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Batter Up: Tempura Stands Out at Omni Hotel's Kyoto

* FIRST IMPRESSIONS

October 16, 1997|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Kyoto, the new Japanese restaurant in the Omni Hotel in downtown L.A., offers sushi that's beautifully made and rigorously authentic.

Working in front of a dramatic 600-gallon aquarium filled with stunning fans of coral and brilliantly striped saltwater fish, sushi chef Horii Hitoshi may offer a sashimi plate of toro, conch, giant clam and striped bass, a study in textures and subtly differentiated flavors.

An oval of rice is topped with raw sweet shrimp. A few minutes later its head arrives, fried to a golden crunch. The couple next to us polish off a hand roll filled with natto, the slimy fermented soybeans that are something of an acquired taste, even for some Japanese.

But what sets Kyoto apart is its tempura bar, with its array of vegetables and seafood laid out on ice in front of the chef. The chef may begin by offering two spears of asparagus swathed in a gauzy batter followed by slender whole peppers, and then ply you with seafood--king crab leg in a more substantial batter, red snapper and white fish and shiso leaf--until you say when.

The restaurant proper also offers bento boxes and cooked dishes at lunch, but at night (which means the early evening here), only the sushi and tempura bars are open. Or you can stop in for a drink. Kyoto has an excellent array of premium sakes, from $8 to $30 a glass. One, which I haven't tried yet, is $150 a bottle, which is some kind of fancy price for rice wine.

BE THERE

Kyoto, Omni Los Angeles Hotel & Centre, 930 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 896-3812. Open Monday through Friday for breakfast; lunch, sushi, tempura and bar 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and sushi and tempura bars only, 5 to 9 p.m. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Japanese breakfast $14.25 to $17.75; lunch items, sushi and tempura combinations $10.75 to $18.75, more for omakase or chef's choice.

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