In only its first week of operation, Kato (with virtually no marketing) has managed to pack the house. Even my server seemed to be surprised with the initial success of this affordable, tasting menu-driven hole-in-the-wall. Located next to Oaxacan legend Monte Alban in a Westside strip mall, Kato serves up small plates of Taiwanese and Japanese-inspired cuisine. Kato Chef Jonathan Yao used to work the line at Alma, and has staged at Coi in SF.
Currently, the menu features a $49, 5-course tasting menu (I am told a la carte options will be coming soon.) There are also a few supplements offered (which push up the overall cost just a tad).
The place seats about 22-25 people, with another 3 seats at a small counter near the kitchen. Service is enthusiastic, but can be erratic (completely understandable during Kato’s first mad week of infancy).
To drink: Calpico, Ramune, Apple Sidra or passionfruit water? I’ll take the passionfruit water, please… (No liquor license, and I didn’t happen to see anyone bringing in booze during my visit, either)
Amuse: Ikura on a nori chip… Nice toasted flavor on that seaweed chip; I just wished the salmon roe portion would taste a bit more lively - Nonetheless, a nice opener.
Course #1: Smoked hamachi (yellowtail) with pickled cucumber and nori “mozuku” sauce…
Course #2: Scallop, Meyer lemon ponzu, pomelo, nasturtium… A nice dish in concept, but not enough scallop was used (hardly even tasted it).
Course #3: Summer corn potage, with miso & soft yolk… Comforting as heck. Served lukewarm, this was a definite winner.
Course #4: Brick chicken with charred cabbage, mandarin salsa & treviso… Succulent chicken thigh, with a hint of tart and nice smoky finish from the cabbage - Nice!
Course #5: Shellfish porridge… Using dried scallops, dungeness crab, and uni, this combined for a super umami! The edge of the bowl is lined with XO pepper to add terrific complexity to the bowl. This concoction brought back memories of the old-school Asian porridge vendors with its daring-ness. Kudos.
Supplement #1: Pork belly rice, with soy egg & pickled mustard. OK this was delicious. No fusion influences here - Just a hefty nod to Taiwanese goodness. There was nary any soy sauce in that soy egg, but that is definitely forgivable once you bite into that luscious pork, mustard and rice. A “must get”.
Dessert: Butterscotch panna cotta with guava slushie. Almost too sweet for its own good, but a nicely executed dessert to finish off the meal.
Overall, I did enjoy my tasting menu very much. My total bill (food & drink before tip) was just over $60. Portion sizes at Kato are on the small-ish side. Be warned: Those of you with very large gullets may find yourself still a bit hungry after the meal. But taste-wise, I see lots of potential in Chef Yao’s cooking. Kato is well on its way to finding a core audience in West L.A.
11925 Santa Monica Bl.
Los Angeles, CA 90025