Kazunori Nozawa is well-known as the sushi tyrant of Studio City, the chef who made his reputation almost as much for what he refused to serve (California rolls; spicy tuna) as for his influential aesthetic of warm rice and lightly sauced fish, for his rigor in sourcing seafood, and for the tuna nuta and spliff-size crab rolls he actually deigned to prepare. Ever since I started going to his place more than 20 years ago, he has had a sign up in the restaurant which reads: “Special of the Day: Trust Me.”
In recent years, Nozawa’s artistry has seemed to be overwhelmed by the assembly-line nature of the “Trust Me” menus, in which everybody in the restaurant gets the same courses in the same order, dealt out like poker hands on faded plastic plates. Where so many omakase meals are designed to bring a chef closer to his customers, Nozawa’s seem to take the customer entirely out of the process.
So it was not surprising to walk into Sugarfish, Nozawa’s bright, new, franchise-worthy restaurant in the Marina, to find something like an antisushi bar, a long, undulating counter, a few booths, a few video screens, a few black-garbed servers … and all of the sushi chefs in a hidden rear kitchen, isolated from their public. Nozawa’s omakase is here reduced to three Trust Me menus, a fixed-price procession of edamame, sashimi and sushi rolled out like the No. 1, 2 and 3 dinners at an old-fashioned Mexican restaurant, differing in the quantity of sushi but in neither the content nor the quality.
The yellowtail, salmon and albacore sushi are fine, made with decent-quality fish, molded over hot, loosely packed rice in the Nozawa fashion, but rather too fragile to pick up with chopsticks. The meager blue-crab roll and torotartare rolls are nowhere near the quality of the rolls Nozawa and his followers have educated us to expect. And the elapsed time between the second you sit down and the moment you are handed your check is about 15 minutes, 20 tops. Sugarfish is reasonably priced for sushi — menus run between about $20 and $40, with tax and tip included — but per minute, it may be one of the most expensive restaurants in town. 4722 1/4 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, (310) 306-6300 or www.sugarfishsushi.com.