Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking. “Adam,” you’re saying, shaking your head while sipping a vanilla iced latte (why are you drinking that, anyway?), “you’re losing credibility. You just wrote a post below this about some blood-infused noodles and said that the Thai restaurant where you ate them offered the best Thai meal of your life. And now here you are, one post later, and you’re talking about the best sushi of your life. Don’t you think you’re overselling things a bit? If you keep calling things ‘the best of your life’ no one’s going to take you seriously. You’re like the boy who cried ‘best fill-in-the-blank of your life.'”
That’s a fair point, Starbucks-sipping reader, but hear me out. While I was alone in my conclusion that Pa-Ord was the best Thai food of my life (Zach Brooks didn’t share my pronouncement), when I went to Sushi Zo the next day, I was with New York Times writer/editor Dan Saltzstein (who was visiting L.A. and who suggested Sushi Zo) and with Craig, a sushi-obsessive. And at the end of the meal, all three of us were in agreement. This was the best sushi of our lives.
To innocent passersby, there’s not much to distinguish Sushi Zo as a must-visit sushi destination.
It’s located next to a Starbucks in a strip mall on National Blvd. near Culver City. Here’s the entryway:
The day that we went–a Tuesday (one week ago today)–the place was almost completely empty. There was one tableful of customers and then us at the bar. Once you sit down, there isn’t a menu–it’s all omakase ($125 a pop)–and the only questions that you’re asked are: “Would you like something to drink?” and “Is there any fish that you don’t eat?”
Almost immediately, you’re presented with a plate of pickled ginger and a small cup of miso soup:
And then the food starts coming. Here’s an oyster with some kind of yuzu sauce:
The oyster was as briny and fresh-tasting as they get, and the yuzu sauce was acidic and salty, a lovely contrast. Before we could put down our shells, the next plate was presented:
Tuna as bright and shiny as jewelry, topped with a slick of soy sauce and the tiniest dot of wasabi. Each bite was so buttery, it practically melted in the mouth.
There was this small bowl of calamari cut into noodles and tossed with sea urchin:
Two unrelated tastes from the sea that work like old friends together on the palate.
From there, the more traditional sushi pieces arrived. I’d be a liar if I said I could identify each picture; from the bill, I can tell you that we ate fatty tuna, albacore, yellowtail, amberjack, halibut, yellow stripe jack, red snapper, salmon, spanish mackerel, scallop, sweet shrimp, sea urchin and salmon eggs (that’s what you see in the lead photo), sea eel, monkfish liver, butter fish, pompono, halibut-fin, G.E. snapper, toro roll and a blue crab roll. Here are some assorted pictures:
I didn’t take a picture of every piece–that would’ve gotten a little too repetitive–but those pictures should give you a good idea. Each piece was some kind of revelation; I’ve never had fish so melt-in-your-mouth creamy.
The sushi masters who made this sushi hovered over us and would instruct us, as they handed us our pieces, whether or not we should apply soy sauce (most often the answer was “no” because there’d already been an application of soy sauce behind-the scenes). Dan, Craig and I discussed the freshness of the fish–“L.A. is five hours closer to Japan than New York,” Dan explained, “so it’s that much fresher” (the fish is almost all imported from Japan, which is why it’s pricey). I had a question about the F.D.A. regulations about freezing fish–does all sushi fish have to be flash frozen first? even at the best places?–that no one really had an answer to.
But mostly, we sat in awed silence imbibing this glorious, lovingly assembled sushi. At the end of the meal, there was a glass of yuzu juice:
And then, in the blink of an eye, we were out the door. Craig said it first–the thing about it being the best sushi of his life–and Dan and I quickly concurred. Honestly, though, those labels aren’t very important. What is important is that here in Los Angeles, in a little strip mall next to a Starbucks, you will find an extraordinarily talented sushi chef preparing extraordinary sushi. It’s not to be missed.