By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
West Los Angeles is awash in sushi options, including SUGARFISH, which is owned by Sushi Nozawa, LLC, the same parent company as KazuNori: The Original Hand Roll Bar, which is, in fact, a spin-off of sorts.
As the story goes, one of the partners of KazuNori’s parent company, Jerry Greenberg, befriended Kazunori Nozawa and wife Yumiko, who, from 1987 to 2012, ran pioneering Los Angeles sushi restaurant Sushi Nozawa in Studio City, and it led to opening SUGARFISH. Back at Sushi Nozawa, when Chef Nozawa served up his omakase meals, he also pioneered versions of these delectable hand rolls.
Yet there aren’t any real exclusive eateries focused exclusively on temaki (hand rolls).
The original KazuNori (a play on words, as “nori” is also the Japanese word for seaweed) opened in downtown Los Angeles on August 4, 2014, with KazuNori Santa Monica debuting in May 2017, followed by this Westwood locale in June 2016. Another location, near the Fairfax District, just opened a couple of months ago.
As if the set menu is not formidable enough, there are enough daily specials to whet the appetite for other fare, and on the day we lunched there, I had the Albacore hand roll and the naked, nori-free Sea Bass. Both hit the spot.
Not to generalize, but if you do eat at enough sushi restaurants, the hand roll format is not unfamiliar. Here, though, instead of serving it in a cone or funnel of seaweed sheet, it’s rolled into cylinders, and the cylindrical format, kind of like an uncut sushi roll, is way more manageable and easier to share with someone.
The format clusters KazuNori’s finite menu of hand roll options into four set menus: 3-Hand Roll, 4-Hand Roll, 5-Hand Roll and 6-Hand Roll, and, of course, you can order hand rolls separately or in addition to a set menu order. I highly recommend the 6-Hand Roll, which includes Toro, Yellowtail, Salmon, Bay Scallop, Crab and Lobster rolls, the option I partook in.
But definitely do any of the 4-, 5- or 6-combos because you don’t want to miss out on a Toro Hand Roll, which, on the day that I went, was the superstar roll of a very illustrious bunch. This amalgam of rice with fatty underbelly from the tuna was so perfectly flavorful and scrumptious, I ordered a second minutes later.
The biggest detour among the hand rolls may have been the spicy Yamaimo, which name refers to a Japanese country yam. This hand roll has a jicama-type texture to it, with a spicy streak of mentaiko, a spicy cod row paste, running through it for sublime effect.
In truth though, there is no bad move at KazuNori, which comes down to what you’re in the mood for that day. You can taste the quality and the freshness in every bite. Ingredients are top-notch, with yellowtail sourced from Japan, sea bream from New Zealand, the lobster from Maine and albacore from the Pacific Northwest. The uni comes from nearby Santa Barbara, a chief provider for this type of sea urchin.
Some Hot Green Tea I had accompanying my meal felt pitch perfect for winter, but they also serve Japanese beer, Ozeki One Cup Sake, and Mexican versions of Coca-Cola and Sprite (translation: with sugar instead of corn syrup).
Originated in downtown Los Angeles, KazuNori has locations all over LA, including Santa Monica and this Westwood location, where I sat elbow to elbow with UCLA students, aging hipsters and other walks of life at a horseshoe-counter format.
What I loved about KazuNori is that the resulting meal—very satisfying and filling—didn’t leave me feeling like I ate anything with an aftertaste that is too fishy or too saltwater-ish (from the seaweed sheets). The ingredients are quality, the taste sublime, the ambiance and off-green patina decor as soothing as my hot cup of green tea. Take a break from the usual sushi run and try these hand roll delicacies for an experience you soon won’t forget.