This little sushi bar has been getting a lot of attention. We have seen numerous references to it being one of the top sushi bars in the area, with the notable exception of Urasawa. However, many fans complain of ill-treatment by Keizo, the Sushi Chef and owner. We decided to investigate and draw our own conclusions.
We made a reservation on a Friday for the same night and had no problems getting two nice seats at the bar in front of Keizo. The Omakase arrangement was explained to us both on the phone as well as when we were seated. We then then proceeded to feast on (I counted) 32 separate varieties of fish – mostly in sushi form. I have listed them below with our brief assessments of each. All in all, I find people’s complaints about Keizo to be unfounded. He is obviously a little on the shy side, but more significantly, he is intensely focused on what he is doing. He is not rude, he is efficient.
We go to top sushi bars all over and frequently opt for the Omakase option. What we typically get is far less variety. Often there are two pieces of sushi (and larger pieces at that) per order, and a lot more rolls and filler dishes may be incorporated. I don’t even think we had this much fish variety at Urasawa. 32 is A LOT. What others call “rude” I call “efficient.” My husband used the term “assembly line.” I think this is not wrong. Almost every piece is individually served on a small dish. Keizo does not even save time by putting multiple pieces on the same dish. As soon as you lifted the piece off the plate, a waitress would come by and whisk the plate away. No going after any stray rice kernels here…
I completely understand his need for focus. My husband often teases me
as when I make shrimp at home I go into a similar mode – no one is
allowed to talk to me as I have to put all my attention into each
individual shrimp to make sure they are cooked exactly perfect, not
under- nor over-cooked. I watched Keizo put the same passion into
slicing and seasoning each of the 32 pieces for a room filled with
people all at different stages of the 32 step process.
So the dish comes out, either by Keizo or a waitress, and you are given instruction: “No Soy Sauce” or “Little Soy Sauce.” Yes, to me it was obvious without them telling me which was the appropriate option. But I have been eating this stuff for decades. Also, if Keizo would have to stop and think about whether or not the customer in front of him needed instruction, that would certainly make him less efficient and he risks making mistakes. And it would be even harder for him to train the waitresses to sort out the pros from the newbies. I am not offended when the Italian restaurant “demonstrates” the mixing of the olive oil and balsamic for bread dipping. Or when the Korean place tells me to add the red sauce to the Bibim bap. So why is this any different?
In regards to price, it was not cheap. We had ordered about $50 worth of Sake. Inclusive of that, the bill was $300. I am not clear if we could have stopped him sooner than we did; I know by the end I was slipping my husband most of my toro hand roll. At one point, he asked us if we wanted more, and we quickly declined. For the quality and quantity of fish we received, I have no quarrel with the price.
So far, I declare the venue, the chef, the quality of the fish, and even the price all well-above par.
However, I do have a criticism about some of the food itself. And this is where it gets really subjective. I really used to enjoy Sushi Sushi in BH. But then I made the mistake of going there too frequently. I quickly became attuned to the monotony of the same seasoning (kind of a soy/dashi thing) that they put on almost every fish. The original Sasabune and Nozawa clones use(d) a similar sauce. I like this sauce. But not on everything. It just kinda gets boring and actually has a stronger flavor profile than just plain soy sauce. We felt the fish, as good as it was, was losing its subtlety of flavor. So we eventually stopped going to Sushi Sushi.
Keizo does something a bit similar. He favors a sauce that he uses with some frequency that is also a soy/ponzu/dashi kind of flavor profile. But he adds a bit of ginger to it. After having it on a number of pieces, I finally decided I just didn’t like it. I have never been one for gari (ginger) so this was just not my thing.
Another problem I had was his soy sauce. Clearly homemade, it possessed a wonderful smokiness and had a high degree of complexity. So high, in fact, that while it was a brilliant pairing with bigger flavored fishes like tuna and yellow tail, it all but overwhelmed the more delicate white fishes.
Finally, my last criticism was of the rice. As any true sushi aficionado knows, the rice is at least as important as the fish, and it requires a significant amount of expertise to prepare correctly. The flavor was spot on. And even the texture of the individual kernels was ideal. But something happened with the assembly of the rice base for the sushi pieces. When eating a piece of sushi meant to be dipped in soy sauce, it is expected that you should be able to invert the piece of sushi so that you are only dipping the fish gently into the soy (you only want a few drops) as to avoid contact with the rice. Well, any attempt at picking up the sushi and inverting it resulted in the rice ball breaking apart. This happened repeatedly. It was messy and awkward, especially considering the waitresses were in a hurry to grab the plates away.
All in all, Sushi Zo was quite good. I prefer it to Mori, Kiriko, Sushi Sushi, Nozawa and others. (I don’t do the Nobu places at all.) My criticisms of Zo are subjective and relate to my personal palate. For me, Shibucho on Beverly is far better. The quality is comparable, the adornments used on the fish simpler and subtler. And yes, I do love his wine list of old Bordeaux and Burgundy to pair with the fish. It is still my favorite non-Urawasa option. I have not yet been to the Hump, Hiko, Sushi Gen, or Nishimura, which others have cited as better. I hope to try them soon.
The 32: (Miso to start)
- Hama Hama oyster sashimi in the shell with ponzu
- Amberjack sashimi – 2 pieces
- Maguro Sashimi – 2 pieces
- Halibut sushi – salt. quite nice
- Hotate sushi – one of my favorites
- Albacore sushi – too much ginger
- Toro – This was weird; unevenly sliced thin pieces.
- Aji – too much ginger
- Mara (sp?) miso sauce overpowered
- Yellow Tail
- Ama Ebi – Huge Succulent Piece on warm rice. Spectacular. No heads.
- Ankimo – served as sushi
- Snapper- unclear on the variety, I think Black
- Bonito – too much ginger
- Striped Bass – Smoky soy overpowered
- Salmon + Marinated kelp
- red snapper
- Ikura – it was kept marinated in a dashi based-broth that made the eggs quite smoky and very soft.
- Uni – Spot on.
- SkipJack – overpowered by garlic topping
- Marugai (Giant Clam) – Great texture
- Tako – Yuzu too strong
- Crab Handroll – I thought it had too much mayo. Husband thought it was perfect
- Sea Eel
- Halibut Fin – too much shiso but great texture
- Another variety of snapper
- Toro Roll – Quality of Toro was not very good on this one. Clearly scraps. Needed scallion or something, it was flat-tasting
- Yuzu Cocktail – This was sweetened juice from the bottle. I regularly buy this stuff from the asian markets and was not impressed by it.
Los Angeles, CA
Phone: (310) 842-3977