(Sorry for the late report, catching up on a meal from last week.)
If there is one sub-cuisine of Japan that is misunderstood more than any other, it might very well be Kaiseki Ryori. A loose translation of Kaiseki cuisine in English might be “a seasonal tasting menu,” but it is so much more than this. There is a specific order and meaning to each dish that is presented to the diner during a Kaiseki experience. It reflects not only what is in season, but also showcases multiple cooking techniques.
Kaiseki cuisine can be seen as austere at times: In this modern age of faster, wilder, bigger, bolder, this ancient Japanese cuisine might just seem like “simple, basic cooking.” I recall one of our friends who came back from a vacation in Japan with her husband, talking about a Kaiseki meal she had at a ryokan: They both thought it was “bland.” (To be fair it was the first time they ever tried Kaiseki cuisine.)
But Kaiseki is something to be celebrated: If you want to experience the pure essence of certain seasonal ingredients, cooked to support and elevate their inherent taste, then Kaiseki might be for you.
So it was with great excitement when I heard the news of Hayato, a Kaiseki specialist devoted to delivering a true, pure Kaiseki experience in L.A.! Reading @PorkyBelly and @J_L’s excellent early reviews only made us want to go even more.
Opened at the new ROW DTLA complex (where Smorgasburg happens every Sunday), Hayato might be hard to find at first. A quick visual guide:
From the massive Parking Garage, walk past the large center tree, and make a LEFT at the next intersection of shops:
Hayato will be on your RIGHT hand side. Look for the Noren (Japanese curtain dividers):
Hayato marks the solo debut of Chef Brandon Go, a quiet, thoughtful individual who gladly shared nuggets of culinary information throughout the evening. As @attran99 pointed out, Chef Go’s father runs Koi Japanese Cuisine in Seal Beach, and having grown up helping out his father and making Sushi, he eventually traveled to Japan, where he discovered an entire world of Japanese food beyond Sushi.
Chef Go eventually apprenticed under two respected, talented Japanese Kaiseki masters: Chef Hideki Ishikawa of Michelin 3 Starred Ishikawa in Tokyo, and Chef Takeshi Kubo of Michelin 2 Starred Goryu Kubo. As Chef Go mentions on his website, this restaurant is not only a tribute to his mentors, but showcasing the food he loves in Japan.
Walking in, there are eight seats, although he’s only serving six at a time currently. There is only 1 seating, so once you make the reservation, you have that seat for the entire night. Wonderful. (Note: Since there are only six seats, it’s pretty easy to “buy out” the restaurant: Just gather 5 of your loved ones / friends and enjoy an evening together. That’s what we did.)
Chef Go greets all of us as we enter, bowing and inviting us to take a seat.
He then shares a very rare Sake that he just got from one of his mentors, Chef Ishikawa:
Juyondai - Chou Tokusen (Ultra Premium) - Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Yamagata, Japan):
Holy cow! @beefnoguy @J_L correct me if I’m wrong, but this is normally not found in the U.S. right? (There is no English / import label on this bottle.) This was one of the most exquisite Sake I’ve ever had. There’s an immediate light floral quality, but nothing overpowering, a touch of sweetness, a very round, smooth mouthfeel and the finish is so clean and dry! It is one of the 5 best Sake I’ve ever had (and the bottle was not for sale).
(Note: Our dishes pretty much mirrored @J_L @PorkyBelly @attran99’s various visits, which makes sense since Kaiseki cuisine is reflective of a current season, and we haven’t transitioned to Autumn yet.)
The first course begins, and you can see Chef Go preparing and plating the dishes in front of you; he mentions Sashimi, Grilling, Steaming, Frying and Simmering, true to traditional Kaiseki cuisine.
Sakizuke Course - Live Santa Barbara Spot Prawns, Okra, Fava Beans, Tosazu Jelly:
Light, delicate, tart from the Tosazu Jelly and then inherent sweetness from the Live Santa Barbara Spot Prawns. Outstanding!
Born - Yume wa Masayume (Dreams Come True) - Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Fukui, Japan):
Chef Go smiles when we order this for everyone, saying it’s one of his most popular ordered by many for those that know Sake. We broke down and ordered this, but then again, split by all of us, it wasn’t so bad. I blame @J_L @beefnoguy for tempting us with this “Holy Grail” Sake for so long. The Yume wa Masayume was really unique: There were multiple layers that hit the palate: The immediate taste, then as you were swallowing, another flavor profile that was distinct, with an easy finish. Delicious.
I would say that the Juyondai Chou Tokusen that he shared with us as the opening taste kind of set a high bar, and we all preferred the Juyondai Chou Tokusen Junmai Daiginjo.
Farmers Market Corn, Hokkaido Scallop, Mitsuba Kakiage:
Beautiful natural sweetness from the Farmers Market Corn, the Hokkaido Scallop was so bright and provided a bit of beautiful brininess and the frying technique was so on point, it’d make our resident Inaba #1 fan @bulavinaka happy.
Chef Go starts preparing the next course in front of us…
Saba Zushi - Pressed Mackerel Sushi (Nagasaki, Japan):
The Nori (Seaweed) was crisp, the Saba, inherently, wonderfully oily. Delicious!
Owan Course - Live Dungeness Crab, Junsai (Water Shield), Baby Turnip Soup:
Taking a sip…
Seriously, SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! Imagine the most clear, delicate Dashi Broth you’ve ever had, giving way to the gorgeous oceanic sweetness of Live Dungeness Crab meat (mixed with Kanimiso (Dungeness Crab Brains and Guts)).
The Junsai (Water Shield) is slippery, silky and adds this wonderful textural contrast as well. I remember our Hounds on our old board loved talking about this ingredient.
It is the most GLORIOUS soup I’ve had this year! FLAWLESS.
Wild Tai (Sea Bream) + Katsuo (Bonito) Sashimi:
We were having so much fun, I forgot to take a picture of the final plate. Served with Myoga (Ginger), Shiso, freshly grated Wasabi.
This was very good. As @J_L also noted, Chef Go told us that Tai is so tied to Japanese culture and mindset, served at ceremonies and more, that he felt he had to serve it as well. If there’s one nitpick detail, it’s that Chef Go couldn’t tell us the provenance of the fish, something Sushi masters know and are ready to relay to the customer. But I’m sure this will improve over time.
Steamed Abalone, Abalone Kimo (Liver) Sauce, Abalone Broth Jelly:
A tender meatiness, perfectly cooked, and accentuated by the incredible Awabi Kimo (Abalone Liver) Sauce: This Liver had some of that distinctive metallic Liver taste, but it was purified, smoothed out with more of the Abalone essence itself, resulting in this glorious, potent “Abalone Punch” of flavor supporting the Steamed Abalone meat itself. The Abalone Jelly was beautifully bright as well. Outstanding.
Yakimono Course - Binchotan Grilled Nodoguro (Blackthroat Seaperch) + Gobo (Burdock Root):
Nodoguro (Blackthroat Seaperch) is a fish that is prized by many Japanese chefs. Chef Maru at Mori Sushi proudly served Nodoguro to us, waxing poetic about it last year, and here Chef Go talks about why he loves it for the Yakimono course: That even in grilling, this fish is the perfect balance of lean and fatty, and it is mouth-wateringly delicious!
Crisped outer skin, flaky, moist, meat within, even after grilling.
Hamo (Conger Eel) Tempura, Hamo Tamago Ankake Dashi:
The Hamo (Conger Eel) was beautifully fried, light, crisp, not oily, but it was the Hamo Tamago Ankake that was the brightest star here: Chef Go uses the Conger Eel’s Eggs in this thickened “soup / sauce” and it is so pure and clarified and singular in its glory. Add in some Ume and Shiso and you have another highlight of the evening!
Amadai (Tile Fish) Nabe, Chrysanthemum Greens, Shiitake Mushrooms, Bamboo:
This Soup was so light, delicate and pure. Chef Go commented “this is Nihon (Japan).”
Gohan Course - Kamasu (Barracuda) Kamameshi, Miso Soup, Housemade Pickles:
Chef Go sears the Barracuda first before putting it in the Kamameshi (Metal Pot RIce).
The specially made Metal Pot Rice uses Koshihikari Rice, and there’s even some “socarrat” (seared crispy Rice that’s at the bottom of Paella) found here as well. It is perfectly cooked, delicate and fragrant.
The Miso Soup is also fantastic, complementing the Rice, without overpowering any aspect of it.
Green Tea served before the start of the Dessert course:
Chilled Farmers Market Peaches in Sake Gelee:
Aromatic, tender, lightly sweet, cool and refreshing.
One of the most pleasurable and fascinating aspects of dinner at Hayato is being right in front of the main chef, and watching them cook, cut, and prepare and plate the dishes for each of the guests. It is labor intensive and yet it’s also a great view into the work that goes into each course you eat. Throughout that time, Chef Go remained open to chatting and questions, and was happy to share insight and stories about Japanese cuisine and his various dishes.
In the end, Hayato is a stunning tribute to pure Japanese Kaiseki cuisine. It is so unapologetic, so focused, so true to the goal of presenting this wonderful Japanese category of cooking to L.A. that it’s something worth celebrating. While it may sound like one might approach this restaurant and the food in hushed tones, Chef Go brings his upbringing in America to bear here as well: He is approachable, glad to talk about each dish and stories of training in Japan, and life in general, and as such he creates an inviting, gentle atmosphere to the dining experience.
Hayato is the Kaiseki experience that I had always hoped L.A. might have one day, and it has arrived in all of its delicious, fantastic glory. Do not miss this experience. (@bulavinaka @Bookwich @A5KOBE @TheCookie @BradFord @CiaoBob and all FTCers interested in this type of food.)
(inside ROW DTLA (enter from Bay Street (see this link))
1320 E 7th Street, Suite 126
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Tel: (213) 395-0607