Perhaps it’s because of the proximity, but there seems to be a portal between L.A. and Japan. The Japanese influence on the City of Angels is far from a new thing: One of the country’s oldest Japanese sweets purveyors, Fugetsu-Do, has been selling mochi treats in the Little Tokyo neighborhood since 1903. But recently there’s been a revitalization of interest in the region’s technique and flavors, with chefs looking to the country’s storied culinary culture for inspiration.
Boston and kangaroo ferns hang over the Serena & Lily cafe chairs.
Tom Buttgenbach, Joel Herzer and Sean Leffers of Pacifique—a new California-inflected Japanese bistro—are among them. Their restaurant opened on La Cienega in February replacing Le Petit Bistro, an intimate Parisian-style space that had a decidedly more elegant vibe than the surrounding hot spots catering to club-going millennials.
Yuzu tart with lavender meringue, tarragon and lemon verbena
The design at Pacifique, reimagined by Leffers, is similarly sophisticated. There are oversize paper lanterns floating above the dining room and contemporary art pieces by Nobuyoshi Araki and Hiroshi Sugimoto. A beautiful wooden bar is given its texture by yakisugi, a traditional method of charring and preserving wood, the effect of which is often seen on the exteriors of traditional tea houses and restaurants like those lining the streets of Kyoto. Along one side of the restaurant, there are several booths with curtains for privacy, a special touch inspired by the ubiquitous private dining rooms in Japan’s izakayas, where highballs flow freely and business deals materialize.
A midcentury wall sculpture hovers over woodwork stained with India ink.
Those Japanese touches carry over to the menu, where executive chef Danielle Sobel, formerly of Juku Izakaya in New York City, makes her mark. Sobel’s seasonal cuisine is a blend of modern Japanese and California cool, and her flavors are delicate and refined. There’s a balance and subtlety in her shareable plates like chawanmushi egg custard with shimeji mushrooms and Dungeness crab; Japanese scallops with uni; and chicories with apple and yuzu kosho vinaigrette.
In terms of mains, you don’t want to miss the Shrimp Cloud, a Japanese take on moules-frites made with mussels and rapini bathing in nira and citrus broth. It’s served with a baguette to sop up the delicious broth, perhaps a nod to the restaurant’s Parisian past.
Pacifique also offers happy hour, when you can enjoy mushroom-marinated karaage fried chicken or yakitori grilled over Japanese charcoal ($5 each), paired with something light and spritzy. If you were in Japan, this would be Suntory time, but here, the power play is a Malay Melee, essentially a Malaysian margarita made with mezcal, nam phrik, chipotle, hibiscus and lime.
The Malay Malee is a blend of mezcal, nam phrik, chipotle, hibiscus and lime.
The drinks by Barlingual are a real highlight. In addition to beer, wine and cocktail menus, there’s a curated bottle service offering that thoughtfully pairs smaller-format, single-cask whiskies with bites from the kitchen. For the uninitiated, it’s a wonderful way to familiarize yourself with Japan’s lasting obsession with whisky—and the appropriate bar nibbles that suit them.
No matter which route you take, the yuzu meringue tart for dessert is an absolute must. Pastry chef Eliot Pardo (Salazar, The Raymond 1886) makes a version that’s like an elevated lemon bar, and we are 150 percent here for it.