Whenever I’m in San Francisco for work, the pre-lunch conversation usually goes like this:
Me: “Where to go for lunch?”
Colleague: “How about we go to blah-blah?”
Me: “What’s that?”
Colleague: “It’s Chipotle for Korean/Vietnamese/Thai/Japanese/Indian food.”
The fast-casual, assembled to order, fresh ingredient restaurant has been popular in San Francisco and I usually lament that there aren’t more of those in LA. Well, now there’s a Chipotle for sushi right in downtown LA called Kazunori.
Unlike its SF variants, this one has a limited menu and mainly serves handrolls. While there are sushi purists who lament this Chipotlezation of the sacred Japanese art of combining fish and rice, I embrace it. There are times where I want sushi but I don’t want to commit to 2 hour lunch, but I also don’t want to ride the danger zone of pre-made rolls at the supermarket deli.
KazuNori is a tiny restaurant tucked next to a downtown parking structure. The U-shaped bar has a bunch of stools pulled up to it and you’re greeted by a simple menu that can be checked off, dim sum style, upon entering. The menu is limited to 3, 4, or 5 hand rolls or a la carte, or cut rolls for takeout. I sat down at the nearest open spot and checked the 4 handroll option with the daily special (toro), salmon, bay scallop, and crab.
For its second week of opening, the KazuNori handroll machine is efficient. The sushi chef handed me a roll about a minute after I turned in my menu and as I finished rolls, the next one would be made and handed to me just as quickly.
I can talk about the fish, which was of decent quality, but the stars of the handroll are the nori and rice. The rice was served warm, bordering on hot, and seasoned assertively. Although you have dishes to pour soy sauce in, the soy sauce was unnecessary. Each bite was perfectly salted thanks to the seasoned rice.
Then, there’s the nori. The half-life of toasted nori is a short one. The distance from the sushi chef’s hand to your mouth should be as short as possible to maximize on optimum nori time. At KazuNori, the distance is short enough that the nori enters your mouth still toasted enough to flake off, almost like a good croissant. The optimum toastedness of the nori makes it hard not to scarf down each handroll as it is presented in front of you.
Of the rolls I had, the bay scallop and crab roll stood out. The bay scallop had a mayonnaise-based sauce, which usually isn’t my thing, but in this case, highlighted the velvety texture of the scallops. The tiny amount of fish roe mixed in gave it a nice textural contrast. The ubiquitous crab roll was lighter on the mayonnaise if there was any at all, and the sweet taste of the crab meat was a perfect meal-ender. Who needs dessert when you can finish with the crab roll?
KazuNori is located at strategic spot in downtown LA. Because a meal there is fast, it’s perfect for someone working downtown. The price is decent, not counting the $5 to park in the lot next door. While the craftsmanship and quality may not be as good as the 3-handroll special at Kiriko, I do like that the chef waits for you to finish each roll before making the next. Once they get their beer license in order, I am sure its 11pm closing time will make it a popular spot for the late-night dinner crowd.
421 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013