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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Katsu: A Big Pearl in a Mall Oyster

October 03, 1986|RUTH REICHL

It's a bit of a surprise, finding this cool, understated elegance in a shopping-mall setting filled with pizza joints and inexpensive Asian restaurants. From the outside, Cafe Katsu, 2117 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 477-3359, doesn't even stand out from the rest. But walk through the door and it is instantly clear that this is anything but fast food.

If you didn't know it from the granite counters, the art on the walls, the chic of the waiters, you'd know it as soon as you looked at the menu. Tiny plates of appetizers include dishes like marinated tongue and salade nicoise and rillettes; they sell for a very reasonable $2 each ($2.50 at dinner). Entrees are also unusual: There are Franco-Japanese salads, a few fish, a steak in a strangely Japanese sauce that contains, among other things, curry.

Desserts are interesting, and there's a $6 combination plate for the curious sweet tooth. Like the other plates, this one is so artfully arranged that you instantly see the restaurant's relationship to the Katsu on the other side of town. But there are differences: The food at Katsu is traditionally Japanese and what this cafe serves is entirely eclectic. Prices here are reasonable and there is a very small wine list.

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