It Turns Out That Santa Barbara Uni Is a Great Ice Cream Flavor
Reika Alexander’s Chateau Hanare does kaiseki its own way in West Hollywood.
Bicoastal restaurateur Reika Alexander smiles when she’s asked about the gold leaf on the Santa Barbara uni at Chateau Hanare, her new hot spot in an old bungalow on the grounds of L.A.’s Chateau Marmont hotel. Yes, this is glamorous West Hollywood, so the gold leaf is there to add some bling to your dining experience.
But that’s just a small part of why the uni dish is a showstopper. This Japanese restaurant, which opened in July, is making ice cream with Santa Barbara uni and then topping the ice cream with more uni. There’s sweetness here, but this is a deeply savory course, which is available à la carte or as part of a kaiseki dinner. This dish bursts with creaminess and umami. The ice cream (which is also flavored with white soy sauce) and the fresh uni on top melt in your mouth simultaneously, and the sensation is sublime.
“Uni has become such a popular and ubiquitous ingredient, and the prices are actually going up,” says Alexander, who prefers the texture and taste of Santa Barbara uni over the less plump but more intense Hokkaido uni. “In the past, it was only being used in Japanese restaurants, but now you see it everywhere—Italian, American, and other cuisines are using uni. We were experimenting with different methods of cooking it and how we could make something unique. Oftentimes in Japan, you get a course to cleanse the palate, sometimes between the fish and meat course, called kuchi-naoshi. Kuchi means mouth and naoshi means healing. So we came up with this idea to serve a cold, savory uni ice cream as the kuchi-naoshi.”
The gold leaf is gilding the lily, which makes sense for a restaurant that’s just off the showy Sunset Strip. Another over-the-top crowdpleaser at Chateau Hanare is truffle hotate zuke, a crudo-like dish with pieces of truffle-topped scallop in a truffle sauce.
Like the Sunset Strip’s Tesse and Night + Market, Chateau Hanare is a serious restaurant in a nightlife-laden part of West Hollywood. Alexander also runs New York’s EN Japanese Brasserie, which has been a hangout for everyone from Martha Stewart to Alexander Wang to Questlove to Scarlett Johansson, so she knows how to deal with a scene.
Chateau Hanare, with its “Kyoto-style ambiance,” is divided into different rooms of the bungalow it inhabits, and everything feels more intimate than the big, airy, modern EN. There’s a Chateau Hanare dining room with paintings that evoke classic Japanese folding screens. There’s another room with traditional Japanese panels and lighting. Plus, there’s outdoor seating. This is a strikingly different restaurant than EN, but there are some important similarities with the food.
One of the things EN is known for is fried chicken with aromatic rock salt. When Alexander opened Chateau Hanare, she decided to serve fried chicken with a sweet-and-tangy nanban sauce. But then EN regulars came into Chateau Hanare and asked for the chicken they could get in New York, so Alexander now serves both kinds of fried chicken in West Hollywood.
Alexander enjoys having restaurants where guests can come by for fried chicken and a beer while other visitors are having a kaiseki experience or even a vegan kaiseki meal. She’s also serving bento boxes from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays at Chateau Hanare.
“I want to give guests the options of how fancy or casual you can make your experience,” she says.
Of course, EN’s most famous dish is its freshly scooped tofu, so Chateau Hanare is making its own tofu at 5:30, 7, 8:30, and 10 every evening.
“I often talk to the guests and they say, ‘Oh, I don’t like tofu, I’m going to skip it,’” Alexander says. “I tell them, ‘I am very confident that you are going to love this,’ and they are so surprised when they take that first bite. I always enjoy seeing the customer go through that transition. Customers always give me crazy comments; like the other day, someone told me they want to bathe in the tofu.”
Chateau Hanare, 8097 Selma Ave, Los Angeles, 323-963-5269