Restaurant Name: Kato, serving a daily changing multi-course tasting menu for $49. The formal modern cooking displays hints of Japan's influence on the Taiwanese and American cuisines that chef-owner Jonathan Yao grew up eating. Named for Yao's favorite character in the comic strip Green Hornet, the tiny newcomer served its first Friends and Family meal on June 25 and is still in soft opening mode. Still, reservations are already essential.
Where you are: Wedged into the corner of a Westside mini-mall about a mile west of Sawtelle's Little Osaka, the restaurant is barely visible. Its name — absent from the backlit directory that lists a Thai massage parlor, dry cleaners and other restaurants — is traced in pale pink cursive on the glass door. (Hint: look for a large sign bearing Farsi script and the name "Yekta" in the corner of the mall above the door; it belonged to the former occupant.)
Who's cooking: Young chef Jonathan Yao, who grew up in Walnut in the east San Gabriel Valley, has done stints at Alma and Coi, the four-star San Francisco restaurant recently helmed by chef Daniel Patterson, who has teamed with Roy Choi to do the Loco'l project. Kato is a family affair, with Yao's parents and a family friend the principal investors.
Who's at the next table: Mostly millennials discussing their last meal in minute detail and sharing their restaurant wish lists and recent finds.
What you're eating: Billed as five courses, the official menu may be preceded by three amuse-gueule (which makes eight courses, for those counting). These may include burrata with peach wedges topped with micro blossoms; Sichuan tuna tartar under a crispy onion tuile; or a raw scallop-pomello pastiche.
Recently on that menu: cold-smoked hamachi in an inky, savory sauce with demi-cured Japanese cucumbers was one first course followed by a warm potage of corn and caramelized onion. Next, "brick" chicken cooked sous vide then oven-crisped yielded contrasting buttery and crunchy textures. A soothing risotto-like uni porridge rich with crab meat and intensely seasoned with dried scallop followed. Dessert, another composition of contrasts, paired guava granita and an Asian-style buttermilk pudding with the house trademark tiny flowers. There's also a pork belly, soy egg and rice dish as a supplement for the very hungry.
Vibe: Décor is stringently minimalist: blank white walls, neutral grey cement floor and simple bleached birch-colored furniture mimic the quiet vibe of a peaceful Japanese rock garden. Older diners may not appreciate the backless seats (but a few seats at the small counter do have backs).
What you're drinking: Right now there's no wine or other alcohol (license pending). The menu lists Japanese soft drinks: milk-flavored Calpico and Ramune with a glass marble in the bottle.
How's the service: Charmingly inexperienced — so far, friends are helping out waiting tables.
Details: 11925 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (424) 535-3041, katorestaurant.com. Open Monday through Thursday 5:30-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30-11 p.m. Closed Sunday.