There was an interesting little Los Angeles culinary mystery buried in a discussion at the New York City Wine & Food Festival last weekend. It came from an exchange between the interviewer, former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni and his subject, the world's most famous chef, Ferran Adri?:
Ferran: “When you feel that the place is exciting, you really want to go to it. There’s a place in Los Angeles that makes the best sushi I know of in the world. I’ve only been once, a reservation is tough. José Andrés has been 20 times… in the past six months. And I’ve been to Japan to some of the country’s best sushi places. And I was at this place and I thought, ”How is this possible?” The rice was like this. The fish was set perfectly on top. And I thought, 'How is this possible?'”
Bruni: “I think you’re going to have to give them the name of the place.”
Ferran: “I can never remember.”
Both Bruni and Ferran executed perfect timing with their deliveries. The exchange drew big laughs — you could almost see them taking their act on the road. But wait, seriously? The world's best sushi isn't in Japan, but in Los Angeles? Not to take anything away from Angelenos, there's certainly some marvelous food out in L.A. But this was some high praise. Where was this sushi Brigadoon?
Was it an after-hours hole-in-the-wall manned by some seafood maestro? An itamae with magic hands who has memorized secret recipes for sushi rice and the perfect ratio of fish to rice, secrets passed on through generations from one culinary guru to the next chosen one? Was this place the stage for the last remaining sushi ninja of an unparalleled clan of experts who guard the sushi secrets of the ancients? Was there some other drama or backstory? Was it a little-known place helmed by a sushi chef who had defied tradition, shamed his family, and gone to the States to make his way, and in the process revolutionized sushi?
Was it one of the big name sushi spots in L.A. that any Angeleno worth his soy sauce would be able to easily rattle off? Or is the best sushi in the world being served right under your nose, at some Angeleno's local spot that they hit up once a week. Was it Urasawa? Hiroyuki Urasawa worked under Masa when he had Ginzu Shiko in Beverly Hills. Or Nishimura maybe? If anyone would know, it would be chef José Andrés, right? According to Ferran, he'd been 20 times in six months.
There are a couple of explanations. Sure, they could really just not remember, but that only makes the question more intriguing. It can't be a big name spot, right? Wouldn't they be able to remember it? One possibility? A celebratory state while visiting the restaurant that precludes any chance of remembering its name. Or, they're keeping it a secret.
A second inquiry to chef Andrés — this one to his assistant — proved to be a little more fruitful. She said she wasn't certain, but that it might be Sushi Zo because the chef always wants to go there. If it is Sushi Zo, the West LA spot actually has several of the characteristics noted above. It's widely regarded as the some of the best sushi in the city. It's omakase-only. It knocked Urasawa off its Zagat perch last year. And it's located in a strip mall next to a taco joint.
So, do you think Sushi Zo is the spot Ferran was calling the best in the world? Any other suggestions for which restaurant he could have been referring to? And is Sushi Zo, Nishimura, Urasawa, or your own pick really better than sushi in Japan? It's a culinary riddle wrapped in nori somewhere in between the 101 and the 10.