NOZAWA BAR [LONG REVIEW + PHOTOS]
Nozawa Bar represents the flagship sushi experience for legendary L.A. sushi Chef Kazunori Nozawa and his rapidly expanding brand - sugarFISH. Serving only omakase-style sushi to a maximum of 40 patrons each day (2 seatings of 10 for lunch, and 2 seatings of 10 for dinner), Nozawa Bar remains true to the spirit of Nozawa-san and his “Trust me” theme.
RESERVATIONS: Currently, the reservation process is online ONLY. There is no phone number. The “seatme” website is easily navigable. Note: You must have a text-enabled phone number to register a reservation, since there will be a text message to your phone in order to confirm your reservation on the day you intend to dine (and you must text back “confirm”). A $150 deposit is required from your credit card at the time of booking to prevent against no-shows. This reservation process can seem a bit daunting, but given the fact that it takes a lot of resources and preparation for each diner’s omakase beforehand, it is somewhat understandable. I chose the latter (8PM) dinner seating, since I sometimes like to linger and be the last customer out (but that's just me).
LOCATION: The physical location of Nozawa Bar is tucked away in a hidden corner of the Beverly Hills sugarFISH restaurant, itself just down the street from Mastro’s Steakhouse. Parking is $6 at the restaurant valet, but one can self-park for a $5 flat rate after 6PM at the Montage garage (across the street from sugarFISH).
What I like about this new Beverly Hills sugarFISH location is that (unlike other suagrFISH locations I've visited) there was some forethought given to create a more spacious waiting area for customers, with sidewalk & street views (which are always interesting in the 90210). If one shows up early for dinner at Nozawa Bar, the hostess will simply ask for would-be Nozawa Bar patron(s) to wait in the front waiting area of sugarFISH until the appointed time of reservation (a small bar and seating area are there for waiting customers to enjoy some beer or a glass of wine). As the time approaches for the seating, all 10 patrons will be led by the hostess down a long corridor, away from the main dining room. At the end of the hallway is a room tucked away from the main dining area: Nozawa Bar. Patrons’ mobile phones are requested to be silenced from this point forth for the duration of the meal. Serving of the first course in the omakase starts promptly 5 minutes after the seating time. If a diner is late in joining the seating, there will be no “make up” courses awaiting the tardy diner.
DÉCOR: Inside, Nozawa Bar itself is gorgeous, reminiscent of the some sushi-yas I’ve visited in the Ginza district. The lines are clean, and the feeling is minimalist. The sushi bar is L-shaped, and the wood tones are warm and cheerful. There is no bad seat in the house. The table set is spartan as well (cloth napkin, chopstick holder, chopsticks, water glass). What was missing was the oshibori (wet hand towel), an oversight which I’m almost certain management will correct in due time.
(Note: For now, the house management is enforcing a “no photo” policy of the room layout itself, though diners are welcome to take as many food photos as they like.)
Drinks: A small selection of high-end sakes and wines (3 selections each), and 2 Japanese beers are offered, too. True to my usual sushi M.O., I chose the Sapporo Reserve All Malt, and didn’t look back.
Now, onwards to the food! (Pardon me, fellow 'Hounds, for my subpar photography...)
Chef Osamu Fujita, with his decades of experience in Japan, Miami & Las Vegas, presides at the counter. He is very friendly, and likes to get to know his patrons. On the night we were there, we were also honored to have Nozawa-san himself supervising our dinner!
1. Mozuku with kani: Seaweed with crab claw meat... An awesome starter - Just the right amount of vinegar; generous with the crab meat.
2. Sashimi: O-toro (fatty tuna belly) & kurage (jellyfish), served with cherry ponzu & shoyu (soy sauce)… The o-toro (from the Northern Atlantic near Spain) was sublime. The texture was perfect, melt-in-your-mouth, and definitely among the best we've ever had in L.A. Kurage (raw jellyfish) sashimi is not a common dish to find in L.A. - The Chinese often eat pickled jellyfish as an appetizer, but in this case, there is no pickling - This is fresh jellyfish (flown in from Japan)!
3. Akami (lean tuna)... From the waters off Spain, this maguro was truly magnificent. The shari (sushi rice) matched the fish magnificently. Just terrific!
A note about rice: Chef Fujita’s shari is wonderful, but it’s a tad warm, and a bit on the looser packed side – For maximum enjoyment, I’d highly recommend using one’s hands instead of chopsticks to grab the nigiri pieces here at Nozawa Bar.
4. Sumi ika (squid) with shiso leaf... Excellent consistency!
5. Uni (sea urchin roe)... The highest grade uni from Santa Barbara; this was a great treat.
6. Tarabagani (king crab)... So satisfying!
7. Hotate (scallop) with yuzu (Japanese citrus) ponzu : This was a very large scallop, of perfect texture (fluffy). The yuzu rind shavings accent the scallop's gentle richness.
8. Isaki (threeline grunt) - Another hard-to-find fish in the U.S., this isaki was flown in from Japan, and is served at the height of its freshness.
9. Ise ebi (spiny lobster) temaki (handroll)... Fujita-san said, "Eat this right away!" He was right - It was warm, and so incredibly luxurious in taste. This ise ebi temaki alone made the trip worth it.
10. Kaki (raw oysters) with spicy cherry ponzu... These 3 perfect kumamoto oysters were freshly harvested from Washington state. The lineage of these farmed oysters is originally from Japan.
11. Ankimo (monkfish liver), with shiro miso (white miso) and scallions... This is a dish Nozawa-san first made famous in his original Studio City sushi bar. The ankimo is of the highest grade. It tastes every single bit as good now at Nozawa Bar as it did in the Studio City days! Though serving-wise (I’m probably crazy for saying this): For such a rich dish, it’s almost too big a portion. A smaller serving of the ankimo may make it even more “special”, allowing for more meaningful bites.
12. Kinmedai (golden eye snapper)... Super good. I’m so used to this fish being seared (a la Kiriko-style), I had forgotten how good it can be “straight up”!
13. Ikura (salmon roe)... Nozawa-san says he has a special way of brining these fragile salmon eggs, using a secret method involving kastuobushi dashi (bonito broth).
14. Mirugai (geoduck clam) with shiso leaf... Another hit! Outstanding texture, with just the right amount of "crunch"!!!
15. Botan ebi (giant spot prawn), with sea salt & a dash of lemon juice... Also from the waters off Santa Barbara, this gorgeous shrimp tail was simply one sweet, glorious bite! Too bad the shrimp head was not also offered... Note: This is not an "odori" (animal still moving as you eat it) presentation of giant prawn, as some of you experienced sushi eaters may be used to.
16. Toro (fatty tuna) temaki (handroll)... What can I say?! Incredible. The handrolls here are just incredible!
17. Anago (sea eel)... Beautiful and tender.
18. Tamagoyaki (egg omelette cake), with shiso & ume (sweet plum)... Wrapped in shiso and hidden within the omelette, the ume (sweet plum) contrasts with the egg extremely well.
This marks the end of the omakase – Now, onto BONUS ROUNDS!
19. Kibinago (banded blue-splat)... This fish I've never seen outside of Japan. Yes, Nozawa-san had this flown in from Japan as well.
20. Seared shima-aji (striped jack) with scallions & ponzu... More great hikari-mono (silver fish)!
21. Sawara (Spanish mackerel)... Oishi!
22. Akami (lean tuna)... A generous second serving of this delicious tuna!
23. Kanpachi (amberjack)… More tastiness. I may have forgotten to take a photo of this bad boy, since I was happily chatting with my fellow sushi-philes.
24. Kinmedai (golden eye snapper)… Even better the second time around!
25. Tako (octopus) sashimi with sea salt... Definitely one of the highlights of this meal, this sliced octopus tentacle is amongst the most tender I've ever had! Amazing!
Genmaicha (roasted brown tea)... Marks the end of the main courses...
Dessert time!!! Or rather, fruit time!
26. Seasonal fruits (mango, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries & blueberries) are served. Simple & wonderful, but for a meal of this magnitude one would almost expect a slightly more dedicated dessert (or desserts).
SERVICE: Unobstrusive, courteous, professional and prompt. No issues at all here. Overall, the pace of the meal took about 2 hours max, so we got out around 10PM or so. It did not feel rushed at all.
PRICE: The omakase costs $150, with a built-in 18% gratuity. Coupled with my several bonus rounds of sushi, a $8 Sapporo beer & tax, the total damage out the door was about $285. Yes, even though the gratuity was built into the price structure (Japan-style), I felt that the 18% was justified.
Overall, Nozawa Bar marks Nozawa-san’s return to upper echelon sushi dining in Los Angeles. There are a few minor blips in the overall experience, but all the main components for sushi bar success are definitely there, and working in its favor: Quality / consistency of ingredients, brand recognition, location, and the “secret” exclusivity factor (and even the somewhat rigid rules governing the pace of the meal) will all combine to make Nozawa Bar a hot reservation well into the foreseeable future. My favorite dishes were the isaki, the akami, and all of the handrolls, especially that fantastic ise ebi handroll.
Highly Recommended (if you can score a seat).
Nozawa Bar (at sugarFISH Beverly Hills)
212 N. Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
My photo #14 shows the ankimo dish.
The decor is definitely sleeker than the old Nozawa sapce in Studio City.
Mori remains my #1 sushi bar omakase experience currently in L.A. (not counting sushi kaiseki such as Urasawa, Yamakase, n/naka, or Shunji), but Nozawa Bar is debuting, and is already in my top 5 (not shabby at all).
Awesome in depth detailed report! Thanks very much.
Definitely a big jump over the assembly line, pre-sliced fish days at Studio City! I assume the "Today's Special: Trust Me" sign is gone :-)?
It is definitely the season for kibinago. Had some in Northern California just recently. Chef took several splats and wrapped them around the top of the shari. An awesome hikarimono to have if marinated gently with the right kind of vinegar... (Sushi Sam's in San Mateo likes to douse su-miso or a different kind of sauce on top which overpowers, unless the fish quality in question wasn't that good to begin with...)
re: K K
To be honest I've only been to Sawa twice years ago, before he completed redesigned his menu for broader Michelin-esque appeal (vs appealing mostly to his Porsche racing dot com paper millionaires and Silicon Valley CEO/VP executives).
Sawa's fish can be of impeccable top quality (heard he even imported Bluefin from Oma prefecture too...), but what he does with his inventory, is absolutely not my style, and I would not recommend any LA sushi hounds to go there if they are even remotely considering (spend that $ at Meadowood, L'Atelier Crenn, heck even Benu, French Laundry, or Manresa instead, really!). With the $ you spend there on the most expensive $350 course (no drinks included), you might as well eat at Kuruma in NY (or Brushstroke), or if in LA stick with Yamakase, Urasawa, Mori, or heck even Go's Mart in Canoga Park if you like gold flakes on your Wagyu (holy cow) and truffle oil on white fish.
Some people who are really open minded like his approach.
For me I prefer a delightful spectrum across the board, kobachi/sashimi/nigiri/makimono/tea, dessert and jovial banter with the chef and patrons nearby, and not plate after plate of thick untextured cuts of blocks of fish (butsugiri) with French style saucing over. Perhaps the regulars get something better but without a referral of a regular, it can be a mixed bag. I'd rather go back to Sushi Zo than Sawa...
re: K K
I've had a couple of very enjoyable meals at Sawa, but over the last few years my preference has skewed way the heck over to a more traditional edomae experience, which definitely is NOT his thing, as you say.
There are other places in the Bay that I enjoy more now.
Hopefully one day we'll bump into each other and we can exchange tales of Sawa ;)
I still recall the fire storm that broke out after Burke & Wells (hope that they are doing great wherever they are currently residing) did their initial CH "Sawa" review here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/17277#50801
Found them here http://burkeandwells.wordpress.com/
And not to miss their tour de force in Paris with the "shit" sausage encounter http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/261442
re: K K
I was at sugarfish BH last night and saw many happy appearing NB customers coming out. Got to chat with Nozawa-san, meet Fujita-san and tour the bar. Really looking forward to trying it in June.
Sugarfish was quite good. I think having NB there brings the quality up a notch, or maybe it is just that way now because it is new to the empire and under the microscope of management. The ikura was really wonderful, as was the uni and halibut fin...for the price it is hard to do better and I love the feeling of eating at a bar or table, rather than a sushi bar from time to time...one can be a little less "formal" and quiet.
Fantastic report! That kibinago looks absolutely delicious.
I did wonder how many dishes it would take for the ponzu to strike, but it actually seems quite restrained -- a good thing!
Regarding the price, seems I was a bit hasty in the other thread. It's quite reasonable given the number of courses and the quality and rarity of the fish. It's the bonus rounds that are going to bankrupt me :)