Simple Sushi is Tops at Sugarfish
by eric rosen
Sea Change! The tantalizingly simple nigiri plate at Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa.
You might have a taste for the yellowtail jalapeño sashimi at Matsuhisa or the oh-so-cool club ambiance at Katsuya by Starck, but no sushi chef has had a bigger impact on LA’s sushi culture than Kazunori Nozawa.
Although his Studio City hole-in-the-wall sushi mecca, Sushi Nozawa, shuttered in 2012, his legacy lives on in the laid-back but upscale Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa restaurant chain (it opened its sixth location in April, in Beverly Hills), which Nozawa and his son, Tom—along with the rest of the Sugarfish team—operate with the chef’s unwavering focus on freshness, simplicity, and respect for Japanese cuisine: the “trust me” principle.
When Nozawa first opened his restaurant on an unassuming block in the Valley in 1987, his approach to sushi was radical. “Nozawa emphasized simplicity everywhere,” says Emanuele Massimini, a partner in Sugarfish and co-head of operations. “He believed that simple is better, and it’s a belief we all share—in the purity of flavors and the mastery behind the presentation.” That meant no California rolls or spicy tuna on crispy rice, at the time a hard sell to LA diners, who equated sushi with such ersatz preparations. Eventually Nozawa’s philosophy developed a cult following and forever changed Angelenos’ perception of this once-rarefied cuisine.
According to Massimini, simple ingredients and four culinary pillars underlie Nozawa’s take on sushi. The first is the extremely high-quality fish he hand-selects early every morning from trusted vendors at the Downtown LA fish market. The second, perhaps Nozawa’s true hallmark, is his rice: Instead of densely packed and cold, it’s served warm, slightly loose, and laced with his secret white-vinegar recipe—all of which has been (poorly) imitated at restaurants around the world. Then comes the nori, which is specially harvested from deep waters off the coast of Japan, giving his rolls a fresh, crispy bite. The final part of the recipe is the array of sauces that Nozawa pairs with each fish he serves to set off its flavors.
But what also sets Sugarfish apart from other sushi restaurants in LA is that, although its fish and seafood are among the best of the best in town, you could eat here every day of the week without breaking your budget—and some people do, including David Katzenberg (a regular of the Brentwood location), Jeff Goldblum, and countless other A-listers, such as Reese Witherspoon, Kate Hudson, and Jack Black.
Despite his strict interpretation of “trust the chef,” omakase-style service, as well as his famously fiery temper (in some circles he has been called the “Sushi Nazi”—don’t bring it up with Charlize Theron, who was once thrown out of the Studio City restaurant!), Nozawa has developed a clutch of fans that remain loyal to this day.
Like the other locations, the new Sugarfish Beverly Hills does not take reservations. However, it does feature an outdoor patio and a wine and sake bar for diners waiting for a table. And then there’s the singular restaurant-within-a-restaurant called the Nozawa Bar, where 10 people at a time can enjoy a more exotic omakase meal prepared by Nozawa and his protégé, Fujita.
New location, new concept, same great sushi. 212 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-276-6900
photography by robert august olding
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.