A hospitality group heavyweight in the luxury hotpot scene, with restaurants like the X Pot and Chubby Cattle, is planning to put its stamp on yakiniku (Japanese grilled meats) — complete with a wagyu tasting menu and chef who’s earned a Michelin star — at the fancy Niku X, slated to open in late December at 900 Wilshire Boulevard in Downtown LA.
Niku X is one of the new guard of Japanese restaurants showcasing opulent ingredients, like Kaviar, which has locations in Pasadena and Arts District. Over the past few years, Niku X’s parent company, the Las Vegas-based Chubby Cattle International, has made a splash in upscale Asian dining: It refined the hotpot scene with its focus on wagyu beef and robot servers at the X Pot restaurant (with locations in Rowland Heights, Las Vegas), and installed a futuristic refrigerated conveyor belt delivering plates of meat at Chubby Cattle in Las Vegas, among other cities.
The massive 9,000 square-foot Niku X is located on the second floor of the Wilshire Grand Center, the tallest skyscraper in LA that’s also home to Spire 73 and La Boucherie. Less technology-focused than its sister restaurants, Niku X is more about fine dining-level service and the wagyu beef that it sources from its own cows and around the world. David Zhao, co-founder of Chubby Cattle International, describes Niku X as giving an omakase-like experience with its tasting menu, where servers will grill meat at the tables. Diners will be able to order a la carte, too. “We want to take [Japanese steakhouses and Korean barbecue] to the next level almost in the same way as [it’s been] done for sushi,” he says.
Chef Shin Thompson, who earned a Michelin star at the now-closed Bonsoirée in Chicago and opened several Furious Spoon ramen shops in the Chicago area, has moved to the West Coast to helm Niku X. Even though the restaurant’s focus is on premium cuts of wagyu, Thompson is seeing to it that the menu is balanced. “‘Yakiniku’ is kind of a broad term, traditionally referring to grilled meats, but we’re focusing on our yakiniku tasting menu, which includes things like live seafood on the grill, vegetables, appetizers, and a soup course — it’s a whole experience,” says Thompson. (The tasting menu starts at $220.)
As for all that beef, Chubby Cattle International has a partnership with Northern California’s Masami Cattle Ranch, where the ranchers raise Japanese A5 wagyu cattle for the hospitality group’s restaurants. The steer are fed a special grain diet and roam free on the land’s pasture.
“All of our restaurants serve wagyu from our own ranch,” says Zhao. “A lot of times [frozen] wagyu will go through a lot of middlemen, where it can take months before it gets to your plate. [Our wagyu is] fresh; it goes straight to our butcher house in Oregon to our restaurants on a weekly basis.”
Niku X will also offer wagyu from Australia’s Stone Axe Pastoral, a ranch that won the gold medal two years in a row in the Australian Wagyu Association’s beef competition, among others. “We are wagyu-focused, but how we highlight specific cuts of meat, prepare it over the grill, and serve it with different accompaniments is very curated,” says Thompson, who serves the Australian wagyu with a chrysanthemum sauce.
The idea of ranch-to-table is also reflected in Thompson’s tasting menu bites. In his introductory course, blini crafted from the grains that are fed to the brand’s cows (ingredients like barley, rice straw, and alfalfa) are topped with a heap of Astrea caviar. Niku X’s beverage program, meanwhile, is run by Pete Gomez (previously of the X Pot and Nobu Malibu), who will be crafting cocktails made with Asian ingredients. The restaurant will also have an ever-changing wine tasting menu, the first of which will focus on women winemakers.
The restaurant space itself is sleek, outfitted with moody lighting, dark wooden tables and booths, black metal accent walls, and gray tiled floors. Murals of tigers adorn the walls. Zhao hopes diners will leave the restaurant with a better understanding of the different cuts of wagyu. “Often in steakhouses, people can have the fattiest cut of A5 wagyu and not understand that wagyu can actually have very different [tasting profiles when they come from] different places around the world, just like how you can enjoy wine,” he says. If the popularity of X Pot and Chubby Cattle are any indication of a new way to think about Asian dining, there’s a chance Niku X might do the same.