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SUGARFISH’s shari–What is this I don’t even

Apologies in advance to my waiter today at SUGARFISH. I did not mean to mislead you when I answered “good” to your inquiry on how my meal was. It was just a reflex response to the question you posed. I wish I could take it back, because it really was not good.

I had the most unpleasant shari (sushi rice) in my life at SUGARFISH in Santa Monica today. Forget the debate between “warm” vs. room temperature shari, I’m surprised the fish wasn’t being cooked by the rice right on the plate. If it hadn’t been seasoned, I'd have thought the rice came straight from the cooker, skipping the hangiri (the wooden tub where rice is seasoned and cooled to become shari), and into the sushi chef’s hopefully asbestos-lined gloved hands.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but did I mention that the shari was horribly hot (and just plain horrible)?

Let me back up… I was in the mood for sushi for lunch today, so I thought I’d try SUGARFISH in Santa Monica. I got a seat at the bar relatively fast. Either the chair (not stool, since it had a back) was uneven or the floor was, but I felt off-kilter the entire meal. (Should have taken that as an omen.)

I ordered The Nozawa [$34], the “Trust Me” lunch set that comes with a daily special, which was large whole scallop today. I also ordered one of the off-menu sushi, albacore belly [$6] (the other off-menu sushi was Spanish mackerel).

I was immediately served the organic edamame from a large tray of pre-plated soybeans behind the counter. They were cold and salty, not bad but nothing to write home about. I was also given a saucer of gari and wasabi, which looked like it was piped onto the dish by a machine.

The gari, while not overly so, was much sweeter than I’m used to. It also had a much stronger ginger flavor, as if it was made from more mature roots. I speculate that the sweetness was added to counteract the spice. At least it wasn’t pink.

First up was the tuna sashimi. I was concerned it would be drenched in sauce, but it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, “not too bad” also summed up the dish itself. The ponzu was quite tart, and the tuna was about average, like what you’d find in an ahi poke at a Hawaiian BBQ place. Maybe a little better.

Second up was a platter of albacore and salmon nigiri. I tried a piece of the albacore first. I had turned the piece sideways as I ate it, so the neta hit my mouth first. It was cool and tart from the ponzu... Then I was hit with the rice. It was not room temperature. It was not body temperature. It was not warm. I already used up my hyperbole quota for what the rice was like in my intro above, but it was just plain hot. It was also vinegary, without much sweetness to balance it.

I switch to the salmon. The shari, which was not as hot as in the albacore pieces, still managed to distract me from being able to taste the fish, which, from what I could tell, was pretty pedestrian. Not only was the rice hot, it was somehow sticky and crumbly at the same time. It was also very starchy! As I ate the second piece of salmon, some of the rice smeared against my lips and nearly glued my mouth shut. I’m almost not kidding.

I waited a minute before going back to my second piece of albacore, and the rice managed to stay piping hot! Nozawa should line jackets with his sushi and sell it to the Inuits!

Next up was a platter of yellowtail, halibut, and, the “daily special”, large whole scallops.

The halibut pieces were topped with yuzukosho, a tart and spicy paste made from salt, yuzu, and peppers. The halibut wasn’t too bad, though the rice still distracted from the fish. The yuzukosho was really peppery, which at least made it stand out a bit.

The shari in the yellowtail pieces was probably the least-worst of all the sushi. Not-so-coincidentally, I found the yellowtail to be the most enjoyable part of the whole meal. Since it wasn’t sauced, I ate one piece of yellowtail with shoyu, but I actually preferred it just plain, which was how I had the second piece.

The scallops were whole, but not very large. It was topped simply with lemon or yuzu and salt, and shoyu or ponzu. The rice wasn’t as distracting as with most of the other sushi, but the scallops had very little flavor. It wasn’t briny. It wasn’t sweet. It was just there.

The last nigiri was the off-menu albacore belly. It had a different melt-in-your-mouth quality than regular toro (fatty tuna belly) and reminded me more of ono (escolar) in texture, except for the gristle lines in the albacore belly, which was very chewy. I’d never had it, and it was probably the second best pieces of sushi of the meal, after the yellowtail.

Next, and next-to-last, was the negitoro (fatty tuna belly with scallion) hand roll. It was cylindrical rather than conical, and quite “spacious”; the top part of the nori wasn’t even touching the fish inside. I’ve never been wowed by negitoro, and SUGARFISH’s version did nothing to change my mind. The toro was strangely sweet, and the shari was just as awful as with the nigiri. The best part was the nori.

The last dish was the blue crab hand roll. It’s a little thing, but I noticed the blue crab filling was almost on its side in the cylinder, rather than sitting on top of the rice, as if the cylinder was rotated a quarter turn. When I rotated it back, one end of the nori unfurled, so I guess I had solved the mystery of the tilted hand roll.

The blue crab meat itself was very uniform in texture, like it was made from the backfin or special grade of crab meat rather than one of the lump grades. It also tasted more processed. A really disappointing end to a really disappointing meal.

I’m hoping that I can sneak off to Shunji tonight because I need to recalibrate my palate for excellent sushi, stat! I had done research on Yelp and Chowhound and found that they’re known for their warm rice, but I did not realize that “warm” was an euphemism for “awful”.

The only thing that I’m happy with about this meal was how my pictures turned out. Unless someone can convince me that what I experienced was an anomaly, I cannot imagine myself ever going back to SUGARFISH.

[Full-size photos, with captions, at http://theoffalo.com/2012/07/sugarfis...]

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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  1. It looks delicious! I'll just gaze at the photos and not read your review.

    PeterCC, I am disappointed to hear of your SugarFish experience. I have been wanting to try the one in Studio City...but maybe not now.

    2 Replies
    1. re: liu

      Heh, thanks! I'm trying to force myself into thinking it was better than it was just staring at my photos. :-)

      1. re: PeterCC

        I'm laughing because I, too, have wanted to like certain restaurants that I did not like -- and then questioned my own judgment.

        I always wanted to like Nozawa in Studio City more than I did. I recognize that he is a Master, but the excess of ponzu sauce at Nozawa was not to my tastes. If the fish is good, I want to taste it!

    2. Sugarfish, Nozawa, Sasabune all serve sushi with hot rice. I call it classic LA style sushi.

      Stick with Mori, Shunji, and even Zo which has a hint of Sasabune but the rice is at least properly cooled and seasoned.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Porthos

        Do those places really serve hot rice as a norm? Not just warm rice? I was really taken aback because I've been to Echigo and I thought they also served warm rice, and I didn't remember it being piping hot.

        So, aside from just the temperature, are the other characteristics (e.g., sticky yet non-cohesive, incredibly starchy) pretty standard? I mean, if the shari was how it is normally at Mori, Shunji, Kiriko, only warmer, I could deal with that. And even if SUGARFISH's was cooler, those other qualities of the shari from today would probably be even less appealing at room temperature.

        1. re: PeterCC

          Yes. That hot rice + "meltingly tender" fish + ponzu sauce + blue crab handroll at the end= LA style sushi.

          Mori, Shunji, and Zo take the time to properly prepare, season, and cool the rice.

          2 schools of sushi. The former being more popular. The latter being higher quality and more traditional.

          1. re: Porthos

            Thanks. I didn't realize that it was that pervasive. In my 9 years in L.A. eating at low-to-moderate quality sushi restaurants (Asakuma, Hide, Irori, Ninjin, Sushi House, Sushi King, Takanawa, etc.), I've never encountered that. I guess I skipped directly over that when I transitioned to the higher end places with Shunji and Kiriko rather than Sasabune.

            Sasabune's been on my list for a long time, but if the rice is not only hotter than just "warm" and also sticky and starchy like SUGARFISH's, then it no longer needs to be on my list.

            1. re: PeterCC

              You can search for my Sasabune rants in 2003 or 2004-ish. It's been that way for a while.

              1. re: Porthos

                The hot rice and very very very cold fish combination was apparently compared to cold butter on hot toast by the sushi chef at Sasabune Hawaii....but totally against what it really should be. Bottom line, Edo style vs "Trust Me" style.

        1. re: westsidegal

          I don't remember that conversation, but I do remember in the Urasawa Etiquette thread that J.L. said you really don't like SUGARFISH, and after today, I am in full agreement! :-) Now I don't have to feel bad not having been to Nozawa-proper before it closed.

          1. re: PeterCC

            actually i've told almost everyone on this board whenever the place has been mentioned.
            to say i vehemently distain them doesn't begin to describe it. . . ..

            1. re: westsidegal

              Ah, I see, I thought I had missed a personal warning about that place from you but I knew I hadn't discussed going to SUGARFISH with you so I was confused. I'm still a tryer so I might have still gone but would definitely have kept your warning in mind. Do you have similar distain for Sasabune and the now-defunct Nozawa?

              1. re: PeterCC

                Yes but she still loves Mori which is now quite mediocre. Not meant as an insult as Westsidegal is no doubt knowledgeable. We just disagree on sushi. Although I have not been in some time, I have had many great meals at Sasabune and am a big fan of Sushi Sushi.

                1. re: Thor123

                  I think I've heard her praise Sushi Zo more than Mori, but I've only been on the board for a few months so it's a very small sample I've encountered.

                  I haven't found Mori to be mediocre in my one lunch omakase there (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/849433), but I've found the price to be more expensive, and the portions to be smaller, as compared to Shunji and Kiriko, which makes them much more accessible to me than Mori.

                  1. re: PeterCC

                    Here's the thing, in my opinion, Zo is like the best possible version of Nozawa and Sasabune but just with more varieties of fish, and slightly less saucing and smaller pieces. But Zo is still firmly rootted in the idiosyncratic, patented style of Nozawa.

                    As for SugarFish, if the sushi rice was piping hot, that is just not right so that it sears the fish, that does sound pretty bad. Though I do have to say that Nozawa and his spawns such as Echigo, Sasabune, Nishi-ya, and Wasabe in OC all do serve that slightly warmed up rice that is heavily vinegar'd for what it's worth.

                    Mori, Kiriko, Shunji and Kiyokaw on Robertson are a diametrically opposite style.

                    If you really feel up to it, I might suggest trying it one more time and go to the Marina del Rey location of sugarfish and yeah, go on a weekend, not too early in the evening and not too late. and see what you think. if you want.

                    But I also get the sense that you most likely won't like it, for what it's worth.

                    1. re: kevin

                      Thanks Kevin. I actually wouldn't mind trying it again, especially since it seems like the hot rice was not the norm. And like I said elsewhere, even though the temperature of the shari was what took me by surprise the most, if it were simply a warmer version of the shari at Shunji, Kiriko, or Mori (haven't been to Kiyokawa) or even middling places like Ninjin or Irori, I could have lived with that.

                      The real dealbreaker would be if the rice was still sticky and starchy in consistency on the second visit. I'd even give the loosely-packed-ness a pass if it's not unpleasantly sticky or starchy. Really, that's what turned me off the most, more than the temperature.

                  2. re: Thor123

                    Thor123:
                    thank you for trying to relay my opinion about Mori, but, you're not at all correct.
                    i don't "love" Mori.
                    i find their lunch special the best of such lunch specials at that price level.
                    i have had some wonderful meals at sushi sushi, but since it's distant from my house, those meals haven't been very recent.

                    i will choose Mori's omakase or Kiriko's omakase when there is some reason i can't go to Zo, but that hardly means that i "love" it.

                  3. re: PeterCC

                    Peter CC:
                    i found the fish at Sasabune to be weirdly flavorless, mush.
                    brings to mind what meat tenderizer will do for meat: makes it mushy and removes the "meat" flavor.
                    don't know what they're doing or adding to that fish, but something about it is not right to my palate.
                    will say, though, that the quantity they serve at their lunch specials is quite large for the buck.

                    1. re: westsidegal

                      That's sad to hear about the quality of the fish. I mean, I'm not actually going to completely cross Sasabune off my list, since, like I said, I like to try things for myself. I mean, I even told kevin that I might even willing to maybe try SUGARFISH again. I know, I'm a glutton for punishment.

                      However, if I just want best bang for the buck (not counting supermarket sushi from Mitsuwa or Nijiya), I'd go back to my previous go-to place, Ninjin, with my KCRW Fringe Benefits card, which gets me 15% off there. I've never had a problem with their shari, their fish, or anything else there. And they're not trying to be anything more than an affordable, serviceable neighborhood sushi restaurant.

                      1. re: PeterCC

                        the fish there didn't taste spoiled or old, it just seemed not to have any taste or texture.
                        i've not had that experience at any other sushi bar.
                        maybe they're sprinkling some sort of preservative on the fish because it is presliced. . . .

              2. re: westsidegal

                I go to the Brentwood Sugar fish about once a week. HOT RICE ?! I have never had hot rice. I have had melt in your mouth warm rice. I do love the hand rolls, but have never tilted nor "rotated" them.SugarFish is not the be-all and end-all of Sushi restaurants. However, the fish is pristine, service is fine and the prices won't break your bank. I like that I can go with a friend and order a "Trust Me" (the inexpensive version) and get out of there for under $40 for 2 and feel very satisfied Tax and tip are included in the check. I also like that. In Brentwood, SugarFish is considered a great neighborhood restaurant.

                1. re: maudies5

                  Hmmmm...perhaps I should give the Studio City site a try -- if I can pull myself away from Daichon's mixed-poke-bowl-with-seaweed-brown-rice next door.

                  We did peek in one Saturday night to see the interior and no one was inside. They did invite us in, however, and were very friendly.

                  Does SugarFish serve their nigiri floating in ponzu as Nozawa did at Nozawa?

                  1. re: maudies5

                    Well, that's what I'm wondering, because I can deal with warm rice, but it was actually hot today, at least the pieces I had.

                    I wasn't rotating the hand roll for fun. It just looked turned over on the plate, and I guess it was to cover up the fact that the nori wasn't holding together. When I picked it up to eat it, I had to hold the nori together, almost like a taco, to keep the contents from spilling out.

                    My go-to place for hand rolls is Kiriko. I go at lunch and get their three hand roll lunch set for $14.50. Excellent salmon skin and blue crab hand rolls.

                    I do like the pricing and simplicity of SUGARFISH, but I can only go on my experience, and I probably wouldn't choose to have what I had today even for free.

                2. HA! Sad to hear you had to endure a bad meal but I agree with your SUGARFISH assessment and this thread title made me laugh. I didn't get hot rice at the DTLA location but it was surely too warm, fish quality not great and the butchering worse. Shunji to the rescue!

                  1. Sorry about your bad experience. I've never been to the Santa Monica location.

                    I've never, ever had bad rice from the Brentwood sugarFISH (and I've ordered from them actually 4 times in the last 2 weeks!), but admittedly, I never eat sushi on the weekends in L.A., so I don't know the caliber of the weekend crew there.

                    And when I do eat sushi from sugarFISH, it's almost always "to go" , which presumably means my rice is cooled down by the time I attack my sushi.

                    As for the temperature issue, Sasbune is tops in the "hot, crumbly rice" category in L.A., and Mori is the most Edomae in its strictness & temperature. There are fans of both ends of the shari spectrum. I'm pretty relaxed about the temperature of my shari, as long as it's not piping hot, which would actually changes the chemistry of the proteins and oils (and ultimately the taste) in the fish.

                    Also, when you get the sushi "to go", YOU add the sauce (there's a mini-instruction-slash-suggestion card on what sauce to add to what fish, so you can control that part of the experience as well.

                    29 Replies
                    1. re: J.L.

                      I'm with you on this one. I do like SugarFish, it's definitely not as good as Nozawa was, and it's definitely nowhere near like kiriko or mori, but sometimes it hits the spot.

                      i like to think of it as the mcdonald's of sushi, but in a good way.

                      yes, everything is soft and loaded wtih either ponzu or soy, but sometimes it works.

                      i'm partial to the one in marina del rey, and i haven't tryied the others, (i believe that was the first location of sugar fish that opened a few years back).

                      i do have to say that the last time i went to echigo, it was worse than sugarfish for what it's worth.

                      1. re: kevin

                        imho, the MCDONALD'S of sushi can be found at weekday lunchtimes at the hokkaido seafood buffet on pico.

                        insofar as sushi goes they offer a very limited selection of sushi as part of their extensive ayce buffet lunch. (i.e. there is no limit to the quantity of the sushi nor of their other food that you may eat.). unlike most sushi ayce places, they don't seem to mind if you discard some or all of the rice. this allows for a tremendous protein to price ratio.
                        along with it you can also get a salad of organic baby greens and they have a huge selection of desserts including a number of varieties of cut up fresh fruit that does NOT taste as though it has been sugared (jaipur, i'm talking about you).
                        their weekday lunch is $12, dinner, i believe is around $18 before tax and tip.

                        in terms of fish quality this is NOT NOT NOT on the level of hide, but, on the other hand it better than practically all of the supermarket sushi that i've had, and better than several of the neighborhood sushi bars that i've tried over the years.
                        this is not a destination place, much like mcdonald's is not a destination place.

                        1. re: westsidegal

                          darn, westsidegal, you keep mentioning Hokkaido buffet, and I'm always had the opportunity to go since it's right next door to the theaters. but always suffering from a little trepidation in trying it.

                          so what items would you recommend if i guy, maybe i'll take my friend who really likes buffets, but is not at all a hound, so at least it will be somewhat enjoyable on buffet terms.

                          i would take it that the flavor of the sushi here is at least better than the flavorless stuff you had at sasabune in your opinion ???

                          thanks.

                          1. re: kevin

                            it has better flavor and better texture than that of sasabune.

                            the appearance is far inferior.
                            the selection is far inferior.
                            the knife work is far inferior.

                            this is the MCDONALD'S of sushi.

                            for my palate i'd rather have fish that has the "normal" texture and flavor of that fish even when it means that i will forfeit all the rest. (i.e. it is not the best snapper in town, but your mouth will definitely recognize it as SNAPPER. the same story with the salmon.)
                            at sasabune, on the other hand, the snapper and the salmon had virtually the same texture and flavor as each other. the APPEARANCE of the snapper and of the salmon was far better at sasabune, but that's about it.

                            my mouth trumps my eyes every time.

                            also, at Hokkaido, there are a lot of "Plan B" options if you don't care for the sushi.

                            i would recommend NOT overlooking the salad nor the fresh fruit.
                            basically, you can get your money's worth with just those two items without even going near the ton of protein options available.

                      2. re: J.L.

                        Why do you never eat sushi on the weekends? I was thinking about the fact that you recommended the place for takeout and wondering if it would be better because the rice has time to cool. In my case today, the shari was truly piping hot for the albacore and still quite hot for most of the other pieces. Maybe I should try Brentwood sometime, and just get the Trust Me Lite and see if what I had today was an anomaly.

                        1. re: PeterCC

                          Kevin has a point - It hits the spot and "scratches that itch" for sushi, but for me sugarFISH in no way replaces place like Mori or Kiriko.

                          If you ever do forgive sugarFISH and want to give it another shot, try getting "The Nozawa" from the Brentwood location next time - To Go. I don't blame you if you don't give it a second shot though, given the tone of your rant.

                          Why no sushi for me on weekends? Because despite the miracle of modern refrigeration, for years I just didn't have good experiences with restaurant sushi (or seafood in general, for that matter) on weekends in L.A.. In part, it may be because the wholesale fish market in L.A. is most active Tuesdays through Fridays. Many Chowhounds will disagree with me on this particular point, citing (often valid) facts about how certain fish are flash frozen for long periods anyways, and "you're just being a snob", etc. Fact is, I let my taste buds do the judging, and I can tell a difference (whether I'm biased or not) between weekend fish and weekday fish.

                          1. re: J.L.

                            It's not only the "flash freezing" thing that renders the weekday vs weekend sushi question moot. Sushi is normally aged (not shellfish but the fish) to achieve the desired taste and texture profile that the chef is looking for. There are top end places that age toro (for example) up to a week or more before serving it. So fish that was bought on Wednesday (for example) may not be at its peak until the weekend or the following week.

                            1. re: Servorg

                              Thank you. That is interesting. As for SugarFish, only been to Brentwood and found it to be good. Much better than Katsuya down the street.

                              1. re: Servorg

                                Yeah, I know I know... Like steak, some fish taste better when aged a bit. Still, why does sushi taste different on weekends than weekdays to me?

                                1. re: J.L.

                                  You know, technically, I didn't go on the weekend. I went on Friday for lunch, which falls within your busy fish market theory time period. Of course, I also recall you generally not having sushi for lunch (unless it was a business lunch?).

                                  I did make it to Shunji last night and talked to him briefly about my experience at SUGARFISH. He nodded when I mentioned how sticky and starchy the shari was and chuckled when I said it was so hot I thought it came right out of the rice cooker. He also said he thinks they process (pre-slice) the fish centrally before delivering it to the various locations. To me that seems worse than the pre-cutting/slicing done at Sasabune; at least there it's done in-house.

                                  1. re: PeterCC

                                    That would definitely make sense that they pre-slice it at a main wharehouse and then disperse it to the four or five locations. That way they don't have to have a real sushi chef at each location either, and the ordained sushi chef can just cut all the sushi there and then pack it out and yeah, disperse to the Marina Del Rey, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Downtown, and Studio City locations.

                                    Wow, they are up to five locations now.

                                    1. re: kevin

                                      the sushi chef that cut the sushi that was served to me at sugarfish must have been "ordained" by the church of scientology.. . . .

                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                        :)

                                        i do not deny you that you highly dislike sugarfish. but i do still like it at least the marina branch. but i do still like that nozawa-style (please, don't take away my houndly credentials...).

                                        but at the same time i do really like mori, kiyokawa, shunji, et all, in that area.

                                        i guess since i can have a hat pastrami sandwich and a chili cheese fries like the other night but still like a gourmet meal, i still can like a wide gamut of food, even truth be told, really crappy food by most hounds terms.

                                        1. re: kevin

                                          most of the folks on this board, me INCLUDED, eat both high-end and low-end food.

                                  2. re: J.L.

                                    "Still, why does sushi taste different on weekends than weekdays to me?"

                                    I got my money on placebo effect.

                                    re: pre-slice at main warehouse

                                    WTF

                                    1. re: ns1

                                      I love me some fresh placebo..especially if it's not all "ponzued" to death and shows some real knife artistry by the chef...

                                      1. re: Servorg

                                        Isn't that the Michelin-starred sushi-ya that Shunji Nakao opened in Studio City with his brother Tetsuya, that Tetsuya now owns/runs?

                                        1. re: PeterCC

                                          Are you referring to Asanebo?

                                          1. re: J.L.

                                            Yes, and it was a joke. Sorry, I forgot a smilie emoticon. ;-)

                                          2. re: PeterCC

                                            what michelin starrtted?

                                            oh, yeah, i heard taht too that he started up asanebo, though i haven't been in years...

                                            reminded me of nozawa lite, higher emphasis on cooked dishes and sashimi but then a few years back by poopular demand they started to add more sushi to the mix.

                                            1. re: kevin

                                              Sorry, I just reread my comment above. Since I didn't specifically quote Servorg, I realize that it wasn't immediately apparent I was punning on mixing "placebo" with Asanebo.

                                              Anyway, you know what, I think I will try SUGARFISH again at some point. The food didn't make me sick, it provided sustenance at a fair price. I think that I want to make sure whether what I didn't like was Nozawa's style of sushi vs. maybe just a bad batch from the rice cooker. If I still don't like it the second time, at least I can cross it off my list with a clear conscience. But maybe I will like it on its own merits, not comparing it to edomaezushi.

                                              1. re: PeterCC

                                                I can never forgive starchy sushi rice.

                                                1. re: ns1

                                                  Well that's what I'll be paying attention to most. As I've said a few times now, warm rice may not be my preference, but I can deal. Tacky, starchy rice is a deal breaker, but I'm hoping that's not really the norm.

                                            2. re: Servorg

                                              servorg:
                                              also, placebo is better when they throw away the parts that look and have the texture of dental floss as being the worthless trimmings that they are instead of serving those parts under a pool of not-so-good sauce.

                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                If I'm eating sushi it's mostly at more affordable places such as U-Zen. I've eaten sushi there every day of the week, and have never noticed any difference in the quality, taste, texture or aroma of the sushi from a Wednesday to a Sunday to a Monday and on to Tuesday or Thursday or Friday.

                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                  my many meals at Hide mirror servorg's experience at U-Zen.
                                                  have not seen any consistent noticeable quality changes between the sunday meals and the wednesday meals.

                                      2. re: J.L.

                                        Most places get their shipments/go to market on Tuesday and Friday.

                                        I have found Thursday to be the "worst" in terms of quality for that reason. Sometimes the toro has a hint of brown and isn't pristine white/pink. Sometimes the tai is a bit tired looking.

                                        The reason why I try to go on Tuesdays and Fridays is because sometimes rare and choice stuff run out by Wednesday/Thursday or Saturday. There will be no buri belly for you if you stop by Saturday. I make sure of it :)

                                        1. re: Porthos

                                          I was at Shunji's on a recent Thursday, and thought it was utterly beautiful... great toro and blue fine and few other single pieces.

                                          and that exceptional ankimo mousee and cheese balls, he can literally open up a corner shack doled out those ankimo and cheese balls, and i'd be there every day.

                                          no fucking joke.

                                  3. I generally like sugarFish when I have a hankering for quick sushi. I've been to Santa Monica, Brentwood and MDR locations--usually I go to Brentwood though as it's closest to home. I do like the warm rice, but on a few occasions it has been way too warm as PeterCC has documented above. PeterCC--> I recommend that you contact sugarFish directly--I once did so after having great food but uncharacteristically bad service, and I was quickly put in touch with one of the top guys in the company. He was VERY interested in my feedback and even treated me to a free meal on him the next time that I went to sugarFish. I found him to be very interested in customer feedback so I highly recommend that you might consider this--it could help them be better at what they do and also, your next experience there will probably be a lot more enjoyable if they know about the problem you encountered.

                                    17 Replies
                                    1. re: sablouwho

                                      Thanks sablouwho! That's a great idea. Did you call or email?

                                      1. re: PeterCC

                                        Peter, I sent an email. I recommend that you send it to Emanuele Massimini lele AT sushinozawa DOT com. He's one of the founding partners of sugarFish. He was very accessible to me when I had an "issue" and really worked hard to make things right. He truly seemed interested in customer feedback.

                                        1. re: sablouwho

                                          That sounds great, I may just do that.

                                          1. re: PeterCC

                                            Lele is indeed a great guy who cares very much about things like this. I was going to suggest you contact him as well. I have known him for years, he was a waiter at Giorgio Baldi before starting sugarfish

                                            1. re: Ciao Bob

                                              Thanks Bob! It was great to meet you the other day. Where did you end up taking your out-of-town friends for their last meal in L.A.?

                                              1. re: PeterCC

                                                Ditto, Peter.
                                                They wanted Italian @ Madeo on Beverly. It was excellent. I suspect you would have loved the Uni Pasta - Spaghetti Con Ricci.

                                                  1. re: sablouwho

                                                    They have a great uni spaghetti (linguine and clams, uni aglio-olio, chili, breadcrumbs) at Son of a Gun.

                                                      1. re: Ciao Bob

                                                        How is the uni spaghetti at SugarFish?

                                                        1. re: BSW6490

                                                          uni spaghetti at Sugarfish?

                                                          I'm pretty sure they don't have that on the menu there.

                                                          1. re: kevin

                                                            Goodness, if only it were true! They get very good quality uni there IMO. So uni spaghetti there would be divine, but they don't do fusion. To me their uni tastes like hot buttered popcorn, but just not hot. (Current shari discussion notwithstanding :).

                                                          2. re: BSW6490

                                                            BSW6490, they were talking about Madeo and Son of a Gun.

                                                      2. re: Ciao Bob

                                                        Shoot, now I have to go to Madeo for that uni pasta too, and maybe i'll have to get there eggplant parm too, and their margherita pizzas (they were doing those at least a decade and half before the new crop of thin-crust italian style joints).

                                                        and there desserts are beyond exceptional.

                                                      3. re: PeterCC

                                                        You guys ran into each other at SugarFish ?

                                                        Also, I do have to say that the service across the board at SugarFish is very good and friendly and just appropriate. But obviously you are not going there for the service, just saying.

                                                        This may be a buzz kill but you can try SugarFish on your bday for free, I did it once and the meal was free except for my soda, but then again you may not want to hit up somewhere on your birthday to try again and would probably rather have a meal that is bona-fide delicious on the old birthday.

                                                        Though it's just a thought.

                                                        1. re: kevin

                                                          Really? I've never heard of that promotion. Too bad my birthday was just last month.

                                                          I do go to restaurants in part for service. Or rather, I won't go (back) to a restaurant that has poor service.

                                                      4. re: Ciao Bob

                                                        Wow, at Giorgio Baldi, ????

                                                        That reminds me that I really have to get to Baldi already.

                                                        have you been recently? what you recommend on the current scene of Baldi? I havven't been in a few years now, but I always reminded me of the best in Tuscan trattoria cooking. Though at very very very high prices.

                                              2. we've been to the one in Brentwood several times, always good. Maybe this was just a bad experience? definitely worth another shot...

                                                1. I had an opening in my schedule today and decided to give SUGARFISH another chance. I ordered The Nozawa again, and today's special was halibut sashimi. I also ordered the large scallops a la carte so I could compare it to the scallops I had last time. Despite liking the albacore belly on my first visit, I decided to try the lobster hand roll.

                                                  I'm glad to report that ,while the shari still approached what I'd consider "hot" for a few of the pieces, none of the pieces had rice that was uncomfortably warm and, more importantly, none of the rice was sticky, gummy, or starchy. Ironically(?), the much better rice today allowed me to focus more on the fish, since I didn't have the rice as a distraction as I did on my first visit. I'll just run through the items really quickly:

                                                  1. Edamame: The pods seemed a little fresher and brighter, with not as much soy sauce on them as last time, which was an improvement.

                                                  2. Tuna Sashimi: The sauce that they use is still too tart for my taste and covers up the flavor of the fish. The tuna itself was about average. Nothing wrong with this dish, but the saucing is not for me.

                                                  3 & 4. Albacore and Salmon Nigiri:

                                                  The rice for the albacore pieces were the warmest of the nigiri, but without the unpleasant sticky, gummy, starchiness, and wasn't bad at all. The fish was really soft, bordering on mushy, but tasted fine. The ponzu, like with the tuna sashimi, was a bit too tart and overshadows the flavor of the fish.

                                                  The texture of the salmon was also very soft. The rice for the salmon pieces were still warmer than I'm used to, but not as warm as the albacore. I ate the second piece of albacore after the two pieces of salmon, and it's rice was still warmer than the salmon's.

                                                  I don't know what accounts for the temperature difference as I assume both the albacore and salmon pieces were made at the same time, as they are served on the same platter. I'd actually think the albacore's rice would be cooler with the ponzu...

                                                  5 & 6. Yellowtail and Halibut Nigiri:

                                                  The yellowtail today was still the best piece of nigiri of the meal. It had the best shari of the nigiri, still warmer than what I'm used to but not as warm as the other pieces today. The texture was actually not as soft and melt-in-your-mouth as the albacore, which was a surprise, since yellowtail is generally known for that. It had good cohesive "mouthfeel".

                                                  The yuzukosho on the halibut and in the rice is still just a little too peppery for the fish. I felt it actually covered up the admittedly subtle flavor halibut, but I'd rather be able to taste more than the saucing on the fish.

                                                  7, 8, & 9. Toro Hand Roll, Blue Crab Hand Roll, Lobster Hand Roll:

                                                  All three hand rolls had really warm rice in them, bordering on hot (for me). Perhaps it's the amount of rice as compared to the nigiri, or perhaps the nori acts as an insulator to keep the heat in. Regardless, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the warm rice in the hand rolls. Without the textural problems that the shari had during my first visit, the warmness itself actually worked better than I expected.

                                                  The non-shari-specific critique of the toro and blue crab hand rolls in my original review above still stands for today's hand roll. The lobster hand roll was mildly disappointing, as I didn't really get a great deal of lobster flavor from it. This was the same issue I had with Son of a Gun's lobster roll (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/858099). Maybe I'm just a spoiled New Englander who expects his lobster meat to taste more like lobster. :-)

                                                  10. Halibut Sashimi: I think SUGARFISH and I just have to agree to disagree on sashimi. I don't want my sashimi covered in really tart ponzu, so it almost resembles ceviche without the onion and cilantro. Actually, in addition to the ponzu, yuzukosho was used with the halibut sashimi, and it was just too much for the dish.

                                                  11. Large Scallop Nigiri: The large scallop nigiri from my first visit was rather bland. This time, they were more flavorful, with a gentle sweetness that did come through despite more ponzu saucing.

                                                  So, my conclusion is that the style that SUGARFISH serves is not really my preferred style. The overly-tart ponzu overpowers the fish. Some of the neta was a little too soft, but the yellowtail is quite good. The shari, even though it's warmer than I prefer, is actually quite enjoyable when prepared right, especially in the hand rolls.

                                                  Would SUGARFISH be my first choice for sushi? Not with Kiriko, Shunji, and others around. Would I go back there if the mood for warm-rice sushi strikes me? Yes, and I can enjoy it on its own merit.

                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
                                                  9 Replies
                                                  1. re: PeterCC

                                                    I had a feeling you wouldn't be too ecstatic about it but at least it was an improvement, and you don't think it's terrible.

                                                    If someone just to a look at the pictures and didn't read your review, they'd probably say that looks like some great sushi.

                                                    Caveat or proviso: I have to say that I started growing up on sushi with Nozawa back in the day, so I do have a prediliction also for sushi that is soft and heavily sauced and warmer rice. Yet, I do really like Shunji, Mori, and the rest.

                                                    In fact, now that sugar fish has opened and it's been open for a few years, I like it a little less than years ago when only Nozawa was around.

                                                    I guess if you happen to have any extra spare dough lying around, you can give Sasabune and Echigo a try too, which are in the same style as Nozawa or rather SugarFish.

                                                    1. re: kevin

                                                      I've tried Echigo once years ago, and that's what puzzled me about my first visit to SUGARFISH. I knew Echigo was a similar style but didn't remember the rice at Echigo being that much warmer than the other sushi places I was frequenting at the time.

                                                    2. re: PeterCC

                                                      by the way, which location of sugar fish did you go to ???

                                                        1. re: PeterCC

                                                          Oh, for the sake of keeping things equal.

                                                          I think I rec'd going to the marina location this time around.

                                                          1. re: kevin

                                                            Yeah I did want to try a different location but SM was most convenient for me today.

                                                      1. re: PeterCC

                                                        also, when i'm craving this type of sushi, it fits the bill at about half the price of a sasabune.

                                                        1. re: kevin

                                                          Its very Sasbune lite and Brentwood is a good choice.

                                                          1. re: BSW6490

                                                            I love their Brentwood location! (It's embarassing that a few of the servers there know me by name!)

                                                      2. you know i had takeout from here the other day and I have to say that the quality seems to have gone south since the last visit which was takeout almost a year ago. my first visit i was pretty pleased and now not so much. i don't know about the shari since mine was to go and i traveled 5 minutes by car before i sat down to eat. but the fish tasted lackluster maybe even slightly old and i went on a very busy friday mid lunch rush so it wasn't an off day for fish. definitely not rushing to go back there for the price/quality.