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The Gossiping Gourmet: Katsuya is best with creative combinations

August 10, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
(Don Leach, Independent )

Katsuya has arrived in Laguna with a bang, and if you enjoyed the ironically titled Hush for its high-decibel ambience, you won't be disappointed with the restaurant that has taken its place. Designed by minimalist Phillip Starck, its hard surfaces bounce the frequencies to ever-higher levels as the evening wears on.

You enter this Cal-Japanese hot spot directly into the capacious bar area where everyone seems to be having a very high time sipping their specialty cocktails. From there you can proceed up the steps to the main dining room or onto the large glass-enclosed patio. The highlights of the décor include giant images of a geisha's facial features — one is an eyebrow, one is painted lips, etc. Tall tumulus stones flank the dining room and are painted with kanji calligraphic characters that spell katsuya, which means victory and is also the name of the executive chef Katsuya Uechi.

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We sat on the patio, which was a bit quieter, and tried to puzzle out the extensive menu. There is certainly something for everyone as categories include: robata (grilled food), starters, soups and salads, sushi and sashimi, sushi rolls, hot dishes and desserts, as well as a three-course teriyaki pre-fixe, an omakase (chef's choice) dinner and a tasting menu. In each major category there is a box listing house specialties in that category. We did our best to try a bit of everything.

The robata grill heats to 1,200 degrees so the food is flash-seared, sealing in all the juices. We enjoyed the spectacular, juicy, earthy, many-lobed maitake mushroom accented with a sweet glaze — it's good tasting and good for you too. Less interesting were the canned artichoke hearts.

We sampled three chicken preparations, including: negine,chicken breast skewers with yakitori sauce; sasami, skewers with mild wasabi sauce and tsukine; and meatballs, none of which were particularly exciting.

Katsuya shines when it comes to creative fusions and tasty sauces, but the quality of the raw fish itself, though good, is not the perfect sashimi that you might want to eat on its own with a dab of soy sauce.

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