Monday, November 15, 2010
I find it interesting that while I enjoy sushi, it's not something I necessarily crave. In fact, when I'm trying to decide where I want to eat out and I'm going through the files in my head of cuisines and restaurants, a sushi restaurant doesn't usually make a blip on my brain waves. But when I received an invitation to dine at the new downtown location of Sugarfish, how could I say no to a restaurant owned by celebrated sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa? After all, if I'm going to have sushi, a Nozawa-owned restaurant is the definitely the place to be.
I was also told that I could bring a guest, so when my friend arrived and we were seated, we first took a look around the decor. I liked the use of the natural woods, the lights enclosed in globes that reminded me of water bubbles and the back wall that had a wave pattern that made me think of ocean waves.
Soon we were joined by co-owner, Emmanuelle "Lele" Massimmi, who sat with us and ordered the first part of our meal. This more one-to-one exchange was a little different from the usual media dinners I've attended in the past where there were usually 10 or more other bloggers in attendance. What I liked about this approach was the personalization of the whole experience where he was able to share info as a part of a dialogue that also allowed me to ask questions where I could get an immediate response. I'll share some of the info I learned as I talk about the food.
For dinner that night, Lele ordered for us"The Nozawa", a tasting menu that included 9 items from their current menu and a 10th item, which is a daily special. The cost runs between $35-$38 and is dependent on what that daily special is. Earlier, Lele mentioned their food utilizes only between 2 to 3 ingredients. That was evident in our first course, a Big Eye Tuna Sashimi. The dish was comprised simply of the tuna, a sprinkle of green scallion and their house ponzu sauce and it was absolutely delicious.
Next was a trio of fish that included Albacore Sushi with a House Ponzu, Snapper Sushi with a Chili Ponzu Sauce and Salmon Sushi. Again, for each item, only 2 to 3 ingredients were at play, but there was something different about the sushi rice that I've never experienced before. Instead of a cold, white rice, the rice was warm and loosely packed. Apparently, the rice is made in small batches every 20 minutes. I absolutely loved it. The softer, warmer texture of the rice just meshed well with the tender texture of the fish itself. It was as if you were just eating one food. Whereas, fish on top of a rice that is cold and sometimes more tightly packed feels like two separate entities that you just happen to be eating together.
Our next foray into seafood goodness included Yellowtail Sushi, Halibut Sushi and the "Daily Special", which were Scallops with Yuzu Ponzu, all on one plate. Lele mentioned in our conversation and it's also noted in their menu, that the sushi that already comes with sauce should not be dipped in soy. I have to say that the various ponzu sauces that I had tasted up to that point were fantastic, a perfect balance of salty, tart and citrusy flavors. Interestingly enough, even for the fish that didn't come with a ponzu sauce, I steer cleared of the soy sauce. The fish and the rice were just so fresh and tasty on their own that they didn't need the additional embellishment of that soy sauce.
The last two items of The Nozawa were the Toro Hand Roll and the Crab Roll. Eating these two hand rolls were at the same time delicious; yet, also like being part of a speed eating contest. Simply, the seaweed that makes up the nori comes from the deep waters of the Japanese coast and is a very special order that Chef Nozawa makes for all his restaurants. To be really enjoyed, these rolls have to be eaten as soon as they are placed in front of you. Your first bite can literally be a clean bite through that first section of the roll that you can quickly chew and swallow. If you linger too much, the nori will absorb the moisture from the fish and the rice and nori can get quite a bit chewier. According to Lele, three bites does it for him.
After the Nozawa Tasting menu was complete, Lele invited us to order other things from the menu. He personally recommended the Halibut Fin (Engawa), which I've never had before. Of course, the ponzu sauce it came in gave it some great flavor, but I wasn't that enamored with the fins' chewy texture.
My friend also had the Nozawa Shrimp Sushi while I had the Unagi (eel) and we shared the Blue Crab Rolls and Yellowtail Rolls. We liked our respective sushi, but unfortunately, we let our sushi rolls sit for a little too long because we were busy catching up. By the time we got to them, the nori lost its crispness so the overall rolls were more on the chewy side.
Overall, I really enjoyed the sushi at Sugarfish. Although I'm not a regular sushi eater, I can say that based on previous experiences, I definitely haven't had very good sushi. It's as if I've been flank steak all this time when I could have been enjoying a rib eye instead. I love the fact that Chef Nozawa is responsible for shopping for the fish for both his high end restaurant, Sushi Nozawa and all the Sugarfish locations. In fact, the same fish is served at Sushi Nozawa and Sugarfish, although Sushi Nozawa will feature more specialty seafood items that aren't on the menu at Sugarfish. So there's definitely no scrimping on fish quality.
When it comes to Sugarfish, the real emphasis is on "Everyday Sushi as an Everyday Luxury." By keeping to a limited menu and eliminating the presence of a sushi bar, the margins are brought down and savings are passed down to the customers. Of course, this is all done without compromising quality.
With more affordable sushi prices, customers don't have to think of sushi restaurants as special occasion restaurants. In fact, Lele mentioned that Sugarfish locations in Brentwood and Marina del Rey have taken on the mantle of being like neighborhood restaurants where customers dine there several times a week. His sincere hope is that this new downtown Los Angeles location will also attract a regular, loyal clientele and after the wonderful meal I had there, I don't see that as a problem.
600 W. 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017