Monday, December 1, 2008

In the Master’s Hand

I’ve discovered since I’ve been living in Los Angeles that this is one sushi-obsessed town. Everyone you meet tells you they know the best place to eat sushi, the places to avoid, the ones that are authentic, and the ones that are the most expensive (which, of course, does not qualify them as the best). In fact, while my acupuncturist was putting needles in me the other day, he told me his choice for the best sushi in Los Angeles.

First, he is Japanese, and he has lived in LA for quite some time. He said that he believes Sushi-Gen has the very best sushi, but only if you sit in front of the master, Kazu. He went on to explain that Kazu is an artist, and that he handles fresh fish like no one else.

Well, soon after my treatment I made my way down to Little Tokyo to experience the best sushi in town. Unfortunately, I went on a Monday night, and Kazu does not work on Mondays. I settled on having sushi by another sushi chef, and although it was good, it was not life changing.

I went back for lunch several weeks later and sat in front of Kazu and told him that I was in his hands. I started with Toro belly. The first thing I noticed was how fast he was with his knife.

Second, watching him roll rice in his hand was like watching Yo-Yo Ma play the cello. As I tasted my first bite, I noticed that the rice was very soft in my mouth, not compressed and chewy. The rice was warm and the fish was cold. The contrast was quite sublime. I also loved the ratio--there was so much more fish than rice. The sliced fish just draped over the rice.

I then had halibut, which Kazu topped with grated yuzu and Meyer lemon juice. As he placed the sushi on my tray he said, “No soy sauce!” Then I had yellowtail, which was equally delicious. Next came eel, which he prepared two ways. They were both warm, but one had a sort of yuzu and sweet miso sauce on top and the other was plain. Those were insane.

As I sat there and watched Kazu, I was struck by his ability to handle so many diners with perfect precision. My last taste was a sort of digestive hand roll made with a variety of vegetables.

I’ve been back to Sushi Gen several times, and each time I’ve tried something new. The last time, I went with a group of four, which for me isn’t as great just going alone or with one person. I’m not sure if this is the best sushi bar in LA--my experience here is still limited--but it’s certainly the best I’ve had thus far.

422 East 2nd Street
Los Angeles, California 90012