Santa Monica has plenty of izakaya, sushi bars, and ramen joints to go around, but never a Japanese restaurant like Kappo Osen.
Kappo restaurants are more formal than izakayas and offer seasonal prix fixe menus of traditional Japanese dishes. At Kappo Osen, these rolls were created by chef Damon Min Cho, who polished his skills at Nobu in Hawaii’i and Tao in Hollywood before opening Izakaya Osen in Silver Lake two years ago.
April Choi, manager of Kappo Osen, formerly of Osen’s Silver Lake location, said the little izakaya is brimming with energy, creating the plush atmosphere typical of izakaya in Japan.
Kappo Osen offers a more refined experience and menu without living up to kaiseki or fine dining. The restaurant opened Monday at the corner of 7th Street and Arizona Avenue in downtown Santa Monica.
Many of Santa Monica’s most famous new restaurants are exploring different aspects of Japanese cuisine, from the world-famous Ippudo Ramen to Supertoro to Silverlake Ramen, which has also moved from Silver Lake.
Restauranteurs clearly see demand for Japanese food on the Westside, and Choi said she believes Santa Monica has the space for a more traditional, chef-run restaurant.
“When diners walk here and see how the food is prepared and how the restaurant is designed, I think we stand out immediately,” she said.
Choi said Kappo Osen will serve up traditional but distinctive Japanese dishes, offering a large selection of sake, beer and wine. She added that the chefs are all Japanese and have years of experience eating kabo food.
Although the menu will change regularly, diners can expect sushi and sashimi, including some less common types of fish, such as grunt fish, giant clams and Hokkaido yoni. Cooked items include meat and vegetable skewers, grilled squid, and a hot pot curry. (If guests aren’t familiar with any of the items, servers will be more than happy to provide some context, Choi said.)
Choi said the restaurant’s ryokan-like design will underpin the kabu experience with intimate tatami-style kiosks, handcrafted choux dishes picked in Japan, and open hot and cold food bars. The space also includes a patio and a private dining room.
“We’re not going to go for the typical Japanese-American fusion you get at many restaurants in Los Angeles,” Choi said. “What we want to do is give diners a little escape when they come here, to try and feel what it’s like to dine in Japan.”