Monday 20 May, 2013

Do ya, Katsuya?


Although I spend the lion's share of my dining out in new or off-the-beaten-path restaurants, occasionally I succumb to the lure of a popular, established place. And that's a good thing, academically: it's important to keep a perspective on where people like to dine, what remains popular, and what people's baseline expectations are.

So I was not mad at the idea of dining at Katsuya. I'd dined at other locations, but had never been to the Hollywood HQ, somewhat more famous for its Phillippe Starck design than for the chef of the title. Though Los Angeles is certainly a Town Turned Foodie in large portion, Katsuya is a hold out of the era when WHO was dining at a restaurant was more important than WHAT was being dined upon. Coincidently, I'd just come there from another spot on the Sunset Strip, Rock N Reilly's, one of the most mediocre excuses for a fake Irish pub I'd ever seen (They offered like six beers, how ridiculous is that in 2013? Proof that West Hollywood would rather make up a fake story about being a distillery than actually build a distillery) that was nonetheless CRAMMED with hot wannabes. The only reason I could figure is that it was marginally less annoying/rapey than everything else nearby. Katsuya was similarly--but to a lesser extent!--full of people who wanted to think they were "The Beautiful" (none were hotter than my table, though)... and yet seemed to have a high quotient of non-local accents ("tourist" and "foreigner" are such loaded words, don't you think?).*

Anyway, I'm not saying that anything at Katsuya was awful, or made me sick. Not at all. But even at most middling places I can find one dish to single out that is inspired or uncommon or delectable. Not so much here. As you can see from the pics, basically they have some worthwhile recipes that are just duplicated with total indifference:

• From the moment I ordered a lychee martini and the bartender asked if I wanted Ketel One or Grey Goose (nice subtle upcharging, bud), I knew the cut of the jib. Neither is particularly complimentary to the round, nutty sweetness of lychee, in my opinion, but I wasn't going to be the snob who looked over their vodka selection, so I went with the mysteriously named well vodka. The $14 cocktail was just a big innocuous sugarbomb anyway.

• Jalapeno yellowtail: came out so fast it must have been pre-cut if not pre-plated. virtually flavorless.

• Albacore with crispy onions: so smothered with near-burnt onions (I get the idea, but you don't need four ounces of onions!) that basically you could've put anything under them: turkey roll; tofu; yesterday's chalupa

• "Kobe" strip: a decent piece of meat, thickly charred, but nothing that deserves the name Kobe (or even American Wagyu, which at $25 was obviously what it was, at best).

• Special Basz (or something like that): fried sea bass filets, smothered in two or three sauces. Again, I didn't hate it, but you could put Mrs. Paul's under all that stuff. Note the care and artistic attention put into the plating.

• Special Katsuya Roll: A remarkable feat combining tuna, lobster, salmon, scallop and shrimp, I believe, all into one roll in which you can taste nothing but the cucumber wrapping. Who knew cucumber could be such a dominant flavor?

Anyone looking for creative, interesting, quality sushi in Los Angeles has an incredible number of choices, from the stalwarts in Studio City, to Nozawa, Matsuhisa and the like in Beverly Hills, to the legit spots in Little Tokyo and the various 'hidden' places all over the county. My God, this is the city that made sushi 'safe' for the Western world. That one of my party said Katsuya was her favorite place for sushi made me sad. Not baby-seal-clubbing sad, but closer to how I feel when someone tells me In-N-Out is their favorite burger:

Oh, I'll say, favorite fast food burger? I can see that, sure.

No, favorite burger OF ALL TIME.

I'm not angry at the person for feeling that way, nor dismissive or pitying. But sad that they have stopped looking for anything better. To make a baseball analogy, it's like saying a good solid power-hitter, reliable for a single or double most times at bat, deserves a spot in the hall of fame. Really?

By the way, the most interesting aspect of Starck's design is the entry hall/pre-seating cattle call/lounge, which is filled with 16-20 squared lucite pillars just big enough to rest a cocktail or two, with the laser-etched image of a sushi knife inside. That was cool. The rest was creepy/rote (see top image).

By the way, everything was 2-3 as expensive as it would have been somewhere else of equal quality, except perhaps the "Kobe," which just wasn't Kobe, and probably not even American Wagyu.

By the way, they proudly serve bluefin tuna. About the only thing sustainable here, actually, is the rent. They're definitely sustaining that.

Oh, and.... By the way: when you are eating REALLY AWESOME food, everyone is beautiful. Even if you're on the street, chomping tacos made by a toothless, hunched immigrant. Try it sometime. It's true.


*Tip to non-locals: if you are surrounded by other non-locals, you are in the wrong place (boy those moronic Australians next to us needed some perspective. And I love Australians.). That's a general rule you can take with yourself anywhere, anytime--Bourdain style.