Katsu-Ya answers culinary doldrums

Katsu-Ya of Japan is a new Japanese restaurant that opened earlier this month on College Ave. It is owned by the same people who own the popular Nakashima of Japan. It features hibachi and sushi.
Rachel Hoerman

Katsu-Ya of Japan is a new Japanese restaurant that opened earlier this month on College Ave. It is owned by the same people who own the popular Nakashima of Japan. It features hibachi and sushi. (Jason Youngblood)

Yearning to escape Downer, whose Halloween menu boasted the salad bar as “salad barf” (a sadly accurate statement, for the most part), my friend and I decided to try the new sushi and hibachi restaurant on the Ave this past Sunday evening. For starters, our food was brought out undercooked, there were several fires, and by the end of the meal we realized there were shrimp tails floating in our water and raw mushrooms in our sauce. In short, we absolutely loved it. Allow me to explain. Katsu-ya is a restaurant that offers a full sushi menu and hibachi grill, meaning that your food is prepared fresh and in front of you by your own personal chef, who has a few culinary tricks up his sleeve (not all of which involve the flavor of your food). In addition, diners can also opt to to sit in a dining room where each table is equipped with the utilities necessary to cook their own Japanese food.

Although open for less than a month, Katsu-ya of Japan boasts a warm interior and a welcoming wait staff. My friend and I were greeted by a pleasant hostess, who seated us at a hibachi table (which is more like a grill flanked on three sides by a counter) with three other people in one of the two main dining rooms. With soft lighting, wooden cross-beams and painted tapestries of Japanese warriors and geisha complimented by strains of traditional Japanese music, the atmosphere was simple and refined.

Our waitress was friendly and prompt with our menus, drinks, and order, and remained consistent throughout our meal. As a vegetarian, I selected the A.A.C. (asparagus, avocado and cucumber) maki and an order of plain avocado maki to begin the meal. Although not listed on the menu, a vegetarian hibachi option, which I requested, is available for a reduced price. My carnivorous friend, on the other hand, opted for an order of L.A. sushi (crab meat and assorted vegetables, coated in roe) and the scallop hibachi.

In both taste and appearance, our sushi exceeded expectations. Not only did it come out quickly, but it was presented artfully on a traditional sushi plate with generous piles of wasabi (a kind of horseradish paste) and fresh-shaved ginger. More importantly, the ingredients were fresh, and the seaweed on our sushi appropriately chewy without being too sticky.

Now be forewarned: Katsu-ya’s hibachi is a ridiculously pleasing amount of delicious food. Standard hibachi comes with Oolong tea, soup, salad with ginger dressing, shrimp, a main meat of your choice served with sauted zucchini, onions, mushrooms and bean sprouts, a bowl of rice and a dollop of vanilla or orange sherbet ice cream. Our soup and salads were no exception, as the flavor and texture of both (thick and subtle for the soup, fresh and crisp for the salad) appropriately whetted our palates for the main course.

Although our hostess seated us directly next to the party sharing our table, leaving us less room to breathe, we did get a front and center view of our chef’s performance. After rolling out a cart of oils, seasonings, and the raw ingredients for our main dishes, our chef set out slicing and dicing our vegetables (and tossing them into our sauces, soft drinks and at the patrons of other tables) like the culinary martial-artist he was. The seasoning of our food involved a complex set of juggling maneuvers performed with a wooden set of oversized salt and pepper shakers that beat a rhythm on our table. He also played with fire, which resulted first in a foot-high wall of flames that engulfed my friend’s pot of tea for a short period of time and an oil volcano of sliced onions that he lit with the palm of his hand. It was impressive, to say the least.

Our main dishes themselves were another wonder. They were delivered piping hot to our plates, and still sizzling with the oil, soy sauce, and seasonings they were sauted in. We both agreed that our dishes were an appropriate blend of sauce and seasonings that allowed for the true flavor of the vegetables, and in my friend’s case, the scallops, to come through.

The seasonings used (universal for every dish) gave the dishes a flavor that was rich but not heavy, and well-balanced by the aforementioned vegetable selection and accompanying bowl of sticky rice.

We finished our meal with a small bowl of vanilla ice cream, a compliment to the dark rich flavor of our previous dishes. Strict vegetarians should note that their food is cooked on the same grill as the raw meat.

Price, quality and atmosphere considered, Katsu-Ya of Japan is a great value. The service is exceptional and allows you to concentrate on what should be the most important component of every restaurant experience: the presentation and taste of the food itself. At Katsu-Ya of Japan, you can sit back, and trust that your chef will leave you with nothing to complain about and a meal that’s a hard-to-come-by culinary joy.