photo credit: Jakob Layman
When you’re a kid, there’s nothing better than getting a gift. It could be a remote control car, your sister’s soccer ball, or even a lame old book - you don’t care, you’re just happy to be unwrapping something. But as you get older, that changes, and not just because you actually like books now. Suddenly, it’s the personal gifts - the ones that required time, effort, and specific thought from the other person - that you remember the most.
A meal at Kensho has a similar effect. The tiny Japanese restaurant/bar in the Hollywood Hills is one of the most personal and unique dining experiences in Los Angeles. And that, along with the incredible food, makes it one you won’t soon forget.
That experience begins before you even get out of your car. As you slowly wind your way up the steep hill to Yamashiro - Kensho is on the grounds of the classic Hollywood restaurant, but completely unrelated - you’ll feel like you’ve entered a different (and far more intimate) universe. The traffic is gone, the views are clear, and as you round the corner and spot the tiny standalone structure that Kensho calls home, you’ll feel like you have this entire little hill to yourself. Once you’re seated on the front patio, with the Hollywood sign off in the distance and your server excitedly explaining a new skin-contact wine they just got from Chile as if it’s a secret, you’ll realize you never want to leave.
With only a handful of small tables and a menu that contains ten or so items total, Kensho is not a regular sit-down dining experience. This is the kind of place you visit on a Wednesday afternoon to sip Georgian wine with a friend, and wonder aloud why the miso soup here is better than any miso soup in existence. You come to Kensho on the weekend for some pre-dinner snacks and to watch the sunset over the Hollywood Hills, only to stay for three hours eating uni toast and partaking in an existential conversation with your server about natural sake distilling in rural Japan.
Everything about this place - every glass of wine, every plate of perfectly prepared Kyoto-style temari sushi or bowl of sweet yuzu crab rice that hits the table - comes with a personal anecdote. Not pretentious dissertations about the sourcing of ingredients or complicated cooking techniques, but real conversations, about trips abroad and the prevalence of young sake makers. These aren’t pre-rehearsed bits of space-filling small talk, they’re organic moments that make it clear how important this place is to the people who work here... and how much they want you to be a part of it. At Kensho, you feel like the restaurant was opened that night mostly because they knew you were coming.
By the end of the meal, you’ll probably be convinced of that fact. And as you walk to your car and start your descent back to reality, it’ll hit you - Kensho is unlike any restaurant in the city, and you can’t wait to take every single person you know here. Sounds like a perfect gift to us.
Dishes change frequently at Kensho. Here are some highlights from our most recent visit.
Spicy Miso Soup
We have no idea how (OK, it’s probably the perfect balance of savory, spicy, salty, and sweet), but this miso soup sends us into a deep state of contentment every time we eat it. $8 is certainly steep, but the bowl is big and once that first umami-laden sip hits your tongue, you won’t regret anything.
Mixed with Kewpie mayo, scallion, yuzu kosho, and herbs, this is a subtly complex tartare with a big citrus kick at the end. There are definitely too many tortilla chips for the amount of tartare provided, but at the end of the day, what’s wrong with having too many chips on the table?
This is our favorite dish currently on Kensho’s menu. Crunchy sourdough bread, sweet yuzu creme, mildly pungent marinated truffle, and fresh, briny uni. You’ll be talking about a lot of things you like about Kensho on the way home, and this toast will probably be on the top of your list.
Kyoto-Style Temari Sushi
Kensho’s temari sushi started out as just another pop-up in the rotation, but proved to be so popular, it’s now a permanent fixture on the menu. The sushi itself changes frequently, but expect perfectly fish that’s been expertly crafted into circular handballs. It’s an ideal dish to share on a date or with a table full of friends.
As the heftiest dish currently on Kensho’s menu, the chrishi bowl is a great thing to have on the table in the event the second bottle of wine goes down quicker than expected. There’s an assortment of rotating fresh sashimi ranging from salmon to uni to tuna, all on a bed of soft, sesame seed-laden white rice.