Critics’ choice: Leaving it to the chef at three great sushi spots

Sushi Nakazawa; Sushi Zo; Akiko’s Restaurant

Sushi Nakazawa New York City

The student has become a master, said Pete Wells in The New York Times. Daisuke Nakazawa, who a year ago was known to America only as the monk-like apprentice to the legendary Tokyo chef featured in the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is today living his own dream. At the West Village sushi counter he opened in August, Nakazawa approaches perfection with every sea creature he prepares for the table. I should know: In recent weeks, he served me four of “the most enjoyable and eye-opening sushi meals I have ever eaten.” Choose the omakase menu and you may find that an item or two that Nakazawa includes in the multicourse, chef’s choice meal won’t be the very best in all of New York. But almost all are so distinctly delicious they “carve themselves into your memory.” I remember precisely his mackerel, “the way its initial firmness gave way to a minor-key note of pickled fish and a major-key richness.” Still lingering is “the burning-leaf smell” of his skipjack smoked over smoldering hay. In the movie about Jiro Ono, Nakazawa at one point tells the camera that he cried when he finally made a tamagoyaki worthy of his master’s approval. At Nakazawa’s new place, that same egg custard with shrimp arrives as a meal’s “transporting” final grace note. 23 Commerce St., (212) 924-2212

Sushi Zo Los Angeles

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In Keizo Seki I trust, said Jonathan Gold in the Los Angeles Times. Seki leaves guests no other choice at his second L.A. outpost, the first restaurant in still half-seedy downtown that offers an omakase menu only, and that at $145 a head. Seki is a strict traditionalist, but “his fans could pick his sushi out of a lineup seven times out of eight.” His vinegar-seasoned rice is not just warm but hot, and the seafood on his sushi is always soft, including “normally crunchy things” like octopus, which he steams “to a kind of cushiony tenderness.” The dozens of sushi pieces arrive at a breakneck pace. Halibut enlivened by lemon and sea salt is chased by Oregon albacore dashed with lime. Maybe you’ll get monkfish liver served hot or a scallop so fresh it’ll be “still wiggling when it hits your mouth.” The “cascading procession of freshness” always ends too quickly, leaving you dazzled but dazed, knowing that something special just hit you. 334 S. Main St., (213) 935-8409

Akiko’s Restaurant San Francisco

San Francisco finally has a sushi restaurant worthy of recommendation, said Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle. Akiko’s has plugged away for 18 years at the same Bush Street location, but a generational handoff brought in a talented chef, and the refreshed operation feels today like “a cult hit in the making”—with no sign hanging outside the door and frequent waits even for reserved seats. Chef Ricky Yap’s talents come through best if you order the omakase. First might come a bright blast of tuna poke resting on seaweed before sashimi builds the momentum. Yap’s isaki was topped with salted cherry blossoms, his Japanese abalone cooked sous-vide for six hours, and his smoked golden-eye snapper given a quick sear with a blowtorch. When my Wagyu beef arrived, a waiter grated truffle on top, and the first taste set “the trumpets of heaven blowing.” 431 Bush St., (415) 397-3218

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