Making a reservation for dinner at Petite Taqueria on La Cienega Blvd., I not only received a reminder call 48 hours before my reservation, but also a text from the restaurant one hour before my reservation reminding me of my upcoming Omakase experience.
Driving up to the restaurant, I fondly remember when this space was the former Bagatelle restaurant. Walking into the elegantly, renovated modern taqueria, I admired the cabaret-style candlelit tables and rich navy velvet booths. It feels more like a lively club, instead of a traditional Mexican restaurant. The space is adorned with indoor palm plants, tile columns, rich dark wood tones, and vintage framed wall art. Guests in the main dining room order from an a la carte menu prepared by Chef Jeffrey Arrieta. The upbeat music is loud enough to sound like a live DJ is in a hidden corner.
The h.wood Group’s John Terzian and Brian Toll admired the star-like quality of Executive Chef John Carlos Kuramoto and offered him the freedom to create a stand alone Omakase bar up on the second level. This unique dining experience seats only 10 guests, twice a night.
I first met this talented chef about a year ago when he opened Trejo’s Cantina on Cahuenga Blvd. and the Trejo’s Truck. What struck me about this handsome chef is his background. He started cooking at the age of 16, and worked with Mark Peel at Campanile on La Brea, Michael McCarty at Michael’s in Santa Monica and Michael Cimarusti at Providence in Los Angeles.
Led upstairs, we took a seat in front of a bamboo placemat with a colorful ceramic origami small bird holding a pair of chopsticks. Each setting has a traditional heavy ceramic tea cup and welcome letter from Chef John Carlos explaining ’Ainoko’. It means ‘half breed’ in Japanese, and at Petite Taqueria ‘Ainoko’ is a exploratory 10-course tasting menu of Mexican and Japanese flavored dishes. Also in Japanese, Omakase means “I’ll leave it up to you,” and at Petite Taqueria guests watch Chef John Carlos prepare a progression of plates, starting with the lightest fare and finishing with the heartiest dish before dessert. Dishes include raw ingredients, as well as proteins and vegetables grilled, simmered and doused with hot oil.
It’s quieter at the Omakase bar with a long noren fabric sushi panel separating the kitchen from the sushi bar. Chef John Carlos enters by ducking under the panel to take his stage. He is dressed in a black chefs jacket with a gray, black and white Mexican blanket style apron, and introduces himself to each guest. Using ingredients from earth, land and sea, he turns each course into a work of art. “I’m half Mexican and half Japanese, so I love spicy ‘In your face’ Mexican and Asian food,” he told me. “Growing up I enjoyed tamales and sushi. I like to make the subtle balance of fusion flavors in my dishes.”
Looking over the handwritten one page menu, one gets an idea of what the evening’s meal will entail. It begins with a pot of hot Mandarin silk Oolong fusion tea offering creamy and citrus notes. Our friendly server Matthew offered us a warm cloth towel to clean our hands before the first course.
The night we dined, we first started with a Banchan course (small dishes in Korean cuisine). Chef John Carlos presented a three section serving plate with cooked pumpkin sprinkled with Nori dust and layered with pickled persimmon in a rice vinegar, sugar, and salt Tsukemomo. He pickles Persian cucumbers with Tsukemomo too. Sliced thinly, they are served with sliced Breakfast radish. The third Banchan was a creamy Tokyo potato salad.
For those seeking more than tea, there is a spirits menu created by master mixologist, Matt Siegel (from Delilah) incorporating Japanese Whiskey and a collective tequila and sake program. In the specialty cocktails section, the most popular drink is the Paloma featuring herradua reposado and pamplemousse. Kirin beer comes in a 12 and 22 oz. size. Non alcoholic drinks include a ramune soda offering the sweet flavors of lemon lime.
Now for the Mexican and Japanese fusion dishes. Fresh ahi is layered on top of a small crispy tortilla with a slice of avocado, and drizzled with chipotle soy sauce. This three bite course offered a textural balance of crunchy, smooth, raw, cooked, and slightly spicy with Serrano chile escabeche made with onions, carrots, garlic and a hint of vinegar.
When he presented a two bite, nori black blini, it was layered with a curry crème fraîche, and decorated with smoked roe and some lemon zest. It was exquisite. Warm bowls of pureed, charred white corn soup with corn dashi were served with a wooden spoon after the empty bilini plate was whisked away.
Kauai shrimp rests in a spicy green chile sauce dotted with tomatoes and cucumbers. When I asked Chef John Carlos why he uses Hawaiian shrimp, instead of Mexican shrimp, he told me he likes the Hawaiian shrimp’s lobster texture.
Our favorite course was the grilled octopus tentacle placed on a soft corn tortilla with a dark miso aioli and pickled persimmon strips. There was also a garbanzo bean taco made with different types of garbanzo beans that are whipped into hummus, braised and crispy.
I was curious when he held a hot, sauce pan filled with oil. As the hamachi plate was placed at my setting, Chef John Carlos dripped hot oil from a spoon onto the raw fish. When the heat touched the citrus emulsion, I smelled the pleasing aroma of lemon essence. On top of the smooth fish were crushed peanuts enhanced with a Japanese togarashi spice made with red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed. It was another flavor and textural experience.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, chef John Carlos handed us a plate with a small Bahn Mi Sorta slider filled with duck confit, buttery chicken pate and cool fresh cilantro.
Matthew came over and placed hot coals and a silver metal grill on top of a black clay pot in front of us. “This is the last course – build your own A5 Japanese Wagyu tacos. It’s like a French dip, Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki all in one,” chef John Carlos said. Placed on top of the grill is a pleasing hot pot of sukiyaki to dip the sliced high quality beef into and cook for 10 seconds. Sukiyaki is a pleasing mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin (rice wine).
A second tea pot filled with Aztec Spice arrived with the dessert course. With one sip, I tasted a chocolaty spice essence. Matthew brought a bowl of green tea ice cream dotted with hard, crunchy churro mochi to each guest.
Our last sweet treat was topped with a hard creme brûlée black crust made with black sesame seeds. I used my spoon to crack open the top to get to the luscious caramel budino with a little bit of Japanese whiskey.
The 10-course chef tasting menu is $85 per person plus tax and gratuity. It’s available on Tuesday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. If you dine on a Thursday, you will finish just in time to go next door to Poppy and be transported into a fantasy world after a fantastic dinner. $$$ 755 N. La Cienaga Blvd. (310)855-7223.