To reach Brandon Hayato Go’s ambitious—and intimate—six-seat kaiseki restaurant, you have to stroll through the Arts District’s colossal retail complex, the ROW, around dusk (there is only one seating each night), a time when the canyon-like streets are eerily quiet. When you finally locate a set of noren curtains flapping in the breeze and duck inside, it feels a bit like stepping through a portal.
Stationed behind a cedar countertop, Go slivers barely cooked Santa Barbara spot prawn and raw okra, arranging them in an ornate glass bowl before covering them in a chilled vinegary tosazu jelly. He pivots to a small fryer next and produces a geode of delicate tempura made from late-season corn and tiny diced scallops. By the time you’ve polished off your first cup of daiginjo sake, the city outside has slipped away. Dungeness crab poached in delicate dashi with green yuzu rind; steamed abalone with a sauce made from its own liver; fatty charcoal-grilled blackthroat sea perch seasoned with little more than salt—each course becomes a small essay on impeccable ingredients gently refined.
At the moment, no restaurant in L.A. offers a menu quite like Hayato’s: a $200 multicourse meal steeped in the nuances of washoku, or traditional Japanese cooking, presented in a format that’s time-honored and intricately attuned to the seasons. Though Go spent his teen years making sushi at his father’s restaurant in Seal Beach, it wasn’t until he studied under master chefs in Tokyo that he found inspiration for his labor-intensive dream concept.
Clad in a spotless white jacket, Go brandishes a long knife to slice wisps of tai snapper that he partners with sea urchin from Hokkaido. The style of kaiseki here is almost austere in its restraint; each course highlights a quintessential technique: sashimi, grilling, steaming, frying, or simmering.
While there is a certain hushed reverence at Hayato, it’s balanced with a genial warmth. After heaping rice that’s been cooked in a copper pot and combined with seared barracuda and peppery mitsuba stems into ceramic bowls, Go ends the meal with plump King’s Canyon peaches marinated in sake. “Have as many as you like,” he says. “These peaches are incredible right now.”
Hayato, ROW DTLA, 1320 E. 7th St., Ste. 126, downtown.
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