Tuesday, November 02, 2010

sugarFISH (Los Angeles, CA)

600 W 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90017
Tue 11/02/2010, 08:00p-10:40p

sugarFISH Exterior

Of all the sushi chefs here in the Southland, perhaps none is more feared, and revered, than Kazunori Nozawa, affectionately known by some as the "sushi Nazi." At his eponymous Sushi Nozawa in Studio City, he's praised for his "Trust Me," omakase-style philosophy. However, dining at Sushi Nozawa can be an intimidating, and pricey proposition, hence the advent of sugarFISH.

sugarFISH is a joint venture between Nozawa, Sapient co-founder Jerry Greenberg, Nozawa's son Tom (who heads up kitchen operations), Emanuele "Lele" Massimini (who manages the front-of-the-house for the restaurants), Cameron Broumand (in charge of real estate), and design/marketing guru Clement Mok. The restaurant aims to deliver "extraordinary sushi, every day" by utilizing many of the same purveyors that the original restaurant uses. However, the menu has been streamlined, and there is no sushi bar, and no sushi chefs in the traditional sense. In fact, the fish is distributed from a centralized facility out to the various restaurants. The end goal of all this is, thus, to deliver sushi more efficiently (i.e. more cheaply). The first sugarFISH actually opened up in Marina del Rey back in June 2008, with a Brentwood outpost appearing a year later. The concept had intrigued me right from the start, so when I was invited to check out the new DTLA location (in the 1915-era Robinson Co building, right across the street from Bottega Louie), which recently celebrated its grand opening, I jumped on the opportunity.

sugarFISH Interior
Inside, things are sleek, modern, minimalist, a pleasant amalgam of metal, wood, and concrete that manages to intrigue, but not overwhelm. The lighting, however, wreaked havoc on my photos!

sugarFISH Menu sugarFISH Nutritional Information
The restaurant prides itself on its three fixed price meals, and that's what the vast majority of patrons opt for. We went with The Nozawa, the priciest of the trio at $37. Interestingly, nutritional info is listed on the back of the menu, a nod to the health conscious nature of the City I suppose. The Nozawa rang in at a surprisingly reasonable 850 calories. Click for larger versions.

Organic Edamame
1: Organic Edamame
We began with a plate of edamame (boiled soybeans). Delightfully salty with a crisp crunch, they were exactly what you'd expect.

Big Eye Tuna Sashimi
2: Big Eye Tuna Sashimi
Big eye tuna was superb, with the clean, delicate flavor of the fish beautifully balanced by the tart and tangy application of scallion and housemade ponzu. Note that, mostly for sustainability reasons, Nozawa does not use bluefin tuna.

Albacore Sushi
3: Albacore Sushi
Unlike at many other places, albacore was served plainly raw, not seared. This was a somewhat heavier fish for me vis-à-vis the big eye, but again, the perk of piquancy from the ponzu and scallion was key.

Salmon Sushi
4: Salmon Sushi
Salmon, though not historically part of the edomae sushi tradition, was one of my favorites of the evening. Farmed in Scotland, the fish was suitably fatty, rich, yet nicely tempered by the nutty application of sesame seeds.

Snapper Sushi
5: Snapper Sushi
Snapper was slightly creamy in consistency, with the vinegar essence of the shari (sushi rice) really coming to the fore. The homemade chili ponzu, meanwhile, added a mild kick to things.

Yellowtail Sushi
6: Yellowtail Sushi
The staple of my early sushi-eating days, hamachi was very full-flavored, showing off a bit of characteristic unctuousness. Nicely balanced by the rice and salty prick of soy.

Halibut Sushi
7: Halibut Sushi
Halibut demonstrated a great interaction between the marked tanginess of the yuzu ponzu and the moderating rice. Another one of my favorites.

Large Scallop Sushi
8: Large Scallop Sushi
The menu includes a changing "Daily Special," which, today, was large scallop (versus the small bay scallops normally used). Creamy and with a light, sweet brine, the bivalves were deftly accented, again, by the yuzu ponzu.

Toro Hand Roll
9: Toro Hand Roll
Nozawa prides himself on his nori (seaweed), and indeed, the example used here was wonderfully crisp, with a particularly intense seaweed relish. Very nice with the luxuriousness of the toro.

At this point, with our Yebisus dispensed with, we ordered up a small (10oz) bottle of Hakkaisan [$35], which, as always, was delicious. Hakkaisan's sort of become my go-to sake these days.

Crab Hand Roll
10: Crab Hand Roll
The crab roll is perhaps Nozawa's signature dish. It's a relatively simple amalgam of crab, rice, and nori, but always manages to be immensely satisfying, with the inherent sweetness of the kani playing gorgeously with the seaweed. A table favorite.

At this point, we were done with the prix fixe portion of our meal, and quite satiated to boot. Of course, since we were already here, trying a few more items a la carte was the natural progression. And thus...

Albacore Belly Sushi
Albacore Belly Sushi [$MP]
One of the stars of the meal was clearly the albacore belly--the "toro" of albacore, basically. An off-the-menu special, the belly was superb, with a stupendous texture and heavy, fatty flavor that went perfectly with the ponzu and scallion combo.

Halibut Fin Sashimi
Halibut Fin Sashimi [$7.50]
Halibut fin, or engawa, was excellent. It's something that you don't see all that often offered at restaurants, and I loved its firm, crunchy texture paired with the light, tangy ponzu. Also available in sushi form if you're so inclined.

Salmon Eggs
Salmon Eggs [$6.50]
Giant, gamboge globules of salmon roe showed off beautiful bursts of briny goodness upon mastication, with their salty, sea-tinged savor adroitly offset by their seaweed wrapper.

Uni [$8.75]
Uni can be a dicey proposition, but the example here did not disappoint. The Catalina urchin's cool, creamy, briny character was beautifully present on a tempering base of rice and nori.

Sweet Shrimp
Sweet Shrimp [$6.75]
Raw shrimp was garnished with lemon and what I believe was yuzukosho (an admixture of yuzu, chili, and salt). Snappy and sweet, the amaebi went impeccably with the tangy, spicy savor of the condiment. Unfortunately though, no deep fried heads were to be found here.

Unagi [$4.75]
We closed with unagi, a sort of traditional finisher in the absence of tamago. It was a thoroughly classic preparation, a lush mix of sweet and savory flavors keenly balanced by the earthy goma (sesame seeds).

I have to say that I can't fault the quality of the sushi, especially at this price point. You'll be hard pressed to find any better, for any less. Certainly, don't come in here expecting Urasawa-like brilliance, but the fish definitely seems on par with (or actually better than) the likes of an Echigo or R23. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. Thus, sugarFISH does well on the food front, but some may deride the whole experience as a bit curious. I'm used to sitting at a sushi bar, watching my fish being prepared, chatting with the chef, and perhaps buying him (yes, invariably a male) a biru or two. That part of the "sushi experience" is absent, but given what sugarFISH aims to accomplish, it's an understandable trade off. For now, people don't seem to mind, and the sugarFISH train continues its expansion, with a Santa Monica location opening up next January, and even a rumored WeHo outpost debuting sometime in the future. It's Nozawa without the fascism, and pretty damn good at that.


Blogger Charlie Fu said...

looks pretty reasonable price wise. There are far crappier sushi places in downtown proper for the same price and this is a short walk from the office.

Thanks for the update!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 8:04:00 AM  
Anonymous EpicuriousTravels said...

Sushi! My favorite.

I love the name--sugarFISH. :)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 9:31:00 AM  
Blogger Chocolate & Chants said...

I love sugarFISH and frequent the MDR location quite often. I have never seen the calorie count though, so thanks for posting pics of that!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 4:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should also check out Sushi Don Sasabune located in the little shopping center behind the Starbucks on Riverside and Laurel Canyon. Great sushi, great prices.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010 5:13:00 PM  
Blogger Fritos and Foie Gras said...

Hey Kevin-have been reading your blog for quite some time now and must say that you are one heck of a food writer! Yours is absolutely one of the blogs inspired me to start my own blog-in a much different vein, but as someone who also loves food :) Keep up great work and next time you are in New York, you must try Yasuda

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 6:24:00 PM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

gorgeous pics as usual. can't wait to try this place.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 9:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was soy sauce/wasabi absent at this location? I'd love to come by and check it out, but I'm no good when it comes to "appreciating" the fullest of the fish and love my spicy wasabi with me and I don't want to feel out of place or look like an idiot if I did ask for it!

Thursday, November 04, 2010 12:57:00 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

I cant believe I like this place as much as I do. I visit nearly twice a week. Yes, it is unconventional, but the quality it delivers for the price is making me hesitate to frequent my old sushi stomping grounds. 2 people can eat very well here for under $80 including food, sake, tax & tip. That is unheard of anymore for sushi in LA.

I cursed at myself after going to Katsuya (the SBE versions). Next time you go, if ever, check out the tiny portions of sushi. It is a con job. And you cant get a bottle of sake, even a small one for less than $40. It was twice as expensive as Sugarfish.

How did you feel about the automatic 18% service charge? And the no reservation policy?

I imagine Sugarfish will have 20 locations within 3 years.

Thursday, November 04, 2010 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Charlie: Agreed. Let us know how it turns out for you--seems like a nice lunch spot.

Jennifer: Here's what they said about the name: Nozawa is known for “melt in the mouth” sushi that’s a “wow” experience for most people. Imagine a child eating his first sugar cube. We wanted a name that would evoke that simple, pure, “wow” sensation.

Chants: I was living in MDR when sugarFISH opened there, but never made it out. Which menu option do you usually order?

Anon: Sushi Don's way out in the Valley, so it's not quite a competitor to sugarFISH.

Sarah: Thanks, I've been scoping out your blog over these past few months as well. Agree about Yasuda!

Amy: Pics were decent, but I think I could've done better. :p

Jeff: Nope, wasabi and housemade soy (along with gari) were definitely present. I don't think that they'll have an issue with you mixing in the wasabi with your soy (even though it's not typically encouraged).

Evan: Twice a week? Lele was telling us about diehard regulars like yourself! I definitely do not plan on checking out the glamorized Katsuyas anytime soon, but what are your thoughts on the original one? The service charge here was actually 16%, and I don't mind it (I usually give more). The no reservations thing does irk me, though.

Thursday, November 04, 2010 3:30:00 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

I was watching iron chef the other day and wondered why you weren't on it as a judge. Go get 'em tiger!

Thursday, November 04, 2010 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger Jennifer @ WanderingSeoul said...

That's pretty interesting. :D Thanks for sharing!

Sunday, November 07, 2010 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Cindy: I'm with you on that one!

Jennifer: It's an interesting concept certainly, and the food actually stands up to it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 4:49:00 PM  
Blogger daniel s. kim said...

went last friday for dinner with the family. had the nozawa and everything was exactly the same as you had, except the daily special was the sweet shrimp.

i have to say it's prolly one of the best for the money.

good find!

Monday, January 10, 2011 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Glad you enjoyed it Daniel! The Santa Monica location is opening up soon, so you might want to check that out as well.

Friday, January 14, 2011 4:36:00 PM  
Blogger krelianx said...

Found any better sushi for the price yet? I am extremely fond of the quality-price deal here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 5:44:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

It's a little higher end, but look into Ohshima in Orange. Last time there I had a 32-course omakase for only $116! There's also Nozomi in Torrance.

Thursday, February 23, 2012 11:54:00 PM  

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