The Sushi Nazi
Originally appeared in Vanity Fair, May 1997
TODAY’S SPECIAL: TRUST ME! reads the hand-lettered sign on the wall of Sushi Nozawa. And chef Kazunori Nozawa, one of Los Angeles’ most temperamental restaurateurs, isn’t kidding around.
To occupy one of the nine seats at his counter, a waitress explains to newcomers, is to relinquish control. No ordering, please. You eat what he serves – or you’re out the door.
One hapless entertainment executive refused Nozawa’s tuna on the grounds that dolphins might have perished in the catch. ‘‘Out!’’ yelled the irate chef, who is known to ignore diners’ trendy requests (NO CALIFORNIA ROLL! reads another sign) and to bark instructions (‘‘One bite only!’’) at those whose sushi skills don’t measure up.
‘‘Grumpy doesn’t even begin to describe it,’’ says Robert Ward, a writer and TV producer (Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice), who is such a Nozawa devotee that he immortalized the chef in one of his novels. ‘‘He’s an artist. Asking him to make a California roll is like asking Van Gogh to paint a velvet Elvis.’’
Most nights, customers wait in line to be mistreated at the closet-sized restaurant, right next to a nail salon in a San Fernando Valley mini-mall. Nozawa regulars have spotted Jeffrey Katzenberg, not to mention actors Rebecca De Mornay and James Caan, sampling the albacore and risking the chef’s wrath.
But Nozawa – who once refused to serve singer-songwriter Carole King a second order of uni – doesn’t care who you are, as long as you adhere to his program for sushi Zen.