Category Archives: Japanese restaurants

Restaurant Review: Katsuya Hollywood

My best friend M and I decided to hit the new Katsuya Hollywood this past Saturday for a little girls’ night sushi. Wait, not little girls night but a little night of sushi for us girls. Ok, glad I cleared that up. Although I’m usually wary of flashy, over-hyped restaurants, I know that Katsuya has grown into an empire based on the popularity of his Studio City restaurant which J and I used to frequent years ago. We’d live for the famous baked crab roll wrapped on soy paper and would save up just to go. Of course, it’s been a long time since those days and a visit to that original location a year ago should have given me a hint that things were on the decline: the waitress kept practically barking at us about what we wanted to order, people waiting for a seat were hovering so closely I could feel their body heat and the “crispy” rice cakes were hot and soggy. But hey- that is the Studio City location, not the big, huge, multimillion dollar Hollywood one! Despite that last awful visit to the other location, I decided to try the new one anyway.

Well, big mistake. I know, I know- it isn’t right to write too many negative comments after only one visit to a restaurant and I’m sure I’ll get reamed by some readers, but here goes. The place has been so hyped and the Katsuya name is so well known that I expected more than what I got for my money.

The restaurant is absolutely gorgeous- all shiny glass, muted candlelight, a gigantic centerpiece of sake tubs in the middle of the sushi bar- it’s breathtaking. We were led past the bar which, at 7:00 PM, was already buzzing and into the main room where we were seated at the sushi bar, like we requested. There is about one sushi chef for every four sushi bar customers, we were pleased to see, so we checked out the menu as my tummy grumbled. Katusya offers a nice selection of sushi, sashimi, hot and cold appetizers and a several different set menus. M and I knew we wanted sushi to be the focus and would maybe order a couple of appetizers from the kitchen. Our waiter was nice and a bit overzealous in his effort to try and make recommendations, but when we asked him which of the seven or so sake options were the driest, he seemed puzzled and avoided the question with a nervous giggle. There aren’t many lower priced sake options- with the house sake coming in at $24 for a 300ml bottle. I ordered one, M got her Asahi Super Dry and we hunkered down for what we hoped was some great sushi.

Our sushi chef, L, stood about 3 feet in front of us on the other side of the counter, but due to the music and overall noise in the place, we had to wave at him to get his attention. When we did, he seemed awfully nervous. When I said “Blue crab roll please” he turned for a minute and said “Oh sorry, we’re out of that.” Um, I’m sorry- at 7:00 PM on a Saturday night? So I ordered the aji (Spanish mackerel) and M started with the kanpachi (amberjack). When L opened his giant rice maker to scoop out some rice, I knew we had a problem. Big, billowing wafts of steam rose up beyond the stacked sake tubs, and the resulting sushi was warm and mushy. M looked at me and said “ok, we’re not ordering any more of this” but we were freakin’ starving and had already valet’d the car so we were determined to eat something else. I saw that the obviously-on-a-first-date-annoying-guy-and-ambivalent-girl next to us had a plate of rock shrimp tempura in a creamy sauce, so we ordered that from the kitchen. We had also ordered the spicy tuna on crispy rice which had just arrived- and same thing- the rice was bordering on hot and was definitely mushy.

Cold fish + hot rice = unhappy tastebuds

I decided to at least get my beloved baked crab roll- after all, I have such great memories of it. Same problem- that damned hot and sticky rice reared it’s ugly head yet again, and a side of “spicy” mayo had barely enough heat to register on a baby’s tongue. Yeah I know, I know- I’m getting too sarcastic but I feel myself getting annoyed just writing this. Luckily the rock shrimp tempura in creamy sauce was good- but not any better than my neighborhood sushi joint, Z Sushi, makes it. We slurped down our drinks and sat there, hungry.

M wanted dessert so we opted to share the vanilla tempura ice cream. Hey- who can screw up ICE CREAM, right? Well, the limp, soggy tempura “crust” that encapsulated the ball of ice cream was clearly made ahead of time and put back into the freezer. Isn’t the entire point of tempura ice cream the contrast of hot and crunchy with cool and creamy? It’s like that El Torito dessert where they deep fry ice cream in a tortilla shell and douse it with cinnamon sugar. But it wasn’t. So we called over a manager and he just stared at me, took the dish in hand and said curtly, “Would you like something else?” I said no and asked for the check as M stared at me in disbelief. It isn’t like I asked for his first born to sacrifice, but his icy cool demeanor was enough to keep that ice cream rock solid. He must have realized his error, however, because 5 minutes (and no check) later, he scampered back to us and said, “I guess our version of tempura ice cream is a bit, er, spongier than other restaurants” and smiled. Oh yeah- when one thinks of tempura, they think “spongy.” “Just get me the check you clown,” I said. Ok, well I didn’t say that but lemme tell ya- I was THIS close.

Soggy, solid mass of icy cold tempura

As I waited for the check, I glanced around and realized that it was me who was at fault. I should have never gone to a restaurant whose demographic I just do not fit into. Sure, I’m in my early 30′s, work in the entertainment business and like to get my drink on (which I’m guessing hits the Katsuya demo right on the head). The problem is, I actually LIKE TO EAT GOOD FOOD. Especially Japanese food, and even more so, SUSHI. I mean, I was literally surrounded by aging entertainment execs who were trying desperately to appear cool to their jailbait dates and young, spiky-haired dudes reeking of Axe body spray sporting awful dress shirts etched with dragon designs yapping on their Blackberry Pearls. To translate- I was in HELL. My hell, to be exact. At the end of the day, I would actually put up with some of this BS if it meant I’d get a chance to consume a fabulous meal, but I’m guessing one won’t be found at Katsuya Hollywood.

Sorry for the lack of photos, but I was just too irked to snap any more!

Katsuya, 6300 Hollywood Blvd (at Vine), Hollywood, 323-871-8777

Restaurant Review: Gonpachi

Take a good look at these photos. The serene gardens, trickling water fall, gorgeous Japanese architecture. Did I take a quick weekend trip to Kyoto, you ask? Perhaps a little 48-hour excursion to Kamakura? Unfortunately, I don’t have a private jet nor the means to take spur-of-the-moment vacations to such far away places, but for a moment this past weekend, I could have sworn I was in Japan.

Where was this transforming place? Gonpachi, the new, gigantic robata yaki, sushi and soba restaurant on La Cienega. Much had been written of the struggles the multi-million dollar restaurant experienced after it first opened, so I didn’t want to go until the bumpy period ended. Last Friday, I was at my best friend M’s new apartment when she suggested we try it out. Since so many of our best Japan memories involve eating at izakayas and yakitoriyas, we hoped Gonpachi would be a little blast to the past. After all, J was in Japan this past weekend so M and I wanted to get in on the action by at least pretending we were there!

Upon driving up to the behemoth restaurant, I was instantly transported by the gorgeous shoji doors that lined the restaurant. What an absolutely stunning building!!! Honestly- I can see why it cost so much to build- every detail is meticulous and the scent of the wood reminded me so much of Japan. We both got pretty excited as we were led upstairs to one of the booths overlooking the entire restaurant. M and I had been to Gonpachi in Shibuya twice when were in Japan last November and had fallen in love with the place. When we spotted the long bar seating in front of the robata yaki chefs, however, we asked to be seated there. I love sitting at the bar, chatting up the chefs and being able to order one item at a time, just like at sushi. Since we arrived early, there were only a couple of customers in the giant space and no one else at the counter.

I’ll be honest- when I realized that the two robata yaki chefs who greeted us weren’t Japanese, I was disappointed. There’s something about being able to converse in Japanese with the chefs that, for me personally, just makes me feel at home. M and I checked out the menu and decided to start with a few appetizers- the soba salad being one of them. I had read a lot about the hand made soba and had seen the soba maker on my way in, so we were excited to try it. We also decided on the korokke (fried potato coroquettes) and the unagi gohan (eel rice). We toasted with my cold sake and M’s super tall glass of Sapporo and sat back, completely in awe of the amazingly long wooden bar, hanging lanterns and the general vastness of the place.

Our soba salad arrived and I couldn’t see a bit of….soba. After a bit of poking around with my ohashi, I could see the small pile of it resting underneath a bird’s nest of shredded daikon and carrot. The soba was also cut into short strands…..I suppose convenient for a salad but really difficult to get a decent chopstick full of. The barely-there dressing was bland and it really should have been marketed as a daikon salad with a hint of soba. The korokke were better- nice, crunchy balls of ground meat, potatoes and cheese (?) which I found a bit strange as Japanese korokke doesn’t usually have cheese. They were dressed like takoyaki usually are, doused with tonkastu sauce (standard) and bonito flakes- again, an odd pairing for korokke which is usually just served with the tonkatsu sauce. The unagi rice was quite good, albeit slightly bland again- a small bowl of sticky seasoned rice topped with unagi slices and served with Japanese pickles.

Soba (?) salad………


Unagi rice with Japanese pickles

When we started eyeing the robata yaki, a Japanese chef did come up to us and started speaking Japanese, which was nice. We opted for the chicken/negi, the shiitake stuffed with ground chicken, shishito peppers, asparagus bacon and ground chicken (tsukune) skewers with the optional “onsen tamago” which is a very lightly poached egg. All of the skewers were very good, I’d say- especially the shiitake mushrooms with the ground chicken. Smoky, slightly sweet and tender, the flavor of the shiitake was very pronounced and a good match for the soft meat.

Chicken and negi and tsukune skewers

Shiitake stuffed with tsukune

Asapargus wrapped in bacon

We saw quite a few people ordering dessert, so we decided to share two- the homemade vanilla pudding with macha shortbread and the pumpkin zenzai. The pudding/custard was delicious- creamy and not-too-sweet, and the accompanying cookies were just barely sweet with a very pronounced macha flavor. The real winner, however, was the zenzai – vanilla ice cream topped with sweet anko, pumpkin sauce and mochi balls……..WOW. I mean, this dish would (and WILL) make me return just to get another chance to eat it. The creamy ice cream, sweet red beans and pumpkin sauce blended perfectly, and the chewy mochi balls were toothsome and delicious. Next to the butterscotch budino at Mozza, I’d have to say this is probably one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time.

We noticed a lone, stern-looking Japanese man sitting at the end of the counter, keeping a very close eye on the robata-yaki chefs and motioning for one to come over and inspect some of the skewers he had on his plate. We wondered it he was the manager, and upon further investigation, we found out that he was Kozo Hasegawa, the CEO of Global Dining, Inc, the company that owns Gonpachi and a number of other restaurants both here and in Japan. He had flown in from Japan to check out operations, and boy- was he crackin’ the whip. We saw him walking around after we were finished eating, so we took our chance to speak with him and even snap a photo. He seemed genuinely interested in knowing whether or not we had enjoyed our meal so we told him that yes, we did, but we’d love to see a few more Japanese tapas like items on the menu…like an assortment of Japanese pickles (tsukemono no moriyawase) or kastuo no tataki (seared bonito). He said yes, in the beginning they did have more, but that American customers generally didn’t order some things so they took them off the menu. He said he had noticed that we both ordered the optional onsen tamago (slightly poached egg) with our ground chicken skewers, but that hardly anyone ever did so- a super runny egg isn’t really a popular item here in the States. In Japan, the ground chicken skewer is traditionally served with a raw egg yolk, but even the slightly cooked version doesn’t sell here. We did take the chance to tell him how wonderful the desserts were, and how much we enjoyed our experiences at both Monsoon and Gonpachi in Tokyo.

Hasegawa-san and M

Overall, I think Gonpachi is a gorgeous restaurant whose food is good, but nothing exceptional. The robata yaki and desserts are definitely worth going back for, but the price adds up since the skewers are priced per skewer, not per pair. One will run anywhere from $3.50 for something basic like a veggie, to $18 (!!!) for something more exotic like toro or kobe beef. I guess I just have to get it out of my head that I’ll ever experience the same kind of vibe that I did at restaurants in Tokyo- even if it looks exactly the same as the Gonpachi in Shibuya, we’re not in Tokyo anymore so the Gonpachi here will be decidedly different. M and I agreed that next time, we may just go sit in the open-air bar overlooking the Japanese garden, have a couple of skewers, some sake and that fabulous zenzai and call it a night.

134 N La Cienega Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Sushi Ike, Hollywood

I love sushi. In fact, I think sushi is my favorite food on the planet. The older I get, the more I grow to love it, crave it, need it on a weekly basis. Luckily it’s healthy and there is a lot of variety so it never gets old. Unluckily, it isn’t cheap so it’s quite an expensive habit to have. Fortunately there are a few reasonably priced yet high-quality sushi places in town so I don’t always have to fork over a kidney to get my nigiri fix.

Amuse bouche

One of those places is Sushi Ike in Hollywood, about a mile or so from my office. I’d always heard about how fresh and reasonable it was but never got around to trying it until a couple of weeks ago. We had one of our cars in the shop so J picked me up from work and we wanted to wait the traffic out so I thought it was the perfect change to try Sushi Ike. By the way, it’s pronounced “Ee-ke,” not “Ike” like in “Mike & Ikes.”


We pulled into the unassuming strip mall on the corner of Gower and Sunset and were lucky enough to be the 3rd couple there (after another 20 minutes, the place was PACKED!). We sat down at the small sushi counter, were given wet towels and ordered two iced green teas while the sushi chef gave us a small amuse bouche of fried salmon marinated in rice vinegar- YUM. My mom makes a similar dish with iwashi so it reminded me of her.


Our sushi chef (not Ike-san, who was working the middle of the counter and all smiles) was nice but very serious, not really chatting with us and focusing on making each nigiri perfect with the smallest amount of rice possible (which is a good thing- too much rice just fills you up). We started with a well-marbled piece of salmon, which was delicious. We then had halibut brushed with yuzu and lemon, scallop with shiso leaf and very fresh aji with ponzu and ginger.

Hotate with shiso

We saw that most people had been ordering the sliced octopus, so we got one as well. The chef took out a pre-boiled tentacle and tossed it on a grill for about 5 minutes. After slicing into nice thin strips, he drizzled it with lemon and salt and presented to us. One bite of this and I knew we were hooked. It was as tender as a baby’s butt. Ok, well I’ve never eaten a baby’s butt but you know what I mean- if you blindfolded any octopus-hater and had them take a bite of this, they’d be converted. It was as soft and tender as dark meat chicken but still had the subtle taste of both sea and grill. I asked Ike-san how on earth they got it to such a texture, and he revealed that they boil the raw octopus in green tea and adzuki beans. Apparently something in the beans is the key to tenderness. Maybe I should give a bag to a particularly tough and chewy coworker who could try a little tenderness as well.

The magical fire…

Grilled tako

We ordered a “una-kyu” which is Japanese slang for a unagi cucumber roll. Once again, the chef tossed the unagi on the same grill- no toaster oven here- and it made for a slightly charred and utterly delicious eel which matched so well with the cool, crunchy cucumber. We finished off with the anago, which was also made on the grill and unlike any anago I’d had before. It was slightly crisp yet melting on the inside and brushed with the slightest coating of sweet sauce.


I’m glad we discovered such a fresh and simple sushi place close to work. You won’t get any fancy rolls at this place- just good, fresh fish and the best grilled octopus I’ve ever had.


Sushi Ike
6051 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA