Ramen is Soup. Pasta is Noodle.
Hideyo Mitsuno, the chef-proprietor of Restaurant 2117, is closing his doors after 21 years in Los Angeles (specifically Saturday March 4th, 2017). Chef Mitsuno is responsible for bringing fresh pasta with a Japanese twist to West LA and is one of the longest surviving restaurants of the Sawtelle Japantown community. Yet, he remains fairly under-known to many of the trend-following fans of the hot upstart eateries. Mitsuno isn’t an avid Instagrammer or Tweeter, but he could boast that his dishes might be among the best in the Westside of LA.
Before 2117’s closure, we went over to eat some pasta, asked him about his inspiration for cooking, and his plans for the future.
by John Liu
Photo and Video by George Ko
Chef Hideyo Mitsuno on his Pasta Philosophy
GR: How did you come to the United States? What brought you here?
Hideyo: The first time I came here was when I was 19. I was a guitar guy. So, you know, I like to come to LA to enjoy life over the years.
GR: Were you in a band?
Hideyo: It was more management back then.
GR: Did you go back to Japan after your first visit?
Hideyo: I went back to Japan, worked in the music industry for a while, but then I quit. I didn’t want to come back to the United States again. I knew I needed some kind of specialty to stay in Japan; I had to learn a skill. So, I decided to work at a Japanese restaurant.
GR: So when did you come back to the United States?
Hideyo: 1984. I started at a little diner on 5th street, a hamburger shop. I ran the place for 3 months. Then I looked for a job in the Japanese Westwood LA area, and I ended up working at Asuka. (a sushi restaurant near UCLA)
GR: When you opened your restaurant on Sawtelle 21 years ago, was it an immediate success or did it take awhile?
Hideyo:It took a long time to succeed, about 2 years. There was a successful restaurant here called Café Katsu, before my restaurant arrived in Sawtelle. It was the first Franco-Japanese restaurant in West LA but soon business died down and everyone moved out. So at that time, it was extremely difficult to get a start.
GR: How was Sawtelle back then?
Hideyo:It was very quiet. There were only 2 Japanese markets and no traffic. There was no one.
GR: Do you find that your cooking has changed along with the times? Have you changed your philosophy of your food over the years?
Hideyo: Over 21 years, trends changed, customers changed, and many other things. However, one thing that inspired me was farmers markets. I started going 10 years ago and it really helped me change my style of cooking. More importantly, I have become more primitive in my cooking. I see the food scene as becoming more “fancy” or “photogenic.” It’s too photogenic! I don’t like to do all these little things just to make food pretty.
"Food should be about the taste and all about the correct cooking technique."
GR: Restaurant 2117 has also been a go-to destination for wine enthusiasts. Could you perhaps explain some wines that go well with Asian food?
Hideyo:Generally German grape wines, like Gewürztraminer or Riesling goes really well with Oriental food, including spicy food. For my food, Pinot Noir is the best match. Some of my signature dishes that use blue fin tuna, which has a sesame based vinaigrette with wasabi, goes really with Pinot.
GR: Do you take time off? What do you do when you’re not cooking?
Hideyo: I drink wine haha!
GR: As we know, Restaurant 2117 is closing. What’s next for you?
Hideyo: I got a great job in Japan to work in a company executive kitchen, I’m very excited with the opportunity.
GR: What’s your opinion of Michelin vs non-Michelin restaurants? Tokyo is filled with Michelin restaurants, but the Michelin Guide does not rate restaurants in LA.
Hideyo: The scene in Tokyo is crazy. I know a lot of Michelin restaurants with great chefs. However, I think their food is only for the “high society”; not many people can afford that price point. Again, they are too photogenic. I cannot see the chef’s personality in the food. On another note, I think the food in LA has much more variety, from rich to everyday food, and a wide range of flavors.
GR: We noticed you named your famous hand made pasta after the street your restaurant is on, calling it “Sawtellini” (off of Sawtelle Blvd). What gave you that inspiration?
Hideyo: Sawtelle changed when ramen started entering the scene, especially when the famous ramen place came to town (Tsujita). The ramen revolution! It made me think why do people love ramen so much? I have hand made pasta here, but more people prefer ramen. So it inspired me to create the concept, “Ramen is soup. Pasta is noodle!” Basically, I wanted to create my original noodle that was not just spaghetti or any fresh pasta. It had to be something between pasta and the ramen noodle. Thus I created Sawtellini.
“Ramen is soup. Pasta is noodle!”
Visit Restaurant 2117 before they close!
The music in this video is Frédéric Chopin’s Sixth Etude in F Major.
It’s a beautiful piece of music but also serves as a technical exercise for pianists.
Played by George Ko, CEO of Giant Robot Media