There are 400 Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles but none quite like SUGARFISH. The restaurant does not take reservations, which sometimes leads to a 45-minute wait for a table. The Zen-like simplicity and elevated rice, crispy nori and melt-in-your-mouth, flavorful fish makes the prix fixe “Trust Me” dinner worth the wait.
The menu is very simple. You won’t see fancy, over-the-top American style sushi like California, teriyaki or spicy tuna rolls. Instead you will taste the highest quality fish. Sushi here is a step-by-step, delicious and unique omakase-style service based on Chef Kazunori Nozawa’s early training with master chefs in Tokyo and 50 years of hospitality experience.
At SUGARFISH, guests don’t sit, chat with chefs and watch their sushi being prepared at a sushi bar. Instead, trained sushi chefs work efficiently behind closed doors in a sushi-making kitchen and waiters deliver each course with fresh fish and warm rice.
Nozawa’s “Trust Me” style sushi experiences are served one dish at a time and include organic edamame, tuna sashimi enhanced in ponzu and thinly sliced scallions, albacore sushi, salmon sushi, yellowtail sushi, sea bass sushi and a crab hand roll.
While Nozawa’s concept has been successful since 1985 at Sushi Nozawa in Studio City, Nozawa teamed up with his friend, Jerry A. Greenberg, to make Nozawa’s concept more accessible. Together with founding partners Tom Nozawa, Lele Massimini, Cameron Broumand, and Clement Mok, Nozawa and Greenberg created Sushi Nozawa Group, LLC in 2008. The first SUGARFISH restaurant opened in Marina del Rey, and soon the team opened other locations in the greater Los Angeles area.
Nozawa has developed relationships with some of the finest fish purveyors from around the world. His hamachi is from Japan, salmon from Europe, snapper from New Zealand, tuna from almost every sea, and creamy sea urchin uni from California. Nozawa respectfully cuts the fish into fillets with the right knife strokes to bring out the finest flavor and achieve the desired tenderness. Every day, Nozawa, his son, Tom Nozawa, and a few key members of the team arrive at downtown L.A.’s fish market 15 minutes before opening to purchase the very best catch of the day.
Besides quality fish, the rice is elevated in consistency and quality. Sourced from a Japanese company that grows rice in the Sacramento Delta, the rice is not too heavy, starchy or fluffy. The rice is cooked in a special rice cooker and mixed with a slightly acidic and sweet rice vinegar. The vinegar base is from Japan, and then they brew their own rice vinegar using a balance of salt, sugar and heat.
The nori or seaweed is different, too. The chefs work with farmers and suppliers in Japan who cultivate the right seaweed consistency for rolling. When hand rolls are delivered to the table, the seaweed is crisp and flavorful.
Nozawa’s team also makes their own ponzu sauce offering a touch of garlic, pepper, citrus and ginger notes. Their homemade soy sauce is lighter and less salty than commercial brands, offering a hint of smokiness and amplifying the mild, medium and full flavors of the freshest fish.
For those who want to customize their own meal, there is an a la carte section. Served on minimalist Japanese-style white plates, guests are encouraged to use chopsticks or pick up each piece with their fingers.
The “Trust Me Lite” to-go eliminates the wait time. After placing our order, my daughters and I waited 15 minutes and took our boxes to a table in an outdoor courtyard. Each box had a silver fish etched on top and detailed photos, descriptions and instructions inside. Together, we read aloud the descriptions and instructions about how to eat each item featured in different bento-like compartments. For the tuna sashimi, instructions were to “Coat with ponzu and then add scallion. No soy, please.” The largest section of the box held warm pillows of rice with fresh slices of salmon, yellowtail and Nozawa-style shrimp. There were even sliced handrolls, featuring toro and crab in our “sushi party in a box.”
Now, guests can bring a Zen-Like sushi experience to the Hollywood Bowl, picnic at the beach or home to enjoy. There is a 16% service charge added to your bill, so there is no need for tipping.
Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. $$ 212 N. Canon Drive, (310)276-6900; 11640 W. San Vicente Blvd, (310)820-4477; 600 W. 7th St. Suite 150, (213)627-3000; 6115 W. Sunset Blvd. #170, (323)320-4800; 101 S. La Brea Ave., (323)488-3636; 4720 Admiralty Way, (310)306-6300; 1345 2nd St., (310)393-3338; 11288 Ventura Blvd. # C, (818)762-2322; 146 S. Lake Ave. #108, (626)298-8386.