"I want to satisfy every customer," Chef Koji Yoshida tells me. "And I want to close the gap between expectations and reality."
For Chef Yoshida and his downtown Plano establishment Ebesu, the expectations are big. In 2022, he was named a semifinalist for the James Beard Award — an honor that Chef compares to the Oscars of food. "But to be honest, before that, I didn't know what the James Beard Award was," he says. Ebesu continues to be lauded with praise, making best-of lists for Dallas and its surrounding cities.
It's an early spring afternoon. The restaurant isn't yet open, and Chef Yoshida is taking a quick break. He deserves it. Making sushi and sashimi is hard, precise work, but that's not all Ebesu serves. The baby ribs, in particular, are fantastic. But so are the salads. And the Japanese fare. And so are the French-inspired scratch-made desserts — something that I was not expecting to be so darn good. But after the delicious appetizers were followed with fantastic mains, I should have realized. Everything at Ebesu is great.
In 1996 at the age of 21, Chef Yoshida left his native Osaka and arrived from his native Osaka in Washington D.C. He didn't speak English. He didn't know what he wanted to do. The culture was different. "Everyone said I was going to go back home, but I didn't want to give up," he says. He wasn't planning on becoming a chef, but he just wanted to try something new.
Chef Yoshida got a job at a restaurant and quickly realized if he worked hard, he could succeed. "I came in early and left last," he says. "I knew if I got better and faster, I could move up." And that he did.
Ebesu opened in downtown Plano in 2019, with Chef Yoshida, who had worked his way through the ranks, at the lead. "I wanted to challenge myself here in Texas," he says. "There are still people who don't know much about Japanese cuisine." Chef hoped that his decades of experience could succeed here in Plano — and has it ever.
"I wanted to make a restaurant that served better-than-average food," Chef Yoshida tells me. He's being humble, especially coming off a nomination for a James Beard Award, one of the highest honors a chef can receive. His food is hardly better than average. It's exceptional. The menu is varied, and for Chef Yoshida, that was the point.
Prep work on the evening meals begins. The wait staff gets ready for customers. Chef needs to get back to the kitchen. "You know," he says, "I wanted this to be a restaurant where people could enjoy anything, and anyone could find something they liked." That it is, that it is.