VegasEats Preview : Katsuya at SLS Las Vegas
The SLS Las Vegas hotel and casino has gone to great lengths telling anybody with ears and a thesaurus how their innovative collection of food and bev brands are - portraying CEO Sam Nazarian as some kind of messiah. Often, it is hard to separate the fiction from the facts, particularly when the information you have are press releases and the hype spawned from them.
As you probably know - while our hearts live in Las Vegas - the majority of the VT staff lives in sunny and beautiful Los Angeles, sharing streets and sidewalks with SLS Las Vegas' owner sbe entertainment. With SLS proudly touting how their stable of L.A. based brands will drive visitation to their challenged location, we thought we'd take advantage of our proximity to give y'all a little preview of what you might expect from the forthcoming SLS Las Vegas.
To be clear, this series of posts are previews of what might happen at SLS, based on reviews of the existing venues in Los Angeles.
Located on a stretch of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California is a school of restaurants collectively called Sushi Ginza. Ginza, a proper noun, is the name of an upscale shopping district in Tokyo, roughly transliterated to "The Rodeo Drive of Sushi." Sushi Ginza, (alternatively called Sushi Row and Sushi Corner) was ground zero for the American sushi obsession that spread like wildfire in the early 1980's. Competition here is fierce, with chefs constantly honing their craft and creatively pursuing new creations.
After schooling in Okinawa, Japan and a series of apprenticeships in local Los Angeles sushi restaurants Chef Katsuya Uechi opened his first restaurant Katsu-Ya (note the hyphen, it is important) in Sushi Ginza in 1997. Ten years later, Uechi's Katsu-Ya Group entered into an agreement with sbe entertainment to open a series of restaurants called KATSUYA by STARCK (note all caps, minus hyphen, plus Starck). The restaurants will be built and operated by sbe, designed by Philipe Starck based on Katsu-Ya's menu. Since sbe's partnership, KATSUYA by Starck locations mushroomed throughout Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Houston, South Beach and the forthcoming SLS Las Vegas restaurant. Katsu-Ya locations, owned by Katsu-Ya Group, have also expanded.
Me and MissMonkay brought along resident VT foodie JohnH, a self-professed sushi newbie to preview the forthcoming KATSUYA by Starck at SLS Las Vegas by going straight to the source - the original Katsu (dash) Ya in Sushi Ginza in Studio City, California.
Katsu-Ya is located in the corner of a non-descript strip mall surrounded on both sides by a pet supply store. After a short wait, we entered the dining room and were vaguely escorted to a table by a gorgeous and thorougly disinterested hostess. We sat down and instantaneously stared at each other in disbelief.
This place is loud. Not like dude-with-a-trunk-funkin-sound-system loud, or even Slayer-Reign-In-Blood loud, but 150-TV's-blasting-"best-cat-fights-from-Bravo-network" loud, LIVE and uncompressed at every table in your earhole, on beer. Now I know what the hostess' problem is, and I've inherited it. My fillings hurt, can someone pass the Reynolds Wrap? Holy fuck.
We're handed some menus, which are split between appetizers, entrees, hand rolls and nigiri sushi (by the piece). I look at the menu, but frankly, I can't concentrate or even think amidst this cacophony. MissMonkay picks out some basics, yelling "THIS GUY INVENTED THE CRISPY RICE, WE SHOULD GET THAT! OK?" John nods then returns to staring at the menu perplexed before calling in his lifeline "I don't really know much about Japanese cuisine." "SURE, LET ME HELP" I yelled, then opened the menu for us to read together, my feeble attempt rendered useless by the wall of white noise. Minutes ago, we were standing outside having witty repartee, now... our brain has become paralyzed.
The waiter arrives. I can't decide if he's a dolt or 'over it.' He takes our order - an array of appetizers, rolls, and nigiri as well as a pitcher of beer.
The beer arrives... the center of the pitcher has a device designed to keep beer cold where beer should be. Amateurs can't finish a pitcher before it gets warm. Strangely, I feel cheated out of a cup of beer and then begin probing the depths of existential crisis. WILL 1/4 OF YOU PEOPLE PLEASE SHUT UP! Cheers, big ears, the beers are here.
And the food starts arriving.
Creamy popcorn shrimp. It's sort of a joke to say that something "tastes like chicken" but in this case, it is true - Orange Chicken from (Sad) Panda Express.
Mixed tempura, MissMonkay absconded with the kabocha pumpkin before the camera arrived. She's safe - generally - as long as you keep your hands and feet clear from the path of her mouth. Heart u! No surprises here.
Yellowtail Jalapeno... it makes me sad that this fish lived only to be have its tasty flesh masked by a slice of jalapeno.
Spicy tuna on crispy rice. This is Katsu-Ya's signature dish, Japanese rice cakes pan seared until the base is crisped and topped with spicy tuna paste and jalapeno. MissMonkay loved this.
Tuna sashimi... unadorned with flavorings, but arranged to sort of resemble a fish. Art?
Tamago... slice of delicately sweetened shoyu egg omelete on rice with a seaweed wrap. I love Tamago sushi, but the subtlety was lost in overpowering sweetness.
Uni arrived... sea urchin on rice, wrapped in seaweed. Creamy, smoky, delicious. Then the baked green mussels, which were delicious but strangely still attached to the shell.
Halibut... nigiri sushi with ponzu (citrus/shoyu sauce), everything is great with ponzu.
And then it happened... the unending commotion at the surrounding tables finally erupted when one particularly drunk guy threw a sushi roll at the guy across his table, whizzing past JohnH before slamming into the edge of our table and splatting on the floor. He shouted multiple barely comprehensible apologies as his friends tried to subdue him... eventually dragging him to the edge of our table for another apology, before leaving the restaurant. Outrageous!
The waiter arrived and delivered this BSC Roll with baked scallops in a dynamite sauce over a California roll. We told him what happened and he shrugged it off non-chalantly. Is this par for the course Katsu-Ya behavior or the waiter a dolt? I was ready to walk out.
At that point another table of supremely loud people got up and left, causing a round of applause from other tables in the area. Finally, some relative peace and quiet, sadly occupied by the sound of steam coming out of our ears.
We paid the check ($91.63) and quickly as possible and got the hell out of there.
On the whole, Katsu-Ya's food was antithetical to what makes the sushi experience sublime - the delicacy of flavors curated in ways that excite the brain through the sensation of taste. Katsu-Ya is about getting drunk and stuffing your face.
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