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Food & Drink

Best Autocratic Sushi Los Angeles 2008 

Hiko Sushi

There are famously two schools of Los Angeles sushi at the moment, one of them, like Matsuhisa, looking to the global future of sushi; the other toward the past. Some of the traditionalists, led by Kazunori Nozawa, of Sushi Nozawa, take their fishy fundamentalism to an extreme, bouncing customers who dare to ask for a caterpillar or a spicy tuna roll, serving fish only in the order that they, not the customers, prefer, and instituting a system of rules that regulars understand but new customers tend to crash into without quite knowing why. Shinji Murata, the maestro at Hiko, has very much in common with his colleagues from Nozawa, Echigo, Zo and Sasabune. He enjoys working the soft-textured fish, and his sushi is built around warm, loosely packed rice — if you try to eke two bites out of a serving, it will collapse. His list of rules is perhaps longer than the others, including injunctions against talking on cell phones, inquiring as to freshness, eating too much or too little, requesting a particular kind of sushi, eating the fish off the top of a piece of sushi, or being seated before your entire party has arrived. (He actually seems to resent being addressed at all, but that could be shyness.) The prices are high, the fish is largely precut, and the plates are worn and plastic. No matter how much you wish to skip the cereal-bowlful of marinated tuna that always begins a meal, it will not be allowed. But Murata is a gifted chef, and his sushi melts away on your tongue like good chocolate, leaving behind just the clean smack of fish and rice vinegar. He flirts with extreme acidity, but the flavors seem to balance themselves as you chew. The sake list is short but well-priced, and includes a few bottles hard to find elsewhere in town. And you will see at least one person kicked out of the restaurant during your meal, guaranteed. Think of it as dinner theater.

—Jonathan Gold

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