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Valley Life | restaurant review

Sushi Sans Grumpiness

Idiosyncratic Studio City bar has quietly overtaken more celebrated neighbor.

October 13, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kazu Sushi, about one mini-mall away from the more celebrated Sushi Nozawa in Studio City, has in many ways, without fanfare or much public acclaim, become the better of the two restaurants.

It's as idiosyncratic as many a sushi bar in Tokyo. Progressive jazz might be playing in the background and the flat-screen TV might be showing a documentary about Alaskan bears. The dining room is all in black and white--black lacquer sushi bar, white walls, white porcelain Noh masks clinging to a space above the kitchen door.

One recent Friday, instead of taking the chef's choice dinner (omakase) as we might have, we decided to navigate the bilingual menu by ourselves. We ordered candy crabs (sawagani), freshwater crustaceans no bigger than your thumbnail and got half a dozen on a glazed plate dusted with sea salt. Pop one into your mouth and crunch: You're hooked.

Soon after came a salad of mountain vegetables: carrot, burdock root, wild radish and other wild roots and greens.

Then came a red ball of tuna belly tartare with three Japanese caviars, and then buttery amberjack (kampachi) sashimi that melted in our mouths. So far, so good, and with no hint of the grumpiness you'd get down the street at Nozawa.

Many other dishes came right on cue. One was black cod yuuanyaki: a piece of the delicate fish, skin on, marinated and broiled in sweet white miso. Another was the smoky miso soup laced with baby clams (asari). Four of us sipped it passionately.

There are one or two rough spots, but overall, there are few flaws in the cooking here. The impeccable sushi includes wonderfully fresh Spanish mackerel (aji) and sweet sea urchin (uni) from Santa Barbara.

But o tempura, o mores--Kazu's tempura has too much batter, just like many other versions on Ventura Boulevard. Another letdown is "chicken delight," a skinless breast of chicken without much flavor, although it's almost saved by a light garlic sauce with oyster mushrooms and a few spears of asparagus.

You're waited on by a team of outgoing Japanese women from Osaka, a city justly famous for its friendliness.

Furthermore, the back page of the menu has a list of premium sakes from various prefectures around Japan. For a big splurge, try Kubota Manjyu, an ultra-smooth sake . . . at $24 per choku (decanter).

Well, why not? This food deserves classy companionship.

BE THERE

Kazu Sushi, 11440 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Lunch 12-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5:30-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Parking in lot. Beer and wine. All major cards. Dinner for two, $47-$89. Suggested dishes: Japanese candy crabs, $8.75; mountain vegetable salad, $7.80; amberjack sashimi with fresh wasabi, $14.50; black cod yuuanyaki, $9.95. Call (818) 763-4836.

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