Yesterday I had lunch with Chef Kastuji Tanabe, the Japanese-Mexican-Catholic chef at Shilo’s Steak House, a fine dining kosher restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. I hadn’t been to Shilo’s for years—the last time I went was Christmas, 2007—and it was expensive, bland, derivative—you know, kosher.
But the new chef is a half-Japanese, half-Mexican Catholic wunderkind who is innovating his way into kosher greatness. Consider our lunch.
(Pause for full disclosure: my lunch was fully comped. Chef Tanabe is going to start blogging for us at jewishjournal.com, and wI showed up at his restaurant to discuss the blog with the chef and our Web Director Jay Firestone. I didn’t intend to write about the food—but someone has to.)
The chef makes a Blue Cheese Bacon Burger using fresh ground beef, home-cured kosher beef “bacon” (using the same navel cut as is used for pastrami), homemade sesame buns, carmelized onions and a “blue cheese” made without any faux-soy. I pressed him for how he makes it, and he told me, off the record. It was surperb—better than the same gastropub burder at Father’s Office, which uses an overpowering amount of Cabrales.
Tanabe is a compact, intense young man. Absolutely dedicated to his craft, and enjoying the challenge of cooing within kosher’s strict requirement after training at Codon Bleu and cooking at Bastide and other high end treyf-aterias. He is a native of Mexico City, and he knows from big flavors. While he understands his conservative clientele stick to the restaurant’s signature steaks, he innovates in the hors d’oeuvres and dessert portions of the menu, veering toward the flavors of South and Central America.
For tacos “Cochinito”—it’s Spanish for young pig—he marinates kosher flank steak and braises it for hours, until the citrus and spice permeate the shreds of meat. He serves it with a homemade pickled onion relish and a homemade citrus habenero sauce. No pigs were harmed in the making of this taco. It was juicy and alive. I wanted three more.
He makes a spaghetti with botarga—dried mullet roe— that is positively heroic in challenging kosher palates—and almost as good as the one at Drago’s.
Tanabe reminds me in all the right ways of Chef Todd Aarons at Tierra Sur—young innovative kosher chefs, trained outside of kosher kitchens, who are determined to bring the best quality seasonal, local and handmade foods into their menus. Interesting that the prime contributors to the improvement of kosher food are people who know from treyf.
Shilo’s Kosher Steak House
8939 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Chef Tanabe made a Tuna Thai Tempura Matzo Ball Sup for our Chosen Dish video contest. You can watch it here.