In the world of notable tasting menu restaurants, from Vespertine to Dialogue to Wolfgang Puck’s low-flying Rogue Experience, Los Angeles is learning to love the chef-curated dining session. Ainoko is a new Japanese-Mexican tasting menu that opened on November 10 from John-Carlos Kuramoto inside h.wood’s Petite Taqueria in West Hollywood. The place comes from the former executive chef of Michael’s, and it’s one of the most intriguing new chef’s counters in the city.
That’s thanks to Kuramoto’s unique heritage. The word ainoko means half-breed in Japanese, and in this tasting menu he believes that he successfully fuses the two parts of his heritage together. Eater sat down with Kuramoto to learn about the new chef’s counter, how he makes Japanese-style tacos, and what compelled the journeyman chef to do such an ambitious project in a posh West Hollywood spot.
On how the concept of Ainoko came together:
“We’re taking elements of the sushi bar and omakase bar and using both Mexican and Japanese food. We’re also incorporating all the flavors of my career. I was born and raised by my Japanese and Mexican grandparents. They taught me how to cook, but I’m using my experiences from cooking in LA, Vegas, New York City, and Boston.”
On what Ainoko’s dining format what look like:
“The menu will have 10 to 13 courses. We’ll have tacos, tostadas, different basic Mexican dishes using Japanese and Mexican ingredients, but with French technique. It’ll be a melting pot of food.”
On the dinner’s initial cost, and supplements:
“The menu will start at $85 for ten courses, and we’ll have a beer and sake pairing available. There are supplements to the menu, including wagyu beef, foie gras, and other things.”
On Kuramoto’s biggest culinary influence, and the meaning of fusion:
“Ming Tsai was the biggest influence. I worked at Blue Ginger for a CIA internship. He’s the king of fusion. He taught me that everything is technique. Technique will set you free. You have to understand the original dish first, the heart and soul of a dish, what the purpose of each element is. Once you pay homage, you can use technique to incorporate different ingredients. When you’re able to use different techniques, that’s when you create something new.”
On Ainoko’s signature dish, a wagyu beef sukiyaki:
“The last course is the signature dish. Growing up with beef sukiyaki, I wanted to build sukiyaki in a taco, so we use Japanese A5 wagyu, raw and shaved. We take pickled napa cabbage, caramelized onions, and have a build-your-own-taco. On the table, they’ll put down a little burner with broth on top. Take one of the beautiful tortillas and build.”
On the differences between Japanese and Mexican food:
“They’re so different. They’re diametrically opposed. Japanese food is very clean, which I like, but at the end of the day, I don’t crave clean food. I love Mexican food, the fattiness, the sour, the spicy. Mexican food has more going on.”
On the negative initial Infatuation review:
“That was super weird. I know we tasted everything. We hooked that guy up. I can guarantee that the food was perfect. I get that La Cienega, West Hollywood, there are such negative connotations for people in the food world. He came in thinking: this is WeHo, they can’t produce anything except party and nightlife. That sucks knowing that a reviewer came in knowing they were going to knock us down. He insulted our customers, which isn’t called for. When you come in review, don’t go after the crowd. People can have their opinions, but I take solace in knowing that the owners were super happy with the food that night.”
On Kendall Jenner’s recent birthday celebration at Petite Taqueria:
“That was very fun. She’s a very nice young woman. We didn’t have to alter anything for their party. They loved the food, the taco bar that we set up. We served everyone.”
Ainoko opened on November 10 and takes reservations via Resy.