Nestled between a yakitori joint and an optical shop in a Gardena strip mall, it might be hard to discern which storefront, exactly, contains Daniel Son’s Sushi Sonagi. But like other sought-after L.A. omakase experiences, the tiny crowd of people milling about right before each of the evening’s two seatings typically gives it away. Once inside, all the elements of any high-end sushi experience worth its salt are present: the minimalist bleached wood interior, a well-curated sake list and the chef, standing behind the counter, prepping for the dozen or more nigiri courses that lie ahead. Aside from familiar surroundings, however, the three-month-old Sushi Sonagi is anything but typical. Distinctively Korean flavors and California seasonality have already set Son’s brand-new South Bay sushi counter apart in the city’s ever-expanding omakase scene.
Named after the Korean word for cloudburst, Sushi Sonagi elicits the same sense of wonder—and elation—that a burst of sudden rainfall might evoke on a muggy afternoon. Son sources most of his fish from the same seafood supplier used by Morihiro and Shunji, yet the well-trained Korean American chef fuses traditional technique with hints of bold flavor and seasonal produce in a way that feels fresh and memorable. (This is coming from someone who’s tried 30 different L.A. omakases over the past two years.) If Morihiro and Shunji produce restrained compositions of classical music, Sushi Sonagi is a night of lively, entertaining jazz.
The first few bites, usually a chawanmushi with Santa Barbara sea urchin and a sake-poached ankimo (monkfish liver) and caviar tartlet, set the tone for the rest of the meal with pops of sweetness and umami. Son usually includes at least one explicitly Korean-inspired dish at the start or finish, like a bite of raw Wagyu on milk bread inspired by yukhoe (Korean steak tartare) or cold somen noodles flavored with mild white kimchi and Dungeness crab. Unlike most sushi chefs, he eschews lean bluefin tuna, not only for sustainability reasons but to free up courses for other types of fish, like a few rare pieces of shinko (baby shad), a delicate, silver-skinned cut that appears for just a few weeks every summer.
Like fusion-leaning sushi bars, Son makes ample use of a blowtorch, though he filters the blue-tinged gas flame through binchotan charcoal for a cleaner-tasting finish. The pyrotechnics add a hint of depth to cuts like sawara (king mackerel) and kinmedai (golden eye snapper), the latter of which comes dusted with snowflake salt. The beautiful white flakes disperse salinity over a larger surface area in your mouth, which results in a more subtle overall taste.
There are a couple of show-stopping pieces that I hope will soon become Sushi Sonagi signatures: a bright orange piece of sea trout topped with multi-colored sesame seeds Son brought from Japan and the tamago, which comes with a beautiful crust of brûléed miso butter. The latter dish in particular is a clear marker of the chef’s unique point of view: According to Son, every time a sushi chef thinks about tamago, they’re reminded of failure—the deceptively simple-looking egg omelette is considered one of the most difficult pieces of sushi to master. If the sweet-savory, wonderfully rich slices of tamago at Sushi Sonagi are any indication, Son is operating at the highest level of the craft.
Unlike many restrained temples to raw fish and white rice, the service here is warm and relaxed; Son first learned sushi from his father at West Hollywood’s now-closed Kura Sushi, and the family affair continues today, with his wife and sister working front-of-house. Given the limited weekend-only availability, the $200 seatings sell out quickly (Tock reservations drop at midnight on a 30-day rolling basis), but stay the course, and your patience will be rewarded with one of best new omakase experiences in L.A. Despite having opened just a few months ago, I would already rank Son’s menu among my top five favorite omakases in L.A. If that’s the case, just imagine the heights Sushi Sonagi could reach in a year or two.
The vibe: Refined yet relaxed.
The food: 19 to 20 courses of Korean-influenced seasonal omakase, including a few appetizers and a housemade ice cream or sorbet.
The drink: Sake, beer and sparkling or still water, plus complimentary green tea.
Time Out tip: If you’re a light eater, ask Son to halve the rice in your nigiri from the start; from start to finish, the omakase is definitely more than filling for most people.