Equal Measures of Yin and Yang
Laguna Beach’s Katsuya is the latest brainchild of master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi and Sam Nazarian, founder and chief executive officer of sbe, a conglomerate of real estate, entertainment and hospitality businesses. Known for hearty fare and signature cocktails, this eatery generates an LA-hip vibe that attracts patrons with a flair for panache.
The owners gutted and remodeled the former Hush restaurant into several spacious dining areas and a small sushi bar.
My maiden voyage to Katsuya was during lunch, which has been discontinued, and the service was less than stellar. I was the only patron at the six-seat sushi bar and there was a very small lunch crowd. After I placed my cocktail order I waited at least 10 minutes before my waitress delivered the drink. The bartender promptly mixed my libation but the server left my cocktail on the bar for what seemed like an eternity. I wanted to walk over and grab it myself.
I love spicy foods and enjoy spice in my libations even more. The Burning Mandarin went right up the Scoville heat scale. Muddled Serrano chili, fresh juices, a thinly sliced chili floater and Absolute Mandarin vodka are the key ingredients in Katsuya’s signature cocktail. My lips burned and my cheeks flushed as I savored every drop!
Even so, my first experience dining on Katsuya sashimi left me feeling ripped off. I was teased with superior halibut sashimi only to receive a meager portion of uber-thin slices of fish for $16. Raw fish is traditionally served in slivers. My halibut order was so thin the fish was translucent. Yellowtail sushi also was of excellent quality. Unfortunately, the fish pieces were equally minuscule.
My son and I split an order of Baked Crab Hand Rolls, which were wrapped in soy paper with a hint of chef’s signature sauce. The hand rolls were simple and delicious, $16 for two. We also enjoyed an appetizer of olive oil marinated, salted and grilled Shishito peppers. The portion of peppers was huge and a fabulous value at $8.
Of Katsuya’s signature dishes, my favorite is the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna. A generous mound of tuna mixture is crowned with a rectangular piece of gently fried crispy rice. I bit into the sushi and my teeth crunched through a crisp semi-sweet texture followed by soft pile of spicy tuna. Another desired Katsuya dish is the Spicy Albacore with Crispy Onions. Six slices of albacore were blanketed by onions fried to bring out a gentle sweet note similar to molasses, a nice counterpoint to savory albacore.
Robata style grilling is popular in Japanese restaurants. Veggies, seafood and meats are gently grilled over very high heat to maintaining the moisture of the food. Various sauces are served with each order depending on the item grilled. I ordered the baby artichokes, basted with garlic clarified butter and grilled to perfection by the Robata chef and a good value for a mere $3.
Dessert called for Katsuya’s take on homemade apple pie. “Fugi Apple” is vanilla gelato ice cream with caramel sauce, rum raisins and diced cinnamon apples. The foundation of custard and white cake at the bottom of a flakey phyllo dough crust is served with a pleasant tarragon sauce drizzle. This dessert is comforting and delicious! Amazingly, the rich sauce had a hint of black licorice flavor.
With its excellent grade sushi and sashimi, some tasty signature dishes and the option of ordering from the Robata grill, Katsuya is a welcome spot for those fueled by wanting to be seen at an over-priced name restaurant. Most of our local younger families and Gen-X’s may not fit that criteria.
Katsuya Laguna Beach
858 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Thurs-Sat 5:30-12 am
Valet Parking $3