Friday, January 30, 2009

Sona (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

401 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Fri 01/30/2009, 08:45p-02:00a

This is my second post about Sona, the brainchild and flagship restaurant of Executive Chef/Owner David Myers. Myers was only 28 when he opened Sona in 2002. Though light on years, he was heavy on experience, having worked previous at Charlie Trotter, Gerard Boyer's Les Crayeres, Daniel, Patina, and most recently at JAAN at the Raffles L'Ermitage. At Sona, Myers presents a contemporary French menu, emphasizing fresh, seasonal ingredients intertwined with a dose of spontaneity and improvisation.

Since my first visit, it seems that Myers has lessened his role in the kitchen, instead focusing on restaurant management through his Food Art Group. Myers has expanded his burgeoning empire via the opening of Comme Ça, his take on the French brasserie, and Pizza Ortica, his Mozza-esque pizzeria concept. At Sona, day-to-day operations are largely handled by his Japanese-born Chef de Cuisine, Kuniko Yagi, who was promoted to the position in late 2007. How would Sona hold up without Myers at the helm?

Sona is situated in a simple, white, one-story building on the northwest corner of La Cienega and Westmount, on the northern end of the so-called Restaurant Row, home to such famous eateries as The Bazaar, Fogo de Chão, Gyu-Kaku, Lawry's The Prime Rib, Matsuhisa, and The Stinking Rose. Ortolan and the now-departed Bastide aren't far away, either. A valet is available directly in front of the restaurant for $8, or you can try your luck at street parking.

The dining room is minimalist, chic, abound in swatches of white and gray, stone and earth. A small bar sits near the entrance, and connects to the Cava Room. Sona accommodates 90 guests in total.

The Cava Room is Sona's private dining room, adjacent to the main room. It seats from eight to 25 guests, and easily fit our party of 13, though I imagine things might get a bit cramped at full capacity.

Sona's menu offers à la carte selections, but the best way to go is with the six-course Découverte [$95] or nine-course Sponantée [$145] menus, described not as tasting menus but as "omakase," a nod to Yagi's Japanese roots I'm sure. We ordered the longer of the two, supplemented by three additional courses (the risotto, Wagyu, and cheese). The resultant menu is shown above; click for a larger version. Myers and Yagi were out on this particular night (at some sort of conference I believe), thus the menu was signed by Executive Pastry Chef Ramon Perez, who I believe was running the kitchen. Wine pairings were another $145 per person for the effectively 12-course menu. Unfortunately, our server failed to capture a list of the wines presented--a major service faux pas--so I am unable to provide the names of the libations.

If you're wondering about the title ("Eric's Heart Surgery Dinner"), my friend Eric was facing an aortic valve replacement surgery, and thus decided to treat us to this experience, facetiously referred to as a sort of "last meal." Fortunately, the operation was a success and he is currently recovering. Thanks again Eric!

Interesting, the bread was not presented at once, but rather, came in rounds. First up were the black tea and red wine breads. The black tea had a fascinating, soft, aromatic nose of tea, while cranberries added a tart sweetness to the red wine bread. Next was chestnut, which I wasn't a fan of, and finally, a bitter, but tasty wheat bread.

Amuse Bouche: Dashi Broth, Watermelon Radish, Chiffonade of Shiso
Yagi's influences are seen in the very first course. I noted strong, minty flavors of shiso, balanced by the subtle sourness and fishiness of the dashi, while the radish added some textural contrast. It was an unexpected dish, one that was certainly effective in awakening the palate. The soup was paired with a rosé Champagne, which was loaded with strawberry and citrus, yet dry and light, thus allowing the flavors of the amuse to come through.

1: Poached Salmon, Roasted Beets, Kumquat
Eating this, the thing that came to mind immediately was smoked salmon. The flavor was light, pure, and clean, while the fish's accompaniments of beet and kumquat added the requisite sweet and sour contrasts. The texture was lovely, barely cooked, and reminded me of the salmon at Le Bernardin. The fish was paired with a Riesling. I rather enjoyed the wine's light effervescence, and juicy, lip-smacking flavors of pear, peach, and apple. Overall, a great way to start things off.

2: Chestnut Agnolotti, Fennel Confit, Roasted Chestnut
I was not a fan of this, which wasn't surprising given that I don't care for chestnuts and their sweet nuttiness. Here, the agnolotti were filled with a dense, heavy, soft chestnut paste that simply overwhelmed my palate. One of my dining companions thought that they'd be better at half the size, while another thought that the dish "tasted like autumn." Meanwhile, I thought the course was reminiscent of the chestnut/sweetbreads/truffle dish I had recently at Jean Georges. The wine pairing here was a tasty Tokaj, notable for its Chardonnay-esque nose, lingering sweetness, and spicy finish. This was a full-bodied wine that stood up well to the rich flavor of the agnolotti.

3: Parmentier Soup, Pomme Soufflé, Leek Soubise
The "Parmentier" here refers to Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, an early promoter of the potato as a food source; appropriately, one of my fellow diners called this a "study in potatoes." The pomme soufflées were crunchy, flavorful, and fantastic, reminding us of Tater Tots(!), while the whole dish had a warm, hearty, lingering richness. Given the potato focus here, I'm surprised the kitchen didn't try to do some sort of Vichyssoise, but the leek and béchamel-based Soubise sauce was just about the perfect complement. Pinot Gris was the wine here--steely, minerally, spicy, and dry, it went well with the austere tone of the dish.

4: Maine Lobster Risotto, Shellfish Emulsion, Kaffir Lime [$10.00 supplement]
Lobster? Risotto? How could this possibly turn out bad? Well, it certainly wasn't bad, but it also wasn't as great as it could've been. While I greatly enjoyed the lobster's firm, yet pliant consistency, I also felt that the crustacean was cooked a bit too buttery sweet, thus distracting from its natural flavor. Perhaps some more of the kaffir lime would've helped temper this. Meanwhile, some thought that the risotto was undercooked, but I enjoyed its al dente texture. The natural wine pairing with lobster is Chardonnay, as was the case here. Though I'm not huge on Chard, I liked what I tasted. The wine's butteriness complemented that of the lobster, and I also noted plenty of stone fruit, straw, honey, minerals, with a bit of heat on the finish.

5: Seared Scallop, Lamb Bacon, Quail Egg
In effect, this was basically a gussied up version of the standard bacon-wrapped scallop. Sounds like a winning combination right? Well...the whole amalgam was rather salty. The scallop itself was salty enough alone, and the bacon didn't help in that regard; the natural flavor of the mollusk was almost completely lost. However, I did appreciate the use of quail egg here; its runny yolk helped temper the somewhat overwhelming savoriness of the dish. To go along with this, the sommelier paired a red Burgundy, a rather prototypical example--heavy on the cherry, wood, and smoke, with a bit of heat on the finish. It didn't quite stand up to the course.

6: Roasted Quail, Cauliflower Purée, Chorizo, Date
The only thing wrong with this was the accompanying brown sauce, which was obscenely sweet and cinnamon-y; I took a small taste and avoided it completely. Other than that, the bird was wonderfully flavorful, juicy, and tender. The cauliflower purée was useful in taming the essence of the quail, which, by itself, was truly one of the better preparations I've had. I preferred the larger portion, which I found moister (some said "spongy"), but most of my dining companions like the smaller, denser piece better. The wine was Paris Hilton. That's according to our server, who compared it (a Pinot Noir) to the preceding Bourgogne, which he likened to Audrey Hepburn. Interesting analogy to be sure, but I get what he was saying. This wine was darker, fruitier, jammier, more in-your-face, blunt even, almost Cab-like in some respects--not as subtle, nor as good (sorry Paris!).

7: Veal Cheek, Lentil, Artichoke Barigoule
This reminded me a bit of the braised veal cheeks at XIV. There was a sort of sweet/sour interplay going on, all over an intensely savory backdrop--it almost had a "hamminess" to it. Not bad, but it would've been too much had it not been for the moderating effect of the artichoke and lentils especially. The legumes also served as a textural contrast, providing a bit of bite to counter the softness of the meat. Tempranillo was the wine of choice for this course. Typical of the varietal, it demonstrated plenty of tartness and spice, intermingled with peat and heat; the wine's zest actually proved to be a nice linkage with the tang of the veal.

8: Wagyu, Pomme Purée, Celery Root, Shiso Salad [$25.00 supplement]
The Wagyu supplement was $25 per ounce, and everybody got exactly one ounce. It was sourced from Gunma, a prefecture northwest of Tokyo where Chef Yagi hails from. Though it was advertised as "A5" quality, the beef wasn't quite as fatty as I expected, though it was still very flavorful, with a nice oiliness. I've had better at CUT. As for the accoutrements, the fancy mashed potatoes actually tended to overpower the beef, so it was best taken in small quantities; the shiso salad, however, contributed some well-placed mintiness and crunch. As expected, a Cabernet Sauvignon was paired with the steak. As expected, the wine showed dark fruit, smoke, caramel, and chocolate notes. As expected, the pairing worked. I would've liked something more unexpected!

9: Selection of Cheeses [$15.00 supplement]
Starting from the left, the first cheese was Selle sur Cher, a pasteurized goat cheese from the Loire; it was tart and tangy, almost blue-like actually, with a flavor that was effectively cut by the paired Concord grape reduction. Now I'm not sure what the second was. The name was something like "Argui" and it was a pasteurized sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region of Spain. It was my favorite of the trio, with a light, moist consistency and delicate, salty-nutty flavor. Finally, we have the Blue de Bufala, a buffalo milk cheese from Italy, served with Italian honey. I thought it was fairly typical for a blue cheese, tasty but nothing special. The wine was a Chinon, from the Loire Valley. It was a rustic wine--vegetal, spicy, with lots of straw--and actually complemented the cheese quite nicely.

10: Ginger Sorbet, Hijiki Gelée, Coconut Pearl Tapioca
This seems like something that would come out of Providence's kitchen. It definitely had a distinctly "Thai"-style flavor to it. I got a flat, overarching sweetness due to the coconut, which was then punctuated by ginger on a spicy finish. It was a nice intermezzo, but I would've liked something more substantial.

11: Clafoutis, Currants, Salted Hazelnut, Saffron Ice Cream
A clafoutis is a French dessert constructed from baking fruit in a batter. The traditional fruit of choice is cherry, but currant was used here. Amazingly, when I ate the clafoutis together with the ice cream, I got a foie gras-like flavor, which was rather disconcerting (sort of like the foie gras parfait at Per Se). Both the cake and ice cream were quite good on their own, however. The pairing here was a late harvest wine. I don't recall the exact varietal, but I do remember it had an intensely rich, honeyed nose, with plenty of apricot, but all that was balanced with a crisp acidity, so that the end result was silky and not overly sweet.

12: Guanaja Mousse, Confit Japanese Pear, Roquefort Ice Cream
Guanaja is an island off the coast of Honduras, and Valrhona uses cacao beans from the island to create bitter, yet fruity dark chocolate. The mousse's sweetness was subsequently moderated by the ice cream, which had subtle, yet very noticeable notes of Roquefort cheese. The interplay between its slight savoriness and the Guanaja kept things interesting. I could've done without the walnut though. Unfortunately I don't recall the wine here, though it was almost sherry-like in nature, with medicinal, raisin-y, and Port flavors as well--not entirely enjoyable on its own, but good with the dessert.

An impressive plate of mignardises was brought out at the end of the meal. We had: lemon meringues, mini Oreos, powdered sugar-covered almond sandies, chocolate cherry macarons, apple "lasagnas," puff pastries, and caramel/cocoa "pat de jeis" (not sure about the spelling here for this last one).

13: Braised Short Ribs, Nebraska Beef Tenderloin, Fingerlings
After the mignardises were cleared, our server asked us if we were full. When we said that we weren't, he proceeded to have the kitchen whip up an extra, complementary dish. The short ribs were super tender and richly flavored, as one would expect; most of my dining companions preferred it to the veal cheek above. Meanwhile, its tenderloin topping was also a deftly prepared piece of meat. Both were quite tasty, but this beef-on-beef action was almost too much, resulting in an overly heavy end to the meal.

Before the extra course came out, we were invited back into the kitchen. The kitchen staff had already left, and the only person left was Pastry Chef Ramon Perez. Above, we see him plating the short ribs and tenderloin. We also see that the kitchen has a video feed from the private dining room!

Those of us who'd been to Sona before felt that this dinner wasn't quite up to snuff to our first experience here. Though I still enjoyed the meal, I didn't think that the food was quite as sharp or as focused as before; it also seemed a bit more "conventional." Now, I don't know if that's because Myers (or even Yagi, for that matter) wasn't in the kitchen this time, or if it's simply that I expect more now. Unfortunately, it's impossible to disentangle those two effects, so for the time being, I'll have to conclude that it was a combination of the two factors.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sushi Zo (Los Angeles, CA)

Sushi Zo
9824 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
310.842.3977 (FoodDigger, restaurant has no web site)
Sat 01/24/2009, 07:00p-09:20p

When asked about the best sushi in Los Angeles, most serious eaters (me included) will respond with Urasawa. In fact, I'm fairly confident that those who don't, simply haven't been. Now, given that Urasawa is at the top of the hierarchy, the question then of who's number two becomes more interesting. A lot of people would say Mori Sushi, some the infamous Sushi Nozawa, or perhaps Sushi Sasabune, maybe even Go's Mart, but the most common answer I hear is the topic of this post: Sushi Zo.

Chef/owner Keizo Seki (most just call him "Keizo") opened Sushi Zo in the middle of 2006, around the time when his daughter was born (a sign of good luck according to Seki-san). Keizo was a student in Osaka when he decided to become a sushi chef, and soon thereafter began an apprenticeship at a sushi restaurant in the Meguro ward of Tokyo. He later immigrated to the US, and spent several years at the dependable but unassuming Hide Sushi before branching out on his own.

Like many sushi greats, Keizo makes his own special shoyu, or soy sauce, and gets much of his raw ingredients shipped from Japan. He also subscribes to the somewhat controversial "warm rice" school, and indeed, on cursory glance, his style does bear a resemblance to the Nozawa/Sasabune way of doing things. No matter, Keizo must be doing something right, as he has drawn legions of followers from amongst the SoCal foodie crowd. It was time for me to see what all the warm fuss was about.

Set in a Rite-Aid- and Vons-anchored strip mall south of Cheviot Hills, Sushi Zo's location doesn't exactly inspire confidence, and would be very easy to overlook. Fortunately however, parking is plentiful and the restaurant is conveniently located for good freeway access.

The interior is fairly contemporary for a sushi bar. No light wood here, but shades of alternating white and argent. From what I hear, the bar (which seats about a dozen) is omakase only, and on Fridays and Saturdays, the entire restaurant is. Not that you should order anything else but omakase...

I was seated in the corner of the L-shaped bar, nearly right in front of Keizo. Once seated, our waitress warned us that the place served traditional sushi only and, once we agreed to that, asked about any food restrictions we might have ("I'll eat anything" is the correct answer here). There were three people behind the counter, and interestingly, though Keizo was right in front of us, he didn't actually place the individual pieces of sushi before us, instead, leaving that task to the waitresses (who also instructed us on the use of soy, e.g. "no soy" or "little soy"). Keizo is a man of few words, as he remained silent throughout most of the night, only gradually opening up towards the end of the experience.

Placed on the bar were these placards bearing sushi-eating instructions and etiquette; click for larger versions. It's good advice, and though I don't see Keizo as being terribly strict, I have heard anecdotes of him kicking people out for trying to order California rolls and such, and also for talking on cell phones.

The drink menu is unfortunately small--just a couple beers, a solitary wine, and a handful of sakes are available. Some sparkling wine would be a welcomed addition for me.

Given the limited selection, we decided to kick things off with sake: a bottle of Tsukasabotan Tokubetsu Junmai "Senchu Hassaku" ("Eight Point Plan") [$60.00]. Founded in 1603, the producer, Tsukasa Botan, is one of the oldest breweries in Kochi prefecture, on Shikoku island. The sake here is their mid-end selection, and is made from Yamada Nishiki rice polished to roughly 57%, resulting in an alcohol content in the 15.5% range. I noted a light airiness to the drink, with a mildly sweet and creamy aroma leading to a dry, yet fruity palate. Not overly complex, but effective, with a smooth, straightforward finish.

Here we see the place setting at the beginning of the meal. The gari, or ginger, was among the best I've tried--crisp, with a bracing tang that effectively reset the palate between courses.

1: Kumamoto Kaki/Oyster [$2.80]
I've always been fond of Kumamotos, and this dish reaffirmed their status as my oyster of choice. The example here, heightened by the application of ponzu, momiji oroshi and scallion, was clean, light, crisp, and tangy, with a pleasant, lingering brininess on the finish.

2: Maguro/Tuna Sashimi [$12.00]
Next, a simple sashimi course of bluefin tuna. This could've turned out very boring (as tuna tends to), but was actually a pleasant surprise. The maguro had a very pleasing texture to it--tender, yet with a bit of chew to it, and was suitably oily. The light sauce added complexity upon first taste, while the dollops of wasabi gave the sashimi a biting, spicy finish.

3: Ika/Squid Noodle with Uni/Sea Urchin [$6.00]
Now this was an interesting dish. What we have is squid "noodles" smothered in a creamy sea urchin roe "sauce." The uni really came to the fore here, with the squid taking a backseat. In fact, had I not been told of the squid, I could've easily mistaken the "noodles" for actual noodles, as they were very soft and not chewy at all.

4: Awabi/Baby Abalone [$25.00]
The abalone itself was rather mild, with just a hint of brininess, and had a crunchy, slightly rubbery consistency. It wasn't particularly exciting on its own, but really opened up with the use of yuzu kosho ("yuzu and pepper"), a condiment made from yuzu zest, chili peppers, and salt. It added an absolutely fascinating spicy yet salty yet sour kick to the abalone that really took the dish to another level.

5: Hirame/Halibut [$2.60]
No soy. The hirame was a nice way to start off the nigiri portion of the meal. Halibut isn't particularly strong tasting, and initially, all I got was a sort of general fishiness spruced up by a very slight citrus-y twang, followed up by a wasabi kick. Gorgeous texture on this one.

6: Hotate/Scallop [$2.70]
Little soy. A fantastic soft, yet firm texture along with a wonderfully delicate, sweet scallop flavor combined here to form one of the best preparations of scallop sushi I've had.

7: Aji/Spanish Mackerel [$2.70]
No soy. Aji is quickly becoming one of my favorite fishes, and this example shows why. There was just enough of that signature mackerel fishiness to make this interesting, but it didn't overpower like it sometimes does. Instead, the flavor was complemented perfectly by the tart sauce and strong ginger-y finish.

8: Ha-Gatsuo/Skipjack Tuna [$2.80]
No soy. Skipjack is a relatively rare fish to find; I've only had it before at Echigo and Urasawa. I wish it were more common, as it turned out to be one of the highlights of the evening. Much more fascinating than regular tuna, the fish had a somewhat softer, richer texture. The taste initially was dominated by ponzu and ginger, but gradually gave way to reveal the true nature of the fish.

9: Hamachi/Yellowtail [$2.60]
Soy. This was actually a very creamy version of hamachi, but fortunately it wasn't overly unctuous as farmed yellowtail tends to be. Most yellowtail one eats is farm-raised, meaning that the fish don't get as much exercise as their wild counterparts; this results in a fattier, softer, heavier fish. I used to love hamachi when I was a sushi neophyte, but am really beginning to move away from it, especially after experiencing wild yellowtail (i.e. buri).

10: Toro/Fatty Tuna [$10.00]
No soy. Every other course of nigiri was served singly, so I'm not sure why two pieces of toro were provided here. In any case, I appreciated the tuna's soft, yielding, no-gristle texture here, but the lack of marbling and oil left me wanting. The sauce was perhaps used a bit too liberally as well. I know this is solid toro, but I just keep comparing it to the simply transcendent toro I had at Kyubey. That piece of toro has "ruined me" so to speak; only Urasawa's comes close.

11: Shima Aji/Striped Jack [$3.50]
Soy. What really worked well for me here was the fish's slight crunch coupled with a light oiliness and subtle flavor, accented by wasabi. About the name here, we were told by the waitress that this was "yellowtail skipjack," which struck me as quite odd. Upon researching the nomenclature for a bit, I found that the fish is also known as "yellowjack," which explains the confusion.

12: Amaebi/Sweet Shrimp [$3.50]
Soy. Sadly, this was disappointing. The shrimp were super creamy, almost mushy, and lacked the crisp snappiness that I like in my amaebi. The flavor was also muted, not sharp or briny enough. One of my dining companions likened this to "shrimp cocktail." The problem, I think, stems from the use of the smaller hokkoku akaebi (Alaskan Pink Shrimp) instead of my preferred botanebi.

13: Kinmedai/Golden Eye Snapper [$4.50]
No soy. Easily one of the standouts for me. As refreshing as sushi can be, with an ethereal body and silky texture, and very little fat, along with a wasabi finish. I really appreciated the bit of skin left on. Another rarity, I'd had this previously only at Shibucho and Sasabune.

14: Meji Maguro/Baby Tuna [$4.00]
No soy. Now here's something that I don't think I've ever had anywhere else. This was basically young tuna, and was markedly different from its adult brethren. Compared to regular maguro, it was heavier, denser, and chewier (and obviously lighter in color), with a more subtle flavor, highlighted by the soy and citrus. I'd like to see more places offer this.

At this time, our sake had run out, so it was time to order a round of Yebisu beer [$6.00]. Though currently owned by Sapporo, Yebisu is one of Japan's oldest brands, and serves as the company's "luxury" beer. Yebisu isn't that common in the States, so I tend to order it whenever available. It's about what you'd expect from a Japanese lager--subtly sweet on the nose, light, a bit hoppy, mildly spicy, and quite bitter. It goes well with sushi.

15: Kanpachi/Amberjack [$2.80]
No soy. Like yellowtail, the fish known as amberjack is one whose name changes with its age, in a process termed shusse uo, which roughly means "fish of advancement." Kanpachi is actually the amberjack's most mature stage. In any case, the spiciness of the yuzu kosho really came to the fore here, adding a bit of heat to an otherwise mild-tasting fish. I could see how some might find it distracting though.

16: Ankimo/Monkfish Liver [$2.50]
This was notable for being the first gunkan-style preparation of ankimo I've seen. The liver was served warm, and topped with momiji oroshi and scallion. These accoutrements served their role deftly, and the whole amalgam was lovely. One of my dining companions, though, felt that the nori was perhaps a bit too dominant in the flavor profile. I, however, quite liked the smokiness of the seaweed.

17: Ono/Wahoo [$2.50]
No soy. A fast-swimming game fish popular in Hawaii, ono is a fairly rare selection to find at sushi restaurants. The fish had an interesting texture--soft, gritty, and a bit flaky. The fish was also one of the oiler and richer ones of the night, and had a citrus-tinged, tangy finish thanks to the accompanying sauce. Quite nice.

18: Sayori/Needlefish [$3.90]
No soy. The sayori had a great, pleasing crunch to it, along with a mild flavor that really allowed the ginger to take center stage. With its sliver of silver skin, this was arguably the prettiest fish of the night, though the version here didn't have the beauty of the coiled presentation at Urasawa.

19: Binnaga/Albacore [$2.40]
No soy. This was quite unlike other versions of albacore I'd had before. The fish is generally somewhat firmer and flaky in consistency, while this was soft and creamy. It was almost like a cross between skipjack and yellowtail, with a somewhat middle-of-the-road taste.

20: Sake/Salmon [$2.40]
Soy. Very tender for salmon, I actually would've preferred this a bit firmer. The fish was tasty by itself, but I found the marinated seaweed topping (battera kombu) far too sweet. It distracted from the natural flavor of the salmon.

21: Aoyagi/Orange Clam [$2.60]
No soy. This had a perfect crunch to it. Interestingly, the initial flavor was extremely mild for aoyagi, but the clam finished with a strong dose of its signature brininess ("tastes like the ocean"). I would've liked to have seen more of a citrus accompaniment to counterbalance that intensity.

22: Uni/Sea Urchin + Ikura/Salmon Eggs [$7.00]
As with Sushi Sasabune, here we have egg with egg; I'm not sure where the tradition of serving uni and ikura simultaneously comes from. In any case, I first tried the uni, which was a bit cold, though I really enjoyed its mild, creamy flavor and interaction with its nori wrapper. The ikura, meanwhile, was also quite delicious, with the large-ish globules bursting delightfully upon mastication, coating my mouth with their briny, smoky juice.

23: Engawa/Halibut Fin [$2.80]
Engawa, or halibut dorsal fin muscle, is another hard to find item. Previously, I'd had it only at Sasabune, where I found it a bit too chewy (not surprising given that it comes from a very active part of the fish). This preparation was quite rich and juicy, but not chewy at all surprisingly; in fact, its consistency was almost like that of cooked fish. Impressive.

24: Madai/Red Snapper [$2.80]
No soy. Very good, as expected from one of my favorite sushi fish. The flesh here had a somewhat tough, crunchy body to it that was quite pleasing. I noted dominant flavors of wasabi on the attack, which then yielded to a soy-balanced fishiness.

25: Anago/Sea Eel [$4.00]
No soy. A very creamy, yet lean presentation of eel, this was oilier than I expected from anago. It would've preferred a tad less tsume sauce, but nevertheless, I quite like it. This was reminiscent of the anago at Kyubey.

26: Toro Temaki/Fatty Tuna Hand Roll [$8.00]
Soy. I felt that the fish was a bit too soft and mushy here, which resulted in the rice becoming very apparent texture-wise. The wasabi was also very strong here, and tended to overpower the toro in terms of taste. The end result was that the toro seemed a bit wasted here.

After we'd finished the Yebisus, we ordered a round of Kirin Ichiban Draft [$5.00]. I usually find Kirin to be merely acceptable for a beer, but for some reason, the version here tasted especially good. Perhaps it was because the beer was on draft, or maybe it was the food I paired with it, but this was a pleasant surprise--crisp, hoppy, with a bitter, tangy finish.

27: Kurodai/Black Snapper [$2.80]
Soy. This was easily one of the best bites of the night. This was my first time having this type of sea bream, a "black snapper" basically. It had a snappy, very slight crunch that was superb. The flesh was lean, clean, and fresh.

28: Tako/Octopus [$2.20]
No soy. At this point, the omakase was just about over. Keizo asked us if we wanted anything else, and we responded that we wanted any items that we'd not already tried--the octopus and the blue crab hand roll. This was actually a very nice presentation of tako. I liked the fact that it was sliced extra thin, giving it a delightful crunch while preserving tenderness. The octopus' mild flavor was further complemented by a bit of salt sprinkled on top.

29: Kani Temaki/Blue Crab Hand Roll [$5.00]
The second hand roll of the night, I actually preferred this to the toro temaki. The crab's sweet flavor was obvious here, and was accentuated by the wasabi. This compares quite favorably to the versions I've tried at Echigo, Sushi Sasabune, and Sushi Wasabi.

30: Tamago/Egg Omelet [$2.20]
Tamago typically signals the end of a meal. There are many varieties of egg omelet, with this one being cool, sweet, and fluffy, with "hammy" undertones of flavor. It was similar to the tamago at Sushi Wave. Tasty, but nothing special.

31: Ha-Gatsuo/Skipjack Tuna #2 [$2.80]
After the tamago, Keizo inquired if we wanted any repeats. We decided to go with the skipjack and aji. The skipjack here was very similar to the first piece I had, though this version was a bit more citrus-y, with more dominant ginger notes.

32: Aji/Spanish Mackerel #2 [$2.70]
Unfortunately, the aji wasn't quite as good as before. It was chewier, and definitely fisher, which resulted in a rather metallic taste when paired with the Kirin.

33: Yuzu Juice
Sushi Zo doesn't offer dessert, so meals here are capped off by a shot of yuzu juice. I expected something very tart, but the juice was surprisingly sweet, and delicious. The juice's origin is "secret," and our server wouldn't reveal the source when we inquired about it.

The menu cum bill is shown above; click for larger versions. For a party of four, the end result was about $160 per person (or $125 sans booze), quite reasonable I think given the quality (and quantity) of the food.

Sushi Zo has garnered its share of praise, and perhaps some would say hype. But after eating here, I do feel that such commendation is, for the most part, deserved. Second best? Yeah, I can believe it. Methinks that I need to pay Mori another visit...

Since Sushi Zo didn't offer up a real dessert, we needed something to satisfy our cravings for something sweet. As I mentioned above, the restaurant is located near a Rite-Aid, and thus it was proposed that we go for some Thrifty ice cream. Thrifty, if you recall, was a chain of drug stores in the Western United States, dating back to 1929. It was popular during my childhood years in the 1980's, and was eventually acquired by Rite-Aid in 1998 in a stock-swap merger. Growing up, visits to Thirfty were common, and my favorite thing about the store was the ice cream.

Though traditionally I'd had the ice cream in cone-form, I ended up getting a Hand Packed Pint [$1.99] of Chocolate Malted Crunch and Black Cherry. Chocolate Malted Crunch was easily my favorite back in the day (I used to eat the ice cream first, "saving" the crunchy malt balls), and having not had it for over a decade, was really everything that I remembered it to be--it's amazing how tastes and smells can bring back memories. The Black Cherry was delicious as well, as was the Chocolate Brownie. The perfect close to the evening, Thrifty managed to serve up some great ice cream, along with a dose of old-fashioned nostalgia.