LAReview

Kato

When Kato opened in 2016, we called it the "tasting menu spot for people who don't like tasting menus." The Taiwanese food at this intimate restaurant tucked in a West LA strip mall was both upscale and unfussy, and felt lightyears away from other fancy schmancy prix-fixes in town. However, at their new Arts District outpost, that's no longer the case.

After relocating to the Row DTLA in 2022, Kato has been reborn—not as the scrappy underdog, but as a bonafide Fine Dining establishment, where the main offering is a $225 per head tasting menu beefed up to feature more wagyu, caviar, and showy cocktails. Those familiar with the original restaurant might see it as a total 180. But that's the point. Kato, in its latest iteration, is completely reworked. And while certainly ambitious, as with anyone dipping their toes into new territory—Michael Jordan and professional baseball in '94, our neighbors who are definitely overwatering their sprouting herb garden—the new Kato has yet to find its footing. 

Kato review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

The airy, concrete dining room, with its curved wooden furniture and marble countertops, is undeniably pleasing to look at. Natural light floods in through floor-to-ceiling windows, SZA plays softly in the background, and the bathrooms are stocked with herbaceous hand soaps and mini mints. And yet, the place feels a little cold. There's only so much one can do with a building shellacked in cement that looks out onto a nine-story parking structure. 

The dishes at the beginning and end of the three-hour meal nail it—tasty bites of sweet shrimp, hibiscus macarons smeared with chicken liver, jellied nodoguro, or seaperch, and an exquisite tapioca ball dessert served with brown butter and shortbread shavings are among our favorites. But near the middle of the meal, the execution becomes inconsistent. A scallop dish is nicely cooked, but gets lost beneath a cloying fish sauce. Tender duck with a crackling skin arrives overseasoned. And crispy rice, a riff on Taiwanese lu rou fan, is suffused with herbs and fried onions and looks gorgeous on the plate, but tastes like literally nothing. 

Kato review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

To be clear, we're rooting for Kato. They are doing something singular and unique with Taiwanese food in LA, and that's to be applauded. The service is warm and earnest, in a way that makes the outdoor shopping mall/iron fortress you're dining in fade away, ever so slightly. But any time a meal nearly doubles in price, every dish becomes burdened with added expectation. Missteps are more difficult to ignore. And when your name gets tossed around with the likes of N/Naka and Providence, simply being unique isn't enough. 

As poet Andrea Gibson once wrote, it hurts to become. And we get the feeling Kato has yet to reach its final form. But they're close. Things seem to improve with each visit: the service is smoother, luxury ingredients are used in ways that feel more natural, and, gradually, the giant space starts to feel more lived in. Slowly but surely, we're starting to see elements of what endeared us to Kato in the first place peek through.

Food Rundown

Kato review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Tasting Menu

As with most high-end restaurants fanatical about California produce, the dishes on Kato’s 12-course tasting menu change often with the seasons. Many of the fussy trademarks of fine dining—overly precious bites laden with tartare and pull-apart bread served with caviar accompaniments—are wonderfully executed here. Dishes might include an egg custard nestled in briny kelp vinegar, gently-cooked golden eye snapper with a Chinese mustard-scented brothbath, or shaved ice laced with melon. Our favorite so far is an old favorite from the West LA location: a lovely brown butter tapioca dessert topped with cheese foam and shaved shortbread.

Kato review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Bar Menu

Served only at the eight-seat bar area, the bar menu usually consists of six or so dishes that you can order either a la carte or as their own $145 set menu. This experience is what we like to call “Kato Light.” You won’t get all of the fancier, more intricate dishes from the main dining room, but it’s a great way to test the waters before going full send on a multi-hour meal. Highlights include fried rice served in a Dungeness crab shell, an uni-stuffed puff pastry that’s draped in the thinnest slice of ham you’ve ever seen, and soft, pillowy pull-apart milk bread.

Kato review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Drink Menu

Kato offers two wine pairing options, a regular flight for $125 and a vintage wine flight for $175. Both include 10 pours and there’s a decent amount of overlap between the two tiers. There’s also a non-alcoholic pairing for $75, which offers a few creative drinks (we particularly enjoyed the Shiso Mule with Thai basil, lime, mint, ginger, and a botanical spirit), but is mostly made up of dealcoholized wines and beers, which might be less exciting for some non-drinkers. Just know that doing any of the pairings will probably add another hour to your three hour meal. Overall, we recommend ordering a la carte from the cocktail menu, which features some creative and dramatically presented options like a brown butter-clarified milk punch with five spice and pineapple, and a vermouth cocktail stirred with tomato brandy, kombu, and white soy.

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FOOD RUNDOWN