Beware the east-west rivalry in L.A. It's not East Coast-West Coast, but East Side-West Side, and it resembles the unending uptown-downtown argument here. "I live two blocks from the Central Park" becomes "I can see the ocean from my window." The usual downtown rejoinder, "No one lives there" becomes "Don't bother looking for any celebrities in West L.A. None of them live there."

Of all the maligned West Side neighborhoods, Brentwood fares the worst. It has always mystified me why this place, which looks no different from much of the rest of LA and even features a sort of main street, San Vicente, where people can be spied - gasp! - walking, is so loathed by the rest of the greater Los Angeles area.

Then I went to the new Katsuya in Brentwood, and I understood.

At first, the only thing that struck me as unusual about Katsuya was the design, which is by Philippe Starck. In trademark Starck sexy style, the ceilings are black, the walls polished blond wood, the space low-ceilinged, brooding, yet cavernous, the chairs and tables sleek, the walls decked with lightbox close-ups of lips, made-up eyes, and other enticing motifs.

We sat down at the yakitori bar, ordered, and looked around. That's when I began to notice something else unusual about the place. A man in his mid-forties with blond surfer hair, a Magnum-P.I.-style mustache, black tee shirt and long platinum chain sat at the opposite corner of the bar, eating dinner with his family, a boy of about eight, also dressed in a black tee and platinum chain, and the boy's blond mother, whose eyebrows were arched and lips pursed in an expression of continual surprise.

"I think the mother's had a little too much Botox," I whispered to California Girl.

"That's not the mother. The father's on a date." We watched the man nuzzle the woman as the son ripped through at least thirty dollars worth of sushi rolls next to them.

What a fascinating glimpse into L.A. culture! I laughed, but California Girl was not amused.

The first course of the omakase arrived. A little fried cone held upright by a bed of sesame seeds ensconced a salmon and crab puree. Smooth and creamy, underlaid with hints of scallion and chili, the puree was the perfect amuse bouche. Next up was a particularly Californian creation, a generous portion of seared tuna paired with tomato salsa. Surprisingly, the flavorful tuna stood up to the salsa, which was very fresh, only mildly acidic, and balanced out by the neutrality of avocado. Beautifully presented with a single marigold riding atop, this was one of Katsuya's most inventive dishes.

A party of four ladies dined at a table near the sushi bar. One of them wore her sunglasses throughout the meal, although it was dark outside and her table was in a nearly unlit section of the restaurant.

I had to tear my gaze away from the table of ladies when another plate was set in front of me. Fortunately, the kobe beef and foie gras could hold anyone's attention. The tender, grassy flavor of the rare kobe beef melded with the decadent slice of seared foie gras on top. As you can see by the carbonized look of the dish, it was laced throughout with an intense smoky taste that reminded me of that Liquid Smoke bottle my mother used to keep next to the Gravy Master. Keep an eye out for this flavor. Now that barbecue season is nearly upon us, this "Liquid Smoke" factor should be recurring more and more frequently, not just in meats, but in vegetables. You'll find this flavor not just in Japanese cuisine but in Middle-Eastern dishes.

The actual barbecue was disappointing and plain compared to the allusion to barbecue that preceded it, and there was so much of it. By this point I was beginning to reach my limit. Katsuya doesn't stint in the portion category, but the omakase was served at a pace that matched a competitive eating event. The reason was obvious: the restaurant was as packed to the gills as I was, and they needed our seats. At times the servers placed the next dish in front of me before I was even finished with the preceding course. Needless to say, this is a highly incorrect way of serving omakase and doesn't befit a serious Japanese restaurant.

But it was hard to be serious when I was constantly entertained by the crowd. When the table of ladies got up to leave, the sunglassed woman removed her sunglasses as she was walking through the restaurant and beamed at everyone around her. If she was famous, no one recognized her. But we did notice her fur-cuffed jacket, worn on a 65-degree evening.

The presentation of the "lobster confetti" won serious points - lobster tempura wrapped in hundreds of tiny seaweed streamers and served in a pretty wicker basket - but the taste was not up to par with the concept. Overcooked and underseasoned, the lobster made me homesick for the East Coast verison.

Some respite arrived in the form of a tomato coulis shooter, a palate cleanser before the sushi. California Girl and I studied a young couple at the other end of the yakitori bar. He was wearing a polo shirt, she in a light, sequined jacket and perfect makeup. They looked to be about 11 and 13, respectively.

"Oh my God," California Girl exclaimed. "Are they on a date?"

"No, I think they're brother and sister. Look at them. They look exactly alike."

Finally, the moment I'd been waiting for: the sushi. If I had to do Katsuya all over again, I'd order all sushi and nothing else. What stood out about Katsuya's was not so much the artistry of Katsuya Uechi, though he is one of the best sushi chefs in the city. It was his ability to secure supremely excellent cuts of fish, which is no small task in itself. I've never been to Masa, but Katsuya's fish was better than any sushi I've tasted on the East Coast. From left to right: you'll see salmon on toasted rice, tuna, yellowtail, salmon, albacore with caviar, and eel. The yellowtail and salmon were particularly melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the toasted rice was an interesting twist.

Here's a chocolate thing that came at the end. I couldn't eat it by then, but I did like the balls of green tea ice cream served in a sort of gel wrapper.

California Girl returned from the bathroom and nodded towards the 13-year-old.

"She's got a designer handbag hanging on the back of her chair. What is wrong with people? Where are the parents?"

"They're right behind the kids, having a dinner party with their friends."

I thought it was all very amusing. So I was surprised afterwards when someone at a barbecue in Los Feliz (ahem, East L.A.) asked us what we thought of the Brentwood Katsuya and California Girl said: "It was terrible."

She explained that she liked the food but hated the scene. But the scene was so funny, I said, "like dinner and a show!" It was so L.A.

At this point both California Girl and our Los Feliz host glowered at me. Later I would think that I would have felt the same way if they encountered lots of pushy, rude people in the Meatpacking District and pronounced the place "so New York."

"It is not L.A.," they said. "It's Brentwood!"

11777 San Vicente Boulevard, between Montana and Barrington

the original Sushi Katsu-ya:
11680 Ventura Boulevard, between Colfax and Tujunga
Studio City

Starck Katsuyas to come:
Hollywood - Fall 2007
Downtown - Summer 2008


foodette said...

I definitely feel the need to respond to this, since I live in Brentwood. First of all, Katsuya is a new restaurant that is the most "sceney" that you will get in Brentwood. People from all over the Westside go there, including celebs (I have seen Dustin Hoffman there, for example), but also including people like you described. As a matter of fact, the last time I was there (Friday) it was very much how you describe.

However, you can go to many other wonderful restaurants in Brentwood that are not filled with people like that. TAKAO and Pizzicoto are two amazing restaurants that are very "hole in the wall" types, with just normal people enjoying extraordinary meals.

Yes, there are plenty of annoying rich kids here, lots of designer bags, etc. And, sadly, I am not one of them. I live in one of the dumpier apartment buildings. But, I love my neighborhood. You can walk everywhere, there are tons of great places to eat, and things you need (library, drug store, bank, post office, dog park, etc).

I have a few choice things I could say about Los Feliz, but I wouldn't want to hurt their sensitve, artistic feelings.

Anyway, I hate to be defensive, but I felt I had to defend my neighborhood. If you ever come back to LA, I will take you to even better sushi two blocks away, with no "scene" from Katsuya.