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Personality and Perception: Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya or Katsuya

The Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya on West Third Street in Los Angeles is a walkable neighborhood haunt for me.  I confess to cravings and inflated ratings of certain items that my cells beg for, almost weekly.  The phone number is in my Personal Contacts. My name is Ilene and I am an Izakaya-holic. From that perspective, can I be objective enough to compare my back to back Dinners at Katsuya in Brentwood on Thursday to Izaka-Ya by Katsu-ya on Friday?  Surprisingly, more so than I would have predicted.

the Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya

Katsuya Brentwood
Katsuya in Brentwood is the holy grail of the Katsuya group that includes Hollywood, Glendale and L.A.Live. It opened to knowing winks and nods of upwardly mobile growth.  I'd already experienced Katsuya at L.A.Live, Glendale and Hollywood and had mentally preserved Brentwood for a night when I felt like going beyond jeans. If I lived in Brentwood, it might well be more of a casual neighborhood sushi spot.  Instead, I saved it for a night out experience.

How does it all shake out?  Since I like to research the histories of places, I Discovered interestingly that other than the connection to renowned Chef Katsuya Uechi, the managers and staff at both restaurants are equally perplexed by how the restaurants are or are not connected to each other.  So are the websites.  There's a Saturday Night Live (or Groundlings) skit here in trying to Delineate the Differences among Katsuya, Sushi by Katsu-Ya and Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya. 

Here's the gist: an Izakaya is like the bistro of the French restaurants, more thought of as a Drinking spot with food than a foodie spot to lounge and Dine.  Izakayas are sake "shops" with food as accompaniments in Japan.  The upscale-looking Katsuya chain was Designed by Philippe Starck and Developed by the SBE Entertainment group.  I imagine they liked Sushi by Katsu-Ya (Encino first?) and Decided to take that food and go big with Chef Katsuya Uechi overseeing it.

What's the same about these Dining Destinations?  Several items are named and Described identically. Two of the items I tried at each are the Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno and the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna.  The plating is not identical but the taste is there.  The quality of the fish is Dependable at both, though I do not have enough experience at Katsuya at Brentwood to vouch.  

Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna at both restaurants

Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno at both

(Katsuya) Halibut wrapped crab and avocado

What's Different?  A lot.  First, Izakaya, though just refreshed with new Decor, is purely casual.  It is also overcrowded, loud, hip and fun.  The Third Street one feels like a private club at which you show your membership to enter.  You DO in fact need a Confirmation Code given to you by-phone-only to eat there!  The SBE Katsuya restaurants are chic-Philippe-Starck-style.  Except for L.A.Live, which is always packed, the places feel a little too big even when there are many Diners.  Angelenos tend to like a packed house.  While some signature Dishes sit on both menus, the food is also quite different.  Katsuya has a wider array of kitchen-dishes, and according to one of the Izakaya managers, not all inspired by the Chef K.U. himself.  There are now four Wagyu large plates on the Katsuya menu.  We shared the Wagyu Tenderloin Yakitori (Robata grilled tenderloin with Nikiri soy).  This steak's tenderness melted satisfyingly and yet I had a slight longing for more rich juicy tastiness overall. 

(Katsuya) Wagyu Tenderloin Yakitori

Izakaya Grilled Shrimp

Another significant Difference is that the Izakaya hearkens its Japanese roots from its staff and its menu.  Though far from a Tokyo sake shop, it feels and I'd suggest, tastes, more authentic.  Katsuya has the feel of that well-oiled SBE machinery, polished with highly trained service and menu items that are glazed with California's influence. Though I can't verify through any sources, the produce tastes as though it's sourced from Different vendors.  One glaring example was the avocado, which at the Izakaya, is consistently soft, tasty and buttery.  Might the ones at the Katsuya be sitting in refrigerated shelves leaving them almost tasteless?

Izakaya Tempura Ice Cream

Katsuya Banana Crepe
Izakaya Banana Crepe

Since I entered this unplanned competition with admitted bias, I anticipated smugly that Izakaya would leave Katsuya in the Dust, food-wise at least.   That Did not happen.  Nevertheless, two unique items at Izakaya that are responsible for my addiction -- the Robert Roll and the Kobe burger  - yes, a burger - are in my league of my own!  The Desserts at Izakaya do not work.  I ordered them for the purposes of this writing and wouldn't again.  A similar Dessert, a banana chocolate crepe at Katsuya was better executed but still would not make anyone's Top 20.  My Dining friend at Katsuya ordered the Creamy Rock Shrimp as a starter and while I snickered at first, it's truly tasty and tender.  I was wrong.  I liked the idea of their halibut-wrapped crab and avocado and it turned out to be fairly bland.  The Wagyu steak had good flavor and texture.  A surprise treat on the Izakaya menu, and influenced by California cuisine, are the fish tartares in small thinly-crisped cones.  They looked and tasted Delicious.

Creamy Rock Shrimp at Katsuya

Katsuya Robata Corn and Artichoke 

Izakaya Ceviche tasty but lacked some contrast in texture

Izakaya Seaweed Salad

Ta-dah! To die! My Robert Roll! (Izakaya)

At the end of the Day, this is about personality.  The young urban whose BMW or Audi is no more than two years old and is one of two colors feels right at home at Izakaya and, even without a Confirmation Code, will stand out front and phone/text 10 of his/her contacts while waiting.  I'm not them but I like to watch them. It's an easy fit for me.  On my way home from work, I can stop there and take out. And the Robert Roll and 12-step-program burger have my name on it.  Katsuya in Brentwood shows off your Designer bag and freshly blown out hair better and Definitely is more comfortable for the well-heeled suburbanites.  It is also better for the urban or suburban in-the-biz meeting.  Perception is at play.  Food is just plain good at both -- and I Daresay great.  But a top chef's hands are too far out of both kitchens to qualify either for spectacular.  Ain't nothing wrong with that.  Wish me luck with my rehab.

Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya
8420 W 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782-9536

Katsuya Brentwood
11777 San Vicente Blvd.

Brentwood, CA 90049
(310) 207-8744