Roy Yamaguchi has built a wide-ranging culinary brand, including a DTLA branch.
Since founding the original Roy’s in the Honolulu suburb of Hawaii Kai in 1988, Chef Roy Yamaguchi has gone on an absolute tear, becoming one of the nation’s leading restaurateurs, with 33 locations in the U.S. alone. The man who invented Euro-Asian cuisine was in Los Angeles for the second of nine stops on his 20th Anniversary Culinary Tour, and thanks to a last minute cancellation, I was invited.
After passing under a purple awning, we encountered a high-energy bar scene, with booze-soaked downtown office workers watching the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament on flat screen TVs. We walked by an open kitchen, the walls decorated with artistic orchids, to a back room reserved for the 20th Anniversary celebration. Female revelers received flower leis, but I was draped a brown kukui nut version, direct from Maui, which clacked together when I walked.
Roy strolled from table to table to speak with diners who showed up to help celebrate his landmark anniversary. When stopping by our table, Roy said that he lived in Los Angeles for 11 years, including three years at L’Ermitage and for his first stint as a restaurant owner, at 385 North. He still gets back to town regularly. Despite the breadth of his culinary empire, he said he’s still in the kitchen “pretty often.”
The Amuse Bouche revolved around two sheets of tempura-fried Carlsbad Aquafarm Raised Abalone, which were overly chewy. Still, when paired with green-hued Cha Soba and spicy red Sudachi Beurre Noissette, the dish was a net positive. (Perrier Jouet Grand Brut)
The Second Course featured Kona Kampachi (aka yellowtail) filet cooked sous vide, which allowed the flaky fish to retain its moisture. Broths are normally bland, but not Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water, which also flavored an impeccable Carlsbad Clam and Black Mussel. (Jacob’s Creek Riesling)
The Third Course was an Alaskan King Crab Duo, an excellent dish. The crab leg had the top half of the shell removed, making it easy to remove the sweet crab meat from the shell. The golden crab cake had very little binder, and was terrific when run through the pesto sauce, but not quite as exciting when dabbed with aioli. There was also a terra chip topped with Greek olive tapenade that appeared to be stained with beet juice. (Brancott Sauvignon Blanc)
The Fourth Course showcased slices of Aka Miso Colorado Lamb Loin, which had a nice char outside without being overcooked. The accompanying garlic soy jus was basically a spicier teriyaki sauce, and the sweet potato puree added a nice sweetness. Oden vegetables included a torpedo shaped carrot, a lotus root that resembled the face of a rotary phone, and a mushroom cap. There was also a hard-boiled quail egg and a Weiser Farms heirloom potato. (Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz)
The Fifth Course touted Five Elements of Aloha, small tastes of five different desserts, none of which was all that interesting. I would have preferred a single spectacular dessert. The mango spice cake was just a sweet fruit-studded pancake. The macadamia nut “Florentine” was a tropical cookie crisp. Chocolate pot de crème was suitably rich and creamy. Haupia puff ice cream was a letdown, a tiny scoop of coconut ice cream sprinkled with toasted coconut shavings. The mango passion fruit chocolate truffle was similarly unexciting. The plate was streaked with caramel and chocolate sauces and sported a small pile of fruit: cuts of kiwi, strawberry and caramelized banana. (Sandeman tawny 20-year-old port)
To commemorate the occasion, we each received a Roy’s champagne flute.
It’s unclear how the Los Angeles branch of Roy’s would be on a normal night. Clearly, these were special circumstances, with a special menu. Since Roy was in the house, the kitchen staff may have been on their best behavior. Still, with the exception of the unexciting desserts and chewy abalone, every other taste was noteworthy, and if this meal was any indication, I could envision a return trip.