On a Friday night at Kodo, the new restaurant in the ryokan-style Kensho Rykn hotel downtown, every seat on the minimalist patio is booked. Overhead, traditionally dyed, earth-colored Japanese textiles sway. “The ones in the front are actually made from fermented persimmons called kakishibu,” explains Kensho Group owner David Wynn, pointing to the delicate hanging cloth.
Everything about the space—from the calming gray booths to the stark black walls—is invitingly serene. But don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s visual tranquility. The energy of Kod, which translates to “heartbeat” in English, is intentionally boisterous.
“He wanted to do a true izakaya,” Wynn says of Kod’s chef, Yoya Takahashi. Izakaya are informal Japanese bars that serve small dishes along with alcohol. “Yoya is from Kyoto, so he wanted to do something that wasn’t just all about morphing Japanese ingredients; he wanted to stay true to what a fun, Kyoto-style izakaya would be”—that is, an upbeat vibe and traditional Japanese bar fare.
A server offers bright green tea, which is soon followed by a cocktail like the mezcal “margarita” with yuzu, lemon, and stone fruit on crushed ice and sprinkled with lime zest.
The food comes out fast and without pretense. A Caesar salad of Little Gem lettuce is blanketed with bonito flakes, a revelatory addition. The off-menu toro is served with a tangy cilantro sauce, minced tomato, and cucumber, and has the kind of fatty melt-in-your mouth quality you can’t forget (nor do you want to).
One of the most memorable examples of Kyoto-inspired izakaya food you might actually find in Japan is the Hakusai maki, which is spicy cod caviar in rice, wrapped in pickled napa cabbage and served with a shiso dressing. The combination of spicy roe, bright shiso, and sour cabbage awakens the palate.
The desserts by pastry chef Mami Yamamoto are not an afterthought. A bulbous scoop of shiso-leaf gelato sits in a cup of mandarin orange, strawberry, and kumquat gelatin. Cheesecake is soaked in sake and served alongside passion fruit sauce.
“We have a lot of different elements that embody traditional Japanese artistry and craftsmanship that are sprinkled all across the space,” says Wynn. But at its core, Kod is about the lively dining experience that chef Takahashi envisioned. “I can conceive and create and cultivate everything,” says Wynn, “But the food is the heartbeat.”
710 S. Santa Fe Ave., downtown, kodo.la
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This story is featured in the July 2022 issue of Los Angeles
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