I went for the first time, on Wednesday, a little past noon. I have to say, Nozawa didn't really live up to the hype...
First, the man. Kazunori Nozawa was rather meek and reserved, not the holy terror that many would lead you to believe (he reminded me a little of Wiliam H Macy for some reason). He engaged me in conversation, nearly from the moment that I sat down... asked what I liked, served what I liked, and never once made comment to my lack of "regular" status. He told me what each piece of sushi was as he served it, and asked me, "what do you want next?" on three or four occassions during the meal.
Second, the clientelle was primarily industry-based. Everybody in the restuarant other than me seemed to be fresh-in from one of the studios, they knew one another well and the conversation was leaned toward the loud and schmoozy. On the other hand, animators from Warner Brother, the Simpsons, and French Kitty have all donated nice sketches of their respective characters dining on Nozawa's fish... which is the kind of industry touch that's easier to like.
Even with the heavy industry presence, the restaurant is just a half step up from a dive. Most local places, save Sasabune, are cleaner and more well appointed. Nozawa doesn't seem moved to make much of an effort.
Third, while the fish was fresh, some of it was served less than optimally. He said that he served tuna cut from smaller younger fish, which made it more subtly flavored; but he served VERY thick slices...
Nozawa's selections were tuna-heavy with two servings of yellowtail (sushi and sashimi), two of albacore (sushi and sashimi), one bluefin, and two types of toro. Along with this he there was snapper, pink lipped scallop, salmon roe, uni, blue crab, salmon skin, ebi, lobster, and sea eel. And his VERY thickly cut sashimi was absolutely drenched in sauce, which seemed to fly in the face of Nozawa's stated philosophy of subtlety.
Nozawa's rice is much more lightly seasoned than Sasabune, or Echigo. While I understand the complaints that much Los Angeles sushi is overseasoned, Nozawa's desire to let the fish shine through results in a somewhat underwhelming rice base. And, I found his rice less diner friendly, more crumbly and less perfectly aligned than the rice at Echigo, or Shibucho in Costa Mesa.
Lastly, and most damningly in my opinion; some of the fish seemed far too cold, especially the toro. Even enrobed in steaming rice in a hand roll, the toro seemed tooth shockingly cold, almost icy.
I had sixteen rounds of omakase (with adjustments for my taste), for a total of twenty eight pieces. Lunch cost $92, I drank tap water... and for some reason I left the restaurant feeling that the price seemed high. I have spent less, at other local sushi places and enjoyed my meals more. I don't feel taken advantage of, by any means (I ate a ton of fish)... I just expected something more.
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