Outstanding Former London Chef Junya Yamasaki Opens a Meals Truck in LA
One of London’s most talented chefs, Junya Yamasaki, plans to open a Japanese restaurant, coffee shop and wine bar in the heart of LA’s arts district in the near future. But before that, he’ll be serving some fish dishes made with local ingredients from a bright orange food truck right outside the building. The former Koya chef came to LA two years ago to explore new territory and build a new restaurant from the ground up. Yamasaki’s plan is to take over an old former bank building on the corner of Mateo and 7th Street in the Arts District and turn it into two separate facilities under one roof.
Yamasaki comes to LA after a film production in Paris and then switches to a culinary career in London. In 2010 he opened Koya, a Japanese noodle bar, with great success. He brought a different angle on Japanese cuisine to London, digging from the rest of the sushi influences in the British capital to more accessible homestyle flavors of dashi and udon. He left Koya in 2015 to return to Japan for “extensive Zen training” before moving to Los Angeles in 2018.
During his stay in LA, Yamasaki noticed that far too many restaurants relied on imported seafood (especially from Japan and the Atlantic) rather than sourcing as much as possible from local waters. Yes, the idea of using local seafood isn’t new as Michael Cimarusti’s Cape Seafood, Dudley Market in Venice, and several other restaurants have tried to emphasize California’s coastal premium. But Yamasaki wanted to further explore LA’s perspective on seafood and dedicate himself entirely to freediving the ocean to see what delicious dishes our local waters could produce. In addition to shellfish such as Uni, Abalone and Scallops, Yamasaki went on expeditions with local commercial fishermen and showed them Ikejime, or traditional Japanese fishing techniques, to kill and bleed fish without stress. Yamasaki tells Eater he hopes his focus on local seafood mixed with concentrated Japanese techniques will be something new for Los Angeles.
He hired Giles Clark and Jacob Himmel to lead the prosecution here in Los Angeles. Yukiyasu Kaneko takes care of natural wines and sake. Kaneko worked at Noma in Copenhagen and P Franco in London, learned how to make wine in Oregon and in recent years has gone to Japan to meet sake producers.
One of the highlights in the bizarre food truck from Yamasaki and Co: Hinoki-smoked black cod, served with mayonnaise, hard-boiled egg, salad cups and pickled horseradish cucumber. A caught fish sashimi includes a light salad of radishes, herbs, fried almond slivers, and seaweed with roasted chili oil. The Bocaccio fish curry (a local stonefish), an entertaining variant of the Japanese comfort classic, offers the deep flavors of the various fish and shellfish parts like a bouillebasse, deep-fried to a crispy and placed on brown rice.
Hinoki-smoked black cod at Yess Aquatic
Line caught sashimi plate
The menu is pretty tight at the moment, but during the first weekend, Yess Aquatic brought in visitors from Yamasaki’s diving friends, all of whom are going to sea with the chef and will likely help supply the restaurant with the local ingredients. For drinking, Kaneno has prepared a range of tonic-looking kombu drinks with mandarins, grapefruit and tomatoes as well as intensely flavored juices such as apple and green pepper or cantaloupe and ginger.
As for the larger room, Yamasaki doesn’t say when it will be finished, even though it is currently under construction. The front section has a large open plan kitchen and dining experience, while the rear section, with a separate side entrance, doubles as a more casual café and wine bar with small plates that may be casual like Koya in London. Until then, look forward to tasting Yamasaki’s cuisine Thursday through Monday 11am to 3pm on 2001 E. 7th Street in Yess Aquatic’s Truck, manned by Steve Zizou staff wearing orange hats and striped blue shirts.
Future entrance to Junya Yamasaki’s Arts District Restaurant