In response to many inquiries, we have added this page to provide more detail on our sushi-making (and eating--skip straight to restaurant reviews if you wish). Go back to our sushi-making photo gallery, or read on for more information. Hope this page helps you embark on many sushi-adventures of your own!
Frequently asked questions:
First of all, we only buy fish for sushi-making under one of two circumstances: either we buy fish which is labelled and packaged specifically as sushi- or sashimi-grade fish (practically, there is no difference between the two terms), or else we must be assured by a trusted fish-monger (there was one guy at the Star Market in Allston who was our favorite) that it's very high-quality, very fresh fish which he himself would eat raw.
Places in L.A. to buy specifically sushi-grade fish:
For basic nigiri and for anything fancier (other than sashimi), you will need sushi-style short-grain rice (we like Kokuho Rose, but Nishiki is our second choice), washed several times, and cooked in hot water. A Japanese-style rice cooker makes this easy and foolproof, but you can cook it in a pot if you must (in our pre-rice cooker days, we used to do that too; one note of caution is that it's sometimes easy to underestimate the amount of rice needed for maki).
You will also need sushi vinegar (either mix your own or buy already seasoned rice wine vinegar) to sprinkle over the rice (we use about 7 T seasoned vinegar per three cups of cooked rice) while you fan it to force-cool it. A large wooden tub to cool the rice in is ideal, but pricey, running upwards of $60 for a large, one-task item (Robert still won't let me buy this, actually, so we just use a bowl. I make Robert stand near me and fan the rice with a large cork trivet while I mix in the vinegar).
Far from being silly, this is a very important piece of equipment for making nigiri--unless you want to get sticky rice all over your hands and arms. Just dip your fingers into it and then form the nigiri, making sure your hands are just damp, rather than soaking wet. Too much water is bad as it will make the rice too sticky and heavy, but a little is extremely helpful.
If you're going to make any maki (rolled sushi), you will need a mat. For making inside-out rolls, lining the mat with saran wrap (use two pieces, each in an opposite direction, covering both sides completely for the best grip) is essential; even when you're just planning on making basic rolls, it saves a great deal of fuss in clean-up.
We've experimented with many different brands of nori (which vary widely in price), and have finally found one which is the best intersection of price and performance for our use. Try lots of different kinds, knowing that generally, the darker the better. Don't buy any packages which look too green (as opposed to black), and don't buy sheets which you can see through, as they will simply not hold up. You can buy packages in half-lengths, which are good for small maki and temaki, but it's usually better to buy full-size sheets and just cut the ones you need to. Leftover scraps can be used for sushi cups (like for uni) or for wrapping around nigiri, as for anago.
Thinly sliced seeded cucumber, sliced shiitake mushrooms (reconstituted are fine), very finely chopped scallions (green parts only), and sliced ripe avocado are great, tasty additions to most rolls, and will make a little fish go further if you have a lot of people to worry about. Thin soy sauce, wasabi (powdered is slightly preferable to a tube), and pickled ginger (this keeps almost forever in the fridge after opened) are the classic accompaniments. In addition, Korean hot bean paste is the secret ingredient in our favorite, not-mayonaisse-based, mixture of spicy tuna (mix to taste with sugar, light soy sauce, and a little water). Sushi-grade green tea (sencha, not bancha, which is heavier and less flavorful) or sake complete the meal.
In the beginning, we used any very sharp kitchen knife to slice the fish. If you want to get fancy and spend the extra money, you can get a super-high
quality japanese knife, which is only ground on one side so that it slices the fish rather than tears it, and which ingeneral is supposed to be superior to ordinary stainless-steel for raw fish. Robert has one (pictured) he raves about which I bought him on the net for last Christmas, and Sur la Table has a very similar one in their catalogue.
These range from the authentic to the fun, with "authentic" meaning a typical rectangular, wooden pressed-sushi mold--perfect for using up extra avocado and tobiko. The fun side of molds includes such novelties as heart-shaped plastic molds, which we use occasionally for kicks.
Books, our own experience as sushi-eaters, and trial and error were our main sources of information on sushi-making. If you're interested enough to try making your own sushi, you've probably had some experience eating it--you probably know what a hand-roll looks like, you know what combinations are good in a maki, and you probably have eaten pressed sushi. Making sushi yourself (obviously) lets you control each step of the process, and experiment with the ingredients you've purchased--if you hate fake crab, then leave it out, or substitute real crab; if you like the crunch of tobiko in one roll, try it in another. We started out simple and got more complicated (working our way up to rainbow rolls, which are tricky since the fish is on the outside) as we got better. A very good general fish and shellfish cookbook is James Peterson's Fish and Shellfish, which has a great chapter on homemade sushi, with sensible advice and excellent photos. But by far our best source has been the all-encompassing Japanese cookbook and primer, Shizuo Tsuji's Japanese Cooking--A Simple Art. You must read this book if you have any serious interest in understanding sushi-making in specific or Japanese cooking in general.
Well, we're obviously very into sushi. Of course we like eating it out at restaurants (just keep reading for our favorite ones), but we also enjoy the social-event aspect of making our own. Shopping for the fish and preparing it is an entire Sunday afternoon activity in itself. In addition to the enormous sense of accomplishment at creating dishes which are beautiful as well as tasty, when we buy enough fish to have a huge feast at home, we still spend about half what we would in a restaurant.
A fairly new restaurant on Westwood, just a few blocks south of Santa Monica Blvd. Street parking nearby is not too tough (certainly easier than at Cowboy Sushi, however much it pains me to admit that), and the restaurant itself, though small, is immaculate and very bright. The place-settings are particularly nicely laid. Sushi Masu has a good selection of all the basic fish, plus, on the night we were there, Spanish Mackeral or Monkfish Livers as special sashimi. They also have some nice cooked dishes which you can get at the sushi bar as an addition to your meal: in particular, a nasu dengaku (miso-topped eggplant) made with red miso, which we didn't have, but which looked good, and the chef's special mushroom seafood steak--this is a perfectly cooked, giant portabella mushroom, topped with scallops, clams, shrimp, and squid in a very nice, masago-flavored, edamame-studded, mayonaise sauce. Neither of us are fans of mayonaise generally, but this dish was superb. We had both special sashimis, and both were exceptionally good and beautifully presented. We'd rate this place very slightly under Berkeley's Kirala for quality and selectio of fish, but both have friendlier than usual sushi chefs. Masu himself, and his silent but loyal assistant, served us. We had the most buttery, melty negi-toro maki ever, a lovely negi-hamachi temaki (handroll), super yellowtail, tuna, and albacore nigiri, and the best giant clam nigiri ever. We are certainly going to go back; we had a lovely chat with Masu, explained we make our own sushi, and exchanged names. Definitely try this place.
Everything everyone told us about this unassuming (this is an understatement) place in a mini-mall is correct--you sit at the sushi bar and Mr. Nozawa ("Trust me") selects choice sashimi, handrolls, and nigiri for you. After a little while, you can ask for something special (we requested Spanish mackeral, one of our favorite fish). This was the freshest, most toothsome fish we've ever eaten--right from the baby tuna sashimi to the amazingly good and very simple crab handroll. Still, at $92 for the two of us, this is not nightly fare, and the meal went by far too quickly.
Be prepared for an hour-long wait on weekend evenings, but this restaurant is definitely worth it. For about half the price of a meal at Sushi Nozawa you get consistently excellent fish, with lots of special fish on the menu seasonally. There is a complete menu and full table service as well, and a Japanese grill. The chefs are nice (they put tobiko on everything!), the patrons are friendly, and the entire experience is terrific and unpretentious.
This also wins for "dinner with highest level of anxiety" and "dinner with highest level of suppressed laughter." Last year I read a review that said this place was the next best thing to a traditional Toyko sushi bar, and boy, was this review right. There is a whole list of rules you must agree to before you can sit at the sushi bar, as opposed to a table. Then, the chefs yelled at us when we asked for a soft-shelled crab roll (I believe their exact words were, "We do not serve that. [sneer] You must have been going to many of those Korean-owned sushi bars!"). Rainbow rolls are served at tables, but for some reason not at the sushi bar (they're too big). Tuna handrolls, anago, and baby octopi, however, were allowed. Spanish mackeral and sea bream they'd never heard of ("Where are you from?" [belligerantly] "Oh, Boston!"). Spicy tuna was not allowed. And do not even think about dipping your anago in soy sauce and wasabi--its own sauce clashes with the soy (which we knew before going here), but in our anxiety at being yelled at for being from Boston and having eaten Spanish mackeral before, one of us accidentally moved a piece of anago dangerously close to the soy sauce. "Noooooo!" the chef yelled. I almost burst out laughing, but in this serious, all-Japanese place, I didn't want to laugh, so I took a sip of tea and started choking. The chef became very agitated and vigorously mimed slapping me on the back, which Robert, himself suppressing a good laugh, obligingly did. Abalone, too, was allowed--but after trying it, we decided that's one piece of sashimi we can live without (it had an odd, sort of plasticy feel in your mouth--not quite like food at all). All this said, the fish was very fresh and very high-quality, and the meal was a good one. Note, however, that at least when we were there in June of 1998, the only credit card accepted was American Express. Since the bill for two of us came to $167 (with no menu and no itemized price list even at the end of the meal, this was a little bit of a surprise), we were awfully lucky we happened to have an American Express card with us.
This little place is readily accessible by T, and adjacent to a big municipal parking lot. The fish is very good, and the chefs are very friendly. At least two years in a row, Takeshima had a special Valentine's Day sushi platter for two, which we think is a lovely idea. When we lived in Boston, this was our favorite place for "splurging" dinners and special occasions; that said, it's one of the more reasonably priced sushi bars we know of now. It's hands-down the best place to go in Boston.
The absolute best all you can eat sushi place we've
ever been to--for $19 you sit at the sushi bar (one hour time limit, which is reasonable and which they're not obsessive about) and just order the rolls and nigiri
you want, rather than eat from a picked-over buffet. Handrolls are allowed. The fish is
high-quality (albeit not Nozawa-standards). Open late--lots of fun, with great food.
This is a fun place with the walls lined with hand-written descriptions of different, unique maki. The maki are large and messy and fun to eat; go with a big group of people. We particularly recommend the Donut Roll (a core of rice surrounded by tuna, with spicy scallops heaped on top) and the Snow-Cone Roll (spicy albacore tuna and rice wrapped up in a continuous strip of cucumber flesh). The Sushihatsu sushi chefs would probably have a heart attack in this place. The table service is not the best, but the rolls are good and the bill usually comes to about $20/person.
Interesting decor, and no sushi bar (just table service), but for a $2.45 spider roll, we went back every time we were in the area. Sure, we've had better sushi--but this is another fun place with fish that's still good quality and with a bill that's cheap enough to go here as often as you want.
Ginza in Brookline/Chinatown (Boston) and Chaya Venice in Santa Monica (Los Angeles): both are nice restaurants with sort of trendy, young crowds. Ginza has very good rainbow rolls and spider rolls in particular, and Chaya Venice has a sushi-happy-hour before 7pm when all their rolls are cheaper at the sushi bar.