“Cult of Personality” isn’t just a song by Living Colour. It’s also the basis for the success of many premium sushi establishments. Masa Takayama used to charge hundreds of dollars per person for the privilege of sitting before him at Ginzo Sushiko in Beverly Hills. Now he’s able to command even higher prices at Manhattan’s Time Warner Center…because he can. A handful of sushi chefs have the power to convince people that going to less expensive sushi spots, or even sitting at a table, is completely pointless. At this stage, the notorious Kazunori Nozawa of Sushi Nozawa may be the L.A. sushi chef with the most sway (who’s actually behind his bar), drawing well-heeled Angelenos and industry types to a Studio City strip mall for rapid-fire omakase in a Spartan setting.
Last year, Nozawa and son Tom teamed with Jerry Greenberg, Lele Massimini and Cameron Broumand on sugarFISH in Marina del Rey. Now sugarFISH has expanded to Brentwood, and the restaurant offers the same high-quality fish that you’ll find at Sushi Nozawa at half the cost, minus Nozawa’s personal attention. The experience is so different that you won’t even find sushi chefs behind the bar. Instead, they remain in the kitchen, out of sight but able to produce sushi more rapidly since they don’t interact with customers.
Massimini invited me to Brentwood for a Nozawa-less Nozawa lunch. Nozawa still shops every morning at the downtown fish market, and you’ll find the same seafood at sugarFISH that you would at Sushi Nozawa. Of course you sacrifice personal interaction and the touch of an infinitely more experienced sushi master by choosing sugarFISH, but Nozawa’s food was never cutting-edge or based on extremely intricate preparations, so you probably won’t notice too much of a difference.
At sugarFISH, expect daily specials like uni, sardine and giant clam, plus three set menus, Trust Me Lite ($13.50), Trust Me ($23) and The Nozawa ($31-33), all include Nozawa’s signature albacore sushi and blue crab roll. I went with The Nozawa. Venice-based designer Glen Bell of Studio DEX molded the relaxed, wood-lined interior.
The main plate of sushi involved straightforward Yellowtail Sushi (2 pc) soy-treated Halibut Sushi (2 pic) and the Daily Special (2 pc) – shrimp topped with sesame seeds. The shrimp was the only sushi that was somewhat disappointing. The sesame flavor was a nice touch, but the shrimp was a little drier than expected.
The Toro Hand Roll was wrapped in a thin sheathe of crispy seaweed. I was instructed to eat the roll immediately so the seaweed wouldn’t get soggy. Even taking five seconds to snap a photo was viewed with skepticism. This roll was satisfying due to the fatty tuna belly, but not as good as the final official course.
After a strong lunch at sugarFISH, it’s hard to imagine driving over the hill again to eat the same food at twice the cost in less comfortable environs, but some people will, and they’ll make the trip for Nozawa’s sake.