Friday, March 28, 2008

Sushi Zo - 02/23/2008

9824 National Blvd Unit C
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 842-3977

Sushi Zo, a relative newcomer to the LA sushi scene has been building quite a following online. Many consider it the finest or among the finest in the city. Critics rave about Chef Keizo Seki's attention to detail, the subtleties of his rice, the fact he makes his own shoyu, and that he takes his craft very seriously. None of the reviews goes so far to label him as a sushi nazi, but many do note that he does adhere to certain rules and strongly suggests his patrons do too.

We got here right on time and were promptly seated at our table. I chose a table since I heard Keizo-san frowns on picture taking since he wants patrons to eat the fish immediately after it is served. One thing that I will always remember about Sushi Zo is how much work the waitresses do. They are pretty much constantly in motion. Sushi is basically coming out from behind the counter every minute or so, add to that regular refilling of drinks, and seating new patrons, I don't think I have ever seen the wait staff work so hard at a restaurant.

On Saturday, when we went, they were only serving omakase, so here we go...

01 Kumamoto Oysters
These darling little oysters came swimming in ponzu. I could taste the freshness in the texture but I felt the sauce overpowered the natural brine of the oyster. Not a bad start but not stellar.

02 Kanpachi Sashimi
Now this is more like it. Super fresh with a firm texture that could almost be considered crunchy. The fish was lightly flavored with what looks like yuzu kocho but I don't remember the taste.

03 Maguro
The most basic of nigiri. I was quite impressed, the meat was a bit fattier than the norm, resulting in a soft texture and richer flavor.

04 Hotate
Another stellar course and the first time I believe the waitress said "use soy sauce" Many of the dishes come preseasoned and so throughout the night the waitresses will instruct diners on when to use soy and when not to.

05 Baby Tuna
I don't know about you but this just looks lovely, a pinkish color with nice segmentation between the flakes. This was delicious, even more tender than the maguro, and flavored with ginger, yuzu, and chives.

06 Kinmedai
I am not sure if this is my first time with golden eye snapper or not. Another nice looking fish, something I would think about many of the pieces I was served. This also had a soft texture, sadly I dont remember much about the flavor

07 Aji
A very atypical Spanish Mackerel. There is no skin and the meat isn't cooked. The texture was softer than I expected, and the fish had only the faintest whisper of the characteristic oiliness I associate with Spanish Mackerel.

08 Shiro Maguro
This was white tuna, they called it albacore although I have heard of a fish called escolar also referred to as white tuna. This might have been my favorite of the night, a far cry from the "Chicken of the Sea"

09 Hamachi
Yellowtail has been a staple of my sushi diet since the beginning. This looked odd for a yellowtail, extremely white almost like the aforementioned escolar. The texture and flavor were also more akin to escolar than yellowtail. One of the weaker fishes of the evening

10 Amaebi
A delicious sweet shrimp with the satisfying crunch I associate with the freshest shrimp. Always a favorite of mine.

11 Hirame
An interesting presentation of halibut. Typically restaurants flavor halibut with ponzu and radish, instead Keizo-san had us dip it in soy. The fish had a firm texture and a very clean light flavor characteristic of halibut.

12 Uni and Ika
Visually the least appealing dish, this was basically thin strings of ika served in uni, with soy and wasabi. Quite a contrast in flavors and textures, the firmness of the ika and the wateriness of the uni. Probably the most complex dish of the night

13 Grilled Butterfish
Lightly grilled fish, oh so soft and flaky. I actually wasn't too big of the fan of the sauce, although I did like the texture of the grilled fish.

14 Tai
A pretty standard Tai, actually disappointing given some of the earlier pieces.

15 Amaebi 2
We had the normal Amaebi I am used to earlier. I don't actually know that this dish is also called amaebi, but in any case, the smaller shrimp have a much softer texture, becoming creamy upon mastication. Never been a big fan, I always preferred the firmer texture of the larger shrimp.

16 Sayuri
One of my favorite pieces of sushi to look at. The fish has a firm texture somewhat reminicent of snapper and a very light flavor.

17 Sake
Salmon rounds out the big three of standard sushi fishes. This was a fairly weak expression of salmon, nothing memorable to note.

18 Kurodai
This was another contender for favorite fish. I loved the texture of this fish, slick and soft but dense. Very satisfying with a bit of soy.

19 Seared Toro
Given the high quality of the fish here I was really expecting something impressive. This was good but a bit on the lean side.

20 Shima Aji
Another beautiful looking fish, all a single color with the characteristic ginger, chives, and yuzu juice. Again the mackerel oiliness was noticably muted.

21 Ika
One of my girlfriend's old favorites because a Japanese idol she liked used to eat it, we both actually found we really enjoy the firm, almost tough texture and the satisfying creaminess that the firmness gives way to.

22 Blue Crab Handroll
Our final piece of sushi is one of the few rolls they serve here. Looking all the world like a fat cigar, the blue crab handroll is seaweed stuffed with crab and a bit of rice. Very meaty and satisfying, definitely fills you up at the end of the meal.

23 Yuzu Juice
I noticed every table gets a glass of this before they leave. At first I thought it was some sort of alcoholic beverage. Turns out it is sweetened yuzu juice. Very cool and refreshing, it cleans the palette of any lingering fishiness from the sushi.

Watching Keizo-san work, I see an intensity that reminds me of Grant Achatz of Alinea. Keizo-san is clearly passionate about what he does. I can see how posting rules on every table might seem a bit anal, but I see it as part of his love for the food. Not only does he want to create the highest-quality items possible, he wants you to enjoy it at its peak. In case you are curious here are the aforementioned rules.

If I had any complaint, its that the rice does not hold together, now I may not be the best with chopsticks but I have been using them for a while. Maybe one out of every 7 tries I was able to pick up my sushi without breaking the rice or leaving a sizable portion on the plate or dropping it into the soy sauce. The rice has a nice flavor texture and temperature, it just wont stick together.

Not really a complaint but more of an observation, I think Keizo-san has it easier than many chefs. Working with sushi one is limited in the types of flavor combinations. As a result I think a lot of the dishes end up having similar flavors. That definitely becomes evident when having as much sushi as we did.

If you noticed the descriptions of the fish are sparse, thats because things came so fast there wasn't time to remember all the details. I will definitely be back maybe next time I'll try to eat one of everything! And I'll take better notes, I promise.

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