Lee Hefter, Wolfgang Puck's right-hand man and the executive chef at Spago Beverly Hills and the steakhouse Cut, visits Japan for a week every year for inspiration and goes home with new ideas on how to prepare the food at his restaurants—on a previous trip, a meal at a Tokyo restaurant where a steak can cost $1,400 gave him the idea for the ultra-high temperature plus wood smoke process he uses on his steaks back in Los Angeles. This March, two LA Times reporters tagged along to document the experience; Hefter gets tips on where to eat from chefs like Nobu Matsuhisa and Masa Takayama and does a lot of research, so if you're visiting Japan anytime soon do your tastebuds a favor and take the list of restaurants from his trip along with you!
Fans of Japanese food, take note: One of Hefter's favorite places is a small tempura bar, where the chef treats the frying like art. Hefter says, pityingly, "It's amazing how many people go through life thinking they've had tempura," and I believe him. From the sounds of it, I've never really had tempura myself, and I've been to Japan. Perhaps more surprisingly, he only had sushi once on his trip, at an eight-stool sushi bar without a glass case or a list of fish to choose from because the chef only serves seafood that are in season.