U-Zen - Underground Kappo

I kept getting side-tracked from writing this up but it’s well past time I shared it with everyone :slight_smile: Feel free to skip to the Intro if you don’t want to read the boring backstory :wink:

U-Zen, at first glance, looks to be a mostly unremarkable neighborhood sushi spot with a pretty busy menu (often not a great sign).

A few years ago, after I moved to Santa Monica, I went for the first time, and in the spirit of experimentation, sat down at the bar and asked if they did omakase (the only hint that they might was a reasonably interesting specials board which was obviously handwritten daily). The particulars are lost to me - it was fine for a neighborhood spot but at the time I felt like I could do better for the same money going to Shibucho for nigiri (in the $80-100 range). It was much more convenient as a spot to drop by and grab some maki, though, so I did that for a while. I don’t remember why exactly I decided to try the omakase again (probably I was just too tired to drive that far east); this time, Masa-san, the head chef, started by serving me otsumami instead, followed by a dizzying array of cooked dishes. I don’t remember exactly what I ate, only that I when I got the check I experienced reverse sticker-shock - I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $120-130/head before tip & tax here.

Anyways, fast-forward to yesterday - my cousin’s in town and good Japanese food is one of those things you should aim to get while you’re in LA. After the first option a little closer to where he was falls through, I remember that U-Zen was more or less perfect for what I wanted. The meal was something like this (order approximate, I didn’t take notes or anything, and I think I forgot a fish or two somewhere, since otherwise I don’t know how I would’ve left as full as I did):

Toro & Cucumber w/ (???) Miso - thick-diced toro with thinly-sliced cucumbers, with a sweet and tangy miso-based dressing of unclear provenance (but delicious). Great textural contrast.

Some kind of snapper(?)

Matsutake Chawanmushi - made with halibut and snapper. Very good. Either my first or second time having matsutake in the context of chawanmushi.

Nigiri (cont.)
Red snapper, two ways - one with yuzu and one with momiji oroshi. Served on a plate with the carcass of the snapper from which they were delivered, neatly skewered for the presentation. Classy :slight_smile:
Kohada - nice!

Intermezzo rd. 2
The carcass from the red snapper came back - this time as deep fried fish bones. Crunchy! (And there was some delicious meat to dig out of the head & cheeks, too.)

Nigiri (cont.)
Anago - easily the second-best piece of anago I’ve ever had - expertly cut & deboned, super fluffy, delicate anago tare, and to top it off a bit of yuzu rind (maybe candied?). Only beaten out by the anago I had at Kaneyoshi; frankly the comparison is a bit unfair given the relative accessibility, price points, etc, but this honestly put up a very good fight.
Yellowtail - this was so good I honestly thought I was eating buri but when I asked Masa-san he said it was “somewhere in between” that and regular yellowtail.
Ikura - bit of a whiff, but not offensive or anything
Some sort of baked crab handroll - next time I might ask for ume-shiso or something instead.

It was homemade - some sort of gelee with a layer of matcha on top of a layer of azuki, with agar as a binding agent? The closest thing I can find on the internet is a 2-layer neri yokan, though the gradient one we ate was less distinct and I’m not 100% confident it’s the same thing. Definitely pretty far along the uniqueness spectrum, and it was tasty - I’m not usually a fan of azuki.

This came out to ~$77/head (~$100 after tax & tip). Pretty wild! I’m also going to post some random pictures of other things I’ve been served here over the years, since this was a pretty sushi-heavy meal, as far as it goes.

Last meal here before the pandemic

Various Otsumami (stuffed mushroom, daikon-wrapped fish-cake(?), pickled eggplant(?), prawn, ???)

Lobster & Red Snapper, rendered for parts (sashimi)

Toro Sunomono

Miso Cod

The Return of the Snapper

Steamed(?) Conch

(skipping the nigiri shots)

Some random earlier meal

This might’ve been halibut, but I could be totally wrong. With the egg sack (I think? My memory is telling me it was female, but I won’t swear to it). Simmered in something. Totally fantastic, no idea what to ask for to get it again.

Some final notes: while I wasn’t super impressed with the sushi my first time around it does feel like the sushi game at the bar has gotten a lot stronger lately, with more precise technique across the board, more consistent rice, etc, so even as a “pure sushi” option you could do a lot worse.

If you do want to eat off-menu cooked food rather than sushi I’d recommend calling about a week in advance and asking the GM explicitly if Masa-san can do a kappo meal given advance notice to buy ingredients - you might get lucky just walking in but no guarantees.

Happy chowing!


Took a couple friends visiting LA here today, since I was trying to avoid both extremes of “Sugarfish” and “$250+/head”.

Tuna wrapped in cucumber

No idea what the sauce on it was, but it was interesting, almost bbq-like.

Sea snail(?)

Deeply stewed, moderately funky, very delicious.

Fresh Octopus

Awesome - not your usual tako. Chewy & crunchy in a good way.


Don’t see this all over the place. Delicate.


I mean, you know.

Fuck if I remember… sea bream, I’m guessing?

Forgot to note down what this was, but by the look it was madai or something similar.

Maguro (bluefin)



Nice kick of vinegar, without overwhelming the fish. Really well-balanced.


Sweet & crunchy - been a long time since I’ve had any orange clam (maybe since before covid?). Great to have such a nice specimen to bring it back.

Intermission - Miso Cod

Just the right balance of delicate & fatty.


Masa-san showed us the shell of the crab he’d emptied out for us. Super fresh, but not much like zuwaigani (snow crab) - hard to say which I prefer, both are fantastic.

Oysters (Grilled?)

I’m not huge on cooked oysters, but there were pretty good! Nice saucing, not too heavy. Each oyster was also hiding a couple small pieces of grilled asparagus, which were a good counterpoint.


Does what it needs to do :slight_smile:


Delicious - super mild (one might even say beginner friendly), very traditional prep with ponzu, negi, & momiji oroshi. Extremely tender, but held itself together well.

Smoked Salmon & Friends

Topped with some kind of Italian dressing & “salad”. Surprisingly fun & successful combo - I’m very much neither a “smoked salmon as sushi” or “a few extra flavors” kind of person, but this worked.


Fresh, sweet, nice bite. I’m sure there’s better out there, but it’s hard to complain while you’re eating it.


I honestly have no idea what was going on here - it definitely wasn’t the pedestrian albacore typically served as sushi. A bit chopped up. Topped with shiso and ???, also a bit of light saucing. Definitely a bit on the experimental side, but tasty.

I forgot to snap a picture of the ikura (fine, but not exactly their strong suit), the maki & bonus rounds, and the lychee ice cream.

Total damage was ~$135/head (before tip & tax).


Nice meal and report!

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