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Maison Akira: Tour de Fusion 

A blast from our Franco-Japanese past

Thursday, Jul 15 2010
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Dear Mr. Gold:

Are there still restaurants serving French-Japanese food in Los Angeles, along the lines of the defunct Grill Lyon, C'est Fan Fan or Café Blanc? Besides the Chayas, of course. And I know about Chinois.

—Kevin

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Dear Kevin:

It wasn't so long ago that Japanese-French restaurants roamed the L.A. streets like desperados of cuisine, No. 10 cans of chestnut puree in their holsters and dozens of snails in their boots. I remember one meal at the late Le Petit Chaya that involved seven versions of beurre blanc in a row, and if I'd ordered the more elaborate tasting menu, I have no doubt there would have been 10. Scallops in lobster sauce, lamb in puff pastry, sea-urchin gratins — there was no end to the stuff. Japanese-French cooking may have been the emblematic style of the pre-Spago '80s — even Ken Frank, as pure a French cook as there has ever been in Los Angeles, drew as much inspiration from local sushi bars as he did from Paris. You could have spent an entire evening at the late, lamented Sona and never be sure whether you were eating a Japanese meal influenced by French cooking or French cooking smacked by Japan. Japanese-French cooking, which is to say French cooking filtered through a rather austere Japanese sensibility, is embedded deep in the DNA of Los Angeles cuisine.

So you can, as you imply, taste French-Japanese food at any of the Chayas (I've been liking Chaya Downtown lately), or at Shiro in South Pasadena (the catfish is still epic), or at Orris down on Sawtelle, which combines the groove of an izakaya with farmers-market produce and an evolved California palate. Ishi's Grill was my favorite of the '80s Japanese-French restaurants, and the chef's influence lives on at Sawtelle Kitchen, although you won't find a lot of that Madonna-era flavor at the moment. Restaurant 2117 is swell. Beacon, still the best of the new-century fusion restaurants, is a wonderful place to explore the marriage of European technique and Japanese flavors.

But what you're looking for, I suspect, is expressed most clearly at Maison Akira in Pasadena, where the Japanese chef, trained under Joel Robuchon, specializes in takes on classic French dishes presented in the Japanese fashion, where you can find your rack of lamb with potatoes mousseline, miso-marinated Chilean sea bass and Troisgros-style 10-second salmon with sorrel, but also modern tuna–foie gras napoleons with pineapple, a salad of Japanese tomatoes with shimeji mushrooms and grilled foie gras with stewed daikon. Dessert souffles? Flourless chocolate cake? Tarte tatin? Of course. A blast from the past seen through rose-colored glasses.

MAISON AKIRA: 713 E. Green St., Pasadena. (626) 796-9501.

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