Sugarfish (Downtown LA)

Disclaimer: My guest and I were invited to a meal at Sugarfish. We both were treated to the Nozawa and shared two bottles of sake.

Just who is Lele Massimini and why was he inviting me to his newly opened sushi restaurant? I got the answer as soon as I walked through the door when I was greeted by an enthusiastic man. In addition to being part of the team behind the Nozawa brand and one of the brains behind Sugarfish, Lele’s also a man with a passion for the food industry. Since the tender age of 13, he has had a hand in the restaurant business in one capacity or another.

Lele, who grew up in Rome, started his first job washing dishes. It wasn’t a dream of working his way to the top that spurred this, but simply a way to earn a few lire while still pursuing his other passion: boxing. A look at Lele’s face shows that he got out of the ring early. Now, he’s the front of house face of one of LA’s newest sushi restaurants.

It’s easy to tell that Lele is a man passionate about his trade. Within minutes of sitting down, he gave us the mission statement of Sugarfish: to serve Nozawa-calibre sushi at half the price. The Sugarfish that just opened a few weeks ago is the child of many months of brain-storming and test runs.

Cost was the most difficult issue when Lele opened the first Sugarfish in Marina Del Rel. Would it be possible to serve fresh, high-quality fish at only a fraction of what it would cost at Sushi Nozawa? Because of these yet unanswered questions, the opening weeks of the first Sugarfish was wrought with disappointment when customers found cucumber rolls filling their menus. Luckily, that issue has been worked out and Sugarfish now even has ala carte options for those too timid to try their signature “trust me” prix fixe meals.

Did Sugarfish have to compromise quality to solve the cost problem? Three things make up good sushi. Fish, rice, and seaweed. According to Lele, Chef Nozawa hand picks all of the fish every morning. He does this for all of his restaurants. Because of his long-running history with the fishmongers, he gets a pretty good deal on fish with regards to quality and price.

When you pick up that first piece of nigiri (with your hands!) at Sugarfish, one thing becomes apparent. The nigiri is fragile. The rice is moist, loosely packed, and above all else, very warm. It’s like holding a nice man’s hand on a blustery winter day. The second thing to note is that the rice is seasoned, border-line over-seasoned. I found myself ignoring the bottle of soy sauce and dipping bowl all night.

Last in the sushi trifecta is the seaweed. The seaweed on the handrolls where crunchy, thick, and time-sensative. The first bite into a Sugarfish handroll, a blue crab handroll and a lobster handroll in this case, starts with the crunchy, savory seaweed and ends with the surprisingly warm rice and a healthy portion of fish. Although people may be encouraged to dip this into soy sauce, I suggest refraining from that to keep the handroll at optimum crunch.

Sugarfish is definitely a good bang for your buck. If you just want a casual place to sit down and enjoy clean, no-nonsense sushi but avoid the wallet-hurt of omakase in front of a sushi chef, Nozawa’s your answer. The downtown location is large, darkly lit, hip, and a nice spot to drop by with friends.

Just go light on the soy sauce because they certainly don’t go light on the rice seasoning.

600 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 627-3000

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  1. says

    Awww no photos? Sugarfish’s approach in catering to the bloggers is interesting. They seem to be inviting pairs of diners at a time instead of having one mega blogger night like many restaurants do. At least that’s the impression I got after getting a dozen Sugarfish reviews in my RSS feed over the past week.

    • says

      It was too dark to take pictures and I didn’t want to be fiddling with a giant camera while the sushi half-life was ticking down.

      I think the purpose of inviting a few bloggers at a time is so that each pair has 1 on 1 time with Lele and he can answer their questions or give them the low down on the concept.


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