Japan House LA celebrates Japan 47 Artisans

At Hollywood & Highland JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles celebrates the diversity of Japan’s prefectural through a collection of art, crafts, and design created by 47 young artisans. Now through January 5, 2020, the gallery on Level 2 exhibits 47 ARTISANS displaying contemporary crafts that embody the character of their hometown.

IMG_8209JAPAN HOUSE is an innovative, worldwide project conceived by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Besides a location in Los Angeles, there is also a Japan House in London and Japan House in São Paulo.

The new Los Angeles gallery exhibit nurtures a deeper understanding and appreciation of Japan. Visitors will learn about different prefectures, each with its own unique history, resources, and relationship to the environment.

The collection of works in this exhibition IMG_8216exemplifies the respect and beauty of Japanese crafts that have been carried for centuries.

In 2012, “d47 MUSEUM,” opened in Shibuya, Tokyo, to introduce a restaurant and a store displaying each of the unique 47 prefectures in Japan. Japan’s four main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Japan’s prefectures were created in the early Meiji Period to replace the old feudal domains. Prefectures are akin to other country’s states.

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Mitsuko Matsuzoe the D&DEPARTMENT PROJECT Executive Vice President andIMG_8211
47 Artisan Museum Producer launched the “Long-Life Design” projects. In Japan this project extends to retail, food and beverage, publishing and tourism.

The exhibition showcases a philosophy that advocates the use of objects with an enduring universal design that can be passed down through generations, linking the past to the present. Read more about the exhibition.

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During the evening reception in the Japan House Salon, refreshments and Japanese delicacies were served.

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This exhibit is complimentary. The items displayed are not for sale. To learn more, go to D&Department. 

HATCH Yakitori + Sticks

You can’t judge food by its appearance at the newer HATCH Yakitori + Bar located in DTLA’s The Bloc. If I did, I would have never tasted their delicious signature Japanese-style black karaage fried chicken on a stick.

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When it was first delivered to my table, I declined it. The two day brined chicken thigh meat is by far the ugliest item on the menu. It looks like nuggets of dry black coal, or a meteorite that dropped to earth from a far-off galaxy. This karaage gets its coloring by rolling the chicken pieces in squid ink powder, before deep frying and skewering with a stick.

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Noticing my friends animated and thrilled faces while devouring a plate of crispy black nuggets, I reluctantly squeezed a slice of grilled lime on top, dipped it in a black ranch aioli and took a bite. I will never turn up my nose again. The moist chicken meat has an exquisite balance of taste, texture, and aroma. The chefs use thigh meat, because it tastes better than breast meat. Legs of chickens are fundamentally different than drier and whiter breast meat. Thighs are built for endurance and contain a higher concentration of myoglobin which gives leg meat its characteristic dark color and umami-rich taste.

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What makes HATCH Yakitori + Bar unique is its Japanese style stick food and creative Japanese twist to cocktails. Bar Director James Fastiggi stirs things up by pairing fresh and innovative flavors with owner-partners Akarad “AK” Tachavatcharapa, Nara Latip, Partner and Executive Chef Daniel Shemtob’s exciting menu. 

When I requested a drink to start my culinary adventure, Fastiggi recommended the “Wassup Bae” made with Roku Gin, wasabi, cucumber, lemon juice, lemongrass syrup and a whisper of charcoal salt on the rim. He told me it’s a millennial favorite.

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Next I sipped a refreshing green Matcha Highball made with Iwai Whisky, coconut lemongrass nigori, lemon juice, house-made honey syrup and matcha powder. It’s poured into an ice-filled Collins glass and served with a metal straw. I learned that Iwai whiskey offers tasting notes of pear, quince, red fruits and vanilla. Matured in the finest Japanese handmade mizunara oak casks, it spends the last leg of its maturation at sea, with the salt air and ebb and flow of the tides enriching the whisky. This drink paired well with the crunchy avocado tuna toast on crispy rice with scallions and sesame seeds.

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While enjoying a “Mushroom Party” stick, I sipped a pleasing “The Rum Tum Tum” cocktail. It’s made with house-made tepache, a beverage of Mexican origins in which pineapples are fermented for seven days before spices are added, and then joined with Greenbar Spiced Rum, lemon juice, Demerara syrup and Angostura bitters. It’s a tropical vacation in a glass. There were three different types of grilled mushrooms on this “party” stick.

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Next we enjoyed sipping a Yuzu Sour paired with a plate of hamachi. This cocktail is a refreshing twist on a Pisco Sour and is presented with a pretty design on the creamy egg white foam. It’s also prepared with Iwai Whisky, yuzu liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup.

The prettiest pink drink named “For Goodness ‘Sake’” was decorated with an edible flower. It gets its dazzling color from a pour of prickly pear juice, dry sake, Tito’s vodka, lychee juice and pear syrup. This drink went well with chicken meatballs shaped as cigars on a stick and served with a side of savory egg yolk for dipping.

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A crowd favorite was the slightly sweet and spicy “Mangorita” made with Lunazul Tequila, house-made mango syrup, agave nectar, lime juice, orange bitters, and serrano pepper. The rim was slightly salty and peppery. We sipped this while enjoying a one bite Wagyu Beef A5 Nigiri. Chef Daniel cuts a thin slice the finest Japanese beef with delicate marbling evenly distributed throughout. He then brushes on a soy sauce they make in house, and lightly sears the beef with a cooking blowtorch before topping it with a crispy garlic chip.

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The “Tokyo Drift” drink has a pour of Kaiyo Whisky, Angostura & orange bitters, and a magic citrus elixir developed by Fastiggi. It was inspired by a savory sauce made by Chef de Cuisine Erick Cielo. This drink went nicely with the Agedashi Tofu. It’s a Japanese way to prepare silken firm tofu. First the tofu is lightly dusted with potato starch, cut into squares, deep fried until golden brown and served hot. The chefs top this tofu with umami flavor, paper thin bonito fish flakes and green chive ribbons.

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Besides cocktails, the bar also serves unfiltered and cloudy sake. American and Japanese beers on draft include Asahi, Sapporo, Orion, and Kirin, as well as Coedo Shiro Hefeweizen Wheat Beer, Samurai Blonde Ale, Delicious IPA, and the Cali Creamin’ Vanilla Cream Ale. Two varieties from the Kyoto Brewing Company are served in bottles. They serve Kyoto Matcha IPA and Kyoto Kuromame Black Soybean Ale.  Ginger beer includes a 8% alcohol content Hitachino Ginger Brew.

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During Happy Hour Chef Daniel offers one hour of discounted oysters that can be ordered chilled, grilled, or fried accompanied by ume mignoette. There are plates of slow cooked miso pork spare ribs glistening with a spice blend, miso caramel and green onions. House sake, wine and beer by the glass are available at special prices.

HATCH Yakitori + Bar is open for lunch every Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and for Dinner every Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m, Friday and Saturday the restaurant stays open until 11 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday dinner service begins at 6 p.m. Happy Hour is every Monday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. $$ 700 W. 7th St. (213)282-9070.

This article was also featured in the Beverly Press.

 

Robata Fun at INKO NITO

Following the success of Inko Nito’s first location in downtown’s Arts District, the Zuma group-owned eatery has opened its second location in Los Angeles in the former Bianconi space on Third Street.

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What makes eating at this modern robatayaki restaurant particularly fun is the open robata grill kitchen in the middle of the eatery. Diners have front row seats as seven chefs artfully maneuver around each other and the Japanese grill, tossing and roasting proteins and vegetables over hot charcoals.

For the best view of the chefs at work, sit at the large horseshoe-style bar that wraps around the kitchen. Inko Nito’s modern industrial décor, which mixes concrete, natural wood and exposed beams, offers a pleasant and understated backdrop that lets the food take center stage. For those wanting more fresh air, Inko Nito also features an inviting covered front patio, ideal for al fresco dining.

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During our visit, my husband and I started with edamame. Ginger soy and sea salt enhanced these glistening green bean pods and gave the dish a nice kick of flavor. For drinks, the menu, inspired by Japanese bar culture, offers cocktails, Japanese beers, five sakes, seven different California wines and five different nonalcoholic beverages.

I ordered the Inko spritz, made with watermelon, Aperol, yuzu and a splash of sparkling wine, and my husband tried the Japanese-style margarita, made with sakura tequila, agave, a squeeze of lime and pink grapefruit. Both paired nicely with the sushi and nigiri fusion dishes of the “nigaki” section of the menu. We tried the Cali roll, which arrived on a pinewood serving tray with a generous scoop of Dungeness crab on five pieces of dark green seaweed. Wasabi tobiko and a citrusy yuzu mayo topped off this dish and brought more gourmet flavors than a traditional California roll.

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Eyeing the grill as the spicy beef, yellowtail collar with brown butter and ponzu sauce, and the thick-cut salmon filet cooked alongside each other, my husband and I finally decided on the salmon. It was deliciously glazed with a grapefruit miso and sansho salt, which offered hints of basil and spearmint flavors.

The entertainment continued at the grill as another chef painted a corn on the cob with smoked chili butter and shichimi – a spice mixture that combines red chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, ginger, pepper and nori. This dish was a fan favorite.

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Our next dish, the tender beef cheeks, arrived on a thick wood board with two crisp butter lettuce leaves and a sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds. Spicy Korean miso sauce to glaze the beef came on the side. For more toppings, try the pickled, flower-shaped daikon with sesame seeds. The tangy flavors paired perfectly with the juicy beef.

Other highlights of the evening included the prawn skewers glistening with garlic and lemon sansho, which added a peppery citrus essence tingling with heat, and the fire-roasted cauliflower bathed in garlic-soy aioli, Parmesan and panko crumbs.

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We also enjoyed the grilled Brussels sprouts topped with sesame furikake, a dry seasoning made of nori and sesame seeds, and served with a spicy wasabi mayo for dipping.

For those who like kimchi rice, Inko Nito has quite an entertaining presentation for the dish, which arrives in a large silver container. Servers do the “kimchi dance,” shaking the container at the table to perfectly mix the hot rice, Korean miso, spring onions, sesame and cracked egg. The dish was spicy, savory and plentiful – enough to feed up to four people.

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To wrap up our meal, we tried the charred coconut soft serve ice cream, topped with a drizzle of sweet soy and crunchy Japanese granola on top. Bright green Pocky sticks decorated this cool and light dessert.

As we left the restaurant, I noticed all the servers and chefs working together like a big family. They seem to have each others back, which I believe is instrumental in making dining at Inko Nito so interactive, lively and enjoyable.

$$ Inko Nito is open from on Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. On Friday and Saturday the restaurant stays open until 11:30 p.m. 8338 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (310)439-3076. The downtown location is at 225 S. Garey St., (310)999-0476.

This review was also featured in the Sept. 20, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press – Beverly Press

Three Ways To Dine at ROKU

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

I was saddened to learn that Sushi Roku closed its doors on Third Street near La Cienega. The other locations in Santa Monica and Pasadena are still open. Owner and partner of Innovative Dining Group (IDG), Michael Cardenas started his career as a teppan chef in San Diego after graduating from culinary school in 1981. He forged a partnership with IDG in 1997 to open the first Sushi Roku on Third. With its success, he brought his brother Tom Cardenas onboard to help expand the restaurant dynasty.

Their latest endeavor is a new concept restaurant ROKU, in the beautiful space that was once RivaBella off Sunset Blvd. I was recently invited to attend a dinner at ROKU and curious to see how they changed the decor of a spectacular Tuscan-inspired dining hotspot into a lively Japanese Tappanyaki, sushi bar and fine dining destination.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

ROKU offers Hibachi dining with a personal chef preparing meals in an interactive environment for two to 28 guests. Teppan chefs cook up A-5 Japanese Wagyu, Matsuzaka beef, Santa Barbara spot prawns, and vegetables at grill tables. The night I dined, there were a group of Australian visitors having a grand time at one table.

At the nearby sushi bar, Chef Jiro Kobayashi rolls the freshest fish daily in both traditional and modern sushi preparations. Guests may choose the Omakase or Chef’s Choice option to be surprised throughout their meal.

I met my group out on the patio to sample from the progressive menu in the indoor/outdoor space. Many of the dishes were similar to the iconic Sushi Roku brand. I also noticed a selection of handpicked sakes, crafted cocktails and a large selection of Japanese whiskey.

We started with the spicy Sunomono smashed pickled cucumber that offered a nice crunch and kick to excite the palate. This is one of the most popular items on the Roku Red Sun Happy Hour.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

For an elegant appetizer, the salmon caviar is thinly sliced pink curls of fresh fish around daikon radish, shiso leaves, and topped with a heaping spoonful of midnight black osetra caviar.

What I liked about RivaBella was the tableside dining. They offer it a ROKU too. A large bowl filled with crushed ice is placed in the center of the table. Inside is a smaller bowl with raw and chopped toro, the fatty underbelly of tuna. Surrounding the bowl are seven smaller bowls that include chopped onions, caviar, soy and ponzu sauce. It’s prepared before your eyes and the delicacy is spooned into a edible rice basket. This would have been perfect, yet the creative basket was too delicate and crumbled easily. I wished it were a little more dense to break in bigger pieces to use as a cracker.
The ethereal fluke sashimi is tiny bite size pieces of raw fish splashed with a burst of kumquat and yuzu vinaigrette. These morsels and decorated with minuscule flower petals and microgreens. It’s ideal to use chopsticks to pick these off the plate.

Another stunning dish is the blue crab tartare with uni and caviar on top. It was adorned with a lovely magenta and white tropical flower.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

A plate of roasted shishito peppers dusted with aged parmesan, vinegar and toasted sesame seeds arrived to our table. These slender, finger long peppers have a thin green skin that blisters when charred, offering a smoky essence. Shishito is a chili pepper with a tip that looks like a head of a lion. We cautiously bit into each one before popping the entire pepper into our mouth, because one out of ten peppers are very spicy. Out of five I bit into, only one singed my tongue.

For another appealing earthy flavor, I enjoyed the wood fired Eryngi mushrooms marinated in a plum vinaigrette and bathed in an almond butter. These mushrooms are also called the King Trumpet mushroom, because they look like the instrument with a thick and meaty stem and a small tan cap.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

ROKU is able to grill many dishes, because of the wood fire pizza oven installed for RivaBella that they kept intact. My favorite was the wood fired kabocha and butternut squash that glistened with a Japanese sesame chili paste. Kabocha is also known as Japanese pumpkin. It offers a pumpkin and sweet potato flavor and is a pleasing and popular vegetable in tempura.

For entrees we enjoyed the sea bass and wild mushroom “Toban Yaki” resting on top of three different types of mushrooms in a creamy yuzu butter sauce.
Prime New York Strip was meat dry-aged for 40-days and the same quality meat served across the street at the restaurant BOA. The steak at ROKU is marinated in a yuzu kosho fermented paste made with green chili peppers, shaved yuzu peel and salt. It’s sliced uniformly and arrives on a platter with roasted vegetables that included tomatoes, squash and Brussels Sprouts.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

Before dessert we finished with four pieces of Matsu Sushi that arrived with sliced ginger. There was a salmon sushi with a slice of cucumber and spoonful of caviar, and pieces of sea bream, yellowtail, and albacore.

Executive Chef Tyson formally at Chi-Lin, the exquisite Chinese restaurant that shared a kitchen with RivaBella, now helms the kitchen at ROKU. He make his signature XO fried rice with Lap Cheong sausage, egg and shrimp. Lap Cheong is usually dried, hard sausage made from pork that is smoked, sweetened, and seasoned with rose water, rice wine and soy sauce.

His baked crab hand rolls stuffed in rice paper is served warm with a slightly sweet soy sauce.

Fully satiated, I only had enough room left for one taste of three speciality desserts that included a green tea circular tiramisu with flowers, a caramel pot de crème, and rich molten chocolate lava cake with berries.

ROKU offers a unique vibe offering elevated Japanese comfort food with exciting flavor profiles that are artfully plated.
You must park valet or find a meter. Be sure and get your valet ticket stamped and the end of your meal to pay a reduced parking fee. $$$ Open for Lunch Monday through Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The Red Sun Happy Hour is Monday through Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m. 9201 Sunset Blvd. (310)278-2060.

This article was also published in the Beverly Press February 18, 2016.

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