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Tokyo Calling in Southern California

3 minute read
David Kaufman

From sushi rolls to ramen bowls, Southern California has had a long-time love affair with Japanese cuisine. Now the culinary traffic is flowing in the opposite direction with the debut of two new Tokyo eateries by West Coast celeb-chef David Myers. Opened in mid-September in the newly restored Ginza branch of the iconic Mitsukoshi department store, the David Myers Café, tel: (81-3) 3562 1111, and SOLA patisserie (same number) espouse the chef’s source-local-cook-SoCal ethos.

“The restaurants pair California concepts with Japan’s wonderful, unusual ingredients,” says Myers, who’s spent the past two years developing the Tokyo ventures. “But there is a lot of crossover going on,” he adds.

(See 25 authentic Asian experiences.)

The move to Asia is a shot in the arm for the Boston-born chef after a slew of well-publicized business difficulties earlier this year. Myers made his name eight years ago with Los Angeles’ Sona, the French-inspired, Michelin-starred restaurant he opened after training with masters like Chicago’s Charlie Trotter and New York City’s Daniel Boulud. While in his 30s, he grew his culinary empire to include the haute bistro Comme Ça, along with a clutch of posh pastry shops. Expansion was rapid, perhaps overly so. Sona was mothballed in May (it will reopen next year at a new location on the Angeleno corner of Hollywood and Vine) and many of the bakeries have been shuttered.

The upside is that Myers is now free to spend more of his time on the other side of the Pacific. As in the States, he fills his days in Japan scouting farms, sourcing ingredients and solidifying relationships with purveyors. Much of what he’s found has been inspiring — particularly the near-slavish devotion to seasonal cooking. “Japanese chefs follow the seasons almost religiously,” says Myers. “They have a strong history of working with nature, of considering the timing and cycles of food.”

Myers has incorporated much of this earth-first philosophy into David Myers Café’s kitchen, beginning naturally with the freshest ingredients from across Japan. Edible flowers from Hokkaido are incorporated into Myers’ desserts, while native citrus fruits such as yuzu and sudachi arrive from the southern region of Shikoku. All are grown on the kind of small-scale estates Myers has long championed back in California. “There are farmers who just grow mangoes, others only strawberries — it’s the kind of market-driven method we follow in Los Angeles.”

While Myers’ Tokyo modus operandi may be the same, the resulting dishes are newer, cleverer and far more Japanese than those in his stateside repertoire. At the David Myers Café, miso soup comes enriched with local potatoes and mitsuba (wild parsley), while black cod arrives marinated in both sake and North African harissa. At SOLA, patisserie items include yuzu mochi parfait, Buddha-fruit buckwheat crepes or a chiffon cake doused in yuzu cream.

With his new restaurants open for barely five weeks, it’s still too soon to gauge Myers’ impact on Japan. But Japan’s effect on Myers has been substantial. “Japanese chefs cook with such honor, such skill and craft. Their commitment and work ethic is unbelievable,” he says. “Fourteen-hour days are normal here. Perhaps that’s why everyone is always sleeping on the subway ride home.”

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