Restaurant Review: Encino Katsu-Ya

I’ve had a just the teensyest bit of a problem lately.  And that problem’s name is Katsu-Ya. Every couple weeks I find myself at the sushi bar sitting in front of Chef Jason and telling him to make me whatever is the best.  At first he was conservative but now he is bold serving up some of the freshest seafood I’ve had outside of Tokyo.

After several meals at this energetic branch of the LA mini restaurant chain I have found that the only thing I want after I leave there is to go back for more.  Last Friday I sat at the sushi bar and watched most of the people around me order Spicy Tuna Rolls and California Rolls.  And I saw their eyes shoot back at my food wondering what was going on at my end of the sushi bar!

First course that came over the glass was Baby Black Snapper Sashimi with Yuzu Pepper.  This delicate fish paired with the spicy tang of the yuzu pepper paste made my mouth water.  The voice of a friend of mine, known to many as The Sucklord, rang in my head as I remembered him savoring sushi one evening during San Diego Comic-Con and telling everyone at the table, “Hey, that bite costs $3.00, pay attention to what you’re eating!”  And then to himself, “I hate when people just throw down sushi and don’t think about it.  This is expensive shit!”

Baby Black Snapper Sashimi with Yuzu Pepper

Baby Black Snapper Sashimi with Yuzu Pepper

Albacore Belly Sushi

Albacore Belly Sushi

Second course Jason presented me with two perfect pieces of Albacore Belly Sushi.  I asked him if this was on the menu all the time.  And he told me that is on the menu all the time, but he knew I would like it because he cut it himself that morning and it was super fresh.  He was right!  The soft albacore belly held together just long enough to make it to my mouth where it could fall apart in private.  Wow.

Lollipop Roll

Lollipop Roll

Third course was something I had been eyeing my past couple trips.  It’s a hollowed out cucumber rolled up with tuna and avocado and served with a spicy mayo dipping sauce.  Sure looks pretty on the plate.  They call it a Lollipop Roll.

And for my grand finale, although it sure was hard to not get the Hot Crab Roll in Soy Paper, Chef Jason asked me if I liked Salmon Roe.  Well…sometimes Salmon Roe can be a little salty for my taste.  But as he hadn’t steered me wrong yet, I went for it.  He told me that they marinate the roe.  That made it less salty and much more flavorful.  Plus you still get the pop pop pop that makes it fun to eat the little eggs.  Although I always feel like I could eat just one more piece of sushi the two pieces of Ikura Nigiri finished my meal.

Ikura Nigiri

Ikura Nigiri

When I get my hair cut, I just sit in the chair and tell my hair stylist to do whatever she wants.  She likes this and is undaunted.  She gets to be as creative as she wants and I have never come home unhappy.  So, when I sit at the sushi bar I want to eat what the best thing is.  What the freshest thing is.  What the chef would want to eat!  So, when I return to Katsu-Ya I can only hope to go home happy every time.  With a belly full of the freshest and possibly most delicious sushi the chef can find.

Food Art Friday – Sew Dorky Donuts

As if this blog weren’t enough to label as me a food nerd, I’ve got quite the predilection for collecting Food Art objects.  A couple years ago I curated an art show in Los Angeles at Munky King, the self-proclaimed Designer Toy Temple.  The show, called STUFFED, a plush food show featured over 400 pieces of plush food. And even led to a profile of me and my collection in the LA Weekly.

Every Friday I plan to post a piece of my collection.  A toy, a handmade plush art object or a 2D piece of art eventually resulting in a Virtual Gallery of Food Art.

So…here they are.  The donuts that started it all.  A plush baker’s dozen of homemade felt goodness from Sew Dorky.  The moment these arrived in my life they opened my eyes to a new world.  A world full of fake foods that would eventually clutter my kitchen and dining room and adorn my walls.  Unfortunately, Sew Dorky doesn’t seem to be making these donuts anymore…but as any collector will tell you, “glad I got ’em when I did.”

A very special baker's dozen of plush donuts by Sew Dorky.

A very special baker's dozen of plush donuts by Sew Dorky.

Wednesday is cooking day…

In an effort to continue my culinary education I have declared Wednesday Cooking Day! I awoke early Wednesday morning to work out my meal plan based on the good-looking produce I picked up at the Farmer’s Market on Tuesday. Here’s what I came up with.

Menu Idea #1
First Course
Summer Squash Soup with Basil Olive Oil and Garden Herbs

Skirt Steak with Chimichurri topped with a Fried Quail Egg
Sautéed Oyster Mushrooms

Honey Walnut Wedge with fresh Passion Fruit drizzle

But – after some thoughts about the oppressive heat things start to change.

Menu Idea #2
First Course
Yellow Tomato Gazpacho (Nobody wants hot soup when it’s 80 degrees in the kitchen!)

Skirt Steak with Chimmichuri topped with a Fried Quail Egg
Sautéed Oyster Mushrooms

Strawberry Sorbet with Citrus, Sea Salt and Pepper drizzled with Thick Aged Balsamic (I couldn’t bear to turn on the oven for that Walnut Wedge. And in classic Sarah Jo fashion I couldn’t help adding additional ingredients to that simple sorbet. It’ll make it more fun when it comes to tasting time!)

By 2:00 in the afternoon the sorbet was chillin’ and the chimichurri was resting on the stove.

By 4:30 I was back from the store with the skirt steaks. I did a little trimming and got them dry brining in the fridge with salt (Zuni Café Cookbook recommends ¾ teaspoon of salt per pound, so I went with that).

Dinner was looming with a 6:00 deadline so I got the rest of my ingredients ready to go. But…the menu changed again!

Final Menu
First Course
Baby Zucchini Soup with Basil Olive Oil and Garden Herbs (I guess I do want soup on a hot day!)

Baby Zucchini Soup with Basil Olive Oil

Lovely green Zucchini Soup

Skirt Steak with Chimmichuri topped with a Fried Quail Egg
Sautéed Oyster Mushrooms

Skirt Steak with Chimichurri and a Quail Egg

Next time I’m serving this on a bed of spinach.

Strawberry Sorbet with Citrus, Sea Salt and Pepper drizzled with Thick Aged Balsamic and Mint


Strawberry Sorbet looks beautiful and is a terrific dessert on a hot hot day

This was it! It was a fun menu and easy to throw together once I made up my mind. I was taught there are two speeds in the kitchen. One is when you’re just prepping and getting stuff done. And Two is when you’re counting down to the finish line and it’s almost time to eat! We enjoyed this 3 Course Meal and the leftovers it produced for Thursday’s lunch!

Skirt Steak Salad

Steak Salad with Fresh Veggies and Chimichurri makes a fine lunch.

The fun of this dinner was cooking the steak, mushrooms and quail eggs just before we ate them. Great and interactive with guests. The skirt Steak and quail eggs cook so quickly as long as everything is ready to go – it’s hot dinner here I come!

Hrmmmm…what should I cook next Wednesday?

The Croissant-sequences…

I was swimming this weekend and I said to my husband, “I don’t regret one bite of those croissants and pastry I ate during baking class. It’s just that now I have deal with the consequences. The croissant-sequences.” So, a few weeks ago I returned to a more fit lifestyle. Eating mostly fruits and vegetables, chicken and fish, eggs and nuts and a little brown rice. Laying off the sweets and heavy-duty carbs while keeping to a decent workout regimen.

I’m no nutritionist, but, people often ask me what I eat. So….here it goes. The first step I took to deal with the croissant-sequences was to eliminate some very popular foods. I’m not a stickler to this but do try to do a little better than the ole 80/20 rule. Eat as clean as I can at least 80% of the time so that I don’t feel bad the other 20% of the time if I want a Pinkberry or something.

For breakfast a protein shake with berries.

For lunch a hearty green salad with fun things in it and some lean protein on top like turkey or tuna. Salad ingredients I enjoy are sugar snap peas, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, a little goat cheese, some sliced celery or jicama. Basically whatever veggies are in the fridge. Crunchy is a good thing. If I’m feeling like it a hard-boiled egg is a great addition.

For dinner it is more protein with veggies. Last week I made some chicken breasts with Indian flavors and then just blanched some broccoli and asparagus. Add some brown rice for a fuller meal.

It’s a light way to eat. I sleep well when I eat this way. And I do feel full. But, what I think is the most interesting part is that I start to become uninterested in bread and pasta and even sweets. And while I never lose my taste for chocolate, instead of depriving myself I just eat a piece and move on.

As far as exercise goes, I’ve got two days I do Pilates and two days I go to work out in the park. On top of that I’ve been making a point of swimming everyday, sometimes twice. I want to feel good and this makes me!

In two weeks I start a new cooking class and am looking forward to spending my 20% there on Sundays without guilt. Yes!


I’ve been indentifying flavors.

Smell it.

Take a bite.

What’s in this?

Butter. Salt. Pepper. White wine. Paprika?

That was my speculation on the sauce from the clams with chorizo and tomatoes last night at Campanile.

I guess my days of just eating are over. Now I have to know too. I have to know what’s in it. What am I eating? Where did it come from? Who made it? Who grew it? What can I taste in it? And…can I recreate it? It makes every bite mean something. I’m not just “chewin’ my food”. I’m actually learning something. Using my brain. My Grandmother does crossword puzzles everyday and my Mom told me today that her dance routines at the gym keep her brain as fit as her body (due to remembering all that choreography and music). So, can I stay fit from using each bite of food as a mental workout? At least my mind will be healthy from it.

But, I want to talk about demystifying. Learning what is in the food we eat. Last year I went to cooking school. Where I learned to make things that I never thought would be in my repertoire let alone things I would come to define as “easy.” This education forced me to pay attention to ingredients and amounts. Up to this point mostly I just threw everything in the pot and hoped for the best. When we went around the room on the first day of class. People were saying they wanted to learn how to cook without a recipe. I immediately thought about how I wanted to learn to cook with a recipe, cooking without a recipe was the only thing I knew how to do. I kept this information to myself though as our instructor explained technique vs. recipe. Then when I came out at the end of 20 weeks I was a smarter, more knowledgeable and most importantly, more confident cook. I could cook with or without a recipe. But it wasn’t until I took some baking classes and made croissant dough that it hit me. This is not hard. But sometimes it’s a lot of work. Cooking had been demystified to me.

Now, when I take a bite of food that someone else has prepared I think. What’s in this?

And when I take a bite of food I have prepared I think. How can I make this better next time?

The thing is, it’s not about blindly eating. It’s about understanding. I’ve often heard it said that if you knew what was actually in a hot dog you would never eat another one. Not true! At least not true for me, because I want it all demystified.

In an effort to continue this process I plan to have a series of blog entries dedicated to demystifying some of our favorite foods. Stay tuned…

Steamed Clams

Campanile’s Steamed Clams with Chorizo and Tomato

Fabio makes me happy…

Watch Fabio (Top Chef favorite) make this hard stiff Meringue!

Getting my fork…

How do you start a blog.  I’ve done it before, but the first entry, well, it seems a little daunting.  And I’ve been thinking about it for so long that I think I’ve thought myself out of it.

So…today I begin.  No more overthinking.  Only thinking…about food.

There are so many food things I want to explore here.  And I know I have something to say about food everyday.  On that note, I pose myself this challenge, to write something everyday about food.  A grocery store, a farmer’s market, a cook book, a meal, a recipe, a divine food item, these are the things I think about and look forward to and hope to write about…WILL write about here!

Okay.  I feel good about this.  It’s a start.  And a start is all I need right now.  I’ll be back tomorrow.