Jon Yao, a 28-year-old native of Walnut in the San Gabriel Valley, has an extraordinary gift not only for communicating a sense of place in his food but for conveying his own sense of place in the world. At Kato, he thinks through fish steamed with aromatics and finished with hot oil, a classic of Cantonese and Taiwanese repertoires: His take presents snowy turbot served in a tea made of fish bones, deepened with soy and aged rice wine. A relish of ginger and scallions and a ribbon of kohlrabi dusted with powdered scallion strike chords of fragrance and flavor that keep echoing.
Kato dwells in a two-story West L.A. strip mall, inconspicuous among restaurants that serve tlayudas, pupusas and tonkatsu. The room is spare and oddly angled, with the ephemeral feel of a pop-up.
At the table, familiar tropes of luxury can appear — the freshest uni atop a two-bite slab of crisped tapioca; Dungeness crab threaded into tremulous chawanmushi — but Yao knows not to take things too seriously. The star dessert is boniato, a tuber in the sweet potato genus, pounded into chewy spheres, covered with farmers cheese and shaved brown butter sablé. It playfully summons boba milk tea, but the bouncing textures and nutty warmth turn the dish into so much more than an exercise in clever mimicry.
An evening at Kato is a top-tier culinary experience; one can intuit that the food — and the mind behind it — will continue to reach and change in riveting directions. For its self-starting ambition, and its creative urgency, and the seamless pleasure of the experience, we couldn’t find a restaurant that better represents the very marrow of L.A dining.No alcohol. Lot or street parking. Credit cards accepted. Read the Los Angeles Times review »