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Anyone who thinks toddler-friendly rolls chock-full of deep-fried shrimp and mayonnaise have anything to do with the rarefied cuisine found in Japan is missing the point of sushi. Thatís why so many restaurant-goers have begun to seek out the real thing. The best spots—which, by the way, are still confined to the coasts (sorry, Chicago, youíre not there yet)—champion elemental ingredients: warm, tangy rice and meticulously sourced, exquisitely sliced seafood. Just one bite and youíll be able to tell the real sushi chefs from the guys hawking spicy-tuna rolls.

NEW YORK CITY

Sushi Yasuda
Itís not the five types of yellowtail—each of which reveals a different grade of delicious fat—offered by head chef Naomichi Yasuda. Nor is it the grilled-to-order sea eel, which will banish memories of the dense, preprepared stuff most chefs warm up in a toaster oven. Itís not even the cool, plump oyster topped with crunchy flakes of sea salt. Nope, what rockets this bamboo-decked sushi sanctuary in midtown Manhattan into the big leagues is the rice, which threatens to upstage the accompanying jewellike slices of fish.
204 E. 43rd St., 212-972-1001

15 East
Masato Shimizu apprenticed in Tokyo before building a loyal Manhattan fan base during a four-year stint at the East Village standout Jewel Bako. Now he presides over 15 Eastís nine-seat sushi bar, a block from Union Square, where he talks up his exceptional octopus and cites his library of fish-focused publications to expound on the creations heís placed in front of you—productions like flawless shima-aji (pristine snapper with a tiny dollop of umeboshi, or pickled plum) and a scallop so flavorful that Shimizu skips soy sauce altogether. Linking every morsel is a smear of sweet wasabi, which is grated to order.
15 E. 15th St., 212-647-0015

LOS ANGELES

Mori
In L.A., the best shops shun soaring ceilings and ice Buddhas as if they were spoiled fish. Instead of glitzy décor, Mori gives you Morihiro Onodera, a chef who machine-polishes his own rice (grown exclusively for him in Sacramento) to remove a precise portion of the bran—and even makes the dishes he serves it on. This attention to detail is evident in every bite: the slightly crunchy geoduck clam, the house-cured kohada (a herringlike fish with speckled, silvery skin), and yellowtail belly so fatty itíll give you a head rush.
11500 W. Pico Blvd., 310-479-3939

Sushi Nozawa
When you sit at the bar run by Kazunori Nozawa, you eat what he deigns to serve. His "trust me" mantra and curmudgeonly manner are meant to ward off the sacrilegious hordes of spider-roll-seeking diners that might otherwise swarm his Studio City spot. This approach earns the chef plenty of haters, but his disciples put up with the rules and non-scenery in return for warm, slightly sticky rice, big cuts of fine snapper, and hand rolls stuffed with bubble-gum-pink toro as rich as butter.
11288 Ventura Blvd., Suite C, 818-508-7017