One of our favorite things about Los Angeles is the abundance of fabulous restaurants and eclectic cuisine. We ventured out of our East Side bubble to West LA to try out Hamasaku with Chef Yoya Takahashi. In an unassuming strip mall, Hamasaku is tucked away and off the beaten path, but definitely worth the trek west. The interior boasts a minimalist design, with clean lines and modern elegance that matches the sophisticated dishes. We were lucky enough to try a few of Chef Takahashi’s favorite dishes and chat with him about his evolving menu, favorite ingredients, and his favorite cuisine other than Japanese, of course.
Chef Takahashi moved to Long Beach, California about 15 years ago from Kyoto, Japan. When we asked what brought him to the West Coast, he mentioned he was just ready for a change. “I don’t have anything new in Japan,” he said. His creativity and flair stands out in the modern space and we can see that he is constantly looking for something new and exciting. Starting out at Hamakawa, a restaurant in Little Tokyo, he found a mentor in Chef Hamakawa. He brought his innovative creations to revamp Hamasaku about three years ago. “We have definitely started changing a bit. It was only rolls, about 60 rolls. When I came here I definitely wanted to change that; I still have rolls but it’s too much sometimes,” he said.
Chef Takahashi looks to his surroundings to really gage the new food trends and what people are looking for. “I wanted to do a little bit more traditional, but in West LA there are cool people [that] are playing around here more now.” With hipsters accepting the shift towards the West Side, there is a new demand for cutting edge concepts in food and lifestyle. Chef Takahashi is meeting them by stepping away from the traditional Japanese cuisine and integrating hot dishes and obscure ingredients. When asked about his favorite ingredient, he laughs and responds, “Definitely I would say fish.” He loves seafood and creates new ways to enjoy it with his hot dishes. “Usually people only use ceviche, and Carpaccio but something about the grill is so flavery [sic],” he says. “Even a grilled oyster, East Coast people like it, but West Coast don’t. It’s those kinds of things I am teaching, I have to tell people, ‘it’s not gross.’”
Another favorite ingredient? Chicken Tails. Yes, you read correctly. “I try to use different ingredients, like chicken tails - do you know chicken tails?” Chef Takahashi laughs at our reaction as he exclaims, “It’s so good [laughs]. I want to make crazy [dishes], so many types, but Japanese is always very simple. But we want to make a combination and to look beautiful.” It’s this fact that differentiates Hamasaku and Chef Takahashi from the influx of Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles.
Chef Takahashi has a very open palate, however specifically for whiskey and soju. As a former bartender, we naturally needed to know his poison. “Now it’s whiskey and soju. It’s strong, but the next day you’re fine! When I go to Japanese restaurant I can drink a full bottle.” Don’t worry, Chef Takahashi, we will be joining you next time.
Chef Takahashi impressed us at every turn. With his laid-back attitude and jovial demeanor, he was meant for the West Coast. He takes inspiration from all around him and has an insane amount of respect for all chefs and cuisine. We asked him to name a few chefs he admires and his response was perfect. “Everybody, everyone has a different spice. Everybody knows each other in Los Angeles; every restaurant I visit I get inspired.”
Chef Takahashi is definitely on the way to making his presence known. We asked what was next for the talented chef. He responds, “just keep going, doing my own thing.” We can’t wait to see where it leads.
Our tasting menu consisted of:
Tuna and Octopus ceviche mixed with tomato, celery, heart of palm, and a pineapple miso:
Japanese Barracuda with seasonal peaches, matsutake mushrooms and Uni:
Old Fashioned Oyaji – Bourbon aged Shochu, bitters, orange pitters, Satsuma, mikan peel:
Goma – Sesame Shochu and limejuice with a sesame and sugar rim:
11043 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Written by Mischa Teichgraeber
Photographs by Amelia Williams