Katsuya at The Andaz Hotel Review
Review: Katsuya at The Andaz
In L.A., outlandishness is social currency. There, a simple handshake becomes a seven-act performance with shadow puppets and outro music. Here in San Diego, social cachet is measured on a “realness index.” Stage lights and costumes evoke groans. A handshake is two hands, shaking.
San Diegans come as they are; Angelenos come as they want to be. It’s a great regional balance of escapism and authenticity. And it’s a great source of tension, especially when big, shiny L.A. attractions park it in valuable S.D. real estate.
Katsuya is a three-headed monster of entertainment icons: master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi (Katsu-ya, Koi), luxury lifestyle giant SBE, and minimalist French designer Philippe Starck. Its arrival at The Andaz hotel marks their seventh location (first outside of L.A.), part of what looks to be an aggressive national expansion.
At this point, Katsuya is more about the brand. And SBE is branding gold. Their restaurants—XIV, The Bazaar, Tres, Cleo, East, Umami Burger—are attractions. Their nightlife spots—The Colony, Eden, Crimson, Industry—have lines out the door. And their hotels (SLS, The Redbury) are well occupied by tastemaking clientele. Makes sense, then, that Katsuya San Diego is equal parts fine dining and liquid culture.
Compared to its Hollywood outpost, Katsuya presents a moodier face to San Diego. Man, it’s gray in here. It makes those tables look especially white, and lends pop to Katsuya’s signature art—massive, illuminated photos of Japanese women, airbrushed and ripe for projecting any unique sexual tensions one may currently entertain.
Starck is famous for his polycarbonate chairs, and we get a white version here. Not the most comfortable things in the world, and I’ll risk sounding the snob to say they feel a bit flimsy for upscale dining. If comfort matters to you, angle for the booths.
600 F Street
In the main dining room, older men in tailored suits entertain younger women who admire tailoring. The bar is a collection of San Diego’s finest bone structure. Pretty young things taunt solo business travelers, and the crowd is upscale hipster meets little black dress. Most seem destined to end the night with bottle service at Stingaree, or at a multi-level condo nearby. As for those eight flat-screens on the entry-
way pillars? Seems like a concession to hotel management. No seat faces the TVs, however. So Starck may have used design as the last word.
Over the bar, brilliantly lit eyes—shut and soaked with mascara—suggest there will be crying tonight, and maybe sex. Both probably start with the Burning Mandarin with serrano chiles, orange juice, and a touch of cranberry. Emasculation aside, the cucumber-watermelon mojito is the star, with perfect sugar restraint. There’s also a list of sakes, from soushu (easygoing) to junshu (big flavor).
Uechi’s menu of nontraditional sushi and Japanese robata (charcoal-grilled skewers) is executed here by chef de cuisine Adam Cho, a former Todd English protégé who last oversaw Rick’s Café in Vegas. For apps, shishito peppers billed as “sautéed” are closer to fried, a delicious bait-and-switch. Their spicy tuna with crispy rice is justly famous—a chewy, thicker version than most, with great caramel notes. But to call the tuna “spicy” almost seems sarcastic; it’s heat-indexed for fearful palates. The seared tuna with Japanese salsa (tomatoes, cilantro, avocado) is also offensively tame. The menu doesn’t hesitate with garlic, however, culminating with the seared albacore with garlic soy lemon butter. It’s a good dish, if abusive on the breath.
At this point, Katsuya San Diego does best with robata and hot dishes. The standouts are negima (chicken and onion with yakitori sauce, juicy with fat) or the suki yaki maki (beef rolls with a poached egg for dipping). The yellowtail collar is generously thick, which is good value but prevents the robata flavor from penetrating the meat. Convoy’s Yakitori Yakyudori still has my robata heart.
Atlantic Lobster Dynamite
The Atlantic lobster dynamite is just about perfect. Beautifully presented on the half-shell, the meat is sautéed and tossed with mushrooms in a spicy cream sauce, then baked. It’s pure umami, without burying the lobster in the mix. A full claw is off to the side for purists. Can’t go wrong, either, with the striped bass—two monster filets batter-fried in a thick Szechuan sauce. It’ll feed two.
Both nights I spent loitering at Katsuya, service was flawless (a calling card of most SBE ventures). Waitstaff is knowledgeable without being patronizing, warm without perkily upselling. Starck’s aesthetic—clean, simple, unfussy—also seems in line with San Diego’s ethos, a nice break from the salvage décor trend. I don’t ascribe to the “L.A. sucks” mindset. The city creates some beautiful, ambitious culture. I did, however, expect trace amounts of velvet-rope pretension. And I found none.
For now, I’d rather get sashimi at Hane in Bankers Hill. And I wish Katsuya would recalibrate its Scoville scale. But Cho and his staff will hone these things with time, and Katsuya hits on enough levels to overcome any knee-jerk L.A.-isms hurled its way.