The Approachable Tasting Menu Even Your Friends Will Like
“My friends would never come with me to a tasting menu like this, they are boring and can’t last through 12 courses of food”. These words were spoken by a gentleman sitting across the bar from us at Ainoko, the super approachable tasting menu camped inside Petite Taqueria on La Cienega in West Hollywood. Those three things may seem dissonant to most because finding a tasting menu, especially a damn good one on La Cienega is one of the last things I would expect, but here we are.
Although the restaurant boom is alive and well here in Los Angeles, that sentiment the gentleman was referring to still holds true for many eaters when it comes to fine dining or anything that departs from the ordinary experience. Many diners still don’t know what a tasting menu is or they do and don’t feel the need to spend the money. For some, it just doesn’t seem enjoyable to spend 3+ hours eating 10-15 courses of small plates and even worse if you are seated at the counter and actually have to speak to the chef when you are just hungry and want to go home, put on your pajamas and watch reruns of Seinfeld.
This is truly an experience and it is meant to be enjoyed by not only adventurous eaters but for anyone who is interested in simple engineering. A restaurant is no different than a machine; there are many parts that make it run and when it comes to a tasting menu or even better, a tasting counter, you get to see how the whole machine operates and when done right, it is truly something everyone should witness at least once.
Ainoko means half-breed in Japanese which directly reflects Chef John-Carlos Kuramoto’s life, being born and raised by his Mexcian and Japanese grandparents. Chef Kuramoto wanted to create something that truly reflects his upbringing and after stints at places such as Michael’s, Campanile and Pizzeria Mozza, he was able to do just that with Ainoko.
At 7pm on a Thursday night, quiet for that stretch of La Cienega, I was able to sit down at Ainoko which resembles a sushi counter in the back of Petite Taqueria but what you will taste is a Mexican-Japanese fusion of flavors brought to life with dishes like the Tako Taco and Carrot Soup with squid ink and bonito flakes. When it comes to 12 courses, it’s hard to get everything right, especially in the beginning but almost every single dish was incredibly well-balanced with most dishes hitting the perfect note. If you have ever seen Kenny G play live (I know, we all have, right), the experience is quite similar; You really don’t know what to expect and looking at the crowd you certainly feel out of place but when he starts playing the saxophone you say to yourself “damn he’s good”, you start feeling all of the feels and leave the show with two cd’s only to then realize you don’t have a cd player anymore.
With poise and precision, Chef Kuramoto served up 11 courses of savory dishes followed by a palate cleanser and a delicious dessert. Chef Kuramoto is humble and it shows in his food. Everything seems well thought out with nothing being too extravagant. The Ahi Tuna Tostada and Nori Blini are perfect examples of simple flavors married in harmony and presented to perfection. If there was another component, it might be too much. His use of persimmon in dishes like the Tako Taco and Banchan works in the same way a lead off hitter does in baseball, it sets the table for the heavy hitter, A5 Japanese Wagyu or very soon, Shohei Ohtani.
My lasting impression of Ainoko is one of appreciation. With Chef Kuramoto being so young at the ripe age of 30 and with such a rich track record already, there is so much potential for him and Ainoko. I feel La Cienega and West Hollywood needs something like this. Great food will always triumph at the end but the community needs to accept it first. The clientele at Ainoko and that particular area are certainly no strangers to sushi bars and there were even a few ladies sitting nearby – most likely having a bite to eat before heading to the celeb-fueled Poppy next door – who were all curious as to what was coming out of the kitchen and seemed eager to want to try some of it. That is definitely a great sign and hopefully we can witness much more in the future from this promising chef.
Ainoko is located within Petite Taqueria. Reservations are highly suggested.
755 N La Cienega Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90069