Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Hand Roll-Centric Bar at Kazu Nori of Downtown L.A.

Kazu Nori in Downtown L.A. 
A Very Fun and Casual Hand Roll Bar Serving High-Quality Food
Friendly Chefs Present Hand Roll After Hand Roll
Toro (Fatty Tuna) Hand Roll: All Nozawa-Style
Salmon Hand Roll
Halibut Sashimi with Special Ponzu Sauce
The Popular Ozeki One Cup Sake

Kazu Nori: Not Just A Hand Roll Bar

It’s just a hand roll bar…or is it?

Kazu Nori of Downtown L.A. prides itself in being “The Original Hand Roll Bar,” as their menu states, otherwise known as a place that serves mostly the hand rolls made famous by none other than Kazunori Nozawa, the man behind the “Sugarfish by Nozawa” restaurant chain. Nozawa, who retired in 2012 after working as a sushi chef for 47 years, still oversees his Sugarfish empire, as well as Kazu Nori, his latest addition to “Nozawa Land.”

So let me get this straight: apparently, there’s a sushi bar, sans sushi (nigiri, that is) and sans cut rolls (maki), but which specializes in hand rolls (temaki) and serves alcohol. At the bottom of the menu, you see that sashimi is available (halibut or salmon only); and given that it’s overall a simple menu, it’s no surprise that the only seafood served in hand rolls here are Bay Scallop, Salmon, Blue Crab, Lobster, Toro and Yellowtail. Another twist? Only for orders to go are cut rolls available (a separate To Go menu features cut rolls from three set menus and an a la carte list).

At the hand roll bar, a large square structure that almost fills up this entire tiny space, you can choose from three set menus (three hand rolls for $10.50, four for $13, five for $17.50). Hand rolls can also be ordered individually (as low as $4 for the cucumber hand roll, a refreshingly plain item in a sea of seafood-filled cylindrical projections; and as high as $7 for the one with lobster in it). Each set menu includes a “Daily Hand Roll” or “Daily Cut Roll,” which switches between toro and yellowtail.

At Kazu Nori, fans of Nozawa can look forward to enjoying the same legacy of high quality and freshness carried on today by Sugarfish locations, and for years by Sushi Nozawa. And though this is a much smaller, more modest version with a limited menu, at Kazu Nori you'll find the same marriage of crispy seaweed with warm, perfectly seasoned—almost sweet—sushi rice. But unlike the fine dining vibe at Sugarfish by Nozawa locations, the atmosphere here is casual, and therefore hand rolls are the emphasis, as they can be speedily wrapped, as opposed to time-consuming cut rolls and nigiri.

Each hand roll is placed on a sheet of what appears to be tan-hued butcher paper, which serves as some sort of placemat and plate at the same time. Pop music emanates and random sushi bar mates converse—rather easy to do, given the friendly ambience and affordable alcohol ($5 for a Sapporo, $6 for an Ozeki One Cup Sake).

I have always been a fan of hand rolls because the seaweed is guaranteed to be on the outside, which means you're in for a crispy bite and you get to taste the seaweed first—at times a nice change from the "inside-out" cut rolls many sushi bars make, with the sushi rice covering the exterior of the roll and the seaweed tucked inside. At Kazu Nori, the hand rolls are slender, neat and clean, not overflowing with sauces and condiments, not overburdened with extra chunks of fish. They are standardized in shape, like tapered cylinders, and the chefs here don't fuss over sealing the flap with a stipple of sticky sushi rice or making the hand roll look like an ice cream cone, as is the style of some chefs at various sushi bars.

Kazu Nori also maintains the same service charge of 16% as does Sugarfish by Nozawa; a gracious reminder of "Please, no tipping" follows the service charge note on the menu. After your hand roll overload, bring your check to the cash register by the front door, as this is the easygoing style at Kazu Nori which, fortunately for us, happens to be an affordable place with high-quality food.

Kazu Nori
421 S. Main St., Los Angeles