I had just seen the Katsuya South Beach at the SLS Miami, their most recent opening. and was intrigued with the restaurant's modern take on Japanese cuisine so we went to their Laguna Beach outpost which is right on the pacific Coast highway with an outdoor terrace overlooking the ocean. We made a booking via Open Table and got a table for 5:30 As it was such an early booking, we arrived to an empty restaurant and were led to one of the large banquette tables (there were 5 of us) on the outdoor terrace which was thankfully, covered with an awning, to protect us from the strong California afternoon sun.
Cocktails were ordered while we studied the extensive menu of starters and signature starters, salads, sushi, sashimi, meat and seafood and even a robatayaki selection. We decided to order several sushi rolls and several items from their signature starters to share: edamame to munch on first followed by the sushi sampler. Then the rolls started to appear. First up was the signature crispy rice topped with spicy tuna and jalapeno and three other daily special rolls that were off the menu: the spicy salmon roll with crispy garlic, tuna roll with crispy corn kernels, and a double salmon roll with thinly-sliced lemon and salmon roe. We also had the fried soft shell crab starter. All the starters were delicious, the raw fish was fresh and the rolls were one-of-a-kind. The hot dishes were less interesting - Stripped Baze which was a specialty of Szechuan-style bass fillets was over-sauced fish fillets that were neither sweet nor spicy, the Kobe rib-eye with truffle butter was a just sliced meat with mushrooms. Even the stuffed eggplant starter filled with albacore and almonds in a sweet miso glaze was just too sweet and didn't have enough eggplant or fish. All three cooked dishes were a letdown. We finished our meal with two desserts: the chocolate lover cake, supposedly hot chocolate cake but was just three brownie chunks covered in crispy wonton wrapper strips and the classic creme brulee which was nothing special as well. If you do go to Katsuya, stick to the sushi, sashimi, rolls or raw food and skip the rest or just have a cool cocktail, enjoy the loud music and admire the crowd.