Sushi Nozawa, a simultaneously beloved and maligned Los Angeles institution, is finally closing its doors on February 29. Many a hound has come out of the woodwork to reminisce, commiserate, and heap both love and scorn onto its funeral pyre.
Nozawa, named after the sushi chef who started the restaurant, will always have its loyal fans. “I discovered Nozawa back when he first opened in the mid-80s when I was still in high school and just getting over my fear of raw fish. It was a revelatory experience back then,” Jack Flash says. “When he first started, he didn’t have a helper/assistant behind the bar; it was just Nozawa. It was a much slower paced experience, too, with a lot more interaction. Although it was ‘trust me,’ he’d still give one an opportunity to reject something, ask for something else, etc. I really wish everyone could have experienced it back then. The place wasn’t mobbed, either. I can remember going with my dad, and we wouldn’t have to wait for a seat because the restaurant was only half-full. The experience has changed a lot over the years. But I still intend to go back once more for old time’s sake.”
But some have less fond memories of the restaurant’s approach. “Nozawa started bastardizing omakase by his Trust Me, I give you what I want and you give me all your money, and now more and more Japanese restaurants describe their set menus as omakase to take advantage of a duped American public,” cfylong says. “Nozawa permanently stunted the growth of traditional sushi in the LA market,” Porthos adds. “NYC has plenty of restaurants doing real omakase based on seasonal fish and the customer’s tastes and preferences.”
And some think that Nozawa is rude and cold, and a chef who serves assembly-line sushi: the same pieces in the same order to everybody. Yet others applaud his personality. “My family is very sad to see Nozawa close. He taught our children how to love sushi,” mendogurl says. “He and his wife have always been very polite to us. But I guess he wasn’t very ‘polite’ to the Starbucks Latte slurping woman who was talking loudly on her cell phone, that he threw out, one of the times we were there for dinner. I wanted to cheer.”
Ciao Bob agrees that Nozawa was a wonderful, if temperamental, host. “I was always treated so graciously by him and Mrs N. I was unfailingly polite and so were they. I only got to see him throw someone out once… I was at the middle of the sushi bar with a friend, two seats open on either side of us. A threesome came in and a man in the group failed to stop at the door and wait to be greeted. Instead, he walked up to us, quite nicely, and asked us if we would move to one side or the other. Nozawa went berserk. ‘VERY RUDE. CUSTOMER ENJOY. I CONTROL SUSHI BAR, NOT YOU. GET OUT. VERY RUDE. GET OUT!’ — all the while brandishing his knife above his (own) head. The guy tried to apologize but to no avail. He and his friends left, hurling expletives back at the angry chef. I cannot swear to it, but I seem to recall that we were offered a beer or sake to appease the ‘rudeness’ we had been subjected to. Truth-be-told, at any other restaurant I would not have thought twice about the guy asking us to move, but at Nozawa, I knew [that that customer] was way out of line, as polite as he was. From what I know of Japanese culture there is a deep formality, ritual propriety, that trumps politeness.”
Regardless of how people felt about Nozawa—the man or the restaurant—everybody acknowledges that the chef served as a great sensei to the Los Angeles sushi scene. “In my opinion, Zo, Echigo, Nishiya, et al were all heavily influenced and representative of Nozawa’s style,” kevin says.
Sushi Nozawa [San Fernando Valley – East]
11288 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City
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