334 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 3/7/14
I’ve only visited Cheviot Hills’ Sushi Zo a couple of times, but both times I’ve concluded that it was a top-tier sushi place in Los Angeles. So, I was very excited to hear chef Keizo Seki was opening up a downtown location in the Medallion Apartments at 4th & Main. While downtown (particularly Little Tokyo) has a few good sushi spots, I wouldn’t say there is anything really special. There are, of course, some good deals (Sushi Gen) but no destination sushiyas where I feel it’s worthwhile for someone to drive in from outside of greater downtown. Zo is really the first high caliber omakase-only, sushi-dedicated restaurant to open in downtown LA (Q Sushi opened up nearby shortly thereafter and is also cut from the same cloth).
While Zo opened in September, my first visit was just earlier this month – way overdue. The omakase menu runs in the mid-$100 range for around 25-30 courses (it varies depending on what is available).
1956 N Tustin St
Orange, CA 92865
Dining date: 12/21/13
Ohshima is one of Orange County’s notable and more popular sushi shops. I’ve had very limited forays into the OC sushi scene, but what I’ve found is some high quality sushi at some very reasonable prices. This was my second visit to Ohshima’s unassuming location in an Orange strip mall.
The menu setup is a little unique. Bar seats come with a mandatory eight-piece omakase; the rest of the meal is supplemented by a wide a la carte menu. Sushi, separated between ‘Japan-originated’ and ‘Other’ is available as well as a selection of hot and cold plates. Diners can customize the meal to be sushi-only or feature a little bit of everything. We went for a meal that was primarily sushi but added a few hot bites. I definitely dig the flexibility.
431 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94108
Dining date: 12/2/13
I’ve always found San Francisco to have a surprisingly lackluster Japanese food scene, made very noticeable once I moved to Los Angeles. Comparing some of the most oft-eaten Japanese foods like sushi and ramen – SF hasn’t really had any noteworthy standouts. However, I do think it’s been catching up in recent years.
One example is Akiko’s, a restaurant that’s been around for almost 20 years but just underwent an ownership and chef change. My mom’s been following the restaurant closely ever since a stellar Michael Bauer review in September. The food’s more serious and passionate now and features a pretty extensive menu. Typically I feel like the jack-of-all-trades Japanese restaurants lack focus on any one particular item but Akiko’s seems to be able to handle it. Fried foods, grilled foods, noodles, rice bowls and a vast sushi/sashimi selection make up the menu. My mom went with the a la carte option while my dad and I opted for the omakase priced in an $80-100 range (with a few supplements). The $10 corkage was pretty sweet.
Keiko à Nob Hill
1250 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94109
Dining date: 12/1/13
My dad’s mentioned Keiko à Nob Hill a number of times in the past as a potential restaurant, but we didn’t try it until this most recent trip to celebrate some November birthdays. Chef Keiko Takahashi and partner Seigo Takei opened the restaurant at the end of 2011; while there hasn’t been a ton of buzz surrounding the place, it has garnered a Michelin star in the last couple of guides.
Located in the ritzy Nob Hill neighborhood and in the old location of the venerable Charles Nob Hill restaurant, it looks and feels very expensive. Especially with their tasting-menu only and fusion French/Japanese fine dining. However, its 6-7 course menu is priced at a not-unreasonable $95 a head and comes with some of the best service I’ve had in any restaurant recently.
Orsa & Winston
122 W 4th St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 11/9/13
Orsa & Winston is Josef Centeno’s latest venture in his growing lineup of downtown restaurants. The highly-acclaimed Baco Mercat came first, quickly followed by Bar Ama and now Orsa & Winston next door. All three restaurants opened up within a span of two years and within a block of each other creating quite the Centeno base. For me, Centeno’s food has been a little hit-or-miss, but I was very intrigued by this restaurant given its fine dining concept.
The food at Orsa & Winston is described as fine dining with Japanese and Italian influences. After taking the helm of a few casual small plates restaurants, Centeno is drawing some of his experience during his time as chef de cuisine of Manresa in Northern California. A few menu options are available including a 5-course, 9 course and ridiculous sounding “super omakase” of ~20 courses priced at $60, $95 and $195 respectively. A family style option is also available, 4 courses for $50. Given this was my first time coming in and I haven’t been completely sold on Centeno’s food, we went with the 5-course as a sort of audition for a return trip on a larger meal.
424 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 11/12/13
b.o.s. is one of the newest restaurants to open in the Little Tokyo area. Inside the Honda Plaza next to the ever-popular Sushi Gen (and across the way from Men Oh Tokushima), the restaurant has a rather unique focus: beef nose-to-tail dining. Mainstream diners have become more engaged in this concept and I think Little Tokyo is an ideal location for a somewhat upscale opening of this type.
Like most restaurants in Little Tokyo, it’s a small place with the prime seats being a six-seat chef’s counter looking into the kitchen. Chef David Bartnes is the point-man behind the counter; having spent much of his life traveling around the world, Bartnes combines these worldly influences (primarily Asian) with his classical cooking background. The resulting fare is an interesting mix of flavors that change frequently but could include an oxtail ravioli, beef cheek risotto, tongue carpaccio, grilled heart or roasted bone marrow. Both an omakase and an a la carte menu is available; on this first visit, we sat at the chef’s counter and had the 5-course omakase ($55).