Chef Katsuya Uechi opened his first Katsuya restaurant in 1997. Since then, the Japanese sushi master has grown far beyond the confines of Los Angeles proper to Dubai, Kuwait, Las Vegas, South Beach and soon-to-be in Japan.
Chef Uechi is a stern man. During a tasting yesterday, he personally delivered nigiri to ensure that no one even think about soy saucing up his edible masterpiece. “No sauce,” he must’ve said ten times throughout. And he’s right — the fish speaks for itself. That’s because Uechi and his team source the freshest fish from local fisherman daily, twice a week from New York City and straight from the Tsukiji fish market in Japan whenever possible. Uechi is in the Magic City for a special pop-up dinner taking place this evening at Katsuya, located in the swank SLS South Beach.
Chef’s prepared a special omakase style feast that will introduce diners to some new dishes on the menu, as well as give an overall glimpse of chef Uechi’s attention to fish and detail. “When we make a menu we want to use seasonal ingredients with the main focus of adapting Japanese tradition to the American taste.” This American taste, he says, is hard to describe. “In Japan they like the taste of fish. I mean really really fishy taste, but most people in this country don’t like it.”
Chef’s then adapted his menu and some of his most popular items for the American palate, like the crispy rice with spicy tuna, which he created a long time ago and has been a Katsuya signature since. Even so, the chef tries to keep traditional when possible. “Back in Los Angeles when I make nigiri I always make it soft and with space between the rice so when you grab it the rice doesn’t fall apart and when you put it in your mouth it melts.” Another traditional Japanese sushi custom is that the rice should be a little warm. “Lots of sushi chefs don’t make sushi this way.” For that reason, chef Uechi doesn’t waste his time with sushi bars in the states. Instead, he enjoys a good piece of steak when he goes out to eat in Los Angeles. As far as sushi bars, he leaves that for his visits to Japan three or four times a year.
“I have sushi for breakfast and dinner.” To Uechi, sushi is the breakfast of champions. So why not for lunch? “Lunch is time for noodles.” So what’s the tell tale sign of a good sushi bar? As per Uechi, ritz and glamour has nothing to do with the raw equation. “It’s all in the fish. If a place smells not like fish but fishy, get out of there.”
If you want to learn more about the man behind Katsuya, tonight is your chance. Chef Katsuya Uechi, along with chef de cuisine Jose Icardi will guide diners through a Japanese culinary journey with a family style omakase tasting at 7 p.m.