The Hollywood landmark in the Hollywood hills built in 1914, Yamashiro, means “Mountain Palace” in Japanese. The Bernheimer brothers designed it as an exact replica of a palace located in the mountains near Kyoto, Japan. The 10-room teak and cedar hilltop mansion housed their extensive Asian artwork. Built on 12 acres among orange groves, the brothers contructed 300 steps from the entrance of their mansion down to Hollywood Blvd.
In the late 1920s, the home became the social hangout for the exclusive “400 Club,” for actors, writers, directors and celebrities.
It is rumored later it became a brothel for young ingénues seeking stardom in Hollywood.
In 1948, the current owner, Thomas Glover, and his family purchased the unique property and refurbished it to be a premier destination restaurant.
Today, guests sitting towards the front of the restaurant enjoy the views of Hollywood, Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean.
The Japanese gardens in the courtyard with stepping stones around a koi fish pond are exquisite. Many weddings, corporate parties and special dinners are held in this special place.
The talented Executive Chef, Brock Kleweno, arrived at Yamashiro and quickly put Yamashiro back on the culinary map. Known as a traditional Japanese sushi spot, Chef Brock rebranded a whole new menu with a California spin.
Growing up on a farm near Spokane, Kleweno moved to Los Angeles and went to the Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. He likes to infuse Latin, Southern, Hawaiian and California fresh ingredients into his Asian cuisine.
As members of the Southern California Restaurant Writers, we were invited one evening to experience Kleweno’s signature dishes. Sitting in the Japanese Garden, we first started with a thinly sliced pistachio salmon sashimi style. Kleweno explained that this salmon is raised in inlets in the ocean and is free of antibiotics and hormones. The salmon eat natural food in the inlets and are flown from British Columbia two to three times a week. The pistachio-citrus relish gave this super-smooth, raw fish texture. The miso-ponzu vinaigrette enhanced its flavors from the sea. It paired nicely with a crisp glass of Wente Chardonnay from Monterey.
Another terrific sliced sashimi-style fish was the charred albacore tuna with a Latin infusion. It was topped with thinly sliced Serrano chiles and dressed with a tomatillo-ponzu salsa and a hint of cilantro. This dish was served with a pinch of fried shallots.
My favorite fish dish was the ahi poke. It was a taste of Hawaii with its Macadamia nuts, onions and soy-sesame marinade.
For sushi, we all raved about the forbidden rice roll with spicy tuna. Forbidden rice is black rice that was once served only to the Emperors of China. It is high in anti-oxidants and nutrients. Chef Kleweno spikes the roll with teardrop tomato pico de gallo, preserved lemon and cracked pepper aioli.
Again with a Latin twist, chef brought out his Kurobuta pork carnitas on a firm scallion-risotto cake. He cooks his pork with a fabulous hoisin reduction with star anise and serves it with a honey mustard sauce.
I had to try his Shoyu glazed black cod with sautéed mustard greens on a bed of wasabi-mashed potatoes. Accompanying this dish were the chef’s favorite Maitake mushrooms.
We all enjoyed the savory Asian BBQ baby back ribs served with mashed yams and a slice of five-spice cornbread – like good ol’ Southern comfort food.
With two more entrées to try, I had to start pacing myself. The lobster risotto is poached in lobster stock, blood oranges and butter. As soon as the Maine lobster turns a reddish orange, Kleweno removes the meat from the shell. He adds bay shrimp, edamame, and chopped asparagus to the risotto and tops this dish with lobster claw and medallions.
For a culinary interactive experience, order the Wagyu beef on a Himalayan salt plate. A large and flat rock of salt is heated to 500 degrees. It holds the temperature longer and arrives sizzling. Guests can tell their server if they enjoy their meat rare, medium or well done. The meat continues to cook as it is left on the salt rock.
For dessert we enjoyed Pastry Chef Alejando Andrade’s strawberry buttermilk ice cream with homemade strawberry jam. A delicate donut was dusted with sugar and infused with jam accompanied with a lovely vanilla crème anglaise.
Thursday nights are a fun night to dine at Yamashiro. The Yamashiro Farmers Market runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Now in its fourth year, it runs through September. Nick Spano of City Farm runs the weekly community event. Some of the vendors include Hillside Family Farms from San Diego County and fresh berries from New Era Farms. Heirloom LA is selling their signature lasagna cupcakes, while CoolHaus sells unique ice cream sandwiches.
New items are debuting at Yamashiro, like Middle Eastern-meets-Asian pitas including preserved lemon and honey chicken with pistachio-sesame sauce and Merguez braised lamb with shiso tatziki. Try the fig and olive salad with walnuts and fried feta.
Valet parking is available to guests who dine at Yamashiro. The Mosaic Church on Hollywood Blvd. offers guests a shuttle only on Thursdays to Yamashiro. Dinner is served at 5 p.m. 1999 N. Sycamore Ave. (323)466-5125.