Fate and circumstance prevented me from meeting up with friends at an early evening screening of Nacho Libre tonight, so instead of walking into a movie midway through (my serious pet peeve) the S.O. and I exchanged our tickets for a later showing and meandered over to a half-empty Sushi Zo in Palms.
Granted it was near closing time, but that place should really be packed to the gills. And the fact that it wasn't (at least not yet) was a pure tragedy because everything on the menu (as has been stated, the straight up nigiri stuff and te-maki) was absolutely top flight and as fresh as could be.
At first the S.O. was skeptical, she asked if they had appetizers but was reminded that they didn't serve such frivolities. I merely nodded in approval when the waitress explained Keizo-san's purist aesthetic. As for the chef himself, he's a pretty young-looking guy (Sushi "Zo" is named after his name, KeiZO), but he definitely has the skills. We asked him where he worked before and he said Hide Sushi and some restaurants back home in Tokyo. Apparently he flies a lot of his fish in from Japan as well (which would explain a lot as to the superior quality, as we would soon discover).
We started with Tokyo-style marinated maguro "zuke" and saba for her (I tend to stay away from the silvery). And with that single piece of mackerel, she was completely won over. "Oiiiishiiiiii~!" she proclaimed.
Orders were by the piece, and I will try to remember everything I ate. I got right into it with a piece of toro - which, I am happy to say, can hold its own in a fistfight with Sushi Nozawa's prime piece of fish. Althought slightly smaller in size than the Nozawa specialty, the flavor, texture, and melt-in-your-mouth butteriness of Sushi Zo's toro nigiri was all there.
Aoyagi (orange clam) Tako (octopus) followed. Topped by a pinch of yuzu kosho, chef Keizo advised eating it sans soy sauce. He would say that about many of the nigiri this evening.
At this point I started talking to the patron seated next to me, a regular whom Keizo proclaimed as the "#1 customer" (A guy who eats there twice and lives down the street, so no fair!)
Anyway this guy was chowing on a dish of splendidly sliced tokobushi (a baby abalone-like shellfish) served on its half-shell, and he told us to order it before they ran out. Apparently they only had one left. We tried it, and it was crunchy and delicious, and then followed by a supplement that the chef called abalone liver. "Abalones have livers?" I wondered. Guess they do, and it was very very good - slightly lukewarm and sort of fois gras-like, but chewy.
Something seemed to uncork in us and we started ordering everything on the menu. The parade of nigiri was quick to follow. It was a bit of a blur, but I had: hamachi, kanpachi, madai (tai, or red snapper), another piece of toro, flying fish, monkfish liver, sweet shrimp, and a blue crab hand roll (stellar - not quite as big as the one at kiriko, but still huge and maybe a bit more flavorful) Everything was top notch and at least as good as I've had in town, on par with Nozawa (if smaller cuts) and Kiriko. (Haven't been to Sasabune or Echigo so can't compare there.)
Additional things to note:
Warm rice (a la Nozawa). Absolutely perfect.
NO wasabi! #1 customer asked for some wasabi and Keizo gently chided him, saying that there was already wasabi in the particular piece. I like this - kind of like Nozawa Lite, without the sternness. We got away with a stolen dollop as it had been included with one of the dishes (I think the baby abalone).
The shrimp heads that supplement sweet shrimp are not fried like at most finer sushi bars, but grilled yaki-style. Immensely good, edible with feelers and all.
That's about it. Total bill: just over $100, which at first was a bit surprising since the menu prices seemed cheap (most everything is in the $2.00-2.50 range, but it's easy to forget that it's per piece). When you add it up, it's about right - equivalent to a $50 omakase per person, except we picked and chose everything we wanted. Sushi Zo definitely lives up to the hype.