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

Review: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated PrimerThe Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is it possible to feel nostalgia for a place in the future? The crowded, multi-factioned, multi-leveled city of Shanghai and nearby Pudong made me miss my hometown terribly. Stephenson’s descriptions of brightly lit Nanjing Road and small, dim, alleys of hawkers was so spot on. The mix of high technology, the sophisticated neo-Victorians, and the Confuscians made a confusing but ultimately satisfying story.

I came to The Diamond Age with a vague idea of what the bok was about. Like previous steampunk books I read, there was a combination of neo-Victorian sensibilities, technologies different than what we’re used to, and a huge disparity between classes. While that may be what gets the book labeled as ‘steampunk’ by some people ,it surpasses that label and has so much more.

It has cyber-punk technologies. It has dystopian characteristics. It’s part adventure story, part riddle, part allegory, part detective story, and best of all, it feels epic without losing its main characters in too wide of a scope.

Reading Stephenson is always hard for me but I always enjoy it. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that his books are not easy to skim through. Go too quickly in The Diamond Age and you end up in an underwater rave wondering what the heck just happened.

The book was definitely worth reading for any fan of the author. It certainly is my favorite book of his so far. My only complaint was that Nell was too perfect. While it could be said that it the Primer had something to do with that, if I take a step back and look at the character, her lack of faults is unbelievable.

Other than that one little complaint, I loved every part of the book from the heart-wrenching stories in the Primer to the action-packed lead up to the Mouse Army. I also liked all the mentions of tea.

Protip: Fountain pens were mentioned at least nine times in this book!

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Review: Boneshaker

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, #1)Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I very much wanted to like this book. It was recommended by many people as possibly the best steampunk book of that year. The cover is awesome and the title is awesome

The short review: The plot could be described as a Steam Punk Wizard of Oz with zombies. On paper, that sounds great, but after reading the book, the whole Big Problem boils down to non-communication. I hate books that rely on miscommunication (or even non-communication) to add mystery and intrigue.

Long version:

Priest crafts a bleak, dirty, wild-west type world where an evil gas called the Blight has been unleashed that can either 1) kill you or 2) turn you into a flesh-eating zombie. The Blight itself was what kept me reading. I wanted to know where it came from and if there was a way to defeat it. Unfortunately, that’s not the story Priest wants to tell.

Instead, Priest tells a story about a stupid, reckless teenage son, Zeke, who goes into the heart of a city where Blight is the strongest in order to ferret out some truth to rumors of his father (who is rumored to have been the cause of the Blight) and a hard-working mother, Briar, who runs into the city after her stupid child in order to save him. All this could have been avoided if only mother had told the son the truth about what happened years ago. Her alternative to telling the truth — living poor as dirt and as an outcast in society, doesn’t seem logical or better at all. I’d understand it if keeping the truth from her child meant he’d have an easier life, but that’s not it.

Although Zeke and Briar are supposed to be the main characters of the book, I couldn’t relate to them at all. Zeke was stupid, mouthy, and always did the wrong thing at just the right time to foul things up. Using that as a device to move the plot around was frustrating to read. Briar, who I liked slightly better than Zeke, seems to go through the first half of the book with blinders on. Yes, it’s frustrating to lose your son in a town of incredibly fast zombies, yes you’ve had a hard life, but stop and look at what’s around you, woman. Her whole issue with keeping things a secret even from people who are attempting to help her really was a thorn in my side.

Then there’s the unnecessary racism. Maybe calling Chinese workers slant-eyes and downgrading them to less than human status gives a certain dated authenticity to the world in Boneshaker, but it’s hard to believe that people would be so unfriendly and hostile to the Chinese workers who are responsible for pumping clean, breathable air into the city. You’d think with the danger of getting eaten by a zombie, the people of the city would band together better.

And the ending? Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was pretty disappointing in a bait and switch kind of way. It was what reinforced my idea that a lot of bad things could have been avoided by something as simple as communication.

I know that it’s the journey that counts and not the ending, and while the journey was thrilling at times and Priest does know how to write suspenseful scenes, the lackluster ending overshadowed any good parts I could recall of the book.

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