The very ornate entrance to Yamashiro
The dinner invitation was intriguing... to attend a special Caribbean dinner cooked by a guest chef, the Haitian-borne woman Manouschka Guerrier, who had impressed me on her TV stint as "The Private Chef." Where? At YAMASHIRO (1999 N. Sycamore Ave., 323-466-5125, just east of La Brea on Franklin Ave. near the Hollywood Bowl.). Yamashiro, oh my, I had not been here since writing about it some nine years ago while attending the wedding there of its then-general manager, Andy Ulloa. His mother Jane and stepfather, Tom Glover, who own Yamashiro and its adjoining property, the Magic Castle, are old friends of mine. Yes, I would happily attend. What I discovered compels me to write about it so now my readers can also enjoy the pleasures of one of the most delightful, romantic venues anywhere in this city.
Guest chef Manouschka and Exec Chef Brock at my dinner
Yamashiro owners Jane and Tom Glover, old friends of the author
When Memoirs of a Geisha was filming here some years ago, they shot there to simulate the Kyoto tea house in the story. As I approached the restaurant up the long, winding driveway, I was overwhelmed by the view of the city below, twinkling lights making it appear so magical. And when I arrived at the door and valeted my car, I had to pause to look again at the sight -- and then down the hill at the Yamashiro gardens sporting a huge golden Buddha. (It made the tiny green jade Buddha I always wear around my neck look miniscule in comparison. But mine is a lucky charm, especially if you rub its stomach.) I later learned from Carlos Ulloa, the manager, that the restaurant has been refurbished and brightened since I was last there, and I was literally breathless as I walked through its many rooms and into the rear garden. This knoll is quite simply the most romantic spot I have discovered here, and I was soon to discover that Executive Chef Brock Kleweno was turning out remarkable food and drinks in the spacious dining rooms. There are many dark, inviting rooms adjacent to a smashing bar, and on a subsequent night I chose to sit in the front room overlooking the city.
You can dine overlooking this stunning Japanese garden
Tom Glover's family has owned restaurant and adjoining property for many years. I am always intrigued by the interesting mix of people who frequent this spot, from hip locals to a smart young Asian crowd, along with well-informed visitors. With the current intense interest in Asiatic cultures, it boasts a surprising celebrity clientele. The astute John Bergano, its marketing manager, tells me that it is a a very popular venue for special occasions and weddings, and they have many booked for the coming year. I can understand why -- it is so romantic it sets up the happy couple in the right way. Yamashiro seats up to 300 people for dinner (it is not open for lunch) in its spacious interior, but you can always find romantic, intimate tables everywhere. And if you choose to sit inside at the Japanese garden overlooking the koi pond, you will be rewarded with a very tranquil experience. On warm evenings they open the lounge and dining room windows to allow the soft breezes from the hillside's beautifully landscaped gardens to waft in, and you are invited to walk in these gardens after dinner.
The term Cal-Asian cuisine has been rendered almost meaningless by excessive use, but it is so apt here that I must revive it. In subsequent visits, I did some serious eating to plumb the depths of the new menu, and it was a near-fabulous food experience. Well-prepared food, not inexpensive yet fairly priced for such a priceless setting. There is a quite good sushi-sashimi menu, with all of the usual suspects. The House Rolls are excellent, and I recommend the Reclining Buddha ($14) with shrimp and jalapeno peppers, as well as the Spicy Yellowtail, the Spicy Lobster ($18) and the Crunchy. But don't overlook the House Specials, such unique dishes as a Truffle Hamachi ($16) and the Charred Albacore ($16). We enjoyed a starter of the Spicy Seafood Hot Pot i($10) and the Kurobuta Pork Carnitas ($14). I happen to love a good poke, and here is an Ahi Poke ($12) which brought back memories of Hawaii. An Oyster Shooter ($4) and substantial Pan Seared Crab Cakes ($17). In several recent dinners, we sampled a wide assortment of entrees, and I think they match any fine dining experience in town. One entrée knocked me out: the Himalayan Salt Plate ($59), an American Wagyu steak seared and served on this Himalayan salt platter. (It's a dense block of translucent pink salt hand-cut from ancient mineral deposits, They heat it to 400 degrees, allowing the steak to be cooked at the table. Remarkable.) There are two other steak dishes: a Filet ($43) and a Wagyu ($40), but go for the salt platter. My date enjoyed a Loch Duart Salmon ($32), I loved the Shoyu-glazed Black Cod ($34), all served on exquisite unique plates. My friends raved about their Asian Baby Back Ribs ($29). Not yet tried the Avocado Prawns & Scallops ($32) or the Vegetable and Qunoa Platter ($23). A neighboring table enjoyed their Jidori Chicken Breast ($25), a fine rendering of a dish using my friend Dennis Mao's famed jidori chickens. Pastry Chef Alejandro Andrade offers up a wonderful selection of desserts, all $12: think of Strawberry Preserve-filled Doughnuts, Molten Chocolate Cake, an Ice Cram Cookie Sandwich, but don't hestitate to ask for an amazing S'mores Fudge Brownie.
A word about the drinks: They offer all of the exotic "umbrella/fruit" drinks in the Trade Vic's tradition. You know, Mai Tai ($12) and the like, Lychee Martini and a Moscow Mule, but there's an extensive menu of fine sakes, so I stuck to my usual deeply-flavored unfiltered version, here the Nigori for $65 a bottle. The wine list is fairly priced and the beer list is vast. They offer a Ginger Shot, a shot of ginger juice in a glass of beer, which gives it a refreshing new taste.
Yamashiro means "Mountain Palace" in Japanese, and that's what this is, worlds apart yet just steps away from the heart of our city. I once researched its background, from the property purchase by the Bernheimer brothers in 1911 to the hundreds of skiled craftsmen they brought from the Orient to replicate a Kyoto palace. There are (unsubstantiated) stories that during the depression in the '30s, beautiful (though starving) actresses were available here for hire by the evening. I do know that Thomas O. Glover bought it in ruins in '48, then started a restoration which continues to this day. Many celebrities have lived in apartments on the grounds, including Jerry Dunphy, Pernell Roberts, and Richard Pryor! "My father opened a private bar in the back room of the palace building for the residents when he won a state liquor license lottery," Tom Glover told me. "He charged a $1.00 membership fee to the Hollywood Hills Club, and the handyman doubled as bartender, serving drinks for 35 cents. The residents began bringing their friends to enjoy the magnificent setting, the bar expanded until it took over the entire side of the building." Tom finished by telling me how, as a young man, he served hot hors d'oeuvres there- and thus the restaurant was born. Now, 43 years later, we can enjoy the benefits of all that wonderful history.
A strawberry donut finished off the special dinner.
Oh, yes, that special Haitian dinner by Manouschka. I told her that I had been the public relations director of the country of Haiti from 1954 until 1957, when the democratic President was overthrown by dictator Papa Doc. Ex-President Magoire called me from the Bronx, N.Y., to tell me I was no longer the country's p.r. guy. The talented chef (now head of a catering company) served up a stunning repast of Haitian-Caribbean dishes. Pork belly made Haitian griot-style, a toasted bao bun filed with barbequed goat from Adam Lang's bbq setup nearby, and a Haitian oxtail stew with rice and beans. All accompanied by drinks prepared by mixologist Coral Turner featuring the fabulous Barbancourt rhum. It was one of the most spectacular meals I have had in awhile, and I hope that Yamanshiro does more of them.
YAMASHIRO is a dining experience that can be absolutely addictive -- you'll start telling your friends about it, and when you have a free evening it will now immediately come to mind, for this is the image of Hollywood you will want to carry in your head.
Yamashiro is open every day from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, though the bar lounge, where you can order from the entire restaurant menu, is open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., a perfect spot for a romantic drink after a play or movie.
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