Those of you who have read our reviews before know that I don't eat fish of any kind. Therefore I rely on my husband to provide feedback on restaurants who specialize in seafood—and he was very excited when I told him it was time for Casa Laguna to review the new Katsuya Laguna Beach. But the great thing about Katsuya is that, while they do specialize in sushi, sashimi, and a wide range of seafood, they also have something for everyone—and not just one or two items like many fish-oriented restaurants.
I first have to say that we were so lucky to have Kendall as our server. When you go to a new restaurant—especially one as eclectic as Katsuya—you sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land. Kendall immediately made us feel comfortable by explaining the way most people enjoy Katsuya's varied menu. Much of what they serve consists of small plates, and Kendall suggested that we take our time and move slowly through the menu, ordering what we want, when we want. She made a few recommendations and gauged our reaction to her suggestions, then adjusted her guidance accordingly. I started with a variety of Robata (grilled appetizers) including beef-wrapped asparagus, maitake mushroom, and grilled red onion.
On Kendall's recommendation, my husband ordered baked crab handroll and delicately sliced Halibut Usuzukuri sashimi (right). We both raved about the flavor and quality of everything we had. I have to admit that the presentation of his sashimi plate was quite beautiful.
We usually rely on our iPhone for photographs, but it was a bit too dark in Katsuya and most of the images, including an otherwise cute shot of us with Kendall, were too grainy to use.
As my main course, I chose Kobe Tobanyaki—bits of tender Kobe beef on a bed of wild mushrooms, served on a sizzling iron plate. Kendall suggested Miso Marinated Black Cod (left) for my husband, and it arrived exotically displayed on a long brown leaf. (We were so caught up in our delicious food and enjoying our conversation with Kendall that we forgot to ask what kind of leaf it was.) I'm not a big eater, but I polished off my generous serving of Kobe with no problem—it was just too good to give up. Once again my husband raved about the wonderful freshness and flavor of the seafood. He said that the miso marinade gave the cod a wonderfully intense and unique flavor that was simply amazing.
Katsuya is what we judiciously call a high-end restaurant. I say judiciously because $270 per couple for a meal in Orange County is not considered outrageous for many residents. This is not to say you have to be wealthy to go to Katsuya and enjoy a wonderful meal. And, we must quickly add that the quality of the food and service makes it worth every penny.
Every silver lining has a cloud, and for Katsuya, it is bad acoustics. We always try to schedule our review meals as early as possible in the evening so that we can experience all the restaurant has to offer in an unhurried manner. Even with no other patrons in our section of the restaurant, we had to shout at one another across the table to be heard. As more and more customers arrived, the din became insurmountable. And it wasn't just us who thought so. Everyone around us complained to their dinner partners and to others nearby. This has much to do with the beautiful but overused hardwood that lines every inch of the interior.
Bottom line—Katsuya has really, really, good food, chosen from an extensive menu of classic and unique gourmet fare. And, perhaps we've just been lucky with servers lately, but Kendall was perfection, and it appeared that those around us were enjoying the same high quality service from the mostly very young and attractive service staff. It is possible that there are sections of the restaurant where the noise is not as bad as it is in the main dining area, but Katsuya is not, as far as we could tell, a place for a romantic dinner. And, finally, this is the location where Hush used to be, and it attracts the same upscale twenty-something bar crowd on weekend nights. If you don't fit into that category, we suggest you go early, especially if you just want to sit at the bar and have a drink and enjoy some small-plate Robata, sush, or sashimi.
Overall, we loved Katsuya, and it will no doubt become a favorite place to take visiting out-of-towners. We will definitely recommend it to our guests at the inn--with caveats regarding noise level and being sure to arrive early. Katsuya Laguna Beach is located at 858 S. Coast Hwy. Hours are Sun-Wed 5:30-11pm and Thurs-Sat 5:30pm-12am; and, they are open for lunch daily 11:30am-2:30pm.