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.