To dine at Hayato is to be transported to Japan. The tastes are bold yet delicate. Wild yet precious. Chef Brandon Go meticulously finishes every dish in front you throughout the meal. While there is admittedly no avant-garde ground being broken with serving old school Japanese kappo kaiseki, the deftness and precision of the execution at Hayato should excite the L.A. diner all the same. No fusion of cuisines will be found here. What you are eating IS what they are serving in some of the finest traditional restaurants of Japan - Same ingredients, same mise en place, same cooking techniques. My kaiseki meal at Hayato, served during the current soft opening, was one of the finest meals I’ve enjoyed so far this year.
And in a creative, cosmopolitan Pacific Rim city such as Los Angeles - where the amalgam of clashing cultures meshed to create just the right conditions for wonderful inventions like Spago’s smoked salmon pizza, The Donut Man’s strawberry doughnut and Philippe’s French dip sandwich - coming “full circle” and going back to all-traditional preparations actually seems like the logical next step forward.
As Chef Go confesses openly, the sourcing of the ingredients for every one of his authentic kaiseki services poses potential challenges. Sometimes there are no shrimps available from Tsukiji Market. Sometime the eel-monger sends hamo which are too small and not fatty enough for the chef’s liking. The premium binchotan (pine charcoal imported from Japan) alone costs $150 per bag. Hopefully, once things smooth out later on, the occasional hiccup with sourcing of seasonal items will become a thing of the past.
Perhaps one of the loveliest things about kappo-style eating at Hayato is the interaction between the chef and the customer. Having worked in a Japanese kitchen practically all his life (his family has operated a successful sushi shop for years), Chef Go is thoroughly experienced in Japanese cuisine and its nuances. He has apprenticed at some of the best regarded Japanese kitchens, mainly under the tutelage of kaiseki master Hideki Ishikawa in Tokyo. Even better, he enthusiastically shares his knowledge of washoku with his diners. I am confident that almost everyone will complete their kaiseki at Hayato with at least a small increment in their understanding of Japanese cuisine.
After a welcome sake aperatif, let’s have some kaiseki! Itadakimasu!
Binchotan-seared Santa Barbara spot prawn, tosazu jelly, fava bean & okra… Tosazu is a vinegar dressing featuring smoky katsuobushi (dried and smoked bonito). The perfectly seared spot prawn tail was just marvelous. By the way, Chef Go uses no butane torches for the searing. All heat for grilling and searing at Hayato is provided by old-fashioned binchotan (Japanese pine charcoal). Mad respect.
The head of the shrimp (the best part), was quick-fried with its roe, and presented with sea salt… Superb!
Sake: Dassai 39… True to kappo ryori hospitality, Chef Go pours all drinks for his counter customers.
Hokkaido scallop, farmers market summer corn & mitsuba kakiage… What a fantastic summer bite.
Aji bo-zushi… Line-caught horse mackerel with pressed and seasoned sushi rice. Terrific stuff!
Live amerika-ichogani (Dungeness crab) shinjyo owan with junsai (water shield) & baby kabu (turnip)… Chef Go stresses locality and taste here. Ounce for ounce, he finds Dungeness crabmeat to be more intense in taste. He states also that Dungeness crab “binds” better than other crabs types when used in an owan-style presentation. Junsai is an aquatic vegetable used for adding interesting texture to dishes. In the past, I’ve seen Shunji-san and Nakayama-san use junsai to great effect. No exception here with Chef Go - this bowl of crab owan is simply fabulous.
Wild Japanese tai (sea bream) sashimi with myoga, shiso, grated wasabi… Go-san explains: Tai (sea bream) is a fish so ingrained in the Japanese food psyche, it almost has to be included in any high-end meal. And wild-caught tai has a unique flavor not easily replicated in its farmed counterpart.
Steamed Central Coast abalone with awabi kimo (abalone liver)… Again, locality plays a part in the kaiseki ethos. The steaming of the awabi takes considerable skill - it is done painstakingly slowly so as to not leech out the abalone’s natural flavor/umami (an act many other younger chefs are prone to commit), says Chef Go. This awabi was served with a sauce of kimo (its own liver). WOW! Overall this dish was definitely tied with n/naka’s baby abalone spaghettini as the best abalone presentation I’ve yet had in the United States! Terrific!!!
Binchotan-grilled nodoguro (blackthroat perch) with gobo… Nodoguro is having is moment in the spotlight, appearing on many menus across town these days. Chef Go goes further to explain why the characteristics of this interesting fish lend itself to grilling, as well as sushi purposes.
Anago (sea eel) tempura, gin-an (dashi ‘silver’ ankake), shoga (ginger) & Tokyo negi (scallion)… Such gorgeous frying technique on display here!
Mebaru (rock cod) shabu shabu with mizuna, shiitake & bamboo… Really flavorful broth here - the mizuna adds a totally Japanese feel to the dish.
Seared kamasu (baby barracuda) takikomi gohan kamameshi-style with miso soup and pickled vegetables… For the final course before dessert, and served with hoji-cha (roasted tea), Chef Go presented another fish which releases deep tastes once seared. An outstanding rice set!
Andy’s Orchard Gold Dust peaches with sake gelee… A rare treat from Morgan Hill, these heavenly bites of ripe, sugary peach were the essence of summer itself!
The finessed pacing, the warm hospitality, the attention to detail - basically the things I look for in a washoku meal of this type - all of these are present in abundance at Hayato. The $200 price tag per person isn’t cheap, but frankly an experience of Hayato’s caliber is well worth the price of admission here. Currently, even in its soft opening, there is absolutely nothing else like this that even comes close in Los Angeles.
Once the finishing touches are placed on the tatami room (a private room which will seat 4), Hayato will celebrate its grand opening in autumn.
By going back to the roots of its homeland, Hayato’s audacious new kaiseki-only format at ROW DTLA represents the next step in the evolution of Japanese cuisine in Los Angeles. It is a meal not to be missed.
1320 E. 7th St., Suite 126
Los Angeles, CA 90021