Kato on the Westside

Since I was in Santa Monica for work, I ended up meeting up with siblings,Smooth Obturator, Triple T, Overworked and Sdho, for dinner.  Sdho had heard good things so she made a reservation for all of us at Kato.  It’s an Asian restaurant with a concept pulling together Californian, Japanese and Taiwanese flavors.  Without a doubt, this sounded like music to Triple T’s ears, but in actuality, the food seemed to lean more Japanese to most of our taste buds.  They serve a 5 course tasting menu for the seemingly reasonable price of $49 with the option of adding some a la carte items in case you’re still in hungry, or in our case, just curious for more.  This was hands down one of the better restaurants I’ve been to in Los Angeles.

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Tapioca Squid Ink Bun

These tapioca buns were blackened with squid ink but in of itself did not taste like much, making it the perfect canvas for the flavorful combination of ikura and uni topped on each one.  This particular use of squid ink with their breads reminds me a lot of the Japanese who have been known to serve squid ink buns at McD’s and Burger King.

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Blue Fin Tuna with Eggplant and Herbs

The blue fin tuna was prepared as a tartare with eggplant and a fish sauce viniagrette.  The herbs ended up being quite appropriate to balance out the fish sauce and I really enjoyed the crunch of the crispy rice bits.

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Smoked Hamachi with Cucumber and Scallions

The hamachi was smoked and plated with some delicately pickled cucumbers and a charred scallion sauce.  The whole dish had such a distinct yet delicious smokiness that belies a profound flavor profile. This was definitely the most interesting preparation of hamachi that I’ve ever tasted.

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Smoked Ocean Trout with Grilled Cabbage

Ocean trout tastes very similar to salmon, but I have to say this was a perfectly prepared piece of fish.  It was sous vide and cold smoked resulting in a soft, almost sashimi like texture with a subtle smoky flavor.  The grilled cabbage complemented the ocean trout nicely.  The sauce was made from preserved lemons, black vinegar and fermented chilis, although it was a little salty, it was completely forgivable given how nicely prepared the fish was.

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Short Rib with Pear and Chili

It was about time for the meat course to arrive and although this was very well prepared, it couldn’t really compare with the amazing parade of fish that preceded it. The piece of short rib was tender without being too fatty.  The chili paste was essentially gojuchang and added a little bit of a kick.

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Seafood Porridge with Dungeness Crab and Dried Scallop

This was a rich and flavorful take on Chinese jook made with Dungeness crab, dried scallop, uni and kombu powder.  It was a delicious and hearty end to the savory part of the tasting menu.  I really liked this dish especially the nice chunks of fresh crab and dollop of uni.

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Grilled Skirt Steak

The Australian Wagyu skirt steak was 1 of the 2 additional dishes we ordered as supplements. It was fatty and very well-cooked, but admittedly I was pretty full by this point so I don’t think I fully appreciated it.

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Fried Chicken Sandwich

Although I was pretty stuffed, I prioritized whatever room I had left in my stomach for the Fried Chicken Sandwich.  It was a big, juicy chicken karaage topped with sichuan relish, herb slaw and a honey chili mayo.  It was quite tasty and I think it was better than the Wagyu steak.

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Buttermilk Pudding with Rose Ice

This did not sound very appetizing from the description and looked rather simple, but it was a surprisingly perfect combination of sweetness with a touch of tanginess finished with a floral after taste from the rose ice.  This was probably the least Asian tasting course of the meal, but the simplicity of was characteristically Asian in my opinion.

Overall, this place was surprisingly delicious.  I’m not sure anyone would have expected such creativity and culinary skill especially when on the surface the restaurant looks so non-descript and unmemorable.  Not only is the restaurant pretty stark and simple in decor, but it is tucked away in the corner of a random strip mall with absolutely no signage.  It almost feels like a pop up or a restaurant on a very lean budget.  It’s probably the most interesting restaurant I’ve been to in Los Angeles in a long time, if not, ever.  The portions may seem small and truthfully, I wanted a little bit more of many of the dishes because they tasted so darn good.  However, at $49 I found myself pretty happily satisfied at a very reasonable price, but even if you hungry for more, it still isn’t going to break the bank.  I would highly recommend this restaurant if you’re looking for something Asian and special.

Kato
11925 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

PAFO Ratings for Kato:
Price $$½
Ambiance 2½ stars
Food 4½ stars
Overall rating 4½ stars

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