Rika combines yin, yang of French, Japanese elements

By Leeann Cannon
Nation’s Restaurant News
05/16/2005

West Hollywood, Calif. Restaurateur Rika Horie mixes contrasting cultures to create imaginative decor and innovative dishes in her latest project, Rika Restaurant and Diamond Lounge here.

Rika, which opened in September, is a 5,000-square-foot eatery housed on the second floor of the Plaza at Sunset Millennium, a retail and dining center.

The menu features a combination of Japanese and French cuisines, complemented by an extensive cocktail list and an assortment of sake and wine selections. Appetizers range from $14 to $24, while entrEes run from $25 to $50. The average check at the 135-seat restaurant can range from $80 to $100 per person.

Horie, who is one of three head chefs in addition to being the owner of Rika, said the concept took her three and a half years to develop. “I was involved in a Japanese publication, and we got so many requests for more Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles,” she said. “After doing some research, I decided to combine quality sushi with other stuff that people were demanding. I thought about how things would be 10 years from now, and I wanted to start a trend.”

Wanting the restaurant to exude a futuristic ambience, she enlisted the help of designer Johnathen Day.

Day is a partner in Coscia Day Architecture + Design, a firm in the Los Angeles community of Marina del Rey, that has designed a variety of venues in California, including Volari restaurant in Beverly Hills, Bansai Sushi in Calabasas and Natalee Thai in Beverly Hills and Venice.

To achieve Horie’s desired look, Day incorporated into the design an abundance of glass, black soap stone, dark ebony woods and dramatic lighting. One thing not seen in the restaurant, though, is bamboo wood, Horie said.

“I didn’t want people to feel like we were trying to be Japanese,” Horie said. “Other places make it feel forced; I intentionally eliminated certain elements, like bamboo.”

Day’s goal for the restaurant was to fuse Japanese modernity with a classical, French dynamic.

“We basically had an open shell to work with,” Day said. “We wanted to keep it contemporary, timeless, ethnic but modern.”

To start, Day created a linear design, making the kitchen, drink bar and sushi bar part of the backdrop of the restaurant. “We wanted it to be visually exciting,” he said. “The bar and sushi bar become stages for the chefs to act as the performing artists.”

The Diamond Lounge is separated from the dining area by a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that stops sounds but allows customers to see the entire restaurant. In addition, the wall opposing the glass divider contains large glass windows and sliding doors, leading to an outdoor patio, which faces the Sunset Strip.

The outdoor patio has a retractable roof to provide year-round dining.

In the lounge area, behind the bar, a large glass wall with a kinetic light source changes hues every 15 minutes. In addition, the lounge provides customers with a 180-degree panoramic view of the Sunset Strip. Along the window and facing the exterior is optional counter seating that overlooks Los Angeles. Pearly white stools accompany a glass countertop.

The bar is stark white, lined with a matching white leather that is embedded with diamondlike stones. Directly over the bar is light-colored wood paneling that features down-lighting to create a sultry mood.

In contrast, the dining room uses an assortment of woods from Madagascar to create a more subtle and relaxing atmosphere, according to Day. “We wanted it to be sort of yin-yang in terms of the bar versus the dining room,” he said.

The tables and chairs in the dining room are made of black ebony, and the walls are charcoal gray. The benches are lined with a black suede fabric.

In the back of the dining room, the sushi bar features a white backdrop with a long, tan-and-brown marble counter and black ebony seats. Diagonal from the sushi bar and across the room is a glass elevator that brings customers up from the street.

The floor throughout the entire restaurant is polished, black soapstone, which picks up reflections of the architecture, Day said. The lighting in the restaurant is all low-voltage. “We used a lot of up-lights to create drama,” Day said.

Horie describes the atmosphere as a combination of Old World and New World “very much like the food.”

She adds: “Rika has taken 200-year-old recipes and given them a twist, modernizing them. We did the same thing with the decor by mixing traditional Japanese culture with modern French elements.”

Horie, who has experience in fine-dining restaurants all over the world, hired chefs Hugues Quintard and Tracy Griffith to help her develop a unique and diverse menu.

Quintard, a classically trained French chef, has worked in several restaurants in Europe, Japan and the United States, including the Concord Lafayette Hotel in Paris, Donq Brasserie in Japan, three French restaurants in Chicago and Le Vallauris in Palm Springs, Calif., among others.

Quintard’s goal in creating the menu at Rika was to introduce the people who usually frequent sushi restaurants to new options and “to make them understand that they can also have other things.” Quintard said his plan is working because most guests order from both the sushi menu and the French-inspired menu.

Quintard said one of Rika’s customers’ favorite dishes is sautEed organic sea scallops in a light sesame dressing with white mushrooms.

While he brings European flair to the menu, sushi chef Tracy Griffith specializes in what she calls “sushi American-style.”

As one of the first female graduates of the California Sushi Academy, Griffith has spent several years pursuing her love of Japanese food. She most recently worked at the now-closed Tsunami’s, a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant.

Griffith said customers enjoy her eclectic creations, which include sushi rolls filled with foie gras and prosciutto or bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado.

“I like to be nontraditional,” Griffith said. “What I use for the fillings of the sushi rolls isn’t necessarily Japanese like grilled steak or salmon tartare with shallots and lemon oil. It’s not just straight raw fish.”