clock menu more-arrow no yes
A5 strip loin grilled and served with potatoes, black garlic, and braised tendon at Kato with plating and sauce.
A5 strip loin grilled and served with potatoes, black garlic, and braised tendon.
Wonho Frank Lee/Eater LA

Filed under:

Inside Kato’s Beautiful, Understated New Downtown LA Home

Jon Yao’s Asian American tasting menu restaurant reopens at Row DTLA

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

The Friday evening before Kato’s new Downtown Los Angeles location is the most relaxed this room will be, at least for the foreseeable future. Occupying the former M.Georgina space — the restaurant from San Francisco chef Melissa Perello that only operated for a few months before being forced to close due to the pandemic — the corner build-out on the ground floor of a towering industrial building in Downtown LA’s eastern edge seems like a fitting home for Jon Yao’s Michelin-starred establishment. Yao and partners Nikki Reginaldo and Ryan Bailey have been spending the last few months preparing their larger digs, though everyone’s a bit drained mentally from three days of hosting dinners with the Restaurant at the Meadowood, a $500 per person affair that went smoothly despite being the Kato team’s first actual nights of service.

Kato reopens today, February 8, with reservations available two weeks out at a time, and eventually up to a month out. Tables will likely be difficult to obtain, though not impossible. The 48 seat restaurant occupies a room that held well close to 100 before the pandemic, and just eight seats at the relaxed bar. Most of the bones of the dining room are the same, but instead of contrasts between lights and darks and a slew of hanging lamps, Kato’s space feels more restrained and relaxed.

Inside Kato’s new dining room in Downtown LA with low lighting, furnishings, and open kitchen.
Inside Kato’s new dining room in Downtown LA.

“I want to play jazz music here,” says Yao, who thinks energetic but lyric-less tunes from the likes of John Coltrane or Miles Davis will serve the L-shaped dining room well. Yao would love the ambience to be more low-key, the better for guests to focus on the food and experience. But Kato has never had the chance to occupy such a nice interior, living previously in the somewhat hidden corner of a West LA strip mall, with 20-something seats and a temporary al fresco patio that jutted out into the parking lot. And the introduction of a full wine pairing selection, bottles, and cocktails will likely inject plenty of excitement from eager diners into the big new dining room. Plus, the fully open kitchen will convey a greater connection to the cooks and Yao’s Taiwanese-influenced tasting menu.

No one will deny that Kato’s new digs are a massive upgrade. Westside denizens might lament the longer journey while the restaurant’s most vocal proponents will love the shorter drive from SGV and more eastern places. Reginaldo told Eater that so many of Kato’s fans and ardent supporters see the restaurant as a beacon, a place that could represent Asian American cooking.

But more than anything, Yao is just thankful for the space, the space to think, the space to store ingredients, and space to accommodate his ambitions. He’s keen to share in those aspirations as well, bringing seasoned pastry chef Nina Yoon, assigning drinks — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic — to Majordomo vet Austin Hennelly, and acknowledging the teamwork required to take Kato to the next level. Bailey’s expertise in wine, drawn from the Kitchen in Sacramento to NoMad in New York City and here in LA, helps round out Kato from a mostly alcohol-free dinner to one thoughtfully incorporating beverages as a significant part of the experience.

Local black cod wrapped in hoja santa with a broth of fish bones and preserved vegetables in a broken-looking ceramic plate.
Local black cod wrapped in hoja santa with a broth of fish bones and preserved vegetables.

The visual elements, from the Match Stoneware ceramics to the Goodfight uniforms to the artwork furnished by Yao’s late grandfather Yao Zuozhi (which show as three paintings in the bar) to James Jean’s bespoke Quenelles, a rather stunning mixed media wood panel piece made specifically for Kato, show an intentionality and thoughtfulness.

Ultimately, diners wouldn’t care a peep about Kato unless it delivered on the plate, and while it’s too early to tell if the highly acclaimed menu will live up to its prior success, Yao seems to have the right balance of anxiousness and cool collectedness right now. The stakes are higher, but his patience has paid off with this opportunity, with the good will of Kato and the continued effort of the team executing not one man’s vision but an idea that LA-based Asian American cuisine, tinted by Taiwan and Japan, can stand with the great culinary perspectives of the world. Maybe one day, LA’s food might be in the same regard as the science-oriented modernism of Spain, or the fermentation of Denmark, or the indigenous influences of Peru, or the vegetable sophistication of France.

While LA’s upscale restaurant scene has certainly seen its fair share of challenges throughout the pandemic, Kato’s reopening in Downtown signals the enduring relevance of tweezer-built, artistically inclined fare in Los Angeles. Kato’s story has been a local wonder, a Walnut-born chef who put in a short time at places like Benu and Coi before opening a modest under-$100 tasting menu to a curious West LA crowd. Since then, accolades from critics, the Michelin guide, and everywhere in between have propelled Kato into the kind of regard a restaurant could only dream of. And the second chapter of that journey starts tonight.

The price of dinner at Kato starts at $195 and includes food but not drinks, tax, or gratuity. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations are available here.

A5 wagyu striploin grilled over embers and charcoal with potatoes and black garlic and braised tendon.
A5 wagyu striploin grilled over embers and charcoal with potatoes and black garlic and braised tendon.
The Garden, a dish of seasoning Girl and Dug farms vegetables with Taiwanese seasonings.
The Garden, a dish of seasoning Girl and Dug farms vegetables with Taiwanese seasonings.
Santa Barbara uni donut with Iberico ham and brown butter at Kato on a flower-shaped ceramic plate.
Santa Barbara uni donut with Iberico ham and brown butter.
Dish with edible flavors at Kato in Los Angeles.
Dish with edible flavors at Kato in Los Angeles.
Meow kumquat shaved ice with citrus, meyer lemon, and vanilla at Kato.
Meow kumquat shaved ice with citrus, meyer lemon, and vanilla.
Lemon drop cocktail with Suntory Haku vodka and bitter bianco with rice milk and lemon.
Lemon drop cocktail with Suntory Haku vodka and bitter bianco with rice milk and lemon.
Jujube dessert with muscovado, scorched ice cream, and gold flake.
Jujube dessert in a Life with Ceramics Studio plate with muscovado, scorched ice cream, and gold flake.
Milk bunch with cognac, bourbon, and rum clarified with yam, brown butter, five spice and pineapple.
Milk punch with cognac, bourbon, and rum clarified with yam, brown butter, five spice and pineapple.
Wonho Frank Lee
Garden tonic with bitter melon, cucumber, and lime cordial.
Garden tonic with bitter melon, cucumber, and lime cordial.
Spiced amazake with koji, kokuto, and ginger, served warm.
Spiced amazake with koji, kokuto, and ginger, served warm.
Wonho Frank Lee
Bar area at Kato with artwork from Jon Yao’s grandfather, Yao Zuozhi.
Bar area at Kato with artwork from Jon Yao’s grandfather, Yao Zuozhi.
Dining area at Kato in Downtown LA.
Dining area at Kato in Downtown LA.
Dining area with James Jean artwork at Kato.
Dining area with James Jean artwork at Kato.
Entrance to Kato in Downtown LA.
Entrance to Kato in Downtown LA.
Open kitchen look into Kato.
Open kitchen look into Kato.
Bar area with dim lighting at Kato.
Bar area with dim lighting at Kato.
Show wood at the outer edge of the open kitchen at Kato.
Show wood at the outer edge of the open kitchen at Kato.
Staff extend a table to accommodate up to eight diners at Kato’s dining room.
Staff extend a table by Interior Define to accommodate up to eight diners at Kato’s dining room.
Outside Kato in the Row DTLA.
Outside Kato in the Row DTLA.

Kato

The Row 777 S. Alameda St. Building 1, Suite 114, Los Angeles, CA 90021 Visit Website
Eater Inside

Behold the Bestia Family’s Bold New Shawarma and Kebab Destination

AM Intel

Top Chef Alum Sam Talbot Helms Hollywood Rooftop Restaurant at Members-Only Club

First Look

Bask in French Decadence at Lincoln Carson’s New Hollywood Restaurant

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater Los Angeles newsletter

The freshest news from the local food world