Dining solo is a delicious experience at the sushi bar at Katsu Sushi in Beverly Hills.
Editor’s note: The Katsu Sushi location in Beverly Hills is now closed. The review remains an interesting take on singles and sushi bars.
The stress of the chaotic traffic on Beverly Drive vanished as I entered the soothing ambience of Katsu Sushi. I was looking forward to meeting Jeff — our first face-to-face, a convergence of two sushi lovers. But as I slid into my seat and before I could catch my breath, my cell phone rang. It was Jeff. He had an emergency and couldn’t make it. Thrown off balance and disappointed, I quickly regrouped. A sushi bar is the perfect place for a solo diner.
Looking down the eight-seat blond-wood-and-granite counter, I saw other sushi aficionados chatting and chowing down. Fine — I would be on my own, but I certainly would not be dining alone. So, without hesitation, I ordered the recommended Harushika Extra Dry, a cold sake. It had a light, dry taste — perfect when the fish is king. Things were looking up.
Katsu Michite, in white coat and hat, nodded from behind a curving counter surprisingly lacking the usual glass display cases of fish. Other than a tantalizing slab of toro sitting on a banana leaf-topped block of ice, the fish selections were hidden. Not only that, but there were no bottles of soy sauce and no soy sauce dishes. When I asked what sushi he had, Michite smiled an enigmatic smile and said, “We have everything.” Everything, right below the surface.
In the hands of the master
Michite earned his right to show what some could interpret as arrogance. He is a legendary sushi master and style setter. In the early 1980s, his Katsu restaurant in Los Feliz was the center of the sushi universe for quality, atmosphere and overall hipness. Michite’s rigor and essential craft were so renowned that many sushi chefs in Los Angeles flocked to Katsu to train under his skillful tutelage. In fact, back then, clinching a deeply coveted reservation or a seat at the busy sushi bar was quite a feat. In 2002, he opened Tama Sushi in Studio City, a locale esteemed among sushi lovers — and among the elite Korean seafood wholesalers who sell the best fish. That should tell you something. Now Beverly Hills can enjoy Michite’s craft and quality.
While I settled into the serenity and exchanged a bit of small talk with the people next to me, the first course arrived. Arranged on a flat ceramic platter were small tastes — a miniature conch (which Michite says is cooked at a bare simmer for eight hours to achieve its delicate texture), lightly seared bonito, a crunchy mini-roll wrapped in a wafer of cucumber, a charcoal-seared scallop with a creamy crab filling and homemade marinated fresh sardines. The texture contrasts of slightly chewy, smooth, crunchy and creamy, along with flavor plays of sweet, salty and tart, served to get me focused on the food — as was intended.
I chose omakase, the “chef’s choice” menu. Omakase literally translates as “entrust.” If ever there were a place to do so, it’s at Katsu Sushi, in the hands of the master. Feed me, oh revered chef.
Purity is a virtue
Michite, classically trained at a world-famous restaurant in Tokyo, adheres to purity and uses the highest quality cuts of fish — offering the traditional “Edo-style” sushi. He told me that in Japan, they prefer to emphasize the essential flavor of one star ingredient. But Americans like to mix different things. The California roll is a good example, as are other choices made with mayonnaise or a sweet sauce. “I call this California-style sushi,” he said, which was a polite way of saying: Please don’t ask me for a California roll.
Michite is a member of the elite Tokyo Sushi Kenkyu Sanchokai group headquartered in that city’s famous fish market, a membership whose prestige reaches across oceans and gives him an authority to access the crème de la crème of fish, even in Los Angeles. Add to this getting to the market at dawn and having 40-plus years of relationships with the fish guys, and you get an idea of what to expect on your plate.
The offerings came in a logical order, each one appropriately garnished with an herb such as shiso (beefsteak leaf), yuzu (an aromatic Japanese citrus) or a light brush of soy sauce to enhance their otherwise unadorned flavor. Lighter fish, such as halibut, jack fish and Thai snapper, gave way to toro, the king of kings, belly of the noble tuna, and hamachi toro, the yellowtail prince of fish.
A flair for drama
A meal without an element of the spectacular can still be memorable. But the next course — ama ebi, sweet shrimp — added entertainment and drama. Michite, with a sparkle in his eye, swept down to his icy treasure trove and, with theatrical flair, a live, furious giant shrimp suddenly glared at me, bristling from the counter, appendages waving. Then, without warning, the creature leaped into the air!
Open-mouthed, I watched as Michite nimbly nabbed it, and with a flash of his formidable knife, the performance was over and I was presented with a translucent morsel, which I prayed (silently) was not still moving. When the head arrived, deep-fried and airy, I tried to maintain my dignity while maneuvering crunchy antennae into my mouth — not an easy task.
The meal ended with smoky Lapsang souchong black tea and an artful presentation of fresh fruit — a perfect close to a meal that was elegance embodied in simplicity and quality.