Monday, February 2, 2009

SugarFISH: Pretty. Good. Pretty Good.

I headed out to Marina del Rey with Reno (note: the name has NO geographical implications about his person) to check out Sushi Nozawa’s “hip” sister restaurant, SugarFISH. And how do we know its hip?

a) It’s called SugarFISH instead of some Japanese word that ends with a vowel (Nozawa, Asanebo, Katsu-ya, etc.)
b) 98% of the patrons are non-Japanese. 100% of the waitstaff are non-Japanese.
c) Wood is not a prominent feature of the interior.
d) The chef doesn’t matter.

Well, SugarFISH does and does not fulfill criteria d). I mean, it IS Chef Kazunori Nozawa’s restaurant and he DOES matter in the LA Sushi circuit. At the same time, his connection to the restaurant probably extends just to the fact that he was the one to sign the lease to the restaurant space. Usually, I veer away from “hip” sushi joints but given the Nozawa connection (regardless of how minute that connection may be) and the fact that it at least has the authenticness to forego the American rolls, I thought I’d give it a try.

The place was definitely cute. That is, minimalism with bright, happy colors. We were promptly seated and went with the flow by ordering two “trust me” sets. In understandable terms, the “trust me” is American for “omakase” but given the fact that Nozawa isn’t actually present for you to trust and the menu is pre-set and displayed on the high-tech TV screen, it’s not really omakase…oh wait, yes it is – I already said it, it’s AMERICAN omakase.

First up was the tuna sashimi. Good, not great. I’m not a fan of ponzu sauce and it was drenched in that. I didn’t hate it or anything but it wasn’t something to rave about either. Next was the salmon nigiri and albacore nigiri. Not unlike most other people, salmon is one of my favorite sushi choices…but here, it was COMPLETELY OVERSHADOWED by the albacore. Actually, everything else that night was overshadowed by the albacore. It was ohhhhh-so-good; literally melt-in-your-mouth. Plus, Reno and I weren’t crazy about the sesame on the salmon nigiri – the salmon was already a compromised size and the sesame flavor overwhelmed the taste of the fish. The waitstaff were attentive but I won’t lie – they got on my nerves a little with their enthusiasm to clear plates. I was midchew of my last piece of albacore nigiri when they swooped in and took my plate away. I mean, yes, the plate IS empty but I don’t want the staff to invade my space when I’m gnawing on a mouthful of raw fish and rice. Anyhow, that’s beside the point. The void space in front of me was promptly replaced by a plate with four toro rolls and four crab rolls.

Here’s where Reno and I differed – he was more into the crab (which reminded me too much of canned tuna and mayo) and I was alllllllll about the toro (which was “too slimy” for his taste). Well, I happen to like “slimy” foods (raw oysters anyone?) so the toro made me a happy person.

We were beginning to get full by the time we finished our rolls so I had no qualms about the next “course” being the last: two pieces of yellowtail nigiri and two pieces of “Nozawa style” shrimp. Both Reno and I don’t care too much for cooked shrimp sushi so we pretty much just glossed over that. Plus, they did the sesame thing AGAIN. Seriously, someone needs to take the sesame away from the SugarFISH kitchen…and maybe take away the all-caps ridiculousness of the second half of the restaurant name. And the hamachi? Hmmm…I think we were both conflicted about that. Reno mentioned a “sour” taste which – given the fact that it IS raw fish – freaked me out at first (and when it comes to acuteness of the senses, I trust Reno. After all, he insists on smelling his food before putting it in his mouth). I took a bite of the hamachi and, thankfully, it wasn’t the sour in the way bad fish would be. It’s a hard taste to describe but yes, it wasn’t that mild, creamy taste that the albacore had. And I was put off by the fact that I actually had to BITE into the hamachi. Yes, yes, I’ve just been too spoilt by the albacore…but who wouldn’t be after experiencing fish just dissolving by itself into a mass of loveliness on the tongue?

On specifics though, I wasn’t feeling the rice. It fell apart easily and that, combined with my feeble chopstick skills amounted to a small mountain of rice in the soy sauce dish (I lie. I’m actually quite fantastic with chopsticks…but just not, for some reason, when it comes to sushi). Reno mentioned that it could be because of a lessened amount of rice vinegar. Most probably. After all, the rice had none of that tart taste I like so much. Oh well, they ARE catering to the 98% white/”AZN” clientele. On top of that, the wasabi was mild as hell (again, the clientele explains this). I could eat an ice-cream scoop of that and not feel a thing.

The “trust me” was $26 sans tax and tips. Not bad at all given how much food there was. Would I go back? Probably not. It’s a cute place and the food is good but not stellar. But I’m on a tight schedule (less than THREE MONTHS LEFT!!) and there are too many other places to try. But even without the time-constraint, I think I’ll stick with places like Sushi Masu. I’ll leave SugarFISH to the i-Phone toting generation.

FOOD: 3/5


SugarFISH ($$)
4722 1/4 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey, CA 90292

(310) 306-6300

*Note: I just realized I’ve been having a massive, UNINTENDED seafood+rice fiesta. Seafood fried rice, paella, and now sushi? Just thought I’d share that information.

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