Yess image



Arts District

$$$$Perfect For:Wasting Your Time and Money
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The front door of Yess is an angled wall of unfinished wood set against a metal frame. It’s gorgeous by entryway standards, but quite bad at being a door. You might stand in front of it wondering if you’re looking at a half-finished construction project, or just locked out, before discovering the recessed two-by-four that swings the slab open.

This Japanese tasting menu spot in the Arts District is like its door: beautiful, pretentious, and, most of all, head-scratching. Despite lofty menu descriptions and pristine ingredients, most of what ends up on the plate here falls flat. And while the entrance only causes momentary confusion, an underwhelming meal at Yess will cost you a few hundred dollars, several hours, and probably leave you a little hungry.

Between the muted tones, the meditative Music For Plants soundtrack, and the servers who speak softly and wear robes resembling nurse scrubs, the space could be a boutique sanitarium in Ojai. As the staff takes pains to tell you, every ingredient used is of tip-top quality. These include chanterelle mushrooms that still taste like the forest, and local vermilion rockfish that the chef—who used to run a well-regarded Japanese spot in London as well as a great, now-closed food truck—catches himself.

Yess image

photo credit: Yess Restaurant

Tragically, those well-sourced plants and sea creatures show up in dishes that are underseasoned, overcooked, or otherwise prepared in ways that don’t do them justice, like the bland water kimchi that tastes closer to water than kimchi, or the flavorless lamb leg “cecina” served with a spinach and beet chip salad straight out of a rec center cooking class.

Even the best dishes, which tend to be the simplest, are just a bit off. Sweet spring peas are pleasant in their unseasoned pea-ness, though the lone pair of chopsticks you're handed with the bowl forces you to pick at them one by one like a game of Operation. During our last visit, rockfish sashimi tasted great with fiery habanero yuzu kosho, but when the rockfish showed up again an hour later as a teriyaki grilled fish head on a bed of juniper branches, the meat was rubbery and dry.

The lackluster execution and precious chef cliches might be less irksome if it weren't for the cost of the meal, which can get out of hand quickly. Sure, there's the baseline $110 six-course tasting menu (five small dishes and one entree) but sticking to this is like booking a Spirit Airlines seat without upgrades. And even after adding on the supplemental $28 grilled mushrooms and a $20 shaved ice, you’ll still think about pulling over for tacos on the drive home.

We get it—Yess is designed to be a fancy restaurant where you're expected to contemplate the peas as much as enjoy them. But if that's your thing, there are better restaurants in LA (or in the Arts District, for that matter) to please those of us who adore avant-garde design, long-winded dish descriptions, and produce so immaculate it cannot be improved upon by human hands. And unlike Yess, they won't have you looking for the door.

Food Rundown

Lemonade at Yess

photo credit: Garrett Snyder

Yess Aquatic Water (Kombu Lemonade)

Our first sip of this punitively tart, seaweed-infused lemonade was the closest we’ve gotten to a sitcom-style spit take in real life. Despite looking like standard lemonade, it somehow tastes like a wet dog smells. Great for pranking your enemies, not so great for spending $7 on.
Water kimchi at Yess

photo credit: Garrett Snyder

Water Kimchi

The word “kimchi” might lead you to believe there’s some level of fermentation or flavor happening here, but this amuse-bouche is just unseasoned vegetables and sliced fruit lounging in a cold water bath.
Rockfish sashimi at Yess

photo credit: Garrett Snyder

Vermilion Rockfish Sashimi

Our favorite dish. The fish is sweet and mild, with a slight chewiness that’s not unpleasant. However, it’s the spicy, fragrant yuzu kosho—colored bright orange by habanero—that steals the show.
Monk's Chirashi at Yess

photo credit: Garrett Snyder

Monk's Chirashi

The restaurant's signature dish, you'll always find some variation of this on the menu. It comes with assorted fruits, nuts, and raw and dashi-poached vegetables all scattered over vinegared rice. It's fine but forgettable in a clean-out-the-fridge-lunch sort of way.
Lamb leg at Yes with salad at Yess

photo credit: Garrett Snyder

Grilled Lamb Leg “Cecina” Steak

Cecina is usually a dish of salt-cured meat, but without any salt, these amount to thin, tough lamb slices cooked well-done. And the basic salad of unstemmed spinach, apple slices, and beet chips on the side looks like something your parents would text you a picture of while on a cruise.
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Grilled Rockfish & SoCal Shellfish White Bean Stew

We appreciate Yess' dedication to local seafood, but we also feel the need to pour one out for the poor marine life that gave their lives only to show up on this bland, stodgy bean stew topped with overcooked fish.
Shaved ice at Yess

photo credit: Garrett Snyder

Sangria Kakigori

This $20 dessert arrives as a fluffy, Matterhorn-sized mountain of shaved ice, which looks cool, until your server pours a painfully small amount of what tastes like cran-grape concentrate on top. By the fourth spoonful, the juice is gone and you're shoveling plain snow like a kid clearing driveways in winter.
Sweet potato at Yess

photo credit: Garrett Snyder

Cacao, Raisins, & Sweet Potato

We saved the real head-scratcher for last. This dessert (also $20) consists of a single roasted sweet potato, a handful of roasted cacao beans, and a handful of raisins. That's it. It made us think of trail mix, but at least trail mix comes pre-mixed.


Suggested Reading

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Kodō is a serene and sceney Japanese spot in the Arts District with so-so food.

Yangban Spread

Yangban is an upscale restaurant in the Arts District that serves genre-blurring Korean food (and some of the best wings in town).

Dining room at Baroo.

Baroo is an upscale Korean restaurant in the Arts District with a creative tasting menu that wows for a reasonable price.

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