Kazu’s has long been a stalwart on Siesta Drive . . . at least until it wasn’t.
Most Sarasota foodies have dined at one of the restaurants located in the Siesta Drive strip mall, just east of Tamiami Trail, across from the Westfield Southgate Mall. This little strip of shops is home to several really good restaurants including Andreas, Rick’s French Bistro, Café Continental and most recently, The Usual Place. Kazu’s was probably there the longest, so when we saw Kazu had closed, we were shocked! What? Impossible!
Relief followed soon after with news that Kazu’s moved to Gulf Gate and had actually expanded their seating to include a libations bar featuring craft beers and sake. Little Kazu’s of Southgate fame, was now Kazu’s 2.0, Sarasota’s only Japanese Gastro Pub featuring handcrafted sushi, craft beers and sake bar, plus a new, cool vibe worth checking out!
To understand why Kazu made both a venue change and a total change in atmosphere, it helps to know more about owner/chef Kazu Tsuchiya. In addition to being an accomplished sushi chef, Kazu is also a jazz musician, having played keyboard and bass in a jazz quintet in Tokyo in his youth. He came to the U.S. to study jazz composition at Berklee College of Music, where famous alumnists John Mayer and that Gangman dude – Psy – graduated. While studying at Berklee, Kazu worked part-time under the tutelage of a Japanese Master Sushi Chef, who recognized a new talent in Kazu, and personally educated him in the highest skill level of sushi preparation. So now the young jazz musician had another passion . . . one that literally put food on the table. Could Kazu’s 2.0 allow him to share both?
The move to Gulf Gate in December 2012 allowed Kazu to immerse himself, and his restaurant, in the center of South Sarasota’s nightlife scene. While he still offers an early happy hour, Kazu’s 2.0 is also becoming a night spot with a late night menu and happy hour from 10:00 to midnight, and no canned Japanese music. . . But on to the FOOD!
Since Mart and I are big fans of any fusion between two distinctly different ethnic flavors, we were all for trying the Japanese Nacho appetizer special. Featuring seriously crispy tortilla chips topped with fresh, slightly-seared sesame encrusted tuna sashimi, drizzled with a ‘just spicy enough’ wasabi ranch dressing over a wakame seaweed salad, I had to ask; “How else can you enjoy a deeply satisfying crunch with sushi?” Really. . . I should have known tortilla chips would be an ideal paring with sushi. . . aren’t they the go-to vehicle for carrying most anything to your mouth? Ridiculously good, these Japanese Nachos are like a party in your mouth.
Even your SarasotaFoodies have favorite sushi choices, and we make a point to order at least one sushi roll featuring grilled eel/Unagi. (Is it possible to have a grilled fish and still call it sushi? Just sayin’. . .) Our sushi chef, Shane, recommended Kazu’s ever popular Mt. Fuji Roll, showcasing a rice wrapped wheel of eel, avocado and cream cheese topped with eel sauce. I don’t know what it is about unagi. There’s nothing you can compare it to. The taste and texture are unlike any other meat or fish I’ve tried, and I’ve never had unagi that didn’t leave me wanting more. It is as tender a bite as anything short of dessert. In fact, I love unagi so much I’ve been known to order an unagi hand-roll or sashimi while others are ordering ice cream. (No kidding!)
After asking Chef Shane what the best selling roll was at Kazu’s 2.0, his answer – the Mandala Roll – became our next choice. The Mandala Roll is a creation of Chef Kazu himself and this was one beautiful dish. Fresh salmon and white tuna are rolled with skinny asparagus, cilantro and crispy chips wrapped with seared tuna and served with a chilled garlic soy sauce. Wowsa!
Folks who eat sushi on a regular basis, or even a semi-regular basis, know fresh caught fish when they taste it. This white tuna and salmon were about as velvety soft and succulent as it gets. The garlic soy sauce on the side was just brilliant — very light and supportive of the fish taste, not any way overpowering the delicate flavors of the sushi. I also prefer the thinner asparagus over the thicker variety, as it stays tender while remaining chewy. Having thoroughly enjoyed the Mandala Roll, it’s even easier to understand why regulars at Kazu’s previous location think nothing of following him to Gulf Gate.
We were lucky to spend some time talking with Kazu himself, and enjoyed hearing his new location is doing well. The introduction of craft beers has been instrumental in getting folks who’ve never tried sushi into Kazu’s 2.0, if only to try one of his famous Beer Floats. In making the move, he has attracted a younger late-night crowd, something his previous location didn’t deliver. And folks who never tried a craft beer with sushi will be happy to know that Kazu has plans to offer special events and beer parings featuring craft beers alongside entrees from his standard menu as well as any new inventions he may dream up.
Having spent some time vising with Kazu, we decided we had room for one more sushi roll, and went back for another unagi based roll, the Eel and Cumber Roll. Now as simple as this roll appears, I was (again) impressed by how amazingly fresh the eel was. The sprinkling of sesame seeds over the top of the roll added a slight nutty taste, but the unagi was clearly the star.
Kazu’s 2.0 also offers a Happy Hour from 4:30 – 6:30, with most dishes discounted by around $1.50 each, and select beers at $3 and sake discounted as well. The younger set seems to take over the place after the 7:00 rush leaves, so Kazu makes sure to provide the atmosphere they’ll enjoy most. As mentioned before, you won’t find any canned Japanese music here — it’s strictly a mix of classic jazz, indie rock and classics hand-picked by Kazu himself.
A good Chef is an artist . . . easily along the same vein as a visual artist, sculptor, poet or musician. How nice to see how artist Kazu Tsuchiya has successfully married his two art forms, music and sushi preparation, into one expression you can experience along with him.
Kazu 2.0. Is it performance art? It sure tastes like it!