Dining options are pretty dire in the Hollywood Boulevard environs. One can only eat so much Baja Fresh, the time it takes to get a simple Double Double at In-N-Wait can consume an entire lunch break, and one will only endure so many overcooked burgers at 25 Degrees before one throws in the towel there. Moreover, the healthier options in the area are pretty much limited to the glorified 7-11 that is Famima!! So when, while stretching my legs the other day down towards Vine, I saw diners' filling the newly opened Katsuya midday, I almost lept with joy. Something halfway decent and healthy reasonably near the office - all right!
Clearly Katsuya Hollywood is a big deal - they have their own lane of traffic blocked off on Vine for the valet. We were a bit confused, expecting a door in the front, the going through the one on the right, only to have the one on the left opened for us by the friendly hostess. The grid of floating white sushi knives floating in lucite cubes (which I assume double as bar tables as people wait for tables when it's crowded) lacked the impact I'm sure they have at night; clearly this place was designed to be experienced at night.
We were guided to the side with the sushi bar and seated at a banquette and handed the menus. Two types of soy sauce - light in the white decanter, dark in the black stone one - are on the table. The menus feature a combination of cold and hot entrées, appetizers, rolls, sushi, and, most surprisingly, a good offering of lunch specials. Before we headed out to Katsuya, one coworker said to me, "Isn't that going to be expensive?" But the miso black cod lunch special, at $12 with miso soup, rice, and vegetables, is a full meal at a good price. A large slab of flaky cod comes baked on a leaf, lighty dressed with miso that does not overwhelm the flavor of the fish. There is a small dish of steamed zucchini and a few florets of chilled broccoli with it; this is not a trencherman's lunch, to be sure, but it was just right for most ladies and guys with smaller appetites, and a cut roll on the side should fill up the hungrier sorts among us.
Or there's the $18 lunch special of eight pieces of sushi and a choice of chicken or beef teriyaki or vegetable tempura. The eight pieces of nigiri-zushi included the de rigueur filler egg (ick), eel, yellowtail, tuna, salmon, halibut, shrimp, and mackerel. There were two fights amongst us, one of which I won - who got to eat the piece of hamachi - and one of which I lost - who had to eat the piece of mackerel. And the mackerel was actually fantastic. It was the first piece of mackerel that did not taste like licking the deck of a fishing boat; I quite enjoyed it. My friend who ordered it chose the chicken teriyaki. It came with the same vegetables and rice as the cod. The chicken was a smallish grilled breast, sliced, with teriyaki sauce over it. It was a good sauce, not too sugary, but it is not the most memorable version I have had of the dish by a long mile. It is almost certainly healthier than those versions, but still, rather boring.
We had a California cut roll here as we hunted around for items. As California rolls go, this one was solid. I chose the spicy tuna on crispy rice, which was a solid rendition. I appreciate that Katsuya's spicy tuna is not mouth-numbingly spicy, but a touch more heat might be nice. The two stars of the day were the specialty rolls we ordered. These will pad out the bill, to be sure, but they are really what one comes to Katsuya to order. The first was the Katsuya Roll, filled with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, scallop, and likely a few other things I'm forgetting, wrapped in rice, then in cucumber. The cut roll slices, easily around three inches in diameter, are held together with toothpicks, and the best method of attack is to use the toothpick to dip the rounds in the ponzu sauce provided. We expected that to be the ne plus ultra until our final, last-minute choice came to the table. Having seen so many baskets of vegetable tempura come out to other tables, we got a sudden hankering for something fried, though, at $12, it was not going to be a basket of vegetable tempura. We could use that money on something far more deserving - like the rock shrimp tempura in the spicy tuna cut roll. The fried shrimp are tossed in a spicy sauce, almost like a spicy Japanese remoulade, then sat atop eight pieces of a spicy tuna roll wrapped in soy paper. It really is a treat. No, it's not for purists, but it sure is tasty.
Sadly, the appealing robata options listed on the website aren't available in Hollywood. The robata bar is at the Brentwood location only.
With one of the large bottles of Asahi split between two of us and a glass of viognier, the total for lunch was $109 before tip - about $36 per person. And if we had been more frugal, just getting a lunch special each, we each easily could have slid out of there with change from a twenty after tip.
Service was a bit slow to start with; it took time to get our drinks and for us to put in our orders. However, as soon as things got rolling, everything kept on at a good clip. And our server was charming. Everyone from the runners to the hostesses was really friendly and outgoing, not something one might expect from a restaurant with such a hip, scene-y reputation. And the place does just look great inside, from the large photo murals to the couches and chairs to the infinite mirror bathrooms with the slab sinks that caused both me and my friend to perform a double-take.
All told, I was pleasantly surprised on all fronts by Katsuya - the service, the food, and the price. It really made quite an impression on my coworkers, who had no idea what was down there until the car rounded the corner. One of them is already planning our next lunch trip there...
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