03 Dec Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Michelin-Starred Taiwanese Restaurant Kato in Downtown LA
After years of wanting to dine at Kato, I finally made it. I used to live less than five minutes away from Kato when it was located on the Westside. But, I could never get a reservation. In early 2022, Kato reopened, post-pandemic, but in a new, larger space in downtown LA. I had tried to get a reservation but still had no luck. But then a month ago, a friend and I set a date to meet for dinner after way too long. I pulled up Ressy and entered the date to see what might pop up and lo and behold, there was a 7pm reservation available for two at Kato. I booked it and awaited the date. This past week I finally dined at Kato and it lived up to my expectations and that is why it is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Kato is owned by chef Jon Yao and his partners Nikki Reginaldo and Ryan Bailey. Kato was formerly in a strip mall in West LA where it received one Michelin star in 2019. Now it is in a corner build-out on the ground floor of an industrial building in Downtown LA’s eastern edge.
This downtown space is much larger than the original space, which was the size of the current private dining room. The space is sparsely decorated and very spacious. Despite the large space, tables are not packed in. There is a very casual, comfortable feeling which is enhanced by the friendliness of the staff.
Kato offers a tasting menu only. The menu features a lot of fish which is sourced from Japan. Other ingredients come from local farms. Everything is seasonal and the menu changes weekly. To pair with the menu, Kato offers a wine flight, as well as a reserve wine flight. For non-drinkers, there is a non-alcoholic wine flight as well. Kato also has a thick wine list offering bottles from around the word, with an emphasis on French and California wines.
The tasting menu includes 12 dishes plus an optional 13th dish. Dining with my friend, we decided to splurge and add this extra dish.
Our primary server was David Cortes, who is also the assistant sommelier. With each course, he presented the wine, offering information about the grape and a tasting description. While my friend and I are rather knowledgeable about wine, we enjoyed listening to his descriptions as I know how valuable they are to other diners who do not know as much about wine. I even overhead a table near us marvel as they enjoyed the Chablis they were poured and then found out Chablis is made with Chardonnay.
To began our meal, David poured us a Grower Champagne, the Champagne Liebart Regnier Sur le Grand Marais, a Blanc de Noir wine made from Pinot Meunier.
The rich texture of this Champagne paired elegantly with the first three bites (from left to right):
- Sweet shrimp with rice wine, rice, cilantro, and black vinegar in a nori cup
- Wild yellowtail with cilantro relish, onion croustard, seaweed, and shaoxing (rice wine)
- Scallop tart with soy preserves, cucumber, fingerling limes, doubanjiang (Chinese bean paste), and kelp thread
Each bite was to be eaten in a single bite and was quite a mouthful. What was extraordinary about each bite was the delicateness when the bite first entered the mouth but the rich, savory flavors on the finish.
I am a huge fan of Chenin Blanc, our second wine, and the Wind Gap 2015 Chenin Blanc, North Coast, with its lovely mineral notes, was a beautiful example of Chenin Blanc with age on it.
The Chenin Blanc was paired with another single bite. This bite was Sea urchin with brown butter, wrapped in Iberico ham. Just a single bite yet so intense with flavor and the wine definitely cut through the richness.
From Chenin Blanc we moved on to Chablis with the Guy Robin 2020 Vieilies Vignes Chablis, Franc, an elegant and fresh wine.
The elegance of the Chablis was perfect with the Caviar with Dungeness crab which was not only one of the most beautiful dishes of the night, but also one of my favorites of the night.
With the Caviar dish, we were also served milk bread with garlic and butter. It was hard not to devour the entire loaf.
David came to the table with our next wine, a Sancerre. But this was not a typical Sancerre as it was not Sauvignon Blanc. Rather is was the Lucien Crochet 2018 Sancerre Rosé made from Pinot Noir.
The rosé was paired with Spiny Lobster with orange and sudachi, a Japanese citrus fruit. The batter on the spiny lobster was light and crispy and I loved the play of the citrus notes with the wine.
From the rosé, we moved back to white wine with the J.B Becker 2013 Riesling Kabinett Trocken from Rheingau, Germany.
The dry, aromatic Riesling, with notes of petrol, was a good pairing with the Tilefish with fish fragrant sauce and Szechuan peppercorn. The subtle heat of the dish was a surprise but was tempered by the wine.
For our first red wine, we enjoyed the Pascal Clement 2018 Savigny-Les-Beaune from Burgundy.
Pinot Noir was the ideal pairing for the Duck with menegi (Japanese green onion shoots) and duck sausage. The duck was so tender is almost melted in the mouth but the skin had a nice crunch to it.
The Chateau Bannieres 1990 Bandol was the extra wine we got with our extra course. This was a true treat to have a 30+ year old Bandol which was exquisite.
The Bandol was paired with A5 Wagyu, topped with beef tendon and served with thinly shaved mushrooms and sour Chinese mustard. This was a very rich and intense dish but worth every bite.
We shifted by to white wine for the next course with the J.L. Chave Selection 2014 Blanche Hermitage, a special wine from the reserve tasting list that David surprised us. We had been drooling over it when we saw the menu as it is always a special treat to drink a white wine from the Rhone valley.
Our final savory dish was Freshwater Eel with rice and cucumber. Once the dish was mixed, it was similar to a stir fry rice. While we were feeling full at this point, it was a lovely dish to finish the core part of the meal.
For dessert, our final wine was the Paul Anheuser 2002 Niederhauser Riesling from Nahe, Germany. What a treat to have a 20 year old Riesling which, like the previous Riesling, also had beautiful petrol notes.
We sipped our Riesling as we enjoyed a few dessert bites. We started with Passionfruit with buttermilk and persimmon. The passionfruit was creamy and tart and the persimmon had a candied note
The Salted Egg creme puff was a perfect single bite.
And the final bite was Hazelnut with caramelized white chocolate.
The meal was over and we were sent home with a sesame cookie.
After years of trying to get a reservation at Kato, I finally went. And it was everything I expected but I especially loved the casual vibe.
I hope to go back again but with Michelin stars being announced in the next few days, I have a feeling it will be very hard to get a reservation at Kato.