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Holy Katsuya

by Maya Krasher (writer), Los Angeles, March 17, 2007

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Phillipe Starck’s artistic vision collides with the culinary mastery of Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi. Prepare yourself for the rebirth of upscale American dining.

SBE Restaurant Group has invented a concept that is worthy of its own religious following—with patrons like Dustin, Angelina and Reese already holding court.

From the arresting design, delectable cuisine and smart technologies to the ultra-hip vibe and extraordinary service, Katsuya sets the standard for a new wave in restaurateuring.

Located where new and old money meet, in LA’s popular Brentwood district, Katsuya restaurant is the newest incarnation of Chef Katsuya Uechi’s Studio City and Encino sushi spots by the same name—yet this one has been taken to extremes with the visionary work of internationally acclaimed designer Phillipe Starck. The combination of the two talents is heaven-sent.

This Katsuya represents the first in a series of nine Starck-designed restaurants opening in North America, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. SBE Entertainment Group has also exclusively tapped the designer for the creation of five hotel properties under a new luxury hospitality brand, slated to launch in early 2008.

We heard the buzz and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. At 8:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night, the place was packed and lively.

The all-blonde wood brightly lit interior flatters an open layout, visible from the street through its glass frontage. The clean lines, multiple-level dining room, nooked booths and angular dimensions create the illusion of a sushi Bento box—Starck’s intentional ode. The timeless simplicity of the restaurant’s Japanese design is embodied by the “Katsuya” kanji on black Noren curtains and granite boulders topped with flames on the outdoor teak terrace.

Anchored in the center of the main dining room is the Starck-baptized “temple” to the art of Japanese cuisine, the Robata Bar, an entertaining grilling station where chefs turn-out savory King Crab legs with garlic butter and soy sauce, thin beef rolled asparagus and succulent enoki, shitake mushroom and clam simmered in foil. The sacred Sushi Bar is also nearby and our server explained that the third kitchen is in the back for preparation of main courses and hot dishes.

We sat in the sexier contraposing Dragon Room with its gleaming charcoal wood walls and ceiling, a buzzing bar, ornate mirrors and groups of skinny fashionistas downing cocktails while lounging in white cozy sofas and armchairs, gossiping around shiny white tables. Reese Witherspoon dined nearby, as well as Allie Jablon with a dark and handsome date. She genuinely admired the Stitch Jeans of another female patron who had mistaken her for someone she knew. Allie quipped, “Do you watch ‘The Apprentice’? It happens all the time. People always think they know me.”

Most alluring touches are the overtly sensual and backlit oversized photographs of a Japanese woman’s body parts. Luscious red lips and gorgeous black eyes are sentinel to the illuminated front room, while images of tear-smeared mascara-dripping eyes and a dragon tattoo grace the Dragon Room, the restaurant’s darker side—and her soul’s too. The Maitre d’ explained how Starck hand-selected the model for a Parisian photo shoot and despite all her perfection, the tattoo of a twisted dragon represents what lies lurking beneath the surface. If that heightens your curiosity, take a trip to the restroom where you can finally see her whole face intermittently flashing in the mirrors.

Overwhelmed by the mouth-watering six-page menu and three kitchens, our crackerjack server Trisha shepherded us through an incredulous selection of dishes—each of which has its very own distinctive Japanese-scouted porcelain plate. It’s all about presentation and efficiency here. Servers are equipped with handheld PCs that wirelessly transmit orders to the kitchen before they have even left the table. Even the rhythmic ambiental music and glowing lighting is systemically timed, based on the flow of clientele throughout the night.

One approach here is to forego the main course and go “tapas style.” But if you are still stumped, let the Chef take out the guesswork by ordering Katusya’s seven-course Omakase option at $80 per person. Either way, you will probably spend about $100 per head.

The pure organic juice Specialty Cocktails from mixologist Ryan Magarian are a pleasant kick-off for an evening of sensory bliss. With names like Honey Basil Sling, Watermelon Cucumber Mojito, Banana Amnesia or Burning Mandarin, you will taste why. The extensive menu of premier sakes and international wines also leaves plenty of room for exploration. The House Sake Katsu (Junmai Sasaichi) is made with crisp water from a pure Fuji mountain stream, and offers a well-balanced, medium-dry and safe bet across the board. There is also the lightly citrus-infused Poochi Poochi Sparkling Sake, which is slightly more fun to say than to drink.

Signature Katsuya classics include spicy albacore sashimi with crispy onion and the crispy rice with spicy tuna, which the General Manager aptly described as “addictive” and like “sushi candy.” The crispy burnt edges of the sumptuous buttery and chewy rice actually do border on sweet.

The succulent and rich baked crab roll is one of the most popular handrolls, with good reason. For albacore and tuna lovers, save room for the seared albacore with garlic soy lemon butter and truffles or the melt-in-your-mouth tuna sashimi with a homemade dijon mustard sauce that has just the right amount of tang and spice.

The arrangement of each creation is astounding. The baked miso marinated black cod in hoba leaf has the appearance of art, except it is on a white platter instead of canvas. It was almost more impressive to look at, but in the end, the flavor did not disappoint.

The tour de force here is the Kobe beef foie gras, which I found myself craving again and again for days after our dinner. It is definitively divine and not for the faint of heart. Three filets of grilled Kobe beef tenderloin come topped with whole pan-seared duck livers and a decadent plum wine soy sauce.

If you are in the mood for a sugary finish, go for Pastry Chef Masami Komiyma’s trio crème brulee with vanilla, cappuccino and hazelnut. Or, at the very least, finish with a cup of the Flower-Jewel Tea, a hand-picked white tea that is sewn that morning with invisible dissolving thread. It literally blossoms in your steaming clear glass teapot and is a pleasure to behold.

Katsuya goes Hollywood on Thursday and Friday nights, after dinner. Apart from that, the restaurant is sans attitude—largely populated by upbeat, loyal and casual locals with a smattering of high-powered deal brokers.

SBE Restaurant Group is raising the bar for the American dining experience with its innovative epicurean retreats, and fortunate for us, they picked LA for the first locations. The next Katsuya will be appearing at Hollywood and Vine. Trisha tells us that they will soon be able to run credit cards and print receipts on their handhelds at the table, giving new meaning to the words “dine and dash.” From a versed server that has worked at hotspots like Koi (and is “not an actress”), we believe her when she says, “This is the wave of the future.” Amen sister.

Tip: If you can’t wait two or three days for a reservation, walk-ins can vie for seats at the Sushi or Robata Bar. For large parties, book at least 2 weeks in advance, and party planners, take note, Katsuya is available for private events.

Hours: Open every day for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with a “small bites” menu from 2:30 – 5:30 p.m., and for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 to 11:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 – 12:00 a.m.

11777 San Vicente Boulevard (at Barrington Avenue)
Brentwood, CA 90025
(310) 207-8744
www.sbeent.com/katsuya

An edited version of this article ran in the December 2006 issue of Space Magazine (www.inspacemag.com)



About the Writer

Maya Krasher is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on Holy Katsuya

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By Steven Lane on March 17, 2007 at 10:21 pm
Great review!!! You should be hearing from V about the Kobe beef.
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By Maya Krasher on March 19, 2007 at 07:04 pm
In response to the above comment, I had never been to this restaurant before and it was assigned to me as a food review.
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By JW Norton on March 20, 2007 at 11:18 am
Great article! Can't wait to experience it for myself. By the way, I was going to rate this article as excellent but I hit a wrong button and it was rated it as "bad". So sorry!
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By V on April 28, 2007 at 08:10 pm
Great review & I'm crazy hungry now! Wagyu (which translates to 'Japanese Cow'), referred to in the US as Kobe-style Beef is genetically predisposed to marbelling - producing a high content of unsaturated fats. As you know, this leads it be so moist, succulent and tender and oh my God I could eat it all day. And guilty of consumption of the ol' Foie Gras myself, I can't really get on any restaurant's back about it. But just so more people are informed, check out my article at the link below: http://losangeles.broowaha.com/article.php?id=502 I will have to try this restaurant, simply for your review. I otherwise like to steer clear of restaurants opening in multiple across cities and countries. I tend to find that some shitty looking hole in a wall, in a neighborhood inhabited by those of the ethnicity of the food on offer, tends to out do most places! The cocktails sound reminiscent of my favorite neighborhood restaurant back home in Sydney (I could hear the plates clink from my lounge room window) ... high grade sakes mixed with champagne, lychees, lemongrass, corriander and pear for instance. It's basically modern Australian cuisine - South East Asian hawker style food gone luxury. If you find yourself in Sydney one day, check it out: http://www.jimmyliks.com/restaurant.html Thanks for the article. I'm off to forage for food now.
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