So we first met James on the inaugural dinner at the famed Hayato kaiseki restaurant 2 years ago at the ROW DTLA complex where the American Apparel factory used to be. This is the closest thing you can get in CA to a Kyoto kaiseki restaurant. This was the same month Jonathan Gold died, and he had promised to eat at Brandon Go’s Hayato, which was so tragic.
Nevertheless, around the same time, the LA Times had just been bought by a Korean doctor who really wanted to emphasize food, and this glowing article came out about Hayato and Brandon. The next day, his high end bento boxes were sold out for months and Hayato became the hardest reservation to book in LA. Brandon himself had worked at half the 3 star Michelin kaiseki places we’d been to in Kyoto and I used to be able to text him and have a bento box every week on Eater. Just look at the attention to detail.
When he would tell me that he didn’t know how he was going to pay the rent, I remember telling him, “what are you worried about man? you’re seriously going to blow up in no time!”, and then boom, meteoric rise to culinary fame.
Brandon was a machine. He had a doctor’s work ethic and lifestyle. Meanwhile it was just Brandon and James doing everything from scratch. We barely got the opportunity to talk with James as he was always toiling away in the back.
However, through our good friend Bradley Lai, who we also met on the first night’s service at Hayato, we were put in touch with James when he started making bento boxes on his own. We were intrigued, so we had our first one on father’s day this year and loved it, I meant to blog post about it but got busy and forgot. Then I had today’s lunch which rocked my world and I had no choice but to post this immediately.
Let me start by saying, 90% of the fish comes from the Toyosu fish market, which is the relocated fish market from Tsujiki in Tokyo. Most of the best places in LA, N/Naka, Hayato, and formerly Somni use the same fish supplier…ussakasyu who ships from Toyosu. You can see some of the rare stuff he supplies for my secret sushi spot out of the chef’s own apartment in Highland Park, who’s name I’m reluctant to reveal.
So guess who was toiling in the back making most of the bento boxes for Hayato? James. You can now be the lucky few in the know before James himself becomes a super star and is too busy to remember your name.
This is my madman look as I’m about to have my first bite of Japanese mackerel. See the video Erika took below.
Here’s the menu:
Bento(left to right)
Wakamomo(Japanese Baby Peach)
Agedashi Nasu- fried Japanese eggplant
Kuruma Ebi(Japanese Tiger Prawn)
Kinmedai Kobujime- this is similar to a red sea bream, called Alfonsino
Atsuyaki Tamago-fluffy egg omlet which was superbly aerated and cake-like
Anago Okaki(Sea Eel Fried in Rice Cracker)
Simmered Shiitake Mushrooms
Ume-Ninjin(Carrot simmered In
Aji Nanbanzuke-horse mackerel
Simmered Japanese Turnup, which just melted in your mouth and turned into a paste. Clean and refreshing.
Shime Saba(Seared/Cured Japanese Mackerel)
Shin-Shoga(Pickled Young Ginger)
Not only was the Chirashi box amazing, but the caramelized lotus root was one of the best things I’ve eaten in months. He even had this pickled ginger bulb looking thing called myoga. It’s a hybrid between a ginger and a shallot. Possibly my new favorite vegetable. The grilled Nodoguro was just amazing, hard to find at most sushi places in LA, but regularly available at Murasaki in Fountain Valley.
Wow, and the little baby peaches from Japan? Super rare and seasonal. Last time we had this was went we went to Yamakase, our invite-only sushi spot I have blogged about in the past.
Not to mention the amazing sushi rice, done the right way with red vinegar, akazu. This is how they do sushi rice properly in Japan.
Here is James’ instagram link. Enjoy now, before it is too late and I’m blogging about his brick and mortar restaurant that you can’t get reservations for: