Katsuya’s reservation number is a good one to keep in your little black smart phone. Especially during winter months when friends from points north start calling.
The restaurant is as stunning as the young, hip crowd it attracts. Tucked beyond the double dining rooms of the Bazaar and through the lobby of the SLS Hotel, it’s almost like a speakeasy hidden to the left of a bustling patio bar.
Inside, the gallery-like walls are ringed with deco molding and hazy, neon lighting. Outsized artwork includes a sexy geisha with glossy red lips who oversees an open kitchen where sushi chefs slice colorful creations.
The cocktail menu is filled with fun, tropical drinks but no prices. Katsuya is for those who don’t have to ask.
Like it’s older sister in L.A., it’s a scene restaurant. If you arrive early — anytime before, say, 8 p.m. — you might wonder why you are seated inches from the only other diners. But, by 10, you realize you are in a club and that the Hungarian models next to you are wearing too much perfume. The well-kept doyenne seated on the cozy banquet to your right comes here once a week with her banker husband and always orders the same thing. You are that close.
It’s not all about the food. What other restaurant do you know that includes the designer’s name—here the talented French fashion icon Philippe Starck — in its moniker?
But it’s not that the food is bad. While derivative, the six-page menu by Japanese master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi has some delicious offerings, though navigating it can be tough because the model-handsome staff isn’t particularly articulate on the subject.
The most popular dishes are those that rely on extreme contrasts of creamy and crispy coupled with salty and spicy. Many will be familiar. There is the fabulously crunchy Chinese chicken salad made famous by Wolfgang Puck three decades ago and, of course, Nobu’s irresistible deep-fried rock shrimp in spicy mayonnaise. The crispy rice topped with a zingy tuna tartar can be found locally at Makoto.
A glance at the fish in the cold case revealed a fairly pedestrian selection (salmon, yellowtail, halibut, shrimp, eel). It all looked glisteningly fresh, and proved pristine on our sashimi platter.
For those who want to avoid all the sugar and salt, raw is the way to go. A splash citrusy ponzu sauce and a dime-size slice of mild jalapeño pepper enhance simple yellowtail lozenges.
We also loved the robata items, including perky shrimp grilled four to a skewer with a sliver of lemon. We looked forward to the tskune shrimp balls, bite-size chicken meatballs, but though they made it onto our bill, they never appeared at the table.
Dishes fly out faster than the DJ switches tracks. At one point, someone else’s plate landed on our table, but before we could raise our fork to alert a server, a busboy did a pirouette and pulled it away without an “Excuse me.”
While most dishes were tasty, disappointments included heavily battered tempura vegetables and a panko-fried chicken roll stuffed with asparagus and other stir-fried vegetables that were drier than chicken fingers from a school cafeteria. The miso-glazed cod is so sticky-sweet that it overwhelmed the velvety fish. But, like all the dishes here, it was beautifully adorned. Purple orchids, a tangle of microgreens or a banana leaf platter make every plate festive.
The Stripped Baze is fresh and tender but not spicy enough for a dish described as “Szechuan style.” (It’s seemingly misspelled name is a play on striped bass, a favorite, according to our waiter, of a friend of the hotel’s owner, billionaire Sam Nazarian.)
Katsuya is like a Japanese reincarnation of China Grill, delivering a pricey, fast-paced meal better fueled with fruity cocktails than fine wine. It’s plenty of fun. The food is pretty good. There is no velvet rope. And you don’t have to pay a cover.