CITY NEWS SERVICE
STUDIO CITY — Sushi Nozawa, a pricey but inelegant eatery that catapulted its sometimes cantankerous owner to heading a mini-chain of modern sushi restaurants across Southern California, is closing Wednesday after 25 years in a Studio City mini-mall.
Customers, including numerous celebrities, were eager to sample the fare of Kazunori Nozawa, the only sushi chef at Sushi Nozawa for a quarter century, despite his habit of making his views clear about how diners should eat and behave.
Famed in the “foodie” community for great sushi, along with its cheap plastic chairs, a sign at the sushi bar read, “Today’s Special: Trust Me.” If diners lingered too long after finishing their food, they were often told in no uncertain terms to get up and leave.
“No talking” and “do not even try to order rolls (or brace for the’sternest gaze you’ll ever suffer’)” were part of the otherwise highly complimentary review of Nozawa’s eatery in the 2012 Zagat Survey restaurant review book.
Though its top-notch sushi continued to draw customers, Sushi Nozawa could no longer boast its longtime position at the top of the Southern California restaurant pecking order.
The 2005 Zagat Survey rated Sushi Nozawa as not only having the best Japanese food in Southern California at the time, it also rated it as the best food of any restaurant — Japanese or not. The latest guide has Sushi Nozawa in 14th place for all restaurants for food; it did not make the cut of the five best Japanese eateries.
“Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Men of a Certain Age” star Ray Romano was a big fan of the eatery.
“My first introduction to sushi in L.A. was a lunch at Nozawa with the `Everybody Loves Raymond’ writers and it spoiled me from ever having sushi anywhere else,” he said in a statement provided by the restaurant’s publicist.
“We went there for lunch once a week for the next nine years,” Romano said. “I missed my show when it went off the air, but not quite as much as I missed those lunches. I have been going there ever since. It was perfect.”
“Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal said, “After one bite of (Nozawa’s) fish 25 years ago, to me he became the Walter Cronkite of sushi. If it weren’t for Nozawa, we might all be eating nothing but California rolls and spicy tuna.”
Nozawa has opened four other sushi restaurants in the Los Angeles area called Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa, and his publicist said the Sushi Nozawa location at 11228 Ventura Blvd. will be remodeled and opened as a Sugarfish location.
Zagat describes the Sugarfish restaurants as designed for a “younger, hipper crowd” than Sushi Nozawa, and also as considerably less expensive. The Zagat guide says a diner at Sushi Nozawa pays an average of $68 for dinner with one drink and tip, putting it in the “very expensive” category, compared to $39 for the Sugarfish locations.
“My dream has been to teach the American consumer the traditional ways of sushi,” Nozawa said. “My many customers have learned to appreciate and love my style, which I know is very different than the ways they are accustomed to.”