The Allure of Okura

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The Coachella Valley establishment makes its way to the coast.

By Linda Domingo | Photos by Jody Tiongco

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Something new has taken residence inside the ultra-contemporary and inconspicuously hip building that formerly housed Katsuya and Hush restaurants. Okura Robata Grill & Sushi Bar, hailing from La Quinta, Calif., is trying its luck at the Pacific Coast Highway location south of downtown, armed with a new design, trendy atmosphere, nationally acclaimed chef and, of course, premium sushi.

The restaurant opened quietly in early October, with owner Jay Lee ensuring the service and food were on par with the quality of the La Quinta location. Both restaurants feature similar menus and consistent decor that subtly highlights the elements of earth, water, air and fire. Chef Jin Heo, who was included in the peer review publication “Best Chefs America” in early 2013, helms the Okura kitchen with James Kim as sous chef.

The menu features both traditional and fusion sushi and other Japanese favorites. Appetizers such as the hamachi carpaccio, agedashi tofu or garlic edamame provide a light start to a meal of bold flavors or pair well with an Asian-inspired cocktail. Another starter option, the Dynamite rock shrimp, is a favorite from the La Quinta location that features tempura-battered shrimp tossed in a mildly spicy tobiko sauce.

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Those in search of specialty rolls won’t be disappointed with Okura’s nontraditional selection, which includes the Marilyn Monroe (shrimp, avocado, cucumber, crab, scallops and a sweet sauce) and James Dean (crab, tuna, eel, cucumber, avocado and spicy sauce). But the classic sushi and sashimi is where the establishment’s fresh fish really shines for traditionalists. Vegetarians can enjoy sushi, too, with alternative options such as asparagus or “enokitake” (a white mushroom) served atop rice. Okura also offers an “omakase” (chef’s choice) dining experience for those who prefer to leave the decision making to the experts.

Also on the menu, the beef ishiyaki places the ancient hot stone cooking method in the hands of the diner—the presentation includes a sizzling stone, raw beef and marinating sauces for guests to prepare their own meat to their liking.

While seafood is the star at Okura, a leading role is played by dessert—the green tea panna cotta is a unique take on the Italian pudding. A perfect blend of mild sweetness and green tea flavor is served with pistachio biscotti for a delicious nightcap.

Jay says that the staff is happy to accommodate the whims of each guest, including sushi platters that, in true Laguna style, mix art and food. She adds, “There are no limitations here.” LBM

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