Last night (Monday) was our introduction to Sushi Zo, and we have the L.A. hounds to thank. About a week ago I'd posted a query on whether or not to give Sushi Zo a try. In the responses to my post there was an overwhelming positive bent which sealed the deal. During the course of last nights Omikase dinner, there were things that surprised me about myself regarding Sushi appreciation. I've been having a love affair with Sushi since I was 15 (35 years ago), and to only now discover a new way to appreciate Sushi was pretty mind blowing. On to my review:
We arrived at Sushi Zo at 7:00 and the bar was empty. From earlier posts this was something that we'd half expected. In the course of our 90 minute meal, the bar's approximately 11 seats were just about full, and 3 of the approximately 6 tables were full. Sushi Zo was fairly jumping and I assume that Sushi Zo is beginning to thrive- - -deservedly so.
When we made our reservation we said that we would be doing Omikase, and Keizo was well aware of this when we were first seated. Keizo asked if we had any specific dislikes and I mentioned that we’re not very fond of chewy fish or seafood, such as Abalone, Octopus or Squid. A side note: Poet Kitty’s review of Balcones de Peru will have my time after next, lunch date with DebbieW, trying their butter tender version of “Mr. Squid”. My very first impression of Keizo was that he was polite but perhaps a little shy or quiet. He is also noticeably focused on his craft, and within minutes I could see that his concentration was what I mistook for shyness of quietness. Within the course of our evening there were many smiles exchanged. And when in the middle of our meal I asked him to do me a big favor, he busted up laughing. The favor I asked him was to consider moving his restaurant to the valley.
Our pet peeve with Omikase dinners for the most part is that they can be paced at lightning speed. At the get go we shared with Keizo that we like relaxed pacing, and while we have certainly spent more than 90 minutes for a fine sushi dinner, Keizo’s 90 minutes seemed quite relaxed and appropriate.
Our opening bite was a delicious and SO fresh tasting Kumomoto Oyster served in its shell with what I would call a Japanese version of mignonette (sp?) sauce---deeelishus!
Next came Amberjack sashimi. We were each served 3 slices, dabbed with Yuzu and an amount of tender seaweed next to the fish. Very mild, firm without being chewy, and the Yuzu was the ideal counterpoint. Just enough of it to bring out Amberjack flavor, versus masking it.
For the most part, the rest of our meal was presented as single pieced sushi versus “twosies”. Keizo was wonderful with the directives of which fish to anoint with Soy sauce, or not. And speaking of Soy, when it was poured into our little dish, the server announced that it was “home made” Soy sauce. During the beginning courses, we were not instructed to Soy any of our fish, so I was un-prepared for, and not particularly interested in what “home made” Soy sauce would be like.
Bluefin Tuna sushi was served next, and it was brushed lightly with a thick and sweet “special” Soy Sauce. It was stellar. If my review sounds fairly detailed, it is because I brought pen and paper with me last night, wanting to give as accurate a review to the hounds who were responsible for sending us here. When I ate the Bluefin I decided from that fish onward, to put a little asterisk next to any of the coming items that were startlingly fresher and more flavorful than the norm. Laughing because my little 3 x 5 index card turned out to be a sea of asterisks!
Yellowtail belly sushi came next. Ummmazing. This was also the first time we were told to enjoy an amount of the homemade Soy. I would have never guessed soy to be a revelation, but it was. There was a discernable sweet smoky flavor, and throughout the rest of the meal I did something I have never done in my decades of sushi eating. Traditionally I am not a salt user and at best it is used less than sparingly. About 5 times through the meal my right pinky finger somehow managed to dip into the little dish, and (hopefully) not noticed by anyone, find its way into my mouth.
A live Scallop sushi piece was served next, and I have never had a more tender sweet scallop pass my lips.
Spanish mackerel sushi was next- - -and another asterisk was born.
Ama Ebi (sweet raw shrimp) sushi arrived- - -so sweet, flavorful and tender that I laughed. Still trying to figure why I did that. Spousal unit traditionally will pass this variety right by. He detests the fried head which usually comes after the Shrimp. I’ve always told him to simply not eat the head, but to at least enjoy the sweet qualities of a raw Shrimp. He is a stubborn cuss and won’t budge from his prejudice. Well last night I watched him thoroughly enjoy his Shrimp, which by the way, was not followed by its head, fried.
Ono sushi was served, and a quick torch/searing of the outside brought out a level of richness that was sublime. I learned for the first time that Suwara (sp?) is the Japanese name for Ono- - -and I luv me some Suwara.
Butterfish (Black Cod) sushi followed. Torch/seared and topped with a small dab of thick sweet Miso. I’ve always enjoyed this fish fully cooked after a long stint in Miso marinade, but last night’s version surprised and delighted me. Less emphasis on the Miso, although it’s flavor was definitely appreciated.
From my original post a week ago, I’d read the pros and cons of Keizos Ankimo (Monkfish liver) preparation. Some hounds appreciated a nuance from its being served warm, and others felt that this was unappealing. As for me, I’m bi. I’ve enjoyed many a chilled slab of Ankimo over the years. Last night’s first taste of this delicacy served warm was outrageous. Just enough warmth to give the rich foie like fish a textural lightness, that completely melted in my mouth. Rich and light at the same time? A definite mind trick if ever I experienced.
Mana Katsuo sushi was served next and Keizo had no translation of this fish for me. He described it as a small flat fish. Another asterisk, even though it was a first for me.
Black Snapper sushi came next, and it was awesome. Texturally a couple shades less than a firm fish, but it did have the perfect amount of body to carry its rich tasting quality.
The next dish that came out was a “twosies” plate for each of us. A single piece of Uni sushi and a single piece of Keizo’s Ikura sushi. The Uni was heaped. A small dab of Wasabi and drizzle of his Soy was the crown. God this Uni was fabulous. There was a seductive but subtle perfume of smell and taste that was a knockout. A previous poster had a hound say that this has not been the best season for Uni. Top of the heap Uni may be difficult to procure, but obviously it is out there somewhere. As for the Ikura, it was served in a manner that normally is not my favorite method of enjoying Salmon caviar. I’ve noticed that some Sushi bars will keep their Ikura in a water bath. The eggs are completely separate until they water is strained away. Then the fish eggs are heaped onto the rice. Traditionally I enjoy the richness when the eggs cling together and then when the eggs burst into my mouth en masse, as opposed to being so easily separated. But once again last night surprised and delighted me regarding Keizo’s Ikura. Yes the eggs were suspended in water before being strained and heaped, but in his water solution there was also some of his home made Soy sauce. This flavor of smoky Soy was light but definitely there when each egg would pop inside of my mouth. Man oh man was this tasty- - -and a little bit sweet!
A single piece of Anago was served next. Served traditionally but not broiled to a crisp. Sweet, and another discovery on how to enjoy eel.
For our last course Keizo suggested either a Blue Crab handroll or one made from Toro. Spousal unit and I both opted for Toro- - -what can I say? This dish made me laugh again. So delicious. Keizo’s Nori was shatteringly crisp, and his rice is just perfect.
I haven’t a clue as to whether Keizo offers sweets to conclude a meal or not, as we told him that we did not want another bite. The truth is this: tradition has us rarely indulge in having a dessert out. I’ve always got something waiting at home that I’ve made, and it is our way of prolonging and reflecting over a great night out. In any event the following little story is my only regret of the night and slightly comical too. Even though we’d told Keizo that we were finished, he did offer us something. I couldn’t quite make out what he was trying to say, except that he mentioned a word that sounded like “shot”. Hard headed Jeff was just thinking about keeping enough room in his tummy to enjoy Apricot Almond shortbread squares at home. On our drive home I couldn’t help but call DebbieW and Michael on the phone to rave about our evening. Debbie then asks if we indulged in Keizo’s Yuzu shots, and that is when I realized our faux pas. God would that have been an unusual way to cap off a marvelous Sushi experience. Oh well, next time- - -and believe me, there will be many next times for us.
Beverages (2 Sake’s, 2 icy cold Kirin’s) $39
Tax and Tip added to the above.
My final thoughts of this evening go back to something I said in the opening paragraph of this long post. I truly did discover a new appreciation of Sushi amidst all of our years of being weekly Sushi hounds. I am unashamed to admit my enjoyment of all sorts of Americanized versions of raw fish. I adore crispy rice cakes, all sorts of cut rolls, hand rolls, soy papered rolls, spicy mayo’s, dipping sauces, etc. As a matter of fact, tomorrow DebbieW and I are lunching at a Sushi bar in Sherman Oaks. I will be trying for the first time a roll of spicy Salmon, Tempura batter dipped, fried, and sliced, with the Salmon maintaining it’s raw state. It will be served with crispy onions and spicy mayonnaise- - -I am so primed for this! Over the years I have experienced and enjoyed some Sushi bars where strictly traditional Sushi is served. Not too comfortable name dropping right now, but some of these places are indeed known by all of you. It was last night’s meal with Keizo that made me become completely unglued in the happiness department, from a strictly traditional meal. His quality was over the top noticeable. His adornments were sparing and non frou-frou. This allowed the quality and flavor of each item to be fully realized. I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience his art. As of now I am gathering that Keizo runs the show as a solo act. In my gut I know that it is only a matter of time before his restaurant becomes more and more famous. There are various components of what makes a restaurant click and some that don’t. Location, glitz, etc. definitely have their admirers. When these things occur along with great and consistent food, obviously a star is born. Sushi Zo’s food quality is so off the charts superb, which I’ve already expressed. There is no glitz factor to his restaurant as well as his unusual, almost residential locale. That being said, there is no way that what he puts out in the quality department, will not have throngs of Sushi fans eventually keeping him very busy. We wish him nothing but the best.
Cheers to the hounds, and thank you all again for your previous input. It was a dinner at Opus and sitting next to Tina, a.k.a. Poet Kitty, which planted the seed of our wanting to experience Keizo’s cuisine. In a couple of Saturdays my 51st year begins and we’ll be in Temple for the night (Urasawa). Somehow Sushi Zo is a new form of Temple, and it is still a little bit un-nerving on how to classify this religious experience. All I know is, we’re hooked.
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