The Sparkling Shochu Granita: a combination of Kalamonsi and coriander infused Kakushigura shochu, is just a pre-dinner cocktail to warm up the blood before tasting several new menu items at Katsuya Hollywood. You can't forget the Katsuya signatures: crispy rice, baked crab hand roll and rock shrimp tempura, but you can give some new creations a taste thanks to Chef David Lespron.
When I was served the Truffle & Chive Chawanmushi I had to stare at it, take it in. It was so delicate. The layers of truffle, egg and light soy sat wisely in three egg shell molds. It was one of those dining moments where something arrives to the table that isso beautiful, you don't know what to do with it. You suspect the inside will taste like magic, but it looks like it will turn to glitter dust the second you take a bite. My little spoon dipped to the bottom of the faux-shell and twisted up to capture every layer. I loved the creamy texture complemented by the rich, savory flavors. My spoon dipping was on repeat until only air was left. Sigh.
Chef Lespron's interpretation of Japanese Street Food arrived next. I wish I could say that I've tasted Robata Chicken Tsukune, Gyoza and Confit Egg Yolk fresh from the streets of Tokyo, but I haven't, so I don't have much experience in comparing how authentic these interpretations are. All I can share is how they tasted to me. You can see below, the simplicity of this threesome, but each so individual in flavor. I rotated bites over and over - a carousel of sensations. The tender and moist chicken, the warm, creamy salty egg, the crisp shell of dumpling skin. This plate is the prime example of how simple foods, when paid close attention too, can taste extraordinary.
The anticipation of tasting the Octopus Carpaccio was nearly overwhelming. It sounded so provocative. Served on a stark white plate, the purple-red octopus skin seemed to float between the bright yellow drizzle and green herbs of the lemon herb relish. After one bite I knew that this dish was tested and tested until it was just right. The relish sealed the deal. Lemon must be served with octopus or squid in some capacity. Not an argument. It's in the food bible. Lemon is what makes the flesh sing, it awakens something in the cells. I recently ate somewhere in Pasadena where lemon was not served with the calamari and I immediately knew that whoever was in the kitchen, had no idea what they were doing. Thankfully this kitchen nailed it -- both in flavor and the stunning presentation.
If there is anything that is a must order from this new menu, it's the A4 Wagyu "Fried Rice". The velvety mouthfeel of deliciousness will joyfully haunt you for days. I just want to call it "butter-meat and rice". It was as if the meat was scooped from a vat of freshly churned butter and browned on all sides. That is how melty, salty, and smooth the chunks of wagyu are. It's truly divine. The rice adds another texture and even though it can't escape the juice of the butter-meat that coats it, it's fabulous. My mind traveled to waking up the next morning with the leftovers and dropping a fried egg on top. Naughty me.
Dessert confused me...at first. Passion fruit with soy milk, white chocolate and lychee-shiso sorbet. When I read it on the menu, I tried to form a comparison in my head, but couldn't. I had an idea of what each individual flavor would deliver, but how would they all work together? Was there enough room for all of these ingredients? I had to let my thoughts go and wait. Wow, I had never tasted anything like it. Each bite was an observation. My tongue waved from side to side wanting to study the moment when each specific ingredient was recognized. The fruit and sorbet on their own would have been too tart, the milk and chocolate on their own would have been too sweet. Together they were a brilliant match. The white calmed the bright, creating a taste that was sweet but controlled.
If you enjoyed this menu review, I invite you to continue reading for an exclusive Q & A with Chef David Lespron.
Q & A
FP: What drew you to a career in the culinary world?
DL: In elementary school our class won a contest for reading the most books in our grade. We won a field trip to Domino’s Pizza. As a kid seeing how pizza is made, I thought it was like magic. I think that had something to do with it.
FP: What kind of food did you grow up eating? Does that food influence your cooking style today?
DL: Mexican barrio snacks, Texas BBQ & Mega Mart meals by Mom. It hasn’t influenced my cooking yet, but I have a feeling it will catch up to me eventually.
FP: What inspires you more, an idea of a full meal or a single ingredient that you can build from?
DL: That depends on the season. In the colder months I think of a feeling, like comfort, so I’m thinking full meal and what that looks like. In the warmer months, I’ll obsess over a single ingredient and build around it for fun.
FP: What was the creative process for this new menu?
DL: Lots of sitting and talking about dishes and ideas. Lots of testing. Lots of tasting. Lots of drinking. Notes for days. Then getting up the next day and doing it over and over until it was finished
FP: What is the best compliment someone could give your cooking?
DL: Well, when I taste something that I really like, I start laughing. Kind of like a “Why the f**k is that so good?” kind of chuckle. I guess that would be the best compliment someone can give to my cooking.
FP: If you could cook with any chef in the world for a dinner service who would it be and why?
DL: That’s rough. Either Yoshihiro Murata of Kikunoi in Kyoto because of the simplicity and tradition or Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen; they have this kind of punk-rock, in-your-face kind of style that I appreciate.
FP: What are the benefits of being a chef in LA?
DL: The multicultural culinary landscape in LA is mind boggling. Especially on the low end. Just so much good food to eat and be inspired by.
FP: How would you describe your presence in the kitchen?
DL: I like to build a positive culture in the kitchen. I like a to create an environment that’s fair and a fun place to work. Generally, I only want people in my kitchen who are dedicated to the craft. My presence is a believe or leave kind of attitude.
FP: What is your favorite meal to order when you dine out?
DL: I usually go with the Chef’s recommendations.
FP: What is your favorite flavor to cook with?
DL: Umami. If that counts. Which it should.
FP: Did you go to culinary school or straight to the kitchen?
DL: Straight into the kitchen out of culinary arts in high school, then got a partial scholarship to the Art Institute of LA which I dropped out of.
FP: Use one word to describe your cooking style.
FP: Lastly, where is your favorite burger in LA?
DL: Irv’s Burgers in West Hollywood has a special place in my heart. The team there rules!
For more reservations and more information,
please visit the Katsuya Hollywood Website.