Taiwan’s ambitious Kato tasting menu moves to downtown LA


Jon Yao is finally realizing his dream of moving his Taiwanese tasting menu restaurant Kato to a bigger space. In early 2022, the Kato team will reopen in former Mr Georgina of San Francisco chef Melissa Perello at Row DTLA in the Arts District, who announced last night that he wouldn’t reopen.

Perello, who also owns Francoise and Octavia, never really had the chance to develop Mr Georgina, with only four months of activity under his belt before the pandemic interrupted eating inside. The closure of Mr Georgina will allow Kato to take over the location. “It’s hard to leave a restaurant that has only opened four months. However, we do not see a viable way forward for Mr Georgina after COVID, ”Perello said in a statement. After thanking the staff and guests, Perello said: “We are grateful for the opportunity to pass the torch of this magnificent restaurant into the very capable hands of Jon Yao, Ryan Bailey, Nikki Reginaldo and the Kato team. “

With a move to an already operational food court, Kato’s last day in West LA will be November 20; the team will take a few months to rest over the holiday season, then ramp up for an opening in January or February 2022. The move to the city center has long been in the works for Yao and his partners, Nikki Reginaldo and Ryan Bailey , who together created a new parent company called Like Water Hospitality. The mission of the new group will be to make Kato (and hopefully other restaurants to come) one of the best gastronomic institutions in the country, one that catches the attention of the 50 best in the world and gets two or even three Michelin stars.

Considering what Yao has done with Kato, there’s probably never been such an unlikely culinary success in LA. Yao first opened in a near-hidden mall in 2016, initially billed as a Japanese tasting menu that cost just $ 49 per person. Over the years, it began to lean more into its Taiwanese and San Gabriel Valley roots, serving seemingly simple but thoughtful raw and cooked seafood, as well as luxurious dishes like the Wagyu Beef Rice Bowl. . Since then, Kato has garnered virtually any praise a restaurant could ask for, from a prominent place on LA Times List of 101 restaurants has a coveted Michelin star to be a perennial restaurant Eater Essential 38. Yao was awarded Food and wine Best New Chef in 2018, and his Eater video on Youtube has collected over 13 million views. That kind of recognition – especially the Michelin star – saved the restaurant, Yao says.

Yao had always planned to move Kato to a place that would better meet his ambitions – a larger, more upscale space to match the complex food and beautifully plate. Another desired improvement: The current Kato shopping center has never allowed full alcohol service, given the lack of space and permit requirements. The pandemic has strained operations again, with Yao making gorgeous jewelry boxed sashimi bentos first, then opening up to a small outdoor area in the parking lot. Still, the restaurant insisted on serving a full tasting menu of $ 150 per person (with more for extras), retaining its Michelin star last month.

Now with the old M.Georgina space there is a lot of space as well as the proximity to the San Gabriel Valley.

“We wanted to be closer to SGV, where a lot of our friends and family came from. Right now 30-40% of people come from SGV and drive two or three hours, ”says Reginaldo, who also grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and remains the enthusiastic personality that touches every table during service. “A lot of people who come here are young Asian Americans who are grateful for the performance, saying it’s a nostalgic experience, that the food reminds them of their home. We end up having conversations and then we start texting. We have lunch, we get Boba. We have that kind of privacy that I personally love a lot, ”she says. Yao recognizes that Reginaldo is essential to Kato’s success: “It’s like a mom and a pop. We didn’t reach another level until Nikki arrived, and people came to identify Kato with her.

Bailey, the third pillar of the Kato partnership, joined us three years ago with winemaking and operational experience in places like Nomadic At New York and LA, as well as Michelin star The kitchen in Sacramento. He provides Kato with a keen business acumen and organizational structure, complementing Yao and Reginaldo’s more hands-on food and beverage experiences. Before Kato, Yao played at Michelin Blessed and Coi, working the chain for the latter for eight months, but did not otherwise acquire high-level chef experience. Reginaldo also didn’t work in high-end restaurants before Kato, although she did project management at a brewery and earned a degree in hospitality. But Bailey joined the team believing in Kato’s talent and mission. “With Jon, you have one of the best chefs in LA who is putting Taiwanese cuisine on the world map,” he says.

Bailey believes that with a new space, Kato can achieve both critical and financial success. “I feel very secure with the business model,” he says, noting that he’s okay with doing the less interesting but no less important work of HR, accounting and other corporate governance. business that makes a restaurant viable. The trio complete their partnership with a sense of ambition, friendliness and ability that a fine dining restaurant needs: Yao as the culinary spirit, Reginaldo the warm and welcoming heart and Bailey the gastronomy veteran who brings the structure (as well as knowledge of wine).

Plain with brown butter and tapioca starter in Kato.

Yao is excited about the new opportunities that the downtown space will allow. “It’s a huge plus to have a Michelin-starred chef to design the kitchen,” says Yao. As for food, the kitchen has a wood-fired fireplace that will complement Yao’s culinary arsenal. There is a separate area to concentrate on the baking. A full cocktail bar and wine list to match Kato’s cuisine. Although there is a lot more room, Kato will still serve a modest number of diners every night, between 65 and 80, which is not much more than its current volume, to allow for a more theatrical experience like preparations. at the table that are suitable for a fancy meal.

While the loss of Mr Georgina is certainly a bummer for Perello fans, the addition of Kato should continue to introduce Yao and his Asian-American cuisine to a wider audience. “I feel like Kato is about to become a French laundry, a Meadowood – an iconic mainstay of LA,” Bailey says. The opening just steps from the two Michelin-starred Hayato by Brandon Go is another plus for Row DTLA, which sees a lot of weekend foot traffic in Smorgasburg but isn’t necessarily a weekday dining destination. The move leaves a gaping hole in West LA, though Yao says the mall’s location will eventually turn into something else that their Westside fans can use. But that won’t happen until downtown Kato is firmly re-established as one of LA’s most special restaurants.

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