Definitely not designed by Philippe Starck, the new Kiwami sushi restaurant from Katsuya Uechi is restrained compared with the trio of Katsuya by Starck restaurants that Uechi opened with SBE. Those are fine for trendy scenesters, but serious sushi aficionados will want to beat a path to Kiwami in Studio City, which happens to be just blocks from the sushi master's original Katsu-ya. I know, I know, the names are confusing.
All you need to know, though, is that the sushi master himself is in the house at this new upscale sushi restaurant. And if the level of staff and service is any indication, he really wants this place to succeed. Forget everything you've been subjected to at Katsuya by Starck -- the crowds, the circus atmosphere, the mediocre seafood. Kiwami is the opposite.
The design is simple and serene, the sole spots of color an ornate brocade obi splashed across the far wall and potted orchids. The chairs are black leather, and thin spiraled straw mats cushion the benches. In short, it's not your neighborhood sushi joint.
First of all, the seafood -- toro, yellowtail belly, sweet shrimp, scallop -- is top-notch. And for this level of quality, the sushi omakase at $70 seems incredibly reasonable. So are some of the starters, like the small bowl of seaweed salad made with several types of seaweed in a delicious sweet dressing. Yellowtail jalapeno arrives with each piece of pale satiny fish curled up on itself and topped with a slice of hot pepper. Sumptuous scallop sashimi is crowned with a dab of caviar. And the crispy rice cake topped with spicy tuna contrasts the warm rice cake with the cool tuna. I loved the silky salmon carpaccio in yuzu vinaigrette too.
The menu isn't all sushi though. Miso-marinated black cod is a given, but you can also get a roasted duck breast and leg in an orange soy sauce and beautiful Kurosawa beef steamed "shabu shabu-style" in a bamboo leaf, which I highly recommend.
This time the folks in the 818 area code win out with the debut of this exciting new sushi restaurant. Who knows? This may be enough to get Angelenos driving over the hill to Studio City.
Note: No one here seems to answer the phone until late afternoon.
Where: 11920 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
When: Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. No lunch on weekends. Beer and sake. Valet parking, $4.50.
Price: Starters, $4 to $15; cold dishes, $12 to $18; hot dishes, $15 to $28; tempura, $2 to $8; nigiri sushi, $5 to market price; rolled sushi, $5 to $15.
Contact: (818) 763-3910