Santa Monica has plenty of izakayas, sushi bars and ramen joints to go around, but it’s never had a Japanese restaurant quite like Kappo Osen.
Kappo restaurants are more formal than izakayas and offer seasonal prix-fixe menus of traditional Japanese dishes. At Kappo Osen, those menus are created by chef Damon Min Cho, who honed his skills at Nobu in Hawai’i and Tao in Hollywood before opening Izakaya Osen in Silver Lake two years ago.
The small izakaya buzzes with energy, creating a pubby atmosphere typical of izakayas in Japan, said Kappo Osen manager April Choi, who previously worked at Osen’s Silver Lake location.
Kappo Osen offers a more refined experience and menu without rising to the level of kaiseki, or fine dining. The restaurant opened Monday at the corner of 7th Street and Arizona Avenue in Downtown Santa Monica.
Many of Santa Monica’s most notable new restaurants explore different facets of Japanese cuisine, from the world-renowned Ippudo Ramen to Supertoro to Silverlake Ramen, which also moved from Silver Lake.
Restauranteurs clearly see a demand for Japanese food on the Westside, and Choi said she thinks Santa Monica has room for a more traditional and chef-driven restaurant.
“When diners walk in here and see how the food is made and how the restaurant is laid out, I think we immediately stand out,” she said.
Kappo Osen will serve traditional yet distinctive Japanese dishes and offer a large selection of sake, beer and wine, Choi said. The chefs are all Japanese and have years of experience in kappo dining, she added.
Although the menu will change regularly, diners can expect sushi and sashimi, including some less common types of fish, such as grunt fish, giant clam and Hokkaido uni. Cooked items include meat and vegetable skewers, grilled squid and curry hot pot. (If guests are unfamiliar with any items, servers will be more than happy to provide some context, Choi said.)
Choi said the ryokan-like design of the restaurant will support the kappo experience with intimate tatami-style booths, handmade plates Cho picked up in Japan and open hot and cold food bars. The space also includes a patio and a private dining room.
“We’re not going for the typical Japanese-American fusion that you get in many restaurants in LA,” Choi said. “What we want to do is give the diners a little escape when they come here, to try to get the feel of what it’s like to actually dine in Japan.”