Zono Sushi and Groupon make quality dishes a bargain
By Erica Wayne 06/26/2014
When Pasadena has such great Japanese restaurants, what could induce me to drive all the way to Glendale for raw fish? Five things: Zono’s excellent sushi, their 25th anniversary happy hour menu, the Alex Theatre, the Glendale Center Theatre and, finally, periodic $30 Groupons for which I pay only $16.
About that last, if you’re a foodie on a budget I urge you not to overlook the large number of Web sites offering super discounts on restaurant meals. Most of my friends and I are registered with Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local, Travelzoo, SGV Awards, Blackboard Eats and dineL.A. for deals that keep our wallets (and tummies) fatter than they might be otherwise.
Just about every day, two or three chances to eat great meals at 30 to 50 percent off show up in our emails (along with an equal number of “meh” offers we ignore). And dineL.A. has already alerted me about the next 14-day bonanza of discount dining over the entire Los Angeles Basin with some participating restaurants and some prix fixe menus already listed. Just saying …
And, since sushi is one of my absolute favorite meals and also one of the most expensive, almost every time a restaurant like Japon Bistro or Zono offers a discount online, I buy it! Additionally, when local restaurants of Sushi Roku’s quality sign up for Restaurant Week events throughout the year, I’m there. But enough tips about foraging for cheap eats. Let’s talk quality.
I’ve been to Glendale’s Zono a number of times. (They also have a branch in Burbank and, alas, closed one on South Lake Avenue in Pasadena last year after a five-year run.) Our first visit was for dinner prior to a big-band “In the Mood” concert at the Alex, a block north of the restaurant (which is located in the Exchange complex that runs between Brand and Maryland Avenues). The second was a pre-show meal before a performance at the Glendale Center Theatre, a bit farther north but still within easy walking distance.
Zono’s 25th anniversary happy hour menu bargains are, as I write this, available every day from 3 p.m. until closing. On our maiden visit, a large Kirin draft for a mere $3.25 made my hubby happy. Then it was on to food. Appetizers of shrimp and vegetable tempura and soft shell crab are only $4.50 apiece. Admittedly, we had to divvy up the single shrimp, zucchini, eggplant and sweet potato (there were two green beans), but both dishes were still bargains.
Then it was time for a second Kirin, a house sake ($1.95) and sushi. Four pieces of tuna, ono or yellowtail ($6.99), four of salmon or albacore ($5.99), all generously cut and garnished with frizzled onion, wafer-thin lemon slices or sprinkles of green onion — what a treat. Even Zono’s wasabi is decoratively formed into a floret, like butter at some elegant restaurants.
Smaller versions of 13 of Zono’s premium rolls are also featured on the anniversary menu. On our second visit, prior to a show at Glendale Center (another bargain), we ordered a four-piece multi-fish rainbow roll and a four-piece caterpillar (eel, cucumber and avocado) roll, each $5.99, plus an eight-piece Arizona “anniversary special” roll (one of nine offered) with blue crab, avocado and cucumber topped with masago (capelin roe) for $7.99. Each creation was stuffed to bursting, as were we once we gobbled them up.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist ordering a baked hamachi (yellowtail) collar from the regular menu ($11.95), one of the few cooked fish items I crave in sushi restaurants. Like all the other dishes we’ve tried at Zono, the charred, crispy-skinned, moist-fleshed collar was impressive to look at as well as delicious, possibly the largest I’ve ever seen, perched majestically on its dish with cilantro sprigs on top and a tasty ponzu dip adjacent.
My latest visit to Zono was for lunch a couple of weeks ago, armed with my newest $30 Groupon. A friend and I each ordered a $15.95 combo which included miso soup, five fat pieces of sushi and a premium roll each. We selected a rainbow roll and a sunset roll with four kinds of fish, crabmeat, avocado, cucumber, gobo (a crunchy black root), kaiware (sprouts) and a coating of masago. Total satisfaction!
If I have to find a complaint about Zono’s Glendale location, it’s certainly not with either food or service, which is prompt and friendly. The décor, however, is somewhat dated. Dark wood paneling and tables, brown upholstered banquettes and booths, a red Formica sushi bar and extremely low lighting make dining either intimate or claustrophobic, depending on one’s mood.
The silent but bright flat-screen TV in the dining area doesn’t add to the atmosphere, nor does the poor choice of background music. But the glorious six-part lantern chandelier and the extensive display of red enamel plates in the entryway are both pretty cool.
All in all, my lack of enthusiasm for the restaurant’s ambiance is more than compensated for by the quality of its food and its bargain prices. Almost anybody who craves decent sushi should be delighted with Zono’s cost-to-quality ratio. There’s 90-minute free parking at the Exchange garage (entrance on Maryland Avenue). Before you go, be sure to check out the Web sites mentioned above for discounts.
In closing, happy 25th anniversary to Zono Sushi. Many happy returns to you and your clientele.
139 N. Maryland Ave.,
Beer and wine/