The sushi in California is just better…

I’m sorry but the sushi in California (and the west coast in general) is just better than everywhere else in the U.S.

New York has its Masa (ho hum) and Austin has its Uchi (yes, sushi in Texas), but there’s just nothing and nowhere that comes close to the wide range of styles and price points and ubiquity of Southern California sushi and Japanese cuisine.

Popped into K-ZO Japanese and French restaurant in Culver City for quick working lunch with a friend and colleague today and man, that shit rocks… The live sweet shrimp — tails served raw and heads dredged in flour and deep-fried (lower left hand corner) — were friggin’ amazing…

Holy guacamole, Batman! Ceviche porn (warning: extreme fish content)

Yo, Dr. V, impossible pairing? What does one pair with ceviche? Tracie B and I don’t usually drink wine at lunch (when we ate most of the fish during our San Diego trip) and we had sake with our sushi (see below). What would you pair with ceviche? Leave a comment and let me know!

Is that a face or IS THAT A FACE? I couldn’t help but post this snap Tracie B took of a ray in the aquarium at the new Zenbu in Cardiff (North County, San Diego).

Isn’t he cool? That is, assuming he’s a he! Owners Matt and Jacqueline Rimel and I all went to La Jolla High together and I’m thrilled to see their businesses thriving.

Like the La Jolla location, the cooking style is decidedly Southern Californian. I like to call it “heavy metal” sushi. Tracie B and I had the Mexicali Roll (above), which is basically a classic shrimp roll with a garnish of jalapeño and cilantro imparting some Baja California flavors. It was delicious.

The traditional-style ceviche at Bahia Don Bravo in La Jolla was awesome, as always. So were the grilled mahi mahi tacos and the camaronillas (shrimp deep-fried in a corn tortilla).

The ceviche at Bay Park Fish Company in Mission Bay, San Diego was slightly more contemporary but just as delicious. I’m loving living in Austin but one thing I really miss about Southern California is the availability of super fresh seafood.

Like Matt’s materia prima at Zenbu, most of the fish at my high school bud Marc Muller’s Bay Park Fish Co. is also sourced as locally — and as humanely — as possible. Tracie B said these were the best clams she has had outside of Italy.

I couldn’t resist this pic either, snapped at Siesel’s Old Fashioned Meats, right next door to Bay Park Fish Company.

In other news…

I’m about to get on a plane for Little Rock, Arkansas where I’ll be hawking wine for the next few days. It should be a fun trip, with wine dinners tonight and tomorrow.

But I miss her already…

Impossible Pairing: Sushi, Me, & NYC

Having grown up and come of age in southern California, I have had the opportunity to experience some of the best “sushi” and Japanese cuisine in the country. During the 1990s when I was a graduate student at U.C.L.A. (and when the sushi craze was rippling through the U.S.A., with its epicenter in Los Angeles), I was fortunate enough to dine at the now legendary Katsu (first in Los Feliz and then in Beverly Hills), opened by Katsu Michite who now works in Studio City at my fav LA sushi place, Tama Sushi (no website, unfortunately, see info below).* Then came Hirozen (in an unassuming strip-mall, still fantastic, a must), R23 (downtown, disappointing the last two times I visited), and one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve ever eaten in, Thousand Cranes, which is supposedly returning to its former glory (the traditional Japanese breakfast there is worth a visit if you’re staying downtown).

Down in San Diego, where I grew up, Zenbu can be a lot of fun. So crowded and popular (and expensive) these days, it has its ups and downs but I still love their “aggressive” dishes like live prawns and giant clams (and by live, I mean literally). I also like the colorful cocktail menu inspired by local surf spots and surf lore. The lounge is very hip there and one of my best friends, Irwin, performs electronica there on some nights. The restaurant’s owned by another of my high-school friends, Matt Rimel, a huntsman and fisherman, whose fishing crew provides nearly all of the fish, working with eco-friendly and dolphin-safe fishing techniques.


Above: I felt like I was a tourist in my own city when I asked our sushi chef Mano, at Sushi Ann, NYC, to pose for a picture (with a beer we bought him in gratitude).

I had always found NYC sushi disappointing, even though I’d been treated to some of the finer and pricier venues in town. But now I have seen a new dawn on my NYC sushi horizon at the wonderful and very reasonably priced Sushi Ann.

The Odd Couple — that’s me (Felix) and Greg (Oscar) — dined there last night on the recommendation of friend and colleague, top NYC Italian restaurateur and wine maven, Nicola Marzovilla (who owns I Trulli and Centovini). We asked our chef to prepare whatever he liked — really, the way to go at the sushi bar — and we were delighted with each serving. The fish was fresh and he avoided the sushi stereotypes. One sashimi dish was tuna belly cubed (not sliced) and drowned in a miso reduction sauce (sinfully good). Mano, our chef, also liked to counterpose bitter and sweet, as he did in some rolls, which he served together, the one made with Japanese basil and pickled radish, the other with scallion.


Above: Mano offered me a leaf of Japanese basil, sweeter than the western variety.

Most of the fish seemed to be flown in from Japan (Japanese Red Snapper, Japanese Mackerel, etc.) and tasted fresh (didn’t have that freeze-dried taste that find in so many of the Lower East Side sushi joints). The restaurant was very clean (important for sushi restaurants, in my opinion) and the waitstaff polite and attentive.


Above: skewered octopus tentacles, raw but seared with a torch.

One of my favorite dishes was the seared octopus tentacles, dressed with just a little bit of lemon juice.

Greg drank a cold, unfiltered sake (which was a little too sweet for my taste, although our waiter said it’s very popular in Japan) and I stuck to beer. I’m sure we could have spent a lot more had we indulged in a bottle of fine sake — the list was alluring but it wasn’t the night for that. Our bill was very reasonable for an excellent experience in a high-end midtown neighborhood (51st between Park and Madison).

After ten years in this town (I got here in 1997), I finally found a great sushi restaurant. Who knows? After the recent crazy changes in my life, maybe I should stick around after all.**

*Tama Sushi
11920 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 760-4585

**So all you newsy people, spread the news around,
You c’n listen to m’ story, listen to m’ song.
You c’n step on my name, you c’n try ‘n’ get me beat,
When I leave New York, I’ll be standin’ on my feet.
And it’s hard times in the city,
Livin’ down in New York town.

— Bob Dylan