Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sushi Zo - 01/24/2009

Located in a strip mall next to a Starbucks, Sushi Zo hardly seems like an one of LA's top sushi restaurants. I'd been looking for a reason to revisit the restaurant. One of my friends was about to have open heart surgery and we felt a trip to one of the best sushi restaurants in the city would do wonders for his spirit.

The restaurant is pretty sparse in terms of alcohol a modest sake selection and a few beers. We started with a bottle of Tsukasabotan Tokubetsu Junmai "Senchu Hassaku" ("Eight Point Plan"). A pretty approachable sake, a lot of initial sweetness and grain, with plenty of fruitiness on the midpalate and a dry clean finish. We then switched to beers, first Yebisus followed by Kirin.

01: Kumamoto Oyster
This beautiful morsel was the perfect embodiment of a Kumamoto Oyster, a creamy pearl surrounded by slightly crunchy muscle. Flawlessly prepared and served in a bath of ponzu, the harmonious blend of flavors served to heighten my anticipation for the meal ahead.

02: Maguro Sashimi - Bluefin Tuna
Typically I find tuna a bit boring, with no distinctive flavor or texture, but this was one of the fattier examples of tuna blending the clean fresh flavor with a pleasing richness. In addition the generous dollop of fresh wasabi added a sinus clearing kick to the fish.

03: Uni and Ika - Sea Urchin with Squid "Noodles"
This almost looks like some sort of ice cream but in reality it is uni with thin strands of raw squid. The uni has a more liquid texture than normal giving the dish a thick viscous mouthfeel. Still one of the weaker dishes for me as the freshness of the uni didn't seem up to par.

04: Awabi - Abalone
We were served a single baby abalone for the group and I was almost loath to share it. The abalone itself was a bit firmer than usual with a heavy crunch. Mildly flavored, the application of yuzu kosho added a tart peppery kick that excited the palate.

05: Hirame - Halibut
The first nigiri of the night, the halibut was fairly soft, lightly seasoned with salt and citrus. Simple yet still very well done.

06: Hotate - Scallop
One of the best scallop nigiri I have had. The flesh had a soft supple texture and a faint hint of sweetness delicious when taken with a light touch of soy.

07: Aji - Spanish Mackerel
I have been eating Aji ever since I started eating sushi and I have found the fish quality has improved so much over time. From the cooked overly fishy examples to this quivering jelly-like gem. The use of ginger and onion complimented the natural flavor of the fish while the fish was so soft it fairly melted on the tongue.

08: Ha-Gatsuo - Skipjack
A cousin to the ubiquitous tuna served at sushi restaurants across the country. Skipjack sits somewhere in between maguro and toro in terms of fat content and deftly combines the best elements of both. It consistently ranks among my favorite selections in the few restaurants that serve it.

09: Hamachi - Yellowtail
This was a distinctive presentation of yellowtail. The fish was a bit more complex than the typical yellowtail with a softer texture and a lean smoky flavor.

10: Toro - Fatty Tuna
For one of the best sushi restaurants in the city, the toro was fairly lackluster. The fish is uniformly smooth and tender with no gristle or tendon but it lacks the powerful oiliness of the best toros. For some reason we each received two pieces of toro. Maybe they wanted to shower us with luxury but more cynically the extra toro felt like a quick and easy way to fatten the bill.

11: Shima Aji - Striped Jack
Beautiful shimmery skin and pink tinged alabaster flesh. The fish has a slight crunch that gives way to a jelly like interior. The use of soy compliments the light fishiness wonderfully.

12: Amaebi - Sweet Shrimp
I've never been a fan of these smaller sweet shrimp as they tend to be overly creamy. If the creaminess wasn't enough this had a grainy almost frozen texture to it. One of my friends likened the course to a shrimp cocktail, a very apt description.

13: Kinmedai - Golden Eye Snapper
This snapper has a tender silky texture and clean flavor. The use of the homemade soy really elevates this fish to another level.

14: Meji Maguro - Baby Tuna
One of my favorites from my previous visit, the baby tuna has a satisfying dense mouthfeel. The use of soy, citrus, scallion, and ginger draw out the subtle flavor of the fish.

15: Kanpachi - Amberjack
An old favorite, this was a bit softer than the kanpachi during my last visit. The use of yuzu kocho gives an initial spicy kick that mellows into a mild sweetness allowing the fish to come to the fore.

16: Ankimo - Monkfish Liver
I heard that Sushi Zo served a warm ankimo, but it wasn't available during my last visit. The liver had a wonderful buttery soft texture, and a mild sweetness. The ankimo was delicious on its own, but the seaweed wrapping was a bit overpowering.

17: Ono - Wahoo
A popular fish at western restaurants, this is the first time I have seen it in a sushi restaurant. The fish is lightly cooked giving it a soft flaky texture. The common toppings of soy and citrus give the fish a salty-sweet interplay that works well with the natural oiliness of the fish.

18: Sayori - Needlefish
It seems no matter the restaurant, the sayori always is the most visually appealing of the fishes, the silver stripe highlighting the almost luminous white flesh. The needlefish was one of the firmest fishes of the night, with a light flavor that really highlighted the skill of Keizo-san's sauce.

19: Binnaga - Albacore
Another of my favorites during my first visit, the albacore may be even better this time around. Insanely soft and tender the fish has a fattiness more reminiscent of toro than albacore. The house sauce clashed with the oiliness of the fish in a complex and pleasing way.

20: Sake - Salmon
An overly tender salmon, I would have liked a bit more meatiness to the fish. The sweet marinated kelp contrasted nicely with the clean fresh flavor of the fish.

21: Aoyagi - Orange Clam
The clam had a dense firmness to it, very satisfying to bite through. The use of yuzu and rock salt worked wonders, balancing out the clam's intense natural brininess.

22: Uni Gunkan Maki - Sea Urchin
This gunkan-maki was almost like an ice cream cone with globules of uni overflowing from the top of the roll. The uni was a bit softer than most, with a texture almost like heavy cream. The use of fresh wasabi adds an element of complexity and helps balance the intense sweetness of the urchin.

22: Ikura Gunkan Maki - Salmon Roe
One of the best Ikura maki I have had in a long while. The globules were very firm and burst with cool brine when bitten.

24: Engawa - Halibut Fin
Another rare type of fish, I know it is served at a couple other restaurants in the area, but this actually my first experience with engawa. I was expecting something firm maybe with a bit of crunch but the meat was more like a nicely cooked fish with a slightly viscous feel.

25: Tai - Red Snapper
A very hit or miss fish depending on the restaurant. Zo's snapper ranks among the best, nice firm crunch and light fishiness, the wasabi really lingered throughout this dish.

26: Anago - Sea Eel
Definitely a leaner expression of anago, extremely soft with a smokiness not found in most eel. The lighter use of sauce really allowed the natural character of the eel to shine.

27: Toro Temaki - Fatty Tuna Hand Roll
Like most strict traditional sushi restaurants, Zo offers the fat cigar-shaped hand rolls stuffed simply with rice and seafood, in this case toro. I felt this preparation was akin to using Kobe beef to make a hamburger as the mashing ruined the typically delicate texture of the toro. Furthermore, the overly liberal dose of wasabi made it difficult to taste anything else.

28: Kurodai - Black Snapper
One of my top three fishes during my first visit. Texturally one of the best fishes, there is something immensely satisfying about the spry crunch and silky even texture.

29: Tako - Octopus
Sliced perfectly, the texture offered both a snappy bite and satisfying meaty chew. The use of salt and lemon accentuated the naturally light flavor of the octopus.

30: Kani Temaki - Blue Crab Hand Roll
One of the better hand rolls I have had of late. The clean sweetness of the shellfish is apparent from the start. The wasabi was used more effectively than in the toro temaki, adding a powerful heat without dominating the dish.

31: Tamago - Egg
A passable tamago, soft and cool it had a slight sweetness and an intense honey ham character to it.

We technically repeated two of the courses, the skipjack and Spanish mackerel, but I decided to set the camera aside and just concentrate on enjoying these last two bites.

32 Yuzu Juice
Dessert always consists of a shot of yuzu juice to cleanse the palate. Served ice cold, the juice has a fruity sweetness that refreshes and invigorates. I would drink this every day if I could, sadly the waitress ignored me when I asked where I could purchase some.

My second visit has solidified Zo's position as the second best sushi restaurant in the city behind Urasawa (although I would like to try Mori again). All the food came to a fairly reasonable $120 per person, not too bad considering we ordered one of everything. Unlike some other sushi restaurants the staff is not big on talk. Keizo-san didn't speak with us until the end of the meal and only then to ask if we had enough. If you want the social niceties that come with sitting at a sushi bar there are plenty of better choices, but if you want a fast-paced exciting sushi experience, I highly recommend Sushi Zo.

I am happy to report that even in the current economic climate, the restaurant is thriving. The friend who recommended the place told me about being the only diner on a Friday Night. During my first visit, the restaurant was about half full; this time we had to wait 15 minutes beyond our reservation time.


ispeakfoodtoo said...

liked the post on sushi zo. interesting to finally see what they serve here

Aaron said...

Good to hear there's still a crowd at Zo. It seems like they tend to overuse wasabi from your descriptions

Tangbro1 said...

Glad you liked the review. I definitely think Zo is worth a try.

Yeah a couple of pieces had a bit too much wasabi but I kind of like the sharp burn than comes with too much wasabi. In general my only complaint is they have a limited set of flavors to sauce their fish. They used that soy yuzu combination too many times to count but it tastes good so I really didn't mind

Sadao said...

I wish I could just reach out and grab those increbly tasty looking sushi.

Hadi said...

after reading your review, i actually did go and try out sushi zo.

i feel that u're being too kind. you're right when you mentioned about fast pace sushi experience, but it really spoils the dining experience when u have to eat so fast with no interaction with the chef who is right in front of u.

some dishes are worth noting, like the needlefish, the kani temaki too as u mentioned, the gunkan maki, and probably 1 or 2 more.

the rest of the sushi has very ordinary taste. and i dislike the fact that they keep their uni in a translucent toppleware and put it in front of u, like reminding u that it's not "fresh".

urasawa is definitely so much better. i think the reason why i couldnt rate sushi zo as a second to urasawa is because i have tasted urasawa's omakase prior to sushi zo. the overall dining experience is way off the charts from sushi zo's. urasawa san will interact with u, he will explain to u anything u want to know abt the dish, and the meat were all cut out from the original fish/meat, and not some prepared slices of fish/meat that they have prepared beforehand and put them in the fridge.

and like u said, sushi zo lack some things to make each dish a unique taste, its like almost all of their dishes taste the same.

bad.. just bad.. unlike urasawa..

Tangbro1 said...

Hey Hadi,

I am really sorry to hear you didn't care for Sushi Zo. You definitely have valid points regarding.

I like the fast pace as I tend to eat quickly though it is easy to see how that can feel stressful. I also found it strange Keizo-san didn't interact with the diners at the bar.

I agree with you the experience is nowhere near Urasawa level. Urasawa-san is in a league of his own in terms of food, attention to detail, and for the personalized service. Of course that quality comes at a price, $120 for Zo versus $350 for Urasawa.

As for the fish, it is basic and a bit repetitive but for the most part, I thought it was good straightforward sushi.

Having been to Urasawa yourself, what would you say is number two in LA?

Hadi said...

honestly man, i haven't found out yet! haha still on a lookout.

like i said, its hard to rate other sushi house having tasted urasawa's works. because he just inflated your taste for sushi by that much.

and i feel that quality doesnt really have to come with price. when i was in college, the $3.89 pepperoni pizza that i always buy taste so much better than some $19 pizza in hollywood. haha.

btw i was just reading on ur reviews on chinese restaurants. have u tried
Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant? 3939 Rosemead Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770
try it out, its very authentic, u can almost taste the "hongkongness" in its food. but the service can be nasty like u know it, and it can get pretty noisy to u if u're not used it.

Tangbro1 said...

I think the general consensus of #2 in LA is Mori or Zo. I want to give Mori another shot since they recently started allowing pictures.

Still in terms of experience I don't even think Urasawa's old teacher Masa gives the same personal attention to each and every diner.

I went to Sea Harbour for dim sum once right after it opened and I recall the food was quite good. Since I typically go to dim sum with my parents and being typical Asian parents felt it was too expensive compared to some of the other restaurants in the area.

I have been considering going back as some of my friends have been agitating for a high end Chinese dinner with bird's nest, shark fin, and abalone.

Hadi said...

hmmmm Mori huh..
alrite! i'll try that out!

yeah pls don forget to post ur experience in Mori haha.

i;m glad i found ur blog.