I’ll always remember my first visit to Kato. It was a warm evening in July, 2016. A slightly chaotic and raucous scene greeted me when I opened the door to the restaurant. Chef Jon Yao’s family and friends were out in full force, occupying the small-ish dining room to near its twenty-something seating capacity. Sure, they were undoubtedly all there in part to show support for the budding head chef. But I also definitely got the feeling that his supporters were there out of curiosity to see just what heights this young man was capable of. The inaugural menu I enjoyed at Kato that night impressed me with meaning, delight, and promise.
Little did I know back then just how much Kato would blow up. Review after review, the accolades started arriving, and kept coming. Over the next two years, the menu evolved, and the service likewise became more polished. Almost four years, one Michelin star, and a L.A. Times “Top Restaurant” nod later, I once again find myself pushing the same door open in that nondescript mini-mall in West L.A.
But this evening, Chef Jon had something different in mind.
There were only twelve seats. Customized greeting cards were laid out for each diner at table setting. Flowers for each guest. Candles. Soft music. Ambiance-wise, this was taking Kato to another level.
The Sunday Supper at Kato represents a preview of Chef Jon Yao’s vision of the next iteration of Kato. He explains that as Kato has grown in notoriety, the corner space it occupies - once quaint and quixotic - has become stiflingly small for the ever-increasing demands of its cooks and staff. Chef Jon hints at a possible move to a more spacious location, one befitting Kato’s new image.
A sizeable increase has likewise been made to the menu for the Sunday Supper format - There are now almost twenty courses, each dish designed to be paired with beverage (Kato fully plans to serve beer and wine in their new home in the near future). More importantly, the food marks an upscale continuation of Chef Jon’s fervor to dutifully honor the flavors and preparations of his Taiwanese heritage, all while combining it with fine dining execution and sensibilities.
Mocktail… Refreshing house ginger lemonade.
Oyster, kelp… A touch of vinegar and sorrel petals subtly enhanced the brine highlight of the freshly shucked oyster. Marvelous.
Tuna tart… Toro from Spain, buckwheat tart and golden caviar. One gorgeous morsel!
Beef, yolk… Cured egg yolk, anchovy water, American wagyu tartar, nori, with yamaimo. This was handroll heaven.
Uni, brown butter… Kato’s take on Taiwanese brick toast, toasted milk bread is topped with bafun uni from Hokkaido, and all topped with a brush of brown butter sauce. Glistening with flavor, this bite was phenomenal, though admittedly the uni took a bit of a backseat to the classic power duo of butter-on-bread.
Chicken, truffle… Chicken wing, marinated with 5-spice, stuffed with sticky rice, served generously with shaved black truffle. Again, delicious. However, the use of the luxe ingredient here felt like a third wheel.
Crab toast… Dungeness crab, shrimp mousseline, and shrimp bottarga. Probably the best savory macaron I’ve ever eaten. This use of one type of seafood to season another type of seafood is a theme in Chef Yao’s cooking ethos, and definitely provided us lucky diners with a highlight.
Sea bream, tomato… It isn’t easy to achieve a balanced taste here, but through deft use of yuzu dashi, heirloom tomatoes, and wasabi, Chef Jon and his kitchen manages to make it look easy.
Geoduck, caviar… The unique crunch that only fresh geoduck possesses is maximized in this wonderful dish. I suspect this may eventually become a signature presentation at Kato.
Spot prawn, mint… Shrimp “head sauce”, fermented chili, grapefruit mint and nasturtium all come together very nicely. It would have been easy to do a “sea-salt-and-light-grill” spot prawn prep, as many other high end restaurants are apt to do (and it would evoke memories the open all night catch-your-own-shrimp places in Taiwan). Yet, Chef Jon takes the harder road here, and it pays off.
Turbot, ginger… Steamed fish with ginger, scallion and hot oil is a favorite in most Chinese-speaking communities. The addition of the tea broth, kohlrabi and ponzu proves to be a winning match. This was very tasty! I just wish there was some steamed rice to go with it.
Breaking out the nice cutlery…
Wagyu, 5 spice… A superbly fired marbled slab of beef from Miyagi, served with braised golden cordyceps in au jus. One fellow diner (who runs his own Michelin star restaurant) said he practically inhaled it! While I usually like more traditional thin cuts of A5 wagyu, this perfectly cooked plate of beef (and its flavorfully earthy side, which enhances the wagyu even more) does hit it out of the park with me as well.
Abalone, tendon… In a homage to the iconic Taiwanese street dish lu ruo fan (滷肉飯, or braised pork over rice), Chef Jon slow-braises beef tendon with abalone and a touch of Sichuan peppercorn, creating a rich yet delicate stew with a bit of heat, all to be poured onto and eaten over deliciously fluffy mushroom-steamed rice. This is all served along with housemade seasoned pickles. Not only is the juxtaposition of flavors here a complete treat for the palate, but also the contrast between the soft chew of the beef tendon, the firm bite of the abalone, and the sheer crunch of the pickled vegetable elevated this presentation into a pure delight!
Yogurt, strawberry… A winner! Intensely sweet fraises muted perfectly with cool yogurt, infused with a snappy Japanese strawberry syrup. It’s almost like the most incredible panna cotta - instead it’s yogurt!
Boniato yam, sable… A mushy yam with hints of chestnut, the boniato is an unusual tuber to see in restaurants. Here, it is made into ice cream, interspersed with pillowy mochi, and capped with shaved sable biscuits. Fabulous!
Small sweets… Lovely mignardises.
Seasonal fruits… Because Asian meals end with fruit, right? Strawberry, mandarins, guava with seeds. Loved the guava - An excellent touch to finish the evening!
Ambitious and inspired, the Sunday Supper at Kato brings this popular restaurant into its next phase of dining. I found the cuisine to retain its Taiwanese roots while striving for finesse in its technique. For the most part, every dish succeeds here. Prior customer issues with small portions at Kato are addressed nicely with expanded menu offerings - I left this meal stuffed to the gills. Service and timing of the courses were expectedly professional and well-coordinated. Chef Jon Yao and his long-time team are really ramping up their game. Definitely give the Sunday Supper at Kato a try. The format is in its soft open / preview stage, and the plan is to offer this meal hopefully on a bi-monthly basis, so please inquire the restaurant for future availability.
Sunday Supper at Kato
11925 Santa Monica Bl.
Los Angeles, CA 90025