I've heard some pretty good things about Takao in Brentwood so I decided to give it a try. Landed the sushi bar, in front of Takao himself on Saturday night. I noticed that he switched out the paste wasabi for freshly grated wasabi which I took as a promising sign. I decided on the $80 omakase and some sake:
-ankimo with white miso, housemade sesame tofu, sweet shrimp, minced toro tartare with caviar, grilled ginko nuts. The tofu was very good as was the toro. Not bad but a clear notch below Mori in terms of quality, presentation, and uniqueness.
-Tai sashimi with yuzu and olive oil. Very average.
-kanpachi with jalapeno and ponzu. Pretty good kanpachi. Slices a bit irregular, flavor and texture was good but not top notch
-Seared salmon, "new style" sashimi with truffle. I really dislike salmon for sushi/sashimi. I guess this rendition was as good as any.
-chawan mushi. Average
-grilled king crab legs. Very sweet and delicious
-panko fried oysters. Delicious and one of the 2 best dishes of the night.
-nigiri: chu toro, big eye, hamachi, salmon. In true Nobu style a very mediocre presentation and selection. The fish looked reasonably fresh but lacked any significant flavor. The rice was average in terms of seasoning and texture.
Damage was $150pp after tax and tip. More expensive than Mori and much, much less in quality. Of note, the toro that he was using for torched toro sashimi looked very good in terms of color and quality. However, I doubt I would return to give it a try.
For my personal sushi preferrences I would rank Takao just under Nishimura.
My personal list with the caveat that I have yet to do Urasawa and Masa.
10- Sushi Yasuda (NYC). Perfect rice (his own mix), 40 types of fish, 5 types of fatty toro, 5 types of fatty hamachi, and multiple types of fresh grilled eel. True madai, impeccable kinmedai, warasa, and hiramasa. Yasuda is the gold standard. Visit around May for wonderful scallop roe.
9.75- Kuruma zushi (NYC). Stellar quality of fish and a nice variety. The variety and rice does not approach Yasuda. Prices can get astronomical.
9.0 - 9.25 - Mori Sushi (LA). Great quality and knife-work. The rice is wonderful. Perhaps the best I’ve tasted outside of Yasuda. The variety is somewhat limited (around 20 types) but he does have fine kohada, needlefish, barracuda, and winter buri. For all practical purposes, Mori and Zo are about equal in the quality of fish. Mori’s rice and knife-work have a slight edge while Zo has a greater variety of fish in general. The imported/seasonal stuff are about equal.
9.0 – Sushi Zo (LA). Excellent quality and variety. Keizo is young but already has the mischievous half-smile that all great masters possess. His knife-work and rice is a little inconsitent at times (some slices are more strips and some pieces of rice were much smaller than others) but he does do a true omakase offering seasonal items such as isaki. Keizo also uses fresh wasabi.
9.0- Jewel Bako (NYC). Again, great quality, and great variety, but the size is a little precious and the chef's skill is nowhere near Yasuda's. Recent downgrade because I haven’t been in a while and have not heard any great reports about the place.
8.0 to 8.25-Kiriko (LA). The quality at times can be excellent but at times it can be slightly off (especially their kohada, aji, saba). The rice is a solid 8. On occasion, they do have fresh wasabi. The house-smoked salmon is excellent. The fresh matsutake soup is a must when in season. One can get some fun stuff here though. I have had live japanese mantis prawn, pristine baby bluefin tuna (on my most recent visit, not that pristine), ayu with roe, and shirako here.
8.0- Nishimura (LA). Great quality, limited selection. Horrible attitude by the waitstaff. A very unpleasant dining experience. A 6 if you take the entire experience into account.
7.5- Takao (LA). Friendly, good sake selection, good cooked items, but very average for sushi in terms of fish quality, fish selection, and rice.
7.0- Ino (SF). Great ankimo. Best I’ve had to date. Even better than Sushi Zo’s steamed ankimo. He has a small imported variety from Japan. Pikefish was memorable. Way too much wasabi.
6.0- Zushi Puzzle (SF). I want to like Roger but his fish was too warm for my taste. He does get some very interesting fish (like his pencilfish) but he may be more of a "interesting rolls" type guy vs. pure nigiri specialist. Roger did have Japanese uni on my visit.
5- Sasabune (LA). Good crab hand roll. Otherwise, watch out for the precut fish and don't be surprised if the skin is left on the mirugai. The hot rice is poorly seasoned and readily falls apart. It’s even worse when doused in sauce.