4. b
                                      bulavinaka Jun 6, 2009 08:27 AM

                                      Wow - take out the pronouns and this reads like a Sweet Lady Jane thread... such a tragedy...

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: bulavinaka
                                        Servorg Jun 6, 2009 08:34 AM

                                        Don't believe "everything" you read. While I've never found Keizo-san to be overly warm and fuzzy he has always been fine if I ask him a question about the fish or direct some other comment his way. He is not a "chatty" guy, but I usually want to talk to whoever I am eating with, so that's not a problem for me.

                                        1. re: Servorg
                                          e
                                          epop Jun 6, 2009 10:43 AM

                                          Exactly. I don't care for the chatty and phony either.

                                          I was recently there at Zo and while I generally agree with Exilekiss I am rather surprised by the post. I don't deny the issues, I just wonder why.

                                          This time I went I had another perfect meal. In every way, No rice that was imperfect, each piece of fish cut masterfully and as fresh as it gets. Besides that I find the Keizo I know to be quiet, professional and respectfull.

                                          I have had at Mori a few off pieces, for example, with the Uni and even the toro. Also once a live shrimp. Same goes for Echigo, where it happened one too many times. I've had one bad experience with one of Mori's other sushi chefs. Overall I feel lucky to have access to both Zo and Mori, stilll preferring Zo. But I only go at lunch and sit at the counter.

                                          1. re: epop
                                            e
                                            exilekiss Jun 7, 2009 08:19 AM

                                            Hi epop, Servorg,

                                            Don't get me wrong. I don't need every Itamae to be the Japanese equivalent of Emeril Lagasse; that's not what I was implying (if it came off that way, apologies), nor did I ever say I wanted "chatty and phony." (^_^;...

                                            On my previous visits, Keizo-san was as you described - quiet, reticent, focused - but on this last visit, my guest and I both felt *uncomfortable*. He looked pissed off the whole evening (toward everyone at the Sushi Bar, not just us), and was gruffer than usual, almost barking out commands to his 2 Assistants and the other helpers. No basic greeting nor thanks (when leaving) for any of the Sushi Bar customers (nor us). It felt ice cold.

                                            But beyond that, the Rice was pretty bad; not even close to the quality I've had at Mizutani or Mori. It may have been an off-night for the Rice (the previous visits to Zo were markedly better), but that coupled with the attitude from Keizo-san and one of the waitresses who seemed to strangely mimic him, and I realized that I don't need to go back (unless, as you say Servorg (great point) that I'm dining with guests that want to focus more on the conversation and don't need an Itamae giving us details; which is the preference of certain guests I take out for Sushi from time-to-time. In that case, Zo would be just fine).

                                            1. re: exilekiss
                                              J.L. Jun 7, 2009 11:26 AM

                                              Heheh Emeril... I can just imagine the itamae:

                                              "Here's your chu-toro... BAM!!"

                                              "Oh, and some extra ginger for you... BAM!!"

                                              1. re: exilekiss
                                                e
                                                epop Jun 7, 2009 02:24 PM

                                                Yr right, chatty and phony was an exaggeration, Exilekiss. It irritates me though when some people criticize Keizo and Nozawa when I've found them to be refreshingly forthright. What bothers me is all the phony sommeliers in town, or the passive aggressive hostesses that say, "Welcome to (insert name of any number of corporate restaurants that overcharge in every urban place in America), how are you doing this evening?"

                                                Keizo is human and works very hard. That's no excuse for being rude. But if he's bitchy or irritable, well, I understand. It is a miracle that these sushi chefs can deliver at so a high a level night after night.

                                                I love the rice at Mori too... Greetings.

                                              2. re: epop
                                                Porthos Jun 7, 2009 09:20 AM

                                                Exactly. Epop and I usually see eye to eye on pretty much everything. Zo seems to be one of the few differences in opinon.

                                                I've only been to Zo once and distinctly remember having mild issues with the rice (not as well seasoned and falls apart) and the way some pieces of fish were cut (some irregular strips with a thin center hinge). The quality of fish was excellent though. On that one visit, I actually found him pretty response to inquiries about fish. This was over 1 year ago.

                                                It is possible that just as I may get preferrential treatment at Mori, that Epop may get preferrential treatment at Zo. Thus, Epop's experience at Zo may be on another level than most people's.

                                                1. re: Porthos
                                                  e
                                                  epop Jun 7, 2009 02:27 PM

                                                  Achso, Porthos, I hadn't realized you've been there once. I think you'll have to give it another shot. I've been to Mori 20 times but still prefer Zo...

                                                  1. re: Porthos
                                                    wilafur Jun 8, 2009 11:49 AM

                                                    keizo was much more pleasant a year + ago. sushi zo was my go to spot in 2007 and early 2008 but my latest visits really did turn me off.

                                                    keizo used to have such a pleasant demeanor (would occasionally joke and/or smile) and abruptly became ice cold. the perceivable shift in attitude/demeanor is very evident, and much like exilekiss, it has made dining at sushi zo quite uncomfortable.

                                                    1. re: wilafur
                                                      k
                                                      kevin Jun 8, 2009 04:19 PM

                                                      wilafur, i couldn't have put it better myself as pertains to the demeanor situation.

                                                      is 2007 when he first opened up, or rather within six months of opening up. he was smiles and jokes.

                                                      1. re: kevin
                                                        J.L. Jun 8, 2009 05:03 PM

                                                        He's changed, man...

                                                        1. re: J.L.
                                                          e
                                                          epop Jun 8, 2009 05:36 PM

                                                          That's frustrating, I will have to search for myself.

                                            2. r
                                              revets2 Jun 11, 2009 02:25 AM

                                              we, too, have sadly experienced said change in Keizo-san's attitude.

                                              HOWEVER, our last visit a couple of weeks ago was great. the fish was the best we've ever had there (even better than two weeks before that), he SMILED when we arrived, while we were at our table, and when we left.

                                              hope this is a change for the better. we'll be back.

                                              btw, we prefer to sit at the tables and never notice a difference in service or quality.

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: revets2
                                                k
                                                kevin Jun 11, 2009 09:47 AM

                                                what was your bill per person currently? and also does he still serve that awesome Yuzu Juice to round out the meal.

                                                1. re: kevin
                                                  e
                                                  epop Jun 11, 2009 12:20 PM

                                                  140 for me, no sake, with yuzu

                                                  1. re: epop
                                                    k
                                                    kevin Jun 11, 2009 02:43 PM

                                                    is that with or without tax and tip? thanks.

                                                    it seems like price wise zo is now in between an urasawa and a nozawa. so it's not the most expensive in town that be urasawa but nowhere near as reasonable as nozawa/sasabune/hiko/echigo/wasabe et al.

                                                    1. re: kevin
                                                      e
                                                      epop Jun 11, 2009 10:28 PM

                                                      with tax, without tip, i believe. I usually end up between 120-150 with tax, without tip. One time 180. I was hungry.

                                                      1. re: kevin
                                                        peppermonkey Jun 12, 2009 10:09 AM

                                                        zo is way better than the ones you listed...I'd rather pay a little extra to avoid the bad rice, scales, and the filler bowls of marinated tuna

                                                  2. re: revets2
                                                    r
                                                    revets2 Jun 11, 2009 11:48 PM

                                                    close to $150 without tax, tip or sake. terrific quality. yes on the yuzu, but it was scant. that being said our yuzus are not even in yet, still pretty tiny.

                                                    1. re: revets2
                                                      k
                                                      kevin Jun 12, 2009 08:41 AM

                                                      wow, by that token you must be eating more than me. usually, it's 150 per for me, with one beer, tax and tip all included.

                                                  3. martiniman Jun 12, 2009 12:43 AM

                                                    When we went, we paid $200 each with tax, tip, and sake. I felt like it wasn't worth it. The fish and rice was too inconsistent. And the yuzu juice was tiny. Go to Mori instead.

                                                    16 Replies
                                                    1. re: martiniman
                                                      J.L. Jun 12, 2009 02:00 AM

                                                      Hear, hear...

                                                      1. re: J.L.
                                                        k
                                                        kevin Jun 12, 2009 08:42 AM

                                                        i really hate to say it, but that yuzu juice might just be the best darn thing on the menu, now if they'd only open a booth right beside the sushi bar, and sell that yuzu drink for even five bucks i'd be so there and then i could bypass the darn omakase. and save a C-note or two.

                                                        1. re: kevin
                                                          e
                                                          epop Jun 12, 2009 09:14 AM

                                                          you can ask for a light omakase, about 80 pp.

                                                          1. re: epop
                                                            k
                                                            kevin Jun 12, 2009 02:00 PM

                                                            i never knew they had that, i thouight they'd just kick me out of the joint if i asked it, 75 to 80 per person omakase.

                                                            thanks for the tip, do you still get the yuzu juice or will they be douches about it with the ligher, cheapert omakase.

                                                            1. re: kevin
                                                              e
                                                              epop Jun 12, 2009 02:29 PM

                                                              Not everybody wants the full craziness so I don't see any problem. I see plenty of people leaving eating much less than me. Lower bills. Yuzu.

                                                          2. re: kevin
                                                            J.L. Jun 12, 2009 10:19 AM

                                                            Inspired by a recent trip to Japan, I'm in the process of getting my own yuzu tree. I aspire towards liberating myself from the Zo's grip over me with his monopoly of his strangely addictive yuzu elixir.

                                                            1. re: J.L.
                                                              k
                                                              kevin Jun 12, 2009 01:59 PM

                                                              let me know if you stumbled upone the appropriated yuzu elixier. you'll have chowh9unds knockin down your door for years to come. the only problem is i've had yuzu juice that's close before but not have reached the zenith of sushi zo.

                                                              1. re: J.L.
                                                                K K Jun 12, 2009 02:00 PM

                                                                For those who absolutely cannot wait and need a pseudo fix without going to Zo, Nijiya Supermarket now sells this small bottle of Yuzu drink imported from Japan.

                                                                Gokkun Umajimura Juice (of Yuzu, Orange, Honey (10% juice sadly) - 180 ml bottle at a whooping $2.49. Made/manufactured in Kochi prefecture where Japanese yuzu is grown.

                                                                Look for it in the refrigerated beverage section. The batch I got this year at my local (Northern California) Nijiya seemed a lot more watered down. It won't compare to the yuzu nectar from Zo, but it's the next best thing (unless you can locate the Yuzu sorbet/ice in the freezer section, has speckles of grated yuzu zest in it). If there is something even better than this, I'd love to know :-)

                                                                1. re: K K
                                                                  k
                                                                  kevin Jun 12, 2009 07:33 PM

                                                                  Me too, now I have to make a beeline for my local Njiyia market if we happen to have one in LA or OC.

                                                                  1. re: kevin
                                                                    wilafur Jun 16, 2009 11:07 AM

                                                                    there is a nijiya on sawtelle blvd, just north of olympic.

                                                                    google is your friend.

                                                                    1. re: wilafur
                                                                      k
                                                                      kevin Jun 16, 2009 11:10 AM

                                                                      thank you fine sir.

                                                                      i'm now so there. Thanks to k k above and you.

                                                                      1. re: wilafur
                                                                        J.L. Jun 16, 2009 05:53 PM

                                                                        Sorry fellow Hounds, I went & bought the entire supply at Nijiya for Mrs. J.L. (we're yuzu fiends) - I hope they restock soon!

                                                                    2. re: K K
                                                                      k
                                                                      kevin Jun 16, 2009 11:15 AM

                                                                      thanks buddy any other tips i'm all ears.

                                                                      1. re: kevin
                                                                        m
                                                                        MeowMixx Jun 16, 2009 12:39 PM

                                                                        I think I've posted this before but the yuzu drink at Sushi Zo tastes just like korean citron tea (aka yuja cha). Just mix a spoon or so in hot water, then chill. You can buy a jar at any korean market :)

                                                                        1. re: MeowMixx
                                                                          peppermonkey Jun 16, 2009 01:20 PM

                                                                          similar but I think the korean one is preserved and the honey gives it a different flavor...in any rate i love both...btw sushi dokoro kirala makes a yuzu sorbet that is just as good

                                                                        2. re: kevin
                                                                          m
                                                                          mrhooks Jun 17, 2009 12:36 AM

                                                                          I was at the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa today, and bought a bottle of JAL Sky Time yuzu drink. Almost $2 for a tiny bottle, and it wasn't very good. Only 2% juice. Maybe next time I'll buy a jar of chopped up yuzu and see if I can make something out of it.

                                                                          BTW there's also a Nijiya in Torrance, just down the street from Gardena Ramen and Asa on 182nd, between Western and Crenshaw.

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