I typically do a fair amount of research into any new restaurant I am checking out. However, it’s nice to be able to put my faith into another person’s hands. Ski Bum, a long time Angeleno, is quite attune to the LA dining scene. She recommended a relatively new spot on the Westside bordering Santa Monica. Heading into it, all I knew about the place was the Yelp description “Taiwanese, Japanese, Seafood.” I was puzzled and intrigued. The location in a janky strip mall, flanked by a pupuseria and a dodgey looking Japanese sushi roll/teriyaki, set my expectations low. The whitewashed walls, cool fluorescent lighting, uncomfortable stools, and minimalistic decor certainly did not match up with what was in store.
Tapioca Squid Ink Bun ikura, uni
The format at Kato is a 5 course omakase for $49. They started off us with a little amuse bouche from the chef. The bun itself was a tad chewier than your normal bread bite, which I enjoyed. The stark contrast of the squid ink against the creamy orange unit was striking. The salinity of the ikura was another contrast against the sweetness of the uni. A good start for sure.
Yellowfin Tuna crispy rice, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette
I loved contrast of flavors and textures. The crunchy puffed rice against the fresh meaty tuna. The bright herbaceous greens against the fishy vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was fairly salty, which I didn’t mind, but I could see some people being off put by the funk.
Smoked Hamachi pickled cucumbers, charred scallion sauce
The next dish was like nothing I have ever had. That scallion sauce was so intriguing with a depth of flavor I cannot even begin to describe. The hamachi provided a buttery, yet blank enough slate to build flavors upon. The crunch of the pickled cucumbers was a perfect complement to the whole dish. Seriously, this is the best thing I’ve eaten in 2017. YUMS!!!
Smoked Ocean Trout grilled cabbage, preserved lemon and black vinegar sauce
I wasn’t sure how the chef was going to top the last 2 dishes, but he kept churning out some amazing things. The ocean trout was perfectly sous vide. It was cooked and warm, but definitely a touch raw through the center of it. The sauce was another indescribable achievement. It was probably a touch too salty, but I let it slide. One of the best parts of that dish was the grilled cabbage. It was charred to perfection and really elevated the dish. Seriously, this guy is a genius!
Short Rib braised in pear jus and beef fat, turnip, chili paste
Beef seems to always be the least exciting dish in a tasting menu. This was probably the most simple of all the dishes, but it was well executed. The meat was perfectly braised, but not too fatty. I loved the sweetness of the radishes and the bit of kick from the gochuchang. Really wonderful.
Seafood Porridge dungeness crab, dried scallop, kombu powder, uni
First off, props to the service and staff at Kato. I dug into my porridge before I took a picture, a mistake I commit more frequently than I should considering food photography is almost second nature to me. I asked if I could snap a picture of another patron’s porridge before being served. At first, I was told the timing wouldn’t work out, but then I dropped the “I’m a food blogger” bomb and BOOM! A second porridge appeared before my eyes that was plated just for me. I hoped someone in the kitchen staff got to enjoy that bad boy. The porridge itself was warm and comforting. It was the best way to end the Asian influenced tasting menu. Most notably, it was PACKED with large chunks of fresh crab. Everyone was thoroughly impressed. The seafood flavor could not be missed. To round everything out was a delicious and creamy piece of uni. So YUMS!!!!
Australian Wagyu Skirt Steak watercress, hollaindaise
At the beginning of the meal, I didn’t think 5 courses of fancy looking food was really going to fill me up. I think they know this, and offer a few supplements. I was actually pretty sated by the meal and only went for the supplements just to try them out. The wagyu had a hint of smokey char, but was not as tender as we expected for wagyu. We were pretty surprised at how well it went with the hollindaise sauce, which didn’t seem overly rich and rather provided a good creamy acidity to the dish.
Fried Chicken Sandwich honey chili mayo, sichuan relish, herb slaw
The fried chicken was delicious. I think the chef was channeling inspiration from karaage, so the batter was fairly light and crispy from the use potato starch (by my guess). Their mayo provided some cream, heat, and sweetness. The relish had that distinct numbing sensation on my tongue from the Sichuan peppercorns. Overall, a good fried chicken sandwich, but my Son of a Gun’s version is still my all time favorite.
Buttermilk Pudding rose ice
So the $49 tasting menu actually includes the amuse and a dessert, so in reality this meal is a total bargain! The dessert was supremely simply but totally nailed it. The pudding was just sweet enough, but finished with a sour tang from the buttermilk. It was silky smooth to boot. The rose ice had a subtle floral scent. For whatever reason, mine was scathingly sour. I kept complaining about it but nobody agreed. Then I tasted someone else’s ice and theirs was a just a tad tart. Despite that slip up, I appreciated the perfectly executed simplicity.
Kato was surprisingly a very strong meal. My 4 other dining companions, Smooth Obturator, Triple T, Triple F, and Ski Bum were unanimous agreement. Kato not only delivered food that was delicious, but it was food that was so unique. I can’t say I’ve had anything like the hamachi, trout, and porridge dishes. Contrary to the location and decor, the service and presentation strives for that upper echelon of finer dining. Each of our dishes were always individually served at the same time. They would do well for themselves to obtain a liquor license. Some nice white wine or even sake would have gone wonderfully with many of the courses. However, I can see that the chef is trying to keep the focus on the food and nothing else, which I can appreciate and commend. There is no debate here. Kato is a true gem. Factoring in the price tag, Kato should move to the top of your to try list.
10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome
8 – Very good
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here