A breathtaking 21 stories above downtown Los Angeles, Takami Sushi & Robata Restaurant gives guests views of the glittering city lights below. But Executive Chef Stan Ota’s gaze, however, never leaves the chopping boards and plates in front of him. Each maki roll and fresh-seafood dish he creates is born out of a lifetime of experience spent cooking Japanese- and French-style food. His cooking has garnered recognition from many trained palates, including British food critic Jay Rayner who put Ota’s restaurant on his list of where to find the world’s best foods.
In addition to seafood such as lobster rolls and lemon-albacore rolls, the extensive menu boasts a wide selection of fine robata, from filet mignon to baby lamp chops. Beyond these printed offerings, Ota also performs a feat of Japanese cookery called Omakase–which translates literally to “I’ll leave it to you”– improvising a five-course menu based upon the fresh-market ingredients gathered that day. To compliment meals, Ota puts an equal amount of thought into his cocktail list, which features exciting blends of liquors and spices. These drinks include lychee-infused mojitos, white-tea-rose martinis, and the Serrano kiss, spiced gin and lime with muddled Serrano chili.
Diners might default to tapas bars when seeking out small plates, but there’s one more term that should be added to their search: izakaya. This is the name for Japanese eateries that churn out “pub-style small plates,” according to the Los Angeles Business Journal; Itacho is one such eatery. Its menu is filled with shareable options, such as steamed clams in an asari-butter broth, seaweed marinated with vegetables, and agedashi tofu, deep-fried cubes that dip into flavorful sauces or into customers’ pockets should they want leftovers. The reviewer from the Journal also lauded the restaurant’s simple-yet-tasty selection of sushi, and, after finishing her meal, said, “[my] only regret is that [I] have not sampled more of the menu.”
When one steps inside, Geisha House "can feel like another planet," says the Los Angeles Times. A self-described "surreal, high-class brothel," Geisha House pays homage to Japan's late-night history and adds modern twists such as backlit neon panels in sultry shades of red and pink. A curved mezzanine grants a bird's-eye view of candlelit tables crowned with specialty rolls full of burdock root, tempura flakes, torched lobster, and other adventurous ingredients. Chatter emanates from a 50-foot sake bar serving the Japanese rice liquor straight or poured into specialty cocktails, sips of which flank bites of carpaccio, mongolian lamb chops, and udon noodles in fragrant broths. A lively dance floor invites diners to remember the simple joy of motion and lets method actors cast as sprinklers fit in.
Chef Kenny Yamada crafts a menu of sushi and Japanese cuisine at R23, an arty little restaurant hidden away in an old railroad building a few blocks from Little Tokyo. His extensive inventory of fish assumes the form of both sashimi slices and maki rolls and includes several cuts of tuna, sea urchin, whole scallop, and octopus. Grilled black cod and steak with ponzu sauce number among the chef's cooked creations, and sake, Sapporo, and soju cocktails can be found behind the bar. R23's gallery-like ambiance suits its location in the Arts District. Large paintings hang from the walls and, most notably, compressed-cardboard chairs designed by Frank Gehry keep diners' bottoms off the floor.
In a city teeming with wildly popular restaurants bearing prolific wait lists, Asanebo is a breath of fresh air. This relatively undiscovered strip-mall joint, though tastefully decorated, puts its delicate Japanese dishes at the forefront of its efforts—it snagged a Michelin star, after all. Maki is on the menu, but Asanebo specializes in the cuisine's other forms, including artful slices of sashimi and hot dishes in creative forms. Spanish mackerel, red snapper, and yellowtail adorn plates in fresh arrangements and even fresher cuts: says Gayot, "If something is not perfect, they'll leave it at the fish market rather than compromise their standards." Meanwhile, from the kitchen, platters of grilled Chilean sea bass drizzled with a creamy pepper sauce and tempura-fried soft-shell crab in ponzu butter remind diners that the best Japanese dishes don't just come raw. At the bar, Asanebo stocks its shelves with numerous forms of sake. There's Junmai, a naturally pure sake, and the extra-smooth Dai-Ginjo made from ultra-refined rice. The restaurant also features a sweet and creamy unfiltered version, along with a top-shelf bottle of aged sake that'll cost you $600 and three hours hard labor in a rice paddy. The beer menu is just as refined with premium Japanese drafts and California wines.