Went to a "test dinner" last night at a new place called KULA. It's located in Century City, in the former space that was most recently Aphrodisiac and before that Lunaria. The restaurant is scheduled to open on Saturday, Dec. 1st...dinner only, at first.
Of course, it's always difficult to judge a new restaurant when it's in its "shakedown" phase, but my initial impression was extremely positive. First of all, the interior decor is very classy, with elaborate stone walls and a clean, elegant design. It reminded me of Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, with its Frank Lloyd Wright influence. We sat in an extremely comfortable large, white leather booth that allowed us to see everyone who entered, without being conspicuous.
We got off to a bit of a slow start, as the host did not immediately greet us upon entering (probably since they're still gettting their signals straight). However, once we were seated, we put ourselves in the hands of a totally pro waiter named Randy, who previously worked at Spago, The Ivy and The Palm, among other places. He couldn't have been nicer or more attentive, and within minutes we were toasting each other with the delicious house sake and Champagne.
That night's menu was a bit limited, since it was a test dinner...the full menu looks quite intriguing, with a wide range of options, from traditional sushi to exotic tofu dishes. We were particularly impressed by Kula's commitment to organic sources for many of its ingredients. For example, the sweet-tasting organic soy sauce was sublime when mixed with fresh wasabi, providing a high-quality kick to the traditional rolls and sushi offerings.
We started with some edamame, but in all honesty, it was the only miscue in our meal. Perhaps it was just me, but I tend to like my edamame salty and hot (the better to fuel my Champagne consumption!), and this version was lukewarm and lacking salt. Perhaps that was because it was just the second night they were opened, so I'll chalk it up to an opening oversight.
But after that, things kicked into high gear. My wife really enjoyed a creative corn and miso soup, while I started with a tofu salad that featured a rocking fresh wasabi dressing that totally blew me away! The tofu itself was silky soft, not firm, and had an addictive, subtle tang. Not your father's tofu!
Our waiter also tempted us with another appetizer, this one featuring a creamier tofu that was topped by a single perfect shrimp and black caviar....yummmmm!
Then we moved on to soft shell crab tempura, which was hot and tasty, hitting all the right notes. And though California Roll has become a total cliche these days, Kula's was a revelation, made with plenty of real crab and artfully presented on a beautiful rectangular platter...it reminded us why the California Roll became so popular in the first place. They really nailed that, along with an extremely flavorful Caterpillar Roll.
Then we had a traditional salmon teriyaki, which doesn't seem that adventurous, but this was the quintessential version. It was a HUGE piece of fresh salmon, perfectly cooked, along with al dente asparagus, fresh spinach and mushrooms. It was VERY filling and I predict they will eventually decide to trim the portion sizes, because we were totally stuffed!
Dessert was green tea creme brulee and a large coconut cheesecake with fresh berries in mango sauce. Man, that cheesecake was intense! I was reluctant to finish it because it was sooooo good, I didn't want it to end!
I suspect that once the restaurant gets up and running, they will probably want to bring in a jazz combo or other music in the bar area, which is quite large and seems the perfect place for after-work cocktails if you are in the Century City area. After being in so many loud L.A. restaurants, Kula seemed compatively tranquil. Great for conversation, but perhaps needing a little music to boost the ambient energy level.
All in all, they seem like they're off to a good start. I'm looking forward to going back and ordering off the full menu next month.