Zero, Zilch for Zip Fusion, West LA

Zip Fusion
11301 West Olypic Boulevard (at Sawtelle), no. 116
West Los Angeles, CA 90064

When Zip Fusion recently opened on Sawtelle, I already had my doubts. I was none too impressed with the first location in LA’s downtown, and since my experience has been that sadly, sequels (almost) never live up to volume one, this Zip Fusion would need some crazy special effects to be a winner over an already *eh* original. And of course, I’m not ashamed to proclaim about asian fusion that: I am. So. Over. It. Like I’m over those fully non-functional quarter sized sweaters that tie under the bustline. Over it.

But I shook off the doubts since giving a second chance means wiping the slate clean of the first offense.

zip fusion, west l.a.

Since I have a very short drive from work to Sawtelle, I arrived first. I could have waited outside, but there was a table of young Asian hipsters who had either already drank too much soju, or were just loud and obnoxious by nature. I’m thinking the former, since their faces were already a glossy pink and a few who had already crossed over to red. I went inside to save myself from the Parliament Lights haze. Mondays are typically slow nights for restaurants, so the fact that the restaurant wasn’t completely empty was a promising sign. I need to brush up on my sign-reading skills.

The main guy, I’ll call him Jay, just because that’s the first name that popped into my head right now, Jay asked me how many. I told him, and without even looking up from whatever he was doing back there behind the host’s stand, he pointed over his shoulder and just said, “You can sit over there.” Maybe he was busy, especially since the dining had all of two tables of diners. “Sit.” I obeyed. *woof!*

Zip Fusion is located in the Olympic Collection plaza on the northwest corner of Sawtelle and Olympic Boulevard. The restaurant took over the space that used to be occupied by now defunct Cafe Muse, which was on its deathbed, hanging on for fairly long, even changing ownership several times before Zip Fusion finally put it out of its misery. They also infiltrated neighboring Peppermint, a Japanese karaoke studio, and connected the two spaces. Zip now offers its own brand of karaoke.

The interior structure of Zip Fusion’s long, narrow dining room remains the same as Cafe Muse. There are a few tables in the front area, a few tables along the east wall, and long bar along the west wall. The kitchen is in the back, and though not completely open, I spy the cooks back there through the small pick-up window.

It’s dark inside, and the simple, uncategorizable decor doesn’t look like it has changed drastically from its former life as Cafe Muse. Tables, which are dangerously close together, are covered with black leather that has a very Coach white stitching. The walls are dark and plain, but toward the back, there’s a large, muted but colorful painting on the wall. Nothing interesting about the decor, which is normally just fine with me, but I was getting bored. I had been sitting at the table for more than ten minutes with not even a hello. Too bad it was just a baseball game was playing on the flat screen tv on the wall. Anyone? Tumbleweeds.

Finally, I stood up, walked back over to the host’s stand up front, and picked up a menu myself. The young lady behind the bar whom I shall call Susie had a very bored look as she poured drinks and took them to the two other tables in the restaurant. She passed by me several times without even looking in my direction. I’d be a little more forgiving if the restaurant were busy. But it wasn’t. there were two other tables and me. Jay walked by a few times as well, but he must have been busy with something very manager-ly. *roll eyes*

Again, I gave up waiting for service, so I flagged down Susie, but I felt really bad for interrupting whatever she was not doing. She looked annoyed, and didn’t actually make it all the way over to the table. She sort of stood in the walkway and just leaned in without saying a thing. It could have been a demure Asian quietude (please, no offense on the stereotype), or perhaps a shyness about her English. But with raised her eyebrows, I know she didn’t say it out loud, but there was nothing demure about the look that screamed, “God. What?” I asked for some hot tea. She repeated “hot tea” with no accent and quickly walked away.

When we were finally a complete table, we focused on the menu, and I forgot about the (lack of) service. There’s an enormous selection of sushi, but I’m always wary of ordering sushi if I can’t see a sushi bar. No reason really, other than, well, no reason. There’s the standard nigiri sushi, but it’s the variety of maki sushi that makes the list so huge. Some of the maki are familiar, like spicy tuna, california, and even the more creative though still familiar spider, philadelphia, rainbow, and caterpillar. Zip Fusion also has lots of variation on the California roll, rolls that are deep-fried, and even the Sunshine roll that has tomatoes. They’re all called Fusion Rolls on the menu. There it is: fusion.

The regular dinner menu has hot and cold appetizers, salads, full entrees, rice dishes, and tempura. Some dishes are fully one Asian cuisine like Kim-chi Tofu (Korean) or Tempura (Japanese), and others are fairly fusion, like salads that have all kinds of Asian ingredients and flavors. All over the place.

kim-chi tofu, too pretty

We started with the Kim-chi Tofu, which is a Korean cafe food. In Koreatown, cafes are not coffeehouses. Rather, they are bars/lounges that usually don’t even have a bar, but low tables with comfotable seating that invite long evenings fueled by orders of soju and Crown Royal by the bottle. Cafes serve Korean bistro foods that are similar in concept to and sometimes even imitate American bar foods – things that are quick to prepare and easy to munch on when the focus is far more on the libations and much less on the foods that are keeping us from getting too quickly to a buzz. One of these days, I’ll have to do a write-up on a proper Koreatown crawl, starting with a full dinner, and ee-cha, sahm-cha, and maybe even a sah-cha. But I need a few weeks to train my liver for that.

Zip Fusion’s Kim-chi Tofu is glistening slices of creamy tofu fanned across a black rectangular plate, sprinkled with black sesame seeds. A small pile of sauteed kimchee as also sprinkled with sesame seeds. In the dim light, the dish was beautifully presented, but it made me nervous. Kimchee do
oboo is bar food, and dressing it up is like putting lipstick on a pig. Or a Buffalo wing.

The kimchee was first. As beautifully as it was presented, the kimchee tasted…terrible. It was too sweet. Certainly as a cook, I know you add a hint of sweetness to spicy things to accentuate the heat, but Zip Fusion added so much sugar that it was no longer spicy. In fact, they had added so much sugar to the saute pan, the kimchee was sticky. Like a dessert kimchee compote. I didn’t like it at all.

At least the tofu on the plate is untouched – served as raw slices and eaten together with the kimchee. There was no way I was going to taint the tofu with that sickeningly sweet kimchee, so I tried to take a slice plain. Unsuccessful. Zip Fusion uses soft tofu with their kimchee dooboo instead of regular or even firm tofu. That’s a big no-no, since you can’t use chhopsticks to pick up soft tofu – it slips and breaks apart right there on the plate. We didn’t have spoons, so I had to do some crazy ninja maneuvering of my chopsticks to get a miniscule mass of tofu in my mouth to cleanse my palate of the putrid kimchee taste. Service aside, it wasn’t starting off so well for Zip Fusion.

is it squid…or condoms?
i won’t even go there

My fallback spicy food, kimchee, had left me disappointed. I needed spice, so we ordered the Spicy Calamari, which Zip Fusion demands, “Must try!” I had been commanded to sit when I first got there, so I guess I’d order the calamari, too. It came out in the same long rectangular dish, also sprinkled with black sesame seeds. Again, it made me nervous, because basically, spicy calamari is Korean oh-jing-uh bokkeum, a tasty tangle of squid, vegetables, and ever so sweetened super spicy ggoh-choo-jahng sauce. Zip Fusion’s looked like a bloody mess of sliced condoms. Even the baby squid heads looke like…well, you get the picture.

I ate one. Actually, I didn’t eat it. I tasted it, and forced myself to swallow, but I can’t say I “ate” anything, because it was nauseating. I had gotten over the condom conundrum but the wicked little things did nothing to redeem themselves with their actual taste. Sometimes rubbery, sometimes undercooked, completely inconsistent squid, not made better hidden in a sauce, but made worse with that same sickeningly saccharin sweet syrup on the kimchee. Despicable.

worst dressed, 2005

Next up was the Dressed Red. Strange name, but at least they didn’t call it Best Dressed, because this one wasn’t even pretty. I had hope. Perhaps the converse of “If it’s beautiful it tastes like doodoo” would be true for Zip. The uglier looking, the better tasting. Besides, how could they possible destroy a fresh tomato stuffed with spicy tuna? I’ll tell you how. It was a bad tomato. Either that, or they don’t now how to pick and prepare tomatoes. The thin tomato skin was dry and peeling off the tomato, which they should have completely removed, or at least not cooked it all the way to tough. We removed the tomato lid that protected the inside from the miserable cream sauce, that was, yes, too sweet. Does the cook not now the difference between a teaspoon of sugar and…a ladle!??!

The spicy tuna inside was almost laughable. It wasn’t spicy, and it wasn’t even identifiable as tuna. To be quite honest, because it was overcooked, it tasted like canned tuna. Or cat food. It might have been mixed with mayo, but my tastebuds didn’t have it in them to even try to figure it out. So far, Zip Fusion was zero for three.

Well, I guess I didn’t get it into my head that Zip’s interpretation of “spicy” is slightly off. We orderd the Zip Spicy Chicken Tenders, marinated in garlic, deep fried, and served with a spicy sauce. Or so they say. There was nary a hint of garlic nor spice, the batter was doughy and way too thick and chewy for the size of the chicken pieces, and the frying temperature of the oil must have been set too low, since the coating was greasy. I wanted to brush my teeth after tasting the sauce to save them from decay. It tasted like a Krispy Kreme version of Panda Express’s Orange Chicken. At least I’ll give it to them that the chicken was tender. And the fried leeks or whatever were crispy. They could have been toothpicks, but at least they weren’t doused with sugar syrup.

bland, doughy, sweet chicken

bacon and deep fried didn’t save it

I couldn’t take it anymore. Something, anything that was salty or spicy. And we ordered the bacon wrapped asparagus. Anything wrapped with bacon is going to taste good. I should watch what I say because I used to say that anything deep-fried will taste great and looked what happened to the chicken. So, anything deep fried or wrapped in bacon tastes good, unless it’s brushed with sugar syrup. Zip Fusion brushed the asparagus with that sauce. It was too much.

Unless we had just gotten really unlucky and somehow ordered every dish that just so happens to have the same sauce, the food all tasted the same. Some of it was bad, and some of it was ugly, all of it as way too sweet. Someone might say “you didn’t order the right things.” No, not-right things shouldn’t be on the menu in the first place. I don’t know if I can stick to my rule of giving everyone a second chance for Zip Fusion. In fact, I don’t think I have to since, I already gave them their first chance downtown.

We skipped dessert. I would have been absolutely livid if the desserts were salty.

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  • Anonymous

    You are brutal.

    But your pictures back you up.


  • Anonymous

    Oh My God. NO! I must be the whitest of the white girls because I LOVE Zip. (Downtown)I have never had a bad meal there. I love the kimchee and the salmon salad and the goyza are my all time favorite. Im so sad to hear you don’t like it. Oh well, I guess it’s just a matter of taste…


  • Clare Eats


    It was brutal, but you have to tell it like it is. good job

  • sarah j. gim

    LOL! rachael, i trust your taste, so perhaps i really did choose all the wrong things off the menu. but who knows, maybe it’s just west l.a. still trying to get into their groove…

    so anonymous and clare, perhaps you’ll have to try zip fusion, especially since i’m a horrible photographer, so my pictures are probably a little unfair – LOL!

  • sarah j. gim

    LOL! rachael, i trust your taste, so perhaps i really did choose all the wrong things off the menu. but who knows, maybe it’s just west l.a. still trying to get into their groove…

    so anonymous and clare, perhaps you’ll have to try zip fusion, especially since i’m a horrible photographer, so my pictures are probably a little unfair – LOL!

  • MEalCentric

    “I’ll have to do a write-up on a proper Koreatown crawl, starting with a full dinner, and ee-cha, sahm-cha, and maybe even a sah-cha.” –I’m on board!

  • David

    I had the calamari (which I normally love in any form), but this one nearly made me puke and I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth for hours after.

  • sarah

    mealcentric – you are ALWAYS on board – LOL! will have to start getting something together. i just want to go to noraebahng and wail out sweet child of mine while eating ramen.

    david – i actually didn’t love squid for a long time. i think i thought it was too high in cholesterol or something, but then i tried the baby squid steak at terried sake house and fell back in love. if it weren’t for that, then my experience with zip fusion would have turned me off of squid FOREVER!

  • Anonymous

    Sarah, your sad imitation of a housewife-magazine food-criticism is pathetic at best. If you’re half as unpleasant in person as you are in writing, I’m not surprised you didn’t get better service. I’ve been frequenting both Zip-Fusion places for quite a while now, and I think their Sushi is the best, LA has to offer- did you actually try any?

  • sarah

    why, thank you, t. at least it’s pathetic, and not…hm, something worse, like, boring.

    and no, didn’t try the sushi this time, which is why i didn’t say anything about it except describe what was offered on the menu. i only wrote about what i ate.


  • Anonymous

    WOW is right.
    Perhaps your commentary on the service is as “brutal” as the commentary on the dishes, especially in early opening days.

    As an early reviewer of the original Zip for the Downtown News, and as a guidebook writer, I was also not wowed by some dishes (all of which you included). However, I was WOWED by owner Jason Ha’s (your Jay)congeniality, generousity,knowledge of food. Also the extra friendly staff- ZIP means “home” in Korean, as you know. Jason has become so much of the community he was named a “mover and shaker” this year.. hard to believe he was not friendly.

    Also: sushi chefs are in the performance kitchen; why is that a problem?
    These days I am “wowed” the food of world class Lead Chef Sean An: world class: refined, artistic, sensual sushi and fusion dishes.
    The life-size Korean theatre masks he just hung and the new world Korean music with ancient instruments complete Kevin Kang’s woodsy, elegant decor with Stephanie Kordan’s abstract artwork. They are happy to explain everything to you. Was Zip finished when you visited?
    Everyone I know in the food world feels the same as American Institute of Food and Wine President, Dalia Miller who summed up Zip food as “sublime” at an AIWF mtg I attended.
    Why don’t you try more than 3 dishes?
    My favorites I eat once a week:
    The Albo-cata (sliced avocado wrapped seasoned, seared albacore tuna that looks like an apple); the downtown News Poll’s #1 ranked Seaweed Salad, a composed salad with bundles of 3 kinds of marinated & non-marinated seaweed; gobu; diakon; onion sprouts bordered by toasted seaweed and rice noodle strips, sesame seeds?
    The Whiskey-Back Soda riceless mosaic sushi?
    Succulent kiwi-marinated ribs with rice, red chili shreds, pine nuts?
    The most exquisite uni sashimi served in a lemon basket?
    Just writing this makes me hungry..

    The crowd I see there is mixed Asian and non-Asian and that always gives me the biggest clue.
    I hope your readers give the place a chance, and you too.
    Teddy Gorey

  • sarah j. gim

    hi teddy – thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment.

    i know that it isn’t always fair to “review” a restaurant in the first few weeks, or even months that it is open. having been involved with the opening of a restaurant, i know that even if you have a staff that’s been in the business for 30+ years, there will always be kinks that have to be worked out. but then again, this is not a review anyway, just a blog post about my personal experience. i leave professional reviews to you guys :) there is no absolute in matters of taste, professional or otherwise, anyway, is there? techniqes and execution can be objectice, but taste is not.

    (eek! did i just get myself into the beginning of a whole ‘nother discussion?!?!)

    the sushi preparation (about it being done out of sight of the diner) is just a personal preference – no real reason, just like many of us have no “real” reason for things – they are just preferences. there are people who don’t care at all about not seeing their sushi made in front of them. i just happen to be one who does.

    i am glad that you like zip fusion and that you have enjoyed your experiences there. it’s also great to read that other professional organizations think so highly of the food there. but, i would like to say that just because a professional rates the food as outstanding doesn’t mean that it necessarily tastes good to me on the night that i went. i am not discounting the aiwf at all, but i am just saying that little anonymous me on my personal blog thinks that it could have been better (for me), that’s all. :)

    i may give them another chance, as you hope, since, like i said, this was my first time to the west l.a. location.

    thanks again for your thoughful comments, teddy.

  • artiste kordan

    Hello Sarah,

    Well, after reading your comments about Zip Fusion, I am a bit… scrambled like eggs in a hot pan. Maybe you didn’t realize that your bitter words were like too much seasoning in an already salty dish? Reading your blog review, I must say you are entitled to your experiential opinion, however, it was bitter as in bitter kim-chi left in a styrofoam container for weeks in the back of the fridge, leaving me to say nothing but… blech. Why must you be so bitter, my dear? And, reading about you, I noticed we have so much in common, like flying phobias, taste in music, etc. , so I am compelled to appeal to you and your bitter tongue. Your words, although unprofessional and entirely your opinion, are a little, well, sour, without much else. Why all the bitterness?
    That aside, I also must defend my good friend, Jason Ha, the genuine, warm, and magnificent host and restauranteur of Zip Fusion Sushi. He is nothing but wonderful and attends to the restaurant’s guests with such sincerity, overflowing with hospitality. Then, the head chef, Sean An, is an absolutely gifted artist; a real hidden gem in the sea of sushi. His culinary talents are exceptional. It is a shame that you did not ask Sean to create something for you. I am truly sorry you did not enjoy your dinner there, but rather than grill it over your Wal-Mart hibachi of a blog, you should have given it more flavor by exploring the menu a bit more before you say anything. Just my own little opinion. Oh, and the “subdued” painting (LOL! I have never heard my paintings described as ‘subdued’!) in the dining area is mine, as well as the rest of the artwork at both the westside and downtown Zip Fusion. Fortunately it survived the grilling you gave Zip Fusion. *phew*

  • artiste kordan

    Miss Bitter Tongue, party of one, I must add:

    You might consider renaming your blog,
    ‘The Malicious Life’.
    I say this because not only do I truly love Zip Fusion Sushi, they are also close friends of mine. So to give you a little “taste” (of which you have little) upon your bitter tongue, I have to say something in defense of Zip. Again.
    Since I have been a vegetarian for oh, about twenty-odd years of my life, I never thought I would be converted. But, then, the magical & talented hands of chef Sean An changed my palate for good. I would eat poisonous “fugu” if the man made it. I would even eat it while flying in an *gulp* airplane. That is how much I admire his talents. I have had the pleasure of chef Sean making me special dishes to try, and it has definitely changed my veggie ways. For good. I would not fear poisonous fish made by chef Sean’s hands, but I might be very very afraid of YOUR cooking.

  • ***

    Funny, i just read this post. I love your blog, you’re on my speed-dial. I had nearly the identical experience when I went to Zip. I was actually really ashamed I’d taken a non-Korean friend there and had to drag her to K-town a few weeks later for a real introduction to Korean food.

    I also echo your sentiments about sushi being prepared at a bar visible to patrons. Something about it being raw…

  • sarah

    ***: thank you for the love! hopefully the ktown experience was good!

  • Anonymous

    What’s wrong with belly shirts?

  • Anonymous

    oh, i hated the original zip too. I mean, the atmosphere is cool and its a great place to hang out and drink beers al freca, but i hate the food. i remember that stale oil taste of the tempura and blech, nasty.

  • sarah

    anonymi: nothing wrong with belly shirts. i’m just jealous because i can’t wear them ;)

    *ew* bad fry due to stale oil or incorrect temperature is one of my biggest pet peeves! everyone should go learn from…mcdonald’s.


  • Alice Q. Foodie

    I’m checking out your blog after discovering it last night – and I just wanted to say good for you for telling it like it is! It’s obvious that a friend of someone affiliated with the restaurant got wind of your review here and spread the word to others to post comments and try to take you down a few notches. If the wonderful people who own this restaurant wanted to garner compliments, they would cook the food properly and offer decent service. Since they did not – they got what they deserved. I am enjoying your blog and plan to keep reading!

  • Alice Q. Foodie

    I’m checking out your blog after discovering it last night – and I just wanted to say good for you for telling it like it is! It’s obvious that a friend of someone affiliated with the restaurant got wind of your review here and spread the word to others to post comments and try to take you down a few notches. If the wonderful people who own this restaurant wanted to garner compliments, they would cook the food properly and offer decent service. Since they did not – they got what they deserved. I am enjoying your blog and plan to keep reading!

  • Anonymous

    You’re certainly NOT bitter, just telling it like it is. The comments above are either from people who don’t have sophisticated taste buds and/or are friends with the owners. I keep getting dragged to Zip by coworkers, and it’s just horrible. The service is inept and the food is borderline inedible. Sushi Mac has better sushi, btw…and THAT’S certainly saying something.
    “the magical & talented hands of chef Sean An”. Pfft! Certainly NOT!

  • Anonymous

    hello im just wonddeering but is peppermint a nightclub??

  • sarah

    anonymous peppermint inquirer: as far as i know, peppermint is just a karaoke lounge (with the private rooms, not one big bar).

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