Nori: An Unexpected Gem

Forgive me the lack of photos, I don’t usually take them (which I regret today).

I was in WeHo today for some business and was feeling peckish at a time when practically no real sushi places are open (3 pm). A few blocks away from the esteemed Jinpachi, the only place that was open within a short distance was this little hole-in-the-wall. Modern and chic, Nori looks like nothing so much as your average upscale roll-factory. Head Chef Eric is young-looking and speaks good English, which would normally be another two strikes against it. However, I decided to take a chance and sat down at the counter, asking if they served Omakase - which they did. Below is what I ate:

Bluefin Maguro - your standard piece of tuna. However, the quality of the shari, neta, and knifework was already a step above what I was expecting when I came in.

Hamachi - a very correct piece of yellowtail.

Red snapper - here was the beauty that made me regret not taking pictures. Not only was this piece visually stunning, garnished with nothing more than a dash of citrus, it was incredibly crisp and clean tasting, with the just right amount of bite to it.

Hirame - appropriately decorated, pretty standard.

Engawa - lightly seared, with a bit of sea salt and lemon - excellent.

Hotate - clean and sweet-tasting, topped with a bit of yuzokosho.

Tako - brushed with a bit of soy - not my favorite sushi neta, but worked fine.

Shigoku oyster - dressed with ponzu and scallion, this was one of the best oysters I’ve had in the last month or two.

Ika - wrapped in a thin strip of shiso, this was an excellent execution. One of my favorite pieces of the day.

Ikura - served gunkanmaki style, this was garnished with yuzu, which took it from a neta that I normally disdain to something that I actually liked.

Amaebi - topped with a bit of black roe (not sure which). Nothing special, unfortunately - though the fried head was quite good.

Sake - brushed with soy, a good piece of fish.

Spanish mackerel - with standard accouterments, this was also very good.

Japanese mackerel - this was an unexpected surprise. Usually I am not a fan of Saba, finding it too fishy, but according to the chef, this was a special Japanese mackerel, and indeed it was considerably milder and much more pleasant than the usual. I could be converted!

Chutoro - an excellent piece of chutoro, both texturally and taste-wise, which is much harder to find than I expected.

Uni - from santa barbara, this came gunkanmaki, garnished with shredded shiso and black sea salt (which I visually mistook for truffle). An interesting preparation and the uni itself was quite good, though I’m not sure if I’m sold on garnishing it. This is not to say the flavor profiles didn’t work - they did - but I tend to prefer my uni plain (I even prefer it served nigiri-style rather than gunkan!).

Anago - The least impressive piece of the day - nothing wrong with it, just not as fluffy and pillowy as I know anago can be.

Tamago - sweet, which I prefer over more savory preparations.

The cost for this 18-piece meal? $45 before tip and tax ($62 all in, including some green tea). It’s possible that the chef knocked it down a bit - we had a very pleasant conversation during the meal, where he told me that he’d recently been brought on by management and was looking to transition the restaurant to a more traditional style - an omakase only bar, with the tables and patio reserved for the “crowd”. He also told me that he’d probably be raising their prices soon as part of this change - which seemed more than reasonable, given the location and quality of the fish. There was also a mention of sake being half-off if eating omakase, but I don’t know if that was a current or proposed policy.

In the end, however, an astounding value - I’d expected to pay almost twice what I did. If you’re in the area (or even if you’re not!), I’d drop by. Tell Chef Eric that Robert sent you :wink:

Nori
8730 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
http://noriaz.com/la/info.html

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A surprisingly good late lunch here today–thanks for the tip!

We probably made it more expensive than it needed to be. In order to test the waters we started with the 7 piece nigiri combo each. Only $13 for 7 pieces plus miso soup and pretty good quality with two very good pieces (tai, salmon) and only two indifferent (tako, ebi). Encouraged by this start we kept on adding things and by the time we were done we paid $62/head incl. tax and tip. What did this get us (nigiri combo items in bold):

1. Miso soup
2. Bigeye tuna
3. Hamachi
4. Salmon
5. Tai
6. Albacore
7. Tako
8. Ebi
9. Aji
10. Saba (Japanese)
11. Hirame
12. Hotate
13. Salmon toro
14. Ikura
15. Uni (Santa Barbara)
16. Shibucho oyster
17. Handroll (I got the yellowtail, the missus got the blue crab)

And they comped us a dessert which is apparently their big seller but which, while decent in the abstract, is not really something to eat after sushi: green tea infused waffle and green tea icecream. Those of you who might recognize this as a very Korean thing will not be surprised to learn that this is a Korean operation, from ownership to chefs to all the Asian servers (there are some non-Asian staff as well). And there are other Korean items on the cooked menu as well. But this should not lead anyone to think that this means Nori is at the level of your average Koreatown sushi bar: this is a legit place. Not a destination for the seasoned sushi connoisseur but if you’re in the neighbourhood you’d be hard pressed, I think, to find sushi of this quality at this price.

The young head chef told us he was previously at Hamasaku and Katsuya. And he urged us to do Hamasaku’s dinner omakase, saying in his opinion it was the best value in town, with a lot of Japanese fish. We’ll hit it up on the next trip: only have one day left on this one before leaving for Delhi.

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By the way, their menu does not mention omakase and when I asked the waitress if they had it at lunch she said no and pointed to the set combos as the “sushi bar lunch specials”. Later we realized it was the “sushi platter”. When we asked the chef about it he said $40 gets you 12 pieces if it includes toro etc. and 15 pieces otherwise; $60 gets you more pieces and more premium pieces. So maybe the price increase has already happened or maybe it’s just a bad idea to go piece by piece here. You obviously got more for your $62 than we did!

Glad you had a good time! I’ve returned a few times since (probably too many, hah), and found that the quality has been maintained.

I’ve never gone piece by piece here, but the price does seem to depend on both how much food you get and how many “premium” pieces there are - but it’s always been $40, $45, or $50 for me (before tax and tip). The last time I went did seem a little more expensive than the times before, but it’s still by far the best QPR for sushi that I’ve ever found.

I’m just waiting for the head chef to rework the kitchen staff and menu so that he can include a proper omakase (not sushi-only) and expand his selection of more interesting fish, which is basically limited to skipjack and barracuda sometimes.

Yeah, if I lived here still I could see this becoming my steady affordable destination. I mean you can get the $13 lunch set, add on 2 pieces of uni for $9 and two pieces of ikura for $5 and be out the door with 11 pieces of decent to pretty good nigiri plus miso soup for $27!

In case you want to see what this all looked like, pictures (and captions) are in my blog review posted today, the bulk of which I reproduce below: http://myannoyingopinions.com/2016/01/12/nori/


This is part of my quest to eat at Los Angeles area sushi restaurants whose names resemble those of the dwarves Bilbo Baggins accompanied to the Lonely Mountain: first Mori, now Nori; come back later in the week for Ori! Actually, no: if there is a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles named Ori, we have not eaten there. We only ended up at Nori after our meal at Mori because a) we were in search of a decent place that would be open late for lunch on a Monday and b) was not going to be a major hit on the wallet. Why even bother with cheaper sushi on a Monday when there are so many other excellent cheap eats in Los Angeles? Well, when you live in Minnesota where finding even average sushi is an achievement, and it’s priced like it’s better than that, you don’t need to eat at the upper echelons of the L.A. scene to be happy. It’s also the case that my reviews of sushi in L.A. have hitherto covered better known places and I was curious to see what hidden gems there might be out there. Well, I’m not sure if Nori quite rises to gem level but it was surprisingly good and very good value.

Nori is located on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood and is very far away from being a temple of sushi in its ambience or offerings. Sushi is just one part of their menu which encompasses a wide range of cooked dishes as well, Japanese and otherwise; and the sushi offerings themselves include the full spectrum of bizzaro rolls. There is outdoor seating and a happy hour menu, and a large tv showing sports. They do have a large and attractive sushi bar and that is where we sat. Looking at the menu we weren’t entirely sure what to expect of the nigiri and so decided to start out with the low risk “Nigiri Select” combo which offers miso soup and 7 pieces of chef-selected nigiri for the low price of $13. Well, we liked most of the fish on it well enough to then branch out further, and we added on most of what the chefs said was good that day. As a result we turned what could have been a very cheap lunch into an expensive lunch (though nothing approaching Mori levels).

While the selection of fish is not terribly interesting, the young head chef, who we were passed off to in the second half of the meal, noted that he’s in the process of expanding it and making sushi more of a focus. He also noted that prices might go up as a result. Currently, however, in addition to the cheaper nigiri/sashimi combos and a familiar a la carte selection they offer what amounts to two omakase options: one at $40 and one at $50, both of which include 12-15 pieces (the more expensive one includes more Japanese fish, we were told). Since we ended up spending as much as we would have if we’d done the more expensive omakase I wouldn’t be opposed to coming back on our next trip in the summer to see how that compares to what we ate.

The head chef’s previous stints were, he said, at Hamasaku and before that at Katsuya. He is Korean, by the way, as are all the Asian chefs and staff who were there during our late lunch. The restaurant itself is Korean-owned and this shows up in many of the hot menu selections as well, which include kalbi etc. I expect some fraction (high? low?) of sushi eaters might have some qualms about sushi bars staffed entirely by non-Japanese chefs, but on the evidence of our meal there’s no reason to be. The fish here was as good as or better than at a number of Japanese owned/staffed places in its price class all over the city (certainly better than at the perennially popular Hide); and it has little in common with the indifferent sushi restaurants all over Koreatown. And the chefs are very fluent in English and very friendly.

To see what we ate and what we thought of it launch the slideshow below which has detailed captions.

On the whole, a couple of items on the set combo aside, the fish was uniformly good and some of the fish was really very good (the mackerel, the salmon belly, the halibut and the snapper). The rice and seaweed were, expectedly, afterthoughts; and while the knife work was fine there was a tendency to over-sauce some of the pieces. Please note though that these are not major criticisms: they have no pretensions to be and are not charging as much as a place where those would be disqualifying issues. Still, while it’s by no means a destination sushi bar it’s worth a look for middle-class diners who’re saving up for their next outing to Mori, Shunji etc. I’d certainly recommend it highly if you’re in the neighbourhood. (But I would not recommend following your sushi with the dessert that the head chef kindly comped us. It was green tea infused waffle with green tea icecream. A very Korean thing, the missus said, and while it was decent enough on its own merits it was too heavy and cloying—and massive—after a subtle meal of raw fish.)

We paid $62/head after tax and tip for the above, which is a really good deal for how much we ate and the quality. Certainly far better than the similarly priced meal we ate at Sasabune, Beverly Hills in the summer. We were there very late for lunch and so it wasn’t very busy; at any rate, the service was attentive and friendly.

Last time I went a few days ago, they had already started bringing in more interesting fish, such as golden eye snapper, sockeye, and flying fish.

I am definitely going to Bombur Sushi when (and if) it opens.

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By your pictures, I’d disagree as they have trouble properly taking the skin off of some fish - the Tai and Salmon belly, in particular - and some of the fish have ragged edges showing they didn’t properly finish their cuts on the trailing stroke. Then rice appears to be poorly shaped as well as pieces like the Hamachi show that the fish was pressed around poorly shaped rice.

It’s 7 pieces for $13 dude - that’s the definition of “fine”

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The salmon belly wasn’t part of the $13 special. That was a la carte.

And, so what if it’s cheap? Does that excuse it from being properly made? Regardless of price, I wouldn’t say that’s “fine.” That’s D-League technique. And there are way better places that serve lunch combos from $17 - $22 that include 8 to 10 pieces of Nigiri.

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lols at thread subject – “gem”.

that piece of snapper looks like a toddler took a scissor to it; just completely thrashed.

but hey, it’s sorta cheap. :confounded:

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To be fair, the head chef is considerably more precise than the other chefs. I can’t say much about their knife-work, never having eaten with them.

D-League in LA maybe, but that’s A League in some states.

Always glad to hear from people with more knowledge and experience. I will say that the skin was left on the snapper in more or less the same way it was at Mori, though the knifework, rice etc. etc. was nowhere at that level. The salmon belly seemed to be approached in the same way. And knifework aside, the quality of the fish itself in the case of both pieces was very good. “Fine” was probably the wrong word to use there though for the knifework (I meant “fine” in the sense of acceptable, though my standards are obviously lower). And yes, neither of those pieces were prepared by the head chef.

But for the price…I do wish we’d hear more on this forum about B and C-league places though and the places that serve lunch combos of 8-10 pieces of better sushi for only a bit more money. As I’ve said on another thread, the talk here is usually only of the A list.

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Here’s the wild red snapper at Mori: http://myannoyingopinions.com/2015/12/31/mori-sushi/#jp-carousel-15106

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Here is the red snapper from Kimagure. IMHO, I think Ike san has even better knife skills than Maru-san.

Need the sushi experts to weigh in here but my understanding is that (total) removal of skin/silvery bits can vary a lot. Kinmedai, for example, seems commonly to be served with a strip of skin (that’s often seared), but at Sushi Tsujita we were given kinmedai that was completely stripped. Similarly, we’ve almost always received tai that had no/negligible silvery bits but both at Nori, and more tellingly, at Mori it was not served that way. I’m not sure, however, if @mhlee’s objection is something else.


mori

nori

In the interests of learning more I would really appreciate if the sushi gurus could explain why Nori’s treatment of the skin (leaving aside the matter of the cut and rice) is D-league compared to Mori’s. Please don’t misunderstand this as a passive-aggressive request: I really would appreciate learning these nuances.

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First piece. Cut on the bias which is one of the standard cuts to get a long enough piece from a small fillet for Nigiri Sushi. Outside flesh/skin portion is along the entire cut length. Edge is clean. Nice shine to cut face of fish. Can see the entire cross-section and grain of the flesh.

Second piece, skin portion is only on one end. But, there are traces of skin on the meat, but the thickness differs from the tip where the silver portion where the skin was removed. Therefore, he likely gouged the meat when skinning. The cut doesn’t show the grain of the fish, isn’t a clean cut - it’s ragged, there’s no shine. If I had to guess, he made a nearly crosswise/vertical cut of some leftover piece and tried to make it fit.

But, just because you now know these things doesn’t make you or anyone else knowledgeable about Sushi because, if you didn’t know and couldn’t tell the difference by the photos, how would you notice in real life? And, why are you (or anyone else for that matter), writing a review that provides opinions of things that you have little knowledge about?

And, most certainly, this isn’t to say that I’m an expert on Sushi. I’m not, nor do I claim to be. But, I’m not writing reviews, and, my knowledge, unlike a lot of people (most?) who write like they’re authorities on Sushi using generic terms like “Neta”, “Shari”, etc., comes from (1) selling Sashimi grade fish for a couple of years, (2) cutting fish professionally, (3) learning about and using Japanese knives, and (4) casually studying about Sushi for about 15 years. I also casually study about seafood, Sushi and Japanese cuisine when I go to Japan.

If you want to learn about Sushi, read books. There are a lot more books now about cutting techniques, handling and preparation of fish and rice, etc.

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Thanks for that. Well, now I know more than I did before and will know what to look for in real life. As for your larger question, I’m writing reviews of meals I’ve eaten, not presenting myself as an authority on sushi (or anything else). I certainly don’t use jargon intended to give a different view of my knowledge. And if people didn’t write about things we don’t know much about what would we do on food forums or, for that matter, the internet?

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