While at its core, food is sustenance, it can be so much more. There is a reason it’s known as the “culinary arts.” A well-prepared meal is a canvas for the Cook / Chef to showcase something to their customers. While taste is, of course, critical, having meals that surpass taste, to engage the other senses is something special. But when a meal can go beyond that, and convey the feelings of the Chef in each bite, those are some of the most cherished moments for a food lover.
Such is the case with Chef Brandon Hayato Go and his current Lunch Bento Box and Dinner Orizume Set. The dedication, earnestness, devotion, care and love that Chef Go and his staff have put in for every Bento Box or Orizume Dinner Set that goes out is evident from the moment you walk up to the outside counter to pick up your meal to-go. From the warm greeting by Yuki-san, who runs the front of the house, to Chef Go coming out to greet you and thank you personally for buying a meal and supporting his little restaurant, to the painstaking meticulous notes that are included in the Orizume Set (and the Bento Box to a lesser extent), to the way each bite of food is prepared and cooked and presented to you, all in takeout fashion, you get a deep sense of gratitude and hospitality with each morsel of food.
Note that this goes beyond Omotenashi (the Japanese cultural way of looking after guests), which, Hayato also incorporates with each to-go order (and back when dine-in was a thing), and it goes beyond fancy ingredients. We’ve experienced the genuineness and warm wishes and delight in each bite when dining on the legendary Fried Chicken with the Flossie’s family (for all our OG Hounds that remember Flossie’s (RIP)), as well as over the stunning Saudi Arabian Kabseh Rice (we could sense Chef-Owner Yusuf Abdo’s love and care and his well wishes in each bite), or the splendid meals we’ve had at Californios, where we could sense the passion and gratitude from Chef-Owner Val M. Cantu and staff.
What’s even more impressive is being able to convey these warm wishes through takeout meals. The pandemic has affected the restaurant industry in many ways, with some eateries worse off than others: Where some businesses might be able to simply sell their current dine-in menu packaged to-go, for others, their inherent format prevents that simple conversion. With Hayato, the venerable Kaiseki specialist relied on a course-by-course presentation and discussion for its dinners during pre-COVID times. It’s simply not possible to package up each Kaiseki course for takeout and expect it to hold up well during a drive home.
So Chef Go shut down for many months to figure out how to pivot while retaining the core values of Hayato in whatever they decided to do. And the end result is a Lunch Bento Box and Dinner Orizume Set.
But first, we wanted to show some additional support for Go-san, and picked up a bottle of:
Okunomatsu - Sakura - Daiginjo Sake (Fukushima, Japan):
I’ve really enjoyed Okunomatsu’s more premium offering, the Juhachidai Ihei, which is absolutely stunning, but had never seen their Sakura Daiginjo offered around town before. This turned out to be a bit more rustic and potent than their Juhachidai Ihei, but it was also half the price as well. For those seeking a great Sake from Go-san’s list, consider the Okunomatsu Juhachidai Ihei Daiginjo.
(Lunch) Bento Box:
Dashimaki Tamago, Wild Mexican White Shrimp Shinjo, Dried Shiitake Nimono, Chrysanthemum Greens with Sudachi Citrus, Pickled Daikon Namasu, Seared Duck Breast, Black Cod Saikyo Yaki, Japanese Cucumber with Sesame and Salt, Winter Melon in Ginger Dashi, Satsuma Sweet Potato Mitsu-ni, Datemaki Tamago, Grilled Hokkaido Scallop Shioyaki, Koshihikari Rice with Root Vegetables, Snow Crab Tofu, Agedashi Eggplant, Honshimeji Mushroom Ohitashi, Snow Crab Clw Sunomono:
While Go-san has offered a Lunch Bento Box before COVID-19, the months off has really energized him and his staff. The current Lunch Bento Box during the pandemic (and more stressful conditions) is even better than his original Bento, and it’s not even close.
Every bite of food in this new Lunch Bento Box has been elevated and offers an improved taste. But beyond the taste, you could sense the care and attention to cooking for each bite. Whether it was the stunning Dashimaki Tamago (Japanese Rolled Omelet), so moist and juicy, but nourishing as well, or the Agedashi Nasu (Eggplant) so infused with incredible flavor, but again, a sense of Go-san’s sentiments, to the Koshihikari Rice with Root Vegetables, this is a wonderful meal that is worth a try.
Recently Go-san debuted a new Dinner option, the Orizume Set, his way to present “Hayato” with all of his sentiments and values in takeout form. As we arrived, Yuki-san was waiting to greet us and Go-san soon stepped out to warmly welcome us as well.
While Go-san is not able to personally introduce and explain each course as you’re eating this in your home, he was more than happy to chat with us about the meal to come as we were picking it up. Through the conversation with the Chef, and later with the extensive notes in the meal, it is clear just how much thought, effort and care went into this meal.
Opening up the Orizume set, it is visually engaging from the start, elegant, yet simple packaging:
The included menu of what you’re about to eat (and the extensive notes) are printed on beautiful, high quality paper. The menu almost looks like a scroll:
The multi-tiered Orizume Box is nothing short of stunning. Visual presentation is without question, as every component and color was chosen for a reason and placed in a way to engage your sense of sight from the get-go:
And while that’s special and important, it goes far beyond that.
Fried Baby Corn, Fava Beans, Pickled Hoshigaki Rolled with Daikon, Japanese Sea Bream Tatsuta Age, Lobster Uma Ni:
Go-san displays a variety of classic Japanese cooking techniques in this meal, such as with Agemono (Fried Foods), where he starts with a seemingly simple Su-Age frying style (no batter) with the Fried Baby Corn. The freshness of the Baby Corn comes through not weighed down by any heavy oil taste. The Fava Beans, the Sea Bream Tatsuta-Age (another Agemono preparation) and Lobster Uma Ni all shine here.
Charcoal Grilled Aka Mutsu, Awa Fu Age-Ni, Kabocha Yose, Umeboshi Carrot, Japanese Eggplant Steeped in Kombu Dashi, Kuromame (Black Beans):
Continuing on, not only is Go-san’s cooking prowess on display, but again, a feeling of warm hospitality, is evident from the first bite of the “how is this piece of Grilled Nodoguro Fish so succulent, luscious, smoky, and filled with joy?!” , to the clean, simplicity of the Umeboshi Carrot, which serves as a perfect foil for the Nodoguro.
Simmered Anago, Duck Tsukune and Shiso Hasami Yaki, Pickled Myoga, Japanese Turnip Fukume Ni, Salted Cucumber Flowers:
Go-san’s preparation for the Simmered Anago (Sea Eel) with a Light Soy Sauce, Sake and Sugar belies the depth of flavor and sentiments in each bite: It is not only delicious and probably one of the best preparations for Anago we’ve had in years, but there’s a sense of Go-san’s well wishes, invigorating, comforting in each of these bites.
If there was one hiccup in this whole Dinner set, it might be the Duck Tsukune which was a bit tough, but the flavors were fantastic.
Satsuma Sweet Potato Chakin Shibori, Gobo Fukume Ni, Grilled Maui Onion with Soy Sauce, Steamed Lily Bulb, Pickled Cucumber with Sesame and Salt, Shrimp Shinjo and Lotus Root Hasami-Age:
This section shows off Mushimono (or Steamed Foods) techniques with the delightful Satsuma Sweet Potato Chakin Shibori, where the textures, pure natural sweetness come through and is a nice counter for the Yakimono (Grilled Foods) of Grilled Maui Onions with Soy Sauce which is so full of flavor, one wonders why all Onions don’t taste as pleasing as this version?
But the highlight of this section is the Shrimp Shinjo and Lotus Root Hasami Age. Go-san’s usage of Wild White Shrimp pressed between two pieces of Renkon (Lotus Root) and fried is nothing short of masterful. It is not only one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten all year, but again, there is a feeling (and we all felt it while eating the meal) of the gratitude and warm sentiments from Go-san in each of these bites.
It is astounding just how many bites of food and the variety of techniques to create all of this are present in this Orizume Dinner Set.
Housemade Yuba, Soy Sauce Ankake, Fresh Wasabi; Saba with Tosazu Jelly; Uni Tsukudani; Dashi Ikura with Yuzu:
Perhaps the most outstanding bite of this entire set might very well be one of the most humble bites: Housemade Yuba (Tofu Skin) in a Soy Sauce Ankake topped with Fresh Wasabi. Go-san’s Housemade Yuba rivaled the Yuba specialists we fell in love with in Kyoto, Japan. The fact that Go-san takes the time to make his own Yuba from scratch, but not only that, but be able to draw the level of true depth of flavor using basic ingredients like Shoyu (Soy Sauce) and Wasabi Root is a testament to his level of skill, but beyond that, his sentiments and philosophy. It would be so easy to always use “baller” ingredients (A5 Wagyu Beef, Otoro (Fattiest Tuna Belly), the finest Caviar, White Truffles, etc.), but to create one of the best bites of the year from Tofu Skin, Soy Sauce and Wasabi? And convey a feeling of nourishment, to enjoy a meal with loved ones during a pandemic? That’s simply masterful in every way.
The rest of the items in this section are no slouch, either. The Saba in Tosazu Jelly is briny and smacks of the ocean (in a good way), balanced with the Tosazu Jelly, the Uni Tsukudani is an eye-opening preparation for Sea Urchin that isn’t commonly seen around here, turning the once creamy, lush lobes of Uni into a blast of umami, firm (but pliant) and so packed with flavor.
And the Dashi Ikura (Salmon Roe) with Yuzu Citrus are little explosions of flavor and perfect with the two included Rice dishes.
Figs in Sesame Goma-Ae, Grilled Hokkaido Scallop in Nori Sauce, Simmered Japanese Sardines, Steamed Abalone with Daikon:
Hokkaido Scallops in Sushi form are already outstanding with very little preparation needed, but here Go-san grills them and combines them with Nori (Seaweed) to make a mouth-watering Nori Tsukudani-style preparation. The flavors work well together here and are even better over his two Rice dishes.
A simple Steamed Rice topped with Matsutake Mushrooms from Oregon, the execution of the Steamed Rice is perfect, toothsome and the Matsutake Mushrooms shaved on top are a very subtle accent that helps the enjoyment with each bite. One minor note is that this year’s Matsutake Mushrooms from Oregon are very light on flavor compared to Matsutake we’ve had in previous years and from other regions like Japan.
Kinmedai Snapper Taki-Komi Gohan:
Finally, in a nod to one of the highlights of Hayato’s dine-in Kaiseki meals, Go-san prepares a Steamed Rice with Fish, on this visit using Kinmedai (Splendid Alfonsino / Golden Eye Snapper) mixed into the Rice, the result is glorious bits of luxurious, lightly fatty, delicious Kinmedai and perfectly cooked Steamed Rice mixed together. Outstanding!
The cost of the Lunch Bento Box is $52, while the Dinner Orizume Set is enough food for 2 very hungry people or 3 regular eaters for $340, which is a splurge. But note, we split the Dinner Orizume Set between 3 people and we were full.
While Hayato’s original specialty and strength in serving a curated, beautiful and welcoming Kaiseki meal (at the small 8 seat restaurant) is not possible currently, Chef-Owner Brandon Hayato Go has successfully pivoted to offering two of the best takeout options in L.A. dining right now with his Lunch Bento Box and Dinner Orizume Set.
On the surface, Hayato’s current takeout offerings are visually beautiful, a dream for Instagrammers, and those that just want to have a meal at a Michelin Star restaurant and check something off their list. And they are really tasty meals.
But if you look deeper, take in the conversations from Go-san and staff about the meals, read the informative, thoughtful notes included in the Orizume Set and just sit back and enjoy each bite, you begin to sense what makes a meal at Hayato truly special. It’s the dedication, passion, focus, hospitality, in addition to the excellence in cooking that makes Hayato what it is. Do most people notice that Go-san and Yuki-san remain bowing outside in the cold Winter weather while you drive off, until you are completely out of sight? Probably not. But hopefully you start to feel their warm wishes come through with each bite of food as you enjoy the meal with loved ones.
1320 E. 7th St., #126
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Tel: (213) 395-0607