Agura: Japanese flavors, French open

The West Hollywood restaurant's fusion-minded menu can be wild and whimsical, but the traditional is given its due as well.

December 28, 2009|By Jessica Gelt
  • A giant gold Buddha overlooks Agura, a new French-influenced Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in West Hollywood that is decked out as a glam monastery.
A giant gold Buddha overlooks Agura, a new French-influenced Japanese… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles isn't a city known for its humble design schemes. That's why diners aren't fazed when they step off La Cienega Boulevard and into a new restaurant called Agura, which features a sushi bar lorded over by a massive golden Buddha statue.

This isn't the smiling, rotund variety of Buddha found on your grandma's kitsch shelf, either. It's a noble, beatific Buddha meant to reflect the serious nature of the space. Before its turn as a restaurant, the structure housing Agura was a church.

As if a Buddha in a church weren't fusion-y enough, the owner of Agura -- a Japanese restaurateur named Yasumasa Kawabata -- hired a chef schooled in French cooking to execute an often wild menu of traditional Japanese flavors mixed with the opulence of French cuisine. The resulting dishes are blithe, whimsical and a bit heavier than your average Japanese food

Take, for example, the creamed crab crepe appetizer. It's a small crepe stuffed with king crab and Gruyère cheese, and topped with a light tomato sauce and an icy dollop of mango ice cream. It looks all wrong on the menu page, but dare to try it and you might be pleasantly surprised. The same goes for the collagen terrine, which is basically a pork gelée made from pig's feet and served with lemon sauce.

"It gives the ladies very nice skin," manager Kiyoshi Sagawa says of the unusual concoction, which is more commonplace in Japan as a soup. "Since [the chef] wants it to be fusion, he made it a terrine. He cooks it for over 10 hours and serves it with vegetables and herbs."

If you're in the mood for something a bit more straightforward, Agura also serves a full menu of traditional sushi and sashimi, including a white dragon roll made with yellowtail tuna and jalapeños that resembles a similar specialty at Nobu.

Presentation is elaborate bordering on ostentatious, which is fitting considering the bejeweled nature of the space, with its borderline rococo straight-back chairs, high wood-beamed ceiling and lavish chandelier. It's actually the ideal environment to serve up a hollowed-out tomato filled with shrimp, scallops and sea bass in a spicy dynamite sauce, on top of a giant clamshell that is itself embedded in a springy lump of wasabi mashed potatoes.

At Agura, the delicate American eye is shielded from anything remotely resembling the animal it came from. "In Japan, nobody minds seeing those things, but here it's a bit too much," jokes Sagawa.

That holds especially true for La Cienega's restaurant row in West Hollywood. But the well-heeled, out-and-about crowd is what owner Kawabata was hoping to attract anyway. "His flagship restaurant in Japan is called Agura," says Sagawa. "Here, he wasn't looking to open in Torrance or any other Asian community. He was looking for the Hollywood night-life scene."

He certainly found that with Agura. Now if only there were a way to put collagen in all the dishes. . . .

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