For more than 25 years, Sushi Nozawa was one of L.A.’s leading sushi destinations for food lovers, celebrities, and chefs. Kazunori Nozawa presided over a small bar and convinced customers, “Trust me.” 2008 saw an ingenious pivot to SUGARFISH, where Nozawa teamed with son Tom and business partners Jerry Greenberg, Lele Massimini, Cameron Broumand, and Clement Mok. They did away with sushi’s prevalent cult of personality, with chefs making every piece of sushi out of view in a back room to reduce meal times and costs. Thankfully, standards didn’t suffer. For instance, Nozawa continued shopping for seafood in DTLA markets. They created a streamlined sushi empire that draws waits at every location. After closing Sushi Nozawa in 2012, Nozawa must have missed the theatre of sushi to some extent. He’s not behind the bar, but installed longtime protégées like Osamu Fujita at Nozawa Bar, a 12-seat sushi speakeasy located in back of SUGARFISH Beverly Hills. My leisurely two-hour dinner was rich with education, hospitality, flavor, and fun.
You’ll find some seasonal variations, but my meal ($150++) was pretty typical, starting with slippery seaweed salad.
Ruby-hued bluefin sashimi joined thin sliced octopus, Japanese wakame, and a tiny wasabi mound.
Nozawa finds o-toro too heavy and prefers bluefin chu-toro, sliced from a slightly leaner part of the massive fish’s belly. Rice preferences are contentious in the sushi world, though I enjoy Nozawa’s signature warm rice.
Squid sushi featured a tender convex cut plated like a bridge over the rice and shiso leaf.
Sea urchin sushi involved three tiny tongues of sweet uni stacked on top of each other.
King crab sushi starred a beautiful cylinder of sweet leg meat.
Silky rosy-hued Hokkaido sea scallop sushi co-starred tangy yuzu ponzu.
Amberjack from Japan was delicate and a beautiful shade of pink.
Skipjack (bonito) sourced from Hawaii complemented punchy garlic ponzu sauce and crunchy scallions.
Nozawa is famous for his blue crab hand roll, but Nozawa Bar takes rolls in different directions. Eat your tuna hand roll quickly or face soggy nori wrappers from warm rice and the inevitable stink-eye from chefs.
Jellyfish (kinugasu) featured crunchy strips of mushroom shaped jellyfish in zippy chile ponzu.
A scoop of steamed ankimo pate cascading with miso sauce and scallions was a noble monkfish liver preparation.
Nigiri resumed with pink, firm golden eye snapper (kinmedai) and instructions to dip the fish in soy sauce.
Halibut fin (engawa) sushi was dressed with yuzu and soy sauce. Bites separated the cartilage-rich strip into segments.
Salmon roe (ikura) was marinated for three hours in soy sauce, mirin and sake and still burst, but tasted more delicate.
Skin-on New Zealand tai snapper was pink centered, lighter at the edges, brushed with soy sauce, and made with shiso.
Spanish mackerel fillets took a quick dip in vinegar to clean skin and make it easier to skin and slice. They transformed wonderfully pungent, oil-rich mackerel into sushi with dab of slightly spicy ginger, crisp scallion, and a brush of soy sauce.
Sweet shrimp (amaebi) sushi was sweet and silky, dressed with soy sauce and yuzu salt.
Lobster hand roll co-starred sweet pulled Maine lobster meat and a judicious amount of mayo.
Sea eel (anago) was broiled and brushed with soy sauce. With the top skin removed, this eel was no longer so rich.
An exquisite omelet (tamago) was cooked with fish stock, sake and mirin. Shiso and plum jam joined rice in an incision.
Chef Fujita joked that dessert was uni ice cream with fish oil, which would be…interesting. In reality, he served ice cream with strawberries, blackberry, raspberry, blueberries, drizzled with plum wine and paired with hōjicha, roasted green tea.
By the last bite, I was ready to buckle, since Nozawa Bar serves a substantial amount of food over the course of two hours. Given the meal’s consistently high quality, I wasn’t willing to hold back on any dishes, and neither should you.
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