While mom and pop restaurants were probably the most susceptible to completely closing during the pandemic, the next segment to get hit the hardest might very well be chef-driven, high end restaurants that rely on a dine-in experience. During 2020, we saw the collapse of Somni, the beautiful, elaborate tasting menu only restaurant within The Bazaar, as well as Chef Jose Andres’ outer Bazaar as well. Both relied on wowing guests with visuals and plating that could not translate to takeout meals. High end Sushi Bars with their elaborate Omakase meals were also not possible during the shutdown, and takeout Sushi, even from the top restaurants in L.A. were a shadow of the dine-in experience.
Hayato, the 1 Michelin Star Kaiseki restaurant from Chef-Owner Brandon Hayato Go was facing similar severe challenges. There’s just no way to replicate the vibrancy, freshness, taste and textures of each course that’s normally freshly cooked for the guest right before plating, in a to-go format. Go-san shared that the Lunch Bento Boxes that he started selling during the pandemic just barely kept the restaurant afloat, but thankfully they weathered the storm of 2020, and were able to re-open a few months ago. We were fortunate enough to land a reservation recently, and were glad to show our support for Chef Go and his hard-working staff.
If there is one sub-cuisine of Japan that is misunderstood more than any other, it might very well be Kaiseki Ryori. A loose translation of Kaiseki cuisine in English might be “a seasonal tasting menu,” but it is so much more than this. There is a specific order and meaning to each dish that is presented to the diner during a Kaiseki experience. It reflects not only what is in season, but also showcases multiple cooking techniques.
Kaiseki is something to be celebrated: If you want to experience the pure essence of certain seasonal ingredients, cooked to support and elevate their inherent taste, then Kaiseki might be for you.
For those that may not know, Hayato marks the solo debut of Chef Brandon Go, a quiet, thoughtful individual who gladly shared nuggets of culinary information throughout the evening. While growing up, Chef Go was working at his father’s restaurant, Koi Japanese Cuisine in Seal Beach, making Sushi, and Go-san eventually traveled to Japan, where he discovered an entire world of Japanese food beyond Sushi.
Chef Go apprenticed under two respected, talented Japanese Kaiseki masters: Chef Hideki Ishikawa of Michelin 3 Starred Ishikawa in Tokyo, and Chef Takeshi Kubo of Michelin 2 Starred Goryu Kubo. As Chef Go mentions on his website, this restaurant is not only a tribute to his mentors, but showcases the food he loves in Japan.
Originally seating up to 8 diners only for the entire evening, these days, he’s reduced it to 7 seats to give a little more room between guests.
As we’re seated, Go-san pours a complimentary cup of Sake to welcome each guest, a nice touch. For this evening, he’s pouring Dassai 23 - Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Yamaguchi, Japan):
The “23” in the name refers to the polishing ratio of the Rice in this Sake: Normally Daiginjo Sake must use Rice that has at least 50% of the outside polished away. Dassai decided to try and make the “most polished Sake Rice” in Japan at the time of its inception, so to set a new record, they polished it down to just 23% of the Rice remaining(!). This is quite floral, sweet, with light fruity notes. A beautiful start to the evening.
As we begin, we catch up with Go-san and ask how he’s been holding up during the pandemic. He’s enjoyed having some time off to himself (a silver lining in all the madness), and mentioned at one point during 2020 consuming more Hainan Chicken Rice than he could remember, trying a bunch of different places around town.
This is a great snapshot into the type of relaxed atmosphere at Hayato: Despite it being a Michelin-starred restaurant, and normally with an austere, focused plating and course layout, Go-san remains approachable and affable, gladly chatting with the guests throughout the meal on a variety of topics.
Charred Eggplant, Konbu Dashi with Ginger, Junsai (Water Shield), topped with Torigai (Japanese Cockle):
Besides the beautiful plating, this is a wonderful opener: The Torigai (Japanese Cockle) is lightly chewy, but tender, the Junsai (Water Shield) is a treat, slippery, delicate, but it’s the Charred Nasu (Eggplant) that is the star of the dish, exhibiting a gentle, light smokiness, and soft, cooked down flesh within. The Konbu (Kelp) Dashi with Ginger just complements this perfectly. Outstanding.
Koshi no Kanbai - Cho Tokusen - Daiginjo Sake (Niigata, Japan):
We wanted to show our support of Hayato and the Japanese Sake industry after the long 2020 shutdown (FYI: Hayato runs on razor-thin margins for the food prices, considering the sheer amount of time for preparation, how many countless hours go into preparing every course. If you enjoy Sake (or Beer), please consider purchasing a bottle or two, as this allows them to make some money, and you help the Sake Industry stay alive).
Koshi no Kanbai is an old-school Sake Brewery in Niigata, Japan. But they still know how to make fantastic Sake. They are one Maru-san’s favorites at Mori Sushi, and Go-san mentions this is one of his favorites on the menu as well. And for good reason:
It’s so balanced, with a light sweetness, roundness, delicate mouthfeel and it finishes so cleanly, with almost no alcohol burn, just refreshing.
Agemono (Fried) Course - Farmers Market Corn, Hokkaido Scallop and Mitsuba Kakiage Tempura:
This seems to be one of the few courses that never gets taken off the menu at Hayato: Go-san takes the concept of a Kakiage, which usually has a bunch of chopped up ingredients like Seafood, and Vegetables, and it’s fried up Tempura-style. Here, the ingredients reflect what’s fresh and available in season right now: Farmers Market Brentwood Corn, Scallops from Hokkaido, Japan, and Mitsuba, and it’s fried right in front of you (in the fryer at the back counter), right before it’s plated, piping hot and fresh out of the fryer.
It’s stunningly, naturally sweet (in-season Corn), the Hokkaido Scallops have their own delicate sweetness and tender, bright delicate meat, and the Mitsuba adds a subtle vegetal aspect. Perfect frying in clean oil that never tastes greasy nor oily.
Kegani (Japanese Hairy Crab) (Hokkaido, Japan), Stewed Kani Miso (Japanese Hairy Crab Organs Miso), Tosazu Jelly:
Kegani, or Japanese Hairy Crab, is always a delight when you can get it fresh from Hokkaido, Japan. But the highlight of this dish is the Kani Miso: Go-san takes the edible Crab organs and stews it down into a Miso-like paste. Unlike Dungeness or King Crab, Kegani’s Kani Miso’s flavor is incredible!
It’s super savory and rich, but not overly “metallic” like other Crabs’ Kani Miso can turn out. The Tosazu Jelly, which is like a Vinegar-based Jelly Sauce with Konbu (Kelp) Dashi and Ginger looks absolutely gorgeous (like you’re peering through a translucent “glass”) and it balances out the Crab meat perfectly.
Shinogi Course - Oshizushi (Pressed Sushi) - Anago (Sea Eel):
For the traditional Shinogi Course, Chef Go has decided to make Oshizushi (Pressed Sushi), using Anago (Sea Eel). The result is nearly flawless Anago: So wonderfully cooked down that it’s almost creamy in its texture, the Pressed Rice is balanced and perfectly seasoned. A bit of Fresh-Grated Wasabi is the perfect accent.
Owan (Suimono) Course - Ebi Shinjo (Shrimp & Egg) in a Clear Dashi Broth, Kabu (Baby White Turnip), Yuzu:
For those new to Kaiseki cuisine, it might be easy to overlook the Suimono Course. After all, you see a simple bowl of Clear Dashi Broth in front of you, with a singular floating “Shrimp Meatball”. It looks deceptively simple, but nothing could be further from the truth. Taking a sip:
One of the most exceptional Dashi Broths I’ve had since our last visit to Hayato and on par with anything I’ve had in Japan at various well-regarded eateries. The Dashi Broth is so clear, you might mistake it for Water, but each sip opens up your taste buds and you understand the greatness working here. It tastes nourishing, soul-warming, light and delicate, but with such a depth of flavor in the balance that never overpowers. The Konbu (Kelp) notes appear, and a very distant herbal delicate backnote as well.
And the Ebi Shinjo (Shrimp & Egg Ball) is fantastic, but it takes a back seat to the Clear Dashi Broth. This is the Highlight of the Evening.
Katsuo Tataki (Seared Bonito):
The prep work on the Katsuo Tataki (or Seared Bonito) is fascinating to watch. Chef Go skewers the Bonito on long metal skewers, then sets a giant stack of Rice Straw on fire(!). He then gently smokes and sears the outside of the Bonito over the Rice Straw live fire quickly, and then slices the entire piece to serve.
As you can see, it’s still very much Sashimi, with only just a tiny, thin, outer layer that’s been smoked and flame kissed. The Bonito’s signature inherent oiliness and brininess is quelled by the gorgeous delicate smoke from the Rice Straw live fire treatment just a few minutes earlier.
The Myoga (Ginger) shreds used here are an excellent pairing. It embodies just a faint, gentle Ginger aroma in each bite.
Steamed Abalone, Abalone Kimo (Liver) Sauce, Abalone Broth Jelly:
A tender meatiness, perfectly cooked, and accentuated by the incredible Awabi Kimo (Abalone Liver) Sauce: What’s interesting is that on this visit, Go-san explains that it’s actually the Abalone’s Stomach that gets ground up here. And unlike the previous 2 visits, today’s Abalone “Kimo” Sauce was stunning in its depth of rich, savory flavor. There was no metallic, iron-y quality that you might associate with a Kimo Sauce. The Abalone Broth Jelly cubes were a pure distillation of Abalone essence. Truly umami in every sense of the word!
Yakimono (Grilled) Course - Grilled Kinki (Thorny Head Fish), Sudachi, Renkon (Lotus Root):
For the Yakimono (Grilled) Course, Go-san presents Kinki (which he calls Thorny Head Fish, an internet search yields “Channel Rockfish” as an alternate name), perfectly grilled over Binchotan (Japanese White Charcoal). While Nodoguro (Blackthroat Sea Perch) has been Hayato’s signature Fish for this course, Chef Go likes to use Kinki to mix things up as well. He said the Kinki he’s getting fresh right now is just as rich and delicious as Nodoguro. And after the first bite, we definitely agree:
Perfectly Grilled Thorny Head Fish, the skin is crispy on the outside, and the flesh within is just cooked through: It’s fatty, flaky, tender, with a luscious quality, but it’s not overwhelming. I’ve never had Kinki as perfectly cooked as this. A little bit of Sudachi citrus juice perfectly finishes things off.
The Slow Roasted Renkon (also over the Binchotan Charcoal) has been roasting for about 1 hour (it was put on as we were seated), and by now, it’s caramelized, as it was coated with some Housemade Tare Sauce. It’s earthy, soft, pliant and with a delicate sweet-saltiness.
Hokkigai (Surf Clam) + Udo (Japanese White Vegetable), Miso, Rice Vinegar & Sesame Dressing:
While not formally introduced as the Su-Zakana Course, this tasted like it, and was mentioned as a palate cleanser course in the meal. The Hokkigai is presented at room temperature, thinly sliced and simply steamed.
But it’s the Udo, a Japanese White Vegetable (see pic above) that was really interesting. It was presented raw, with a Miso, Rice Vinegar & Sesame Housemade Dressing. Refreshing. It had a crisp snap like biting into a crisp Apple, or Asian Pear, but wasn’t sweet: It had a clean, bright quality (not as sharp as Celery, but in that vein).
Amadai (Tile Fish) with Silver Ankake Sauce, Tokyo Negi Somen (Tokyo Green Onion Noodles):
This Amadai is a new course we’ve never had before at Hayato: Go-san pours hot oil over the outer skin and scales of the Amadai (Tile Fish), which causes them to be crispy and edible, and gently poaches the actual Tile Fish meat. It’s then presented with Tokyo Negi (Green Onions) and a delicate Housemade Somen (Thin Wheat Noodles).
The Amadai was absurd: Super crispy, delicate outer skin & scales, which gives way to fragile, moist, tender Tile Fish meat within! The Tokyo Negi and Silver Ankake Sauce with the thin Somen Noodles just perfectly finished the dish. Outstanding!
Uni Tsukudani (Sea Urchin (Hokkaido, Japan), Simmered in Soy Sauce, Sake, Sugar):
Chef Go talks about Tsukudani, which is traditionally some vegetables or proteins that have been simmered in Soy Sauce and Mirin to create this sweet, savory type of dish. He was curious what would happen if you applied this to something like Uni (Sea Urchin) and the result is a standout little bite that’s basically like a Chinmi (Rare Taste) of sorts.
The Uni in this case, normally appreciated and adored raw, is fully cooked, as Go-san simmers it in Soy Sauce, Sake, Sugar, Vinegar and Nori (Seaweed). He uses way less Sugar than a traditional Tsukudani, and that’s a good thing. So you basically have something akin to “fully cooked Eggs” in a way, but it’s lightly sweet-savory, and has none of the brininess than Sea Urchin can have at times. Tasty.
It was also fantastic with Sake.
Niimono (Simmered) Course - Grade A5 Wagyu Beef Shabu Shabu (Miyazaki, Japan), Shiitake & Oyster Mushrooms, Umeboshi (Japanese Plum):
The Niimono (Simmered) Course is something we didn’t have before: Perhaps to cater to local palates, Chef Go has introduced the always popular Grade A5 Wagyu Beef into the Kaiseki meal at Hayato (from what my friends in Japan have shared with me, Beef usually isn’t a common dish for Kaiseki, focusing more on seasonal, local Vegetables and Seafood).
It’s prepared Shabu Shabu-style, lightly simmered, quite delicate and with a dab of Umeboshi (Pickled Japanese Plum). It is perfectly cooked: So unmistakable in its inherent luxurious, decadent fattiness and richness, meltingly tender, and delicious! The Simmered Shiitake and Oyster Mushrooms and Greens along with the Shabu Broth is a nice balance to the richness of the A5 Wagyu.
Karasumi (Salted Mullet Roe):
Presented in a stunning, wild plate, the Karasumi (Salted Mullet Roe) from Japan is another standout item. Go-san explains that Japanese Karasumi is a bit different from versions seen in places like Taiwan, as in Japan they tend to prepare it differently, letting the blood run out and some other prep differences. The flavor is very delicate, and much lighter than other Salted Mullet Roe dishes I’ve tried before. It pairs perfectly with Sake. Flawless!
Gohan (Rice) Course - Gindara Saikyo Yaki (Grilled Black Cod in Saikyo Miso Sauce) over Freshly Steamed Rice:
And the main course of the Kaiseki meal is the Gohan course. Go-san uses a giant Kamameshi (Iron Pot Steamed Rice) as a base with perfectly cooked, moist, tender Gindara (Black Cod) in a classic Saikyo Miso sauce that is made from Sake Lees.
He mixes everything together and serves the Rice course. Perfectly cooked Steamed Rice, toothsome, pleasing, and mixed with that aromatic Gindara Saikyo Yaki, the Black Cod is delicate enough, but it’s got some fattiness and with the Saikyo Miso Sauce, it really propels this Rice course to another level! It is spectacular and another Highlight of the Meal!
Everyone is welcome to get seconds if they want more Rice as well.
The Housemade Pickles and Miso Soup are a perfect accompaniment and lovely.
Mizumono (Dessert) Course - Harry’s Berries Organic Strawberries, Kinako (Soybean Flour) Cream, Uji Sencha Tea (Kyoto):
The Mizumono (Dessert) Course is simple, but perfect and fits the ethos Chef Go has for Hayato. He takes the best of seasonal fruit, in this case, local Farmers Market darlings Harry’s Berries Organic Strawberries (which are some of the best in the nation!), and tops it with Kinako (Roasted Soy Flour) Cream.
Those that have tried Harry’s Berries Organic Strawberries already know, but they are generally so sweet, so fragrant, such a blast of insane Strawberry flavor (naturally), that they are “Dessert” and good enough on their own. This is the tail end of Harry’s Berries season, and so the Strawberries were very good, fragrant and delicious, but not at 100% maximum deliciousness (usually May - July). Still quite fantastic and the Kinako Cream was also a nice touch.
The Uji Sencha Tea from Kyoto, Japan was fantastic. So light and a perfect palate cleanser. I just felt at peace with each sip.
Harry’s Berries Organic Strawberries + Farmers Market White Nectarines:
In a bit of a surprise, it seems Hayato is now doing a 2nd round of Dessert, with even more seasonal fruit, this time with Farmers Market, ripe White Nectarines. These were pretty fantastic, so sweet, juicy and stellar!
Wasanbon (Fine Grained Japanese Sugar Confections):
And another new item that we didn’t have in previous visits, Go-san had a few Wasanbon, which are fine-grained Japanese Sugar treats. They looked adorable, but they were literally pure Sugar. It was nice to try some Wasanbon, but it was definitely a Sugar rush.
Matcha Green Tea:
Thankfully, the meal was finished off by Yuki-san (Go-san’s assistant) making a fresh cup of Japanese Matcha (Green Tea)! This was outstanding in its herbal, deep, green earthiness. A great way to cleanse the palate and send you off into the night.
In revisiting some of our long-time favorites after the disaster that was 2020, it was great to see Hayato’s dine-in Kaiseki experience remain intact and actually improve even more. In the end, Hayato is a stunning tribute to pure Japanese Kaiseki cuisine. It is so unapologetic, so focused, so true to the goal of presenting this wonderful Japanese category of cooking to L.A. that it’s something worth celebrating. While it may sound like one might approach this restaurant and the food in hushed tones, Chef Go brings his upbringing in America to bear here as well: He is approachable, glad to talk about each dish and stories of training in Japan, and life in general, and as such he creates an inviting, gentle atmosphere to the dining experience.
Hayato is the Kaiseki experience that is unrivaled in L.A., and it has returned in all of its delicious, fantastic glory. Do not miss this experience.
(inside ROW DTLA)
1320 E 7th Street, Suite 126
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Tel: (213) 395-0607