Rozu Brings a Unique Twist on Traditional Japanese Cuisine to Rockville Centre

Rozu Chef Lee Hernandez (Photo by The Marketry)

Rozu Brings a Unique Twist on Traditional Japanese Cuisine to Rockville Centre

Lee Hernandez, the seasoned chef/partner at the recently opened sushi/omakase spot Rozu in Rockville Centre, took an unusual route into the restaurant industry, almost as if by accident. 

At first, Hernandez thought he would be working in either medicine or law. But there were signs early on. 

“I always loved cooking. My mom had small restaurants [when I was] growing up,” he recalls, adding that he used to cook for the family at barbecues and other events but had never thought of cooking as a career. And then, a strange twist of fate intervened.

He explains that he meant to take an introductory English course in college, but his handwriting was bad. The letter “E” was mistaken for a “C” and he ended up in a culinary arts class. “It was a mistake but I ended up loving it,” recalls the 31-year-old chef, who moved to Los Angeles, California from Honduras at age 10. 

Hernandez says that after getting a degree in culinary arts from Los Angeles Mission College, he moved to Miami, Florida, where he learned the art of making sushi at Japanese restaurant, Sushi Maki. 

“I’ve always had a love for Japanese culture, I thought it was very cool,” he says, adding that before he was taught how to make sushi in Miami, the extent of his sushi training at first was limited to a class in college.  

Hernandez learned the “nuts and bolts” of sushi prep at the Miami venue. Following his time there, he says, he got very ambitious. 

“I realized sushi was very cool and I wanted to go further.” He then, at age 19, went to Zuma in Miami and recalls working 16-18 hours per day for a year. 

“It was a very intense schedule. Sometimes I’d work 28 days straight because I wanted to absorb everything about sushi prep and knowledge.” 

He says that some of the corporate chefs at Zuma recognized his dedication and decided to take him to New York for the venue’s New York City debut.

Hernandez notes that once he knew he wanted to be a chef, he really wanted to move to New York because the city “is the culinary center of the country and also the world.”

After he worked at Zuma New York City for about a year, he did several stints at trendy city venues including L’Adresse American Bistro, The Clocktower, Rhubarb Hospitality Collection and The Skylark before connecting with restaurateur Max Feinberg and Rozu in December of last year. 

The restaurant opened in Rockville Centre in March. 

“We are thrilled to bring Rozu to Rockville Centre, to join the active restaurant scene here and introduce omakase to the South Shore of Long Island,” says Feinberg, adding that Chef Hernandez’s omakase “is quickly becoming a must-try as it highlights our commitment to serving fresh fish flown in internationally daily.

For the uninitiated, the term “omakase” means allowing the chef to decide on the sushi selections as opposed to ordering a la carte. The chef normally presents a series of plates, starting with the lightest fare and proceeding to the heaviest dishes. Rozu’s omakase dinner includes 16 courses prepared in front of diners at an L-shaped sushi bar. 

Rozu’s menu includes high-quality fish such as tableside temaki (hand roll) service; charred sesame edamame with yuzu kosho dressing and nori furikake; crispy rice with AAA tuna; and Japanese A5 New York strip wagyu steak. 

Specialty rolls such as toro, uni and caviar are available as sushi and sashimi or a la carte and served on platters. 

Real Japanese desserts include yuzu cheesecake, green tea cake, and hazelnut mocha tiramisu. 

A special weekend Japanese brunch offers most of the dinner menu items in addition to an exclusive wagyu burger with Calabrian aioli, pickles, lettuce, Swiss cheese, and bacon; donburi (rice bowls); Japanese avocado toast with wasabi, yuzu, herbs and a poached egg; soufflé pancake with hojicha butter, maple syrup and berries; and taiyaki with Nutella and powdered sugar and Japanese French toast. 

Bar selections include high-end sake and Japanese whiskey as well as specialty cocktails. 

Hernandez says that what distinguishes Rozu from most Japanese spots in the area is the venue’s contemporary vibe that is unique and trendy, not like the Japanese restaurant next door. “We want to bring the Japanese restaurant experience of New York City to Rockville Centre.”

Other Rozu features include a dining room with cherry blossom trees, pop culture and funky decor, street art, graffiti, and wall murals.  

An outdoor dining patio includes picnic tables and communal seating. 

In addition, a soon-to-open, authentic Japanese speakeasy, Cache, is adjacent to Rozu and hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling mirrored door. 

The speakeasy promises to “transport patrons” to an abandoned Tokyo alleyway while serving high-end cocktails curated by noted beverage director Jon Howard.  

Asked about the culinary arts overall, Hernandez says it’s a great industry to work in if you have one key ingredient. 

“You have to have a passion for food,” he says, explaining that passion is necessary because it’s way too demanding if you’re not driven. 

“You need to be fully committed because there’s lots of stress and sometimes the money isn’t all that great,” he says, noting that he now has more than a decade of experience.  

He adds, “It’s a tough industry but I love what I do, and I love when people enjoy what I cook. There’s no better reward.”

Rozu is located at 21 S. Park Ave., Rockville Centre. It can be reached at 516-208-3110 or visit rozurvc.com.