When you’re a kid, there’s nothing better than getting a gift. It could be a remote control car, your sister’s soccer ball, or even a lame old book - you don’t care, you’re just happy to be unwrapping something. But as you get older, that changes, and not just because you actually like books now. Suddenly, it’s the personal gifts - the ones that required time, effort, and specific thought from the other person - that you remember the most.
A meal at Kensho has a similar effect. The tiny Japanese restaurant/bar in the Hollywood Hills is one of the most personal and unique dining experiences in Los Angeles. And that, along with the incredible food, makes it one you won’t soon forget.
That experience begins before you even get out of your car. As you slowly wind your way up the steep hill to Yamashiro - Kensho is on the grounds of the classic Hollywood restaurant, but completely unrelated - you’ll feel like you’ve entered a different (and far more intimate) universe. The traffic is gone, the views are clear, and as you round the corner and spot the tiny standalone structure that Kensho calls home, you’ll feel like you have this entire little hill to yourself. Once you’re seated on the front patio, with the Hollywood sign off in the distance and your server excitedly explaining a new skin-contact wine they just got from Chile as if it’s a secret, you’ll realize you never want to leave.
With only a handful of small tables and a menu that contains six or so items total, Kensho is not a regular sit-down dining experience. This is the kind of place you visit on a Wednesday afternoon to sip Georgian wine with a friend, and wonder aloud why the miso soup here is better than any miso soup in existence. You come to Kensho on the weekend for some pre-dinner snacks and to watch the sunset over the Hollywood Hills, only to stay for three hours eating caviar toast and partaking in an existential conversation with your server about natural sake distilling in rural Japan.
Everything about this place - every glass of wine, every plate of perfectly cooked Scottish salmon or bowl of earthy soba-cha ice cream that hits the table - comes with a personal anecdote. Not pretentious dissertations about the sourcing of ingredients or complicated cooking techniques, but real conversations, about trips abroad and the prevalence of young sake makers. These aren’t pre-rehearsed bits of space-filling small talk, they’re organic moments that make it clear how important this place is to the people who work here... and how much they want you to be a part of it. At Kensho, you feel like the restaurant was opened that night mostly because they knew you were coming.
By the end of the meal, you’ll probably be convinced of that fact. And as you walk to your car and start your descent back to reality, it’ll hit you - Kensho is unlike any restaurant in the city, and you can’t wait to take every single person you know here. Sounds like a perfect gift to us.
Dishes change frequently at Kensho. Here are some highlights from our most recent visit.
If you come to Kensho between 9am and 3pm, this is what you’ll be eating. And that’s good news for you, because it’s excellent. For $35 ($50 for two people), you get koshihikari rice, house salad, tsukemono vegetables, miso soup, okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancake), halibut with ginger soubise, and whatever dessert they’re making today. It’s a tremendous tray of food, but the one dish you’ll be talking about the next day is the miso soup. We have no idea what they put in it, but it’s the best miso soup we’ve ever had, and we didn’t even realize that could be its own superlative.
Featured on the dinner menu, this is a very simple dish (it’s basically just sliced cucumber, soy, and Japanese rice wine), but the ingredients are remarkably fresh and it tastes great with whatever wine or sake you’re drinking first.
This is our favorite dish currently on Kensho’s menu, and one we’ll continue to brave Franklin Avenue’s rush hour traffic to eat. Fresh Siberian caviar, crème fraîche, and everything seasoning on crunchy, thick sesame sourdough - there are essentially only four ingredients in play here, proving yet again that simple always wins.
Here’s a tip: However many people you walk into Kensho with is the amount of crab rice you need to order. Now you can spend more time drinking sake instead fighting over who deserves the last bite.
Served raw with a seared crispy skin on top, this is unlike most Scottish salmon you’ll find in LA restaurants - and that’s a good thing. The salmon itself is fresh and basically melts in your mouth, while the crispy skin provides much-needed texture. Also, the little pond of matcha butter doesn’t hurt, either.
No matter how full you are or how much wine you have sitting in your stomach, save room for this. The earthy soba cha (roasted buckwheat) blended with the creaminess of the ice cream makes for a perfect night cap.