I had one of the best Japanese meals of my life last week at a small space in Brentwood at 11656 San Vicente Blvd. named Takao.
This unassuming restaurant opened in 1996 by the former head chef at Matsuhisa, Takao Izumida. We were lucky enough to have what is titled omakase — meaning chef’s choice. This means the chef chooses some of their favorite dishes, focusing on what is in season for a wide variety of courses.
For starters, we shared a bottle of denshu sake which was delicate and refreshing. It was a nice accompaniment to the first course, oshitashi salad, a vegetable salad with Japanese mountain fern, pine nuts, sliced leeks, brocollini and caviar. This was followed by a selection of appetizers (zen-sai) — beautifully presented monkfish liver marinated in miso, marinated octopus, abalone with yuzu pepper, sweet shrimp with truffle oil, salmon kelp roll, radish filled with miso, tatami iwashi (fried sardine wafer).
It is almost too much to describe each dish as we enjoyed six more courses so here is a brief list of what we experienced; halibut sashimi, kampachi sashimi, grilled o-toro (premium grade toro) with natto (fermented soy bean) sauce, filet of kin-me-dai (Japanese golden eye snapper) topped with uni in a broth with sansho (a type of pungent Japanese green leaf) karei no kara age — fried flounder with shishito pepper accompanied by condiments of sea salt, curry salt, ponzu sauce and tempura sauce, Tai (Japanese red snapper), takenoko (baby bamboo shoots) and kinome (Japanese herb) rice, topped with thin slices of egg and nori, accompanied by dark miso soup with enoki mushrooms and pickled vegetables.
We drank a fabulous sake with the dishes above named masumi “Arabashiri” nama sake (un-pasteurized) from Nagano. Finally we ended the meal with a dessert of roasted barley tea with an almond gelatin, vanilla ice cream topped with sliced kiwi and strawberries and a sauce consisting of homemade Okinawa brown sugar molasses that was drizzled over the top.
The whole dinner was presented in an elegant and simple manner as only the Japanese know how to do. The wait staff was professional, discreet and informative, describing each dish when it was served.
Although it seems like a huge amount to eat in one sitting, the food is so clean that we were not stuffed when we finally left the restaurant. This was a rare treat for us to enjoy such an elegant authentic meal without traveling to the country itself. I highly recommend you dine at Takao and experience Japanese food at its best.
Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.