Filling all the little corners
11660 Gateway Blvd. (just below the 10 freeway)
Phone: 877-518-5151 | map
There is a surprising little corner mall that springs up right where Gateway and Barrington rub shoulders with each other; find a space in the lot and head toward the bright red neon letters.
It smells incredibly good inside, but you may not notice this yet, since the music is likely to range from slow Cuban son to cheesy disco remakes of the Beatles and Coldplay, to your favorite '70s won't-you-come-back hits.
The kitchen is pan-Asian, so your cravings for ramen, soon tofu, cha han, bulgogi, and pho, can be lessened from the izakaya style menu.
I urge you to explore beyond your normal limits. The Tako Wasa, for instance. This is wasabi-marinated raw octopus, which, I must tell you before your North American tongue stampedes toward the exits, is rich and fabulous, a balance between chewy and gelatinous, bathed in a glaze that is sweet and sour like a mabo tofu dish. It can be a little challenging to the chopsticks but is worth it.
Or for familiarity with extra explosive Japanese flavor, I rarely deny myself Kurobuta sausage. A quartet of finger-length links are scored dozens of times and sizzled to a burnt snap. The scent is alluring, and the sausage barely needs dips in the tangy ketchup or dijon mustard.
Back on the adventurous side, I have been happily introduced to yukke, which is a mound of raw ground beef with egg yolk on top, which may seem like a terribly not-good idea, but when mixed up it becomes almost like chopped spicy tuna in texture, gleaming in sesame oil.
Too much? Speaking of tuna, the tuna don is clean and lovely and goes quickly. Hand-cut marinated tuna with sesame seeds, sashimi, and a saucy fill of spicy tuna are laid out like cool beds. It is fairly basic, but refreshing when combined with a warm soup.
Asian-ya does a number of soups, notably the hangover-curing Tan tan men, an opaque broth with noodles and ground pork. You can order this with no meat, and it is no less rich and complex. The broth is a pale speckled amber, its spice level containing a lurking glottal punch. Sesame seeds add nutty essence to the snaky pile of thick noodles. We are now addicted to this.
We soak up everything with orders of Lettuce Fried Rice: big striations of egg, tuny cubes of pork, and hot sheets of lettuce grown supple. The Jalapeño Fried Rice is even better, just shy of pan-burned, redefining the paradigm of fried rice, and my favorite at the moment.
Asian-ya is closed Wednesdays.
Thanks to Mai and Adam for suggesting Asian-Ya to us, after we'd sobbed to them about Terried Sake House being closed, and for graciously allowing us to make them come out to dinner with us.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Chinese, Santa Monica/Culver City, Korean )
It looks cramped, but the interior extends a long, long way back, toward an enclosed patio replete with waterfall and koi pond. Paneled walls with Japanese woodblock prints add gravity to the sea of wooden tables, each separated by moveable dividers, like Tetris pieces ready to expand a party of four to a party of ten. The hubbub of patrons mostly drowns out the unfortunate thump of R&B grooves and pop rock.
Diminutive women in blue-print kimono wrap blouses dart between the tables, the glitz on their eyelashes matching that of their nails. A pair of plates with communal, baseball-sized heaps of ginger and wasabi are deposited before you.
Teru is not so much a place to establish a contemplative relationship with a dish of elegantly marinated monkfish liver. The style here is a little sushi-ya, a little izakaya, and like Tomo Sushi in Burbank, they think up creative ways to juxtapose ingredients and sauces. Your dishes are made quite quickly for such a bustling restaurant, and delivered almost simultaneously, boomboomboom, before you can ask "which one is this?"
I tend to avoid rice cakes like the stacked discs of packing popcorn they too often are, but the Spicy Tuna on Rice Cake is a statuesque creation; warm, fried blocks of rice support a cool strip of avocado and a fairly mild heap of spicy tuna. It is many-flavored, and I think it is my favorite of their specialties.
It has a brow-raisingly irreverent title, and it doesn't look friendly in pictures, but the Monkey Brain is also a favorite. An unlikely combination of mushrooms stuffed with crab meat and shrimp tempura is deep-fried into submission. The effect is a complex layering of warmth and softness, crispiness and umami. Two dipping sauces--a creamy sesame dressing and a red-swirled mayo--flank the reddish gold hemispheres, and end up getting used on a lot of other dishes when no one is looking.
The Sexy Roll is also sexier in real life than on camera, being a wicked foursome of albacore, crab, shrimp tempura, and avocado writhing in one cylinder of rice, without a shred of nori in sight. The roll is made even rarer, in that it is then drenched in a sauce of creamy sesame dressing and spicy red oil, cohabitating but refusing to mix. The effect is lush and worthy of a couple of repentant Hail Marys.
I'm unsure how traditional the use of beef is as a sushi component, but the New York Roll is welcome. Asparagus and green onion are wrapped in thin sheets of New York steak and grilled. Sprinkled with sesame seeds and draped in a non-sweet teriyaki sauce, the steak shows a tender quality, with a brisk crunch of asparagus stalk.
They do kushi fare here, too. The Chilean Sea Bass kushi yaki is hung over the robata until striped black; it looks like it would be tough, unforgiving, and stuck to the skewer, but it isn't. The sea bass is implodingly tender, to the point where you wonder why it hasn't disintegrated yet. Thin, serious cuts of scallion hold the gentle slabs of fish apart. These are eaten far too fast.
Because we can't say no to overly lavish dishes, we get the Panko-Encrusted Tuna Sashimi, different from a standard katsu dish like a Range Rover HSE is different from a Jeep CJ5. Tuna sliced into thick strips rests atop a hillock of greens, its fiery pink strata peeking from its panko crust. A little too much mustard sauce provides a gentle flare of spice.
Some people complain about the prices, but I expect they are used to "half off sushi" signs. With a party of four, three tokkuri of house saki, and a number of rolls and dishes, we came to under a hundred and fifty. Valet is a reasonable (for L.A.) $3.50.
Reservations are recommended on weekends, but Teru is open every night until a comfortably late eleven-o-clock.
Many thanks to Rosina and Doug for bringing us, and for being patient while I desperately snapped photos and scribbled notes.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Burbank/North Hollywood, Seafood )
The Burbankian stretch of the 5 Freeway is a haven for chain restaurants*. Despite the small-town-street stylings of San Fernando Blvd., they've jammed a world of consumer-oriented enterprises to make Orange County jealous.
Burbank does have its hidden spots, though, after you've stumbled out of the AMC Theater blinking in the sunlight and looking for lunch. A sign outside Tomo boasts a large vegetarian menu, which brings us inside; we smile at the hundreds upon hundreds of one dollar bills taped to the walls, each decorated by patrons. This is not a precise, minimalist, tightly zen sushi establishment, but is fast and loose, creative and casual without delving into the embarrassing world of sake bombs and setting-sun headbands.
The man behind the counter is Tom, who greets people enthusiastically. Locals know and love this place, caring nothing for the fact that Tom happens to be Chinese, for he obviously loves his craft, putting together unusual combinations which he urges you to try.
The cut rolls here are futomaki style, thick and unwieldy and put together oh-so-fast, many wrapped in ghostly soy paper instead of nori. He is a little heavier on the anointments--shoyu and wasabi--than typical.
His signature piece is the Tomo Roll, a combination of crab, unagi, shrimp tempura, cucumber and avocado that works unexpectedly well, wrapped in soy paper and dusted with sesame seeds. The warm, sauce-brushed eel smolders in the center, contrasting with the cold shreds of crab.
We normally shy from casually titled dishes, but the One Night Stand Roll has sinful personality, like an angel descended from Heaven and made you forget your earrings on his/her nightstand. Shrimp tempura and crab meat cohabitate again, but with an orange shock of spicy tuna, making for an energetic mouthful. Again, coolness rubs against the warmth of the shrimp tempura, and the result fairly shines with flavor.
The Futomaki Roll is a nicely mellow in-between piece. Gobo (Japanese carrot) mixes with avocado, strips of fried tofu, cucumber, and shrimp. Tamago (sweet egg) lends a yellow friendliness. This is one of the few rolls encased in the conventional nori instead of soy paper.
The Happy Family Roll is an absurd semicircle of crunchy sweetness; a snappy pile of tempura shavings lies atop more of Tom's smoothly spicy tuna; tempura shrimp tails grin from either end. The interplay of temperature and texture is astounding. The face is drawn with careful squirts from a bottle of sriracha hot sauce.
The ono is something you need to try. Most elegantly presented on the Snow White Roll, the milk-white tuna is draped over a crabmeat-filled roll. It has a quiet intensity to it, worthy of contemplation yet not something in which you overindulge. It is the dot on the exclamation point.
Tom will often prompt you in his booming voice, eliciting your approval with mackerel from Japan (melty), Japanese scallops (sliced like half dollars and incredibly soft). He may finish with a tiny square of nori, on which is an entire clove of Japanese garlic, which pops like a light cashew and has no garlicky reek at all; or, he may throw some spicy tuna, crabmeat and cucumber stick onto stiff fried wonton wrappers and drizzle eel sauce on top for a curious sweetness. Many of these things will be on the house. Before you recover from this epiphany, you will have orange slices and even some Strawberry Pocky.
* Off the top of my head, within potato-gun range: Kabuki, P.F. Chang's, Fuddrucker's, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, BJ's Brewhouse, Hooters, Chevy's Fresh Mex. This does not include the Swedish meatballs at Ikea.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Vegetarian/Vegan, Burbank/North Hollywood, Seafood )
Adventures in miso
1253 Vine Street Suite 5 (@ Fountain)
Phone: 323-467-5537 | map
There may be more upscale or more authentic places to be found east of here, but you'll be hard-put to find more comfortably Japanese cuisine in the middle of Hollywood. Its interior is typically austere, clean black furniture sitting straight under a soft grey ceiling. The older couple who runs this place will rise smiling from their table in the corner and see to your needs.
This is Sapporo-style cuisine, specializing in the miso ramen of that city, with many regional toppings and customization and a bit of izakaya styling in its menu. They have omakase but most of the regulars lean toward the comfort dishes.
The miso soup here is darker than the typical from-the-package swirl of beige; it's seasoned, slightly sour, and robust.
Inari is getting to be one of my favorite snacking pleasures; commonly described as football-shaped, their version is wet to the touch, the rice almost like brown rice in texture, sweetish and clinging to itself.
For ramen, they do best with South Sea Style, with chicken or pork; the latter is sliced thin and deep brown like an elegant brisket, full of its own essence.
I get mine with garlic, shredded to the point of invisibility, and the green onion, red ginger, sesame seeds and other elements yield a red-specked broth, a garden swirled together to add complexity and a back-of-the-throat spice. The bottom of the bowl becomes silted with miso and garlic. The noodles are al dente, but solid and slightly thicker than ramen noodles usually are.
Hard to find on the menu (although it might appear on the little chalkboard on the wall), the Spicy Garlic Tofu Bento is a local joy. Long slices of tofu are cut into obtuse scalene* triangles, and fried into something firm, bursting, and amazing. Shards of red chilies embrace the steaming hot tofu.
The bento comes with a salad of the thinnest-possible sliced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and carrot, and a scoop of smooth, rather addictive potato salad.
Atch-Kotch has a long tandem parking lot in front of it, but it's iffy. You certainly don't want to pull into one of the front spots and get blocked in, since the guy sitting outside who seems like a parking lot attendant seems unconcerned with what actually happens in the parking lot.
* Really! "Obtuse Scalene" is not as pretty as "Isosceles" but it's closer to the shape of this tofu. This has been your painful Geometry class memory for the day.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Hollywood )
We might as well buy property on this side of town
132 S. Central Ave. (in Little Tokyo)
Phone: 213-613-9554 | map
A student of the "Angular Cramped Modern" school, Iza-yoi makes the most of its limited space, all straight lines and blocks under an arched ceiling. Large, noisy tables occupy much of the room, with one tiny table at the front window, staring across Central Avenue at the neon-shrouded storefronts of Johnny Rockets and Robeks Juice.
Reviews for izakaya style restaurants, where the dishes are small and varied like tapas, tend to be photo-heavy and lengthy, so with glasses filled to the brim with pale, dry and sneaky-as-hell Kira sake, we begin. The service is friendly, and fast.
Right off the bat we get ankimo, which means the melty opulence that is monkfish liver. Before you go clamoring for the exits to get a Rocket Single with Red Red Sauce® across the street, consider the worldwide appeal of foie gras, then consider that monkfish has a more delicate tang. Rinsed with sake, steamed, dotted with sliced green onion and made lively with ponzu sauce, monkfish liver is a delicacy. This is probably the favorite food of your local sushi chef; trust him.
This is more familiar, perhaps. The steamed dumplings here are, happily, shrimp: bulky and delicately rendered to a pastalike or steamed cauliflower consistency, and absolutely riveting. Tear this apart with your chopsticks and savor the slightly stiffened dough.
But, wait. There is age-shumai, fried dumplings, also shrimp. Proudly and sinfully glistening, these have an extra factor of divinity, ready for a quick dip in the sauce and a sigh-provoking bite. A deep-fried jalapeño pepper sits quietly between them, offering some subdued heat.
In an arm-wrestling match between the steamed dumplings and the fried... hmm. A draw. Get both.
Garlic Butter Sautéed Scallops and Mushrooms is not exactly a title we can resist, so we rather sensibly don't. On a bubbling clay plate, a tangle of enoki, shiitake and button mushrooms protect eight tiny scallops packed with power. The thin amber gravy makes this an addictive dish. (I'm starting to sound like Fukui Kenji on Iron Chef, aren't I.)
Spicy Crispy Toro.
Bianca: "Game, set, match."
How was this done and who dared to do it? A little fluffy hat of spicy punch, perfectly respectable, resting atop a cut roll that was deep-fried, making it crackerlike and rich. Wow. There are only four of these. Pity.
Other things: The Toro Cutlet is a typical katsu crackle muted by fatty tuna instead of the expected chicken or pork; it's slightly overfried, but if I had a utility belt full of the chunky mayo it comes with, I would apply it to everything.
There's Miso Baked Squid Legs, which is interesting; on a sizzling plate you vigorously mix an egg yolk with this into a brown slurry. The result is a very strong, almost sour miso flavor, and not Bianca's favorite, nor mine since the squid legs are too difficult to bite through. Save this for a few more glasses of Kira. (When I get good and tipsy I plan to bust out an order of Grilled Dried Stingray Fin, just to see what it is.)
This is all on the dinner menu; sashimi and udon exist for lunch, but are not a focus, so stick with bento or see if they'll give you an izakaya menu.
Iza-yoi is open until ten-thirty most days except Sunday. Parking can be found in the multi-level parking lot or on the corner of Central and First, where Señor Fish, Cuba Central and the Weiland Brewery pretend they aren't part of Little Tokyo.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, Japanese )
Ebisu huddles quietly behind a tree, at the concrete foot of an imposing 2nd Street tower, giving no impression that a stylized fishing village exists inside.
The decor is decidedly nautical, with bristles of black bamboo, faux crabs crawling the netting-draped walls, sea-foam vinyl seats, and brightly lettered banners with fish on them. A long table with a mizzenmast commands the middle area. There will often be a group of older men telling stories and drinking more sake than you can easily believe.
The headband-clad waitstaff briskly awaits your order, but it's going to take you a moment to peruse the menu, sipping cold glasses of dry Onikoroshi to take the heat from the day. I usually get an iced green tea as well, although I suspect it's fresh from the ICC can rather than brewed on the premises.
A favorite if it's available will be the Shrimp with Chili Sauce, surrounded by crispy rice chips and topped by wisps of scallion. The chili sauce rules the dish, surly and given to furious epiphanies which cause urgent sips of sake.
The Grilled Rice Balls, browned by metal and shoyu, are not as sublime as Terried Sake House's used to be, but are solid and worthy. Ebisu does not bother with anything in the middle of them except for the essence of the rice itself; the texture is such so that it seems almost grilled rice with a tender rice filling.
The Pork Belly Cutlet is hearty, a crackle of skin separating from tender white meat; it cools itself on a half-circle of aluminum mesh. The dipping sauce has notes of wood and electricity.
For us, sushi is not usually the goal, but either the Bluefin tuna or the Amber Jack sushi will be exalted, soaring on subtle clouds, worthy of comment. The maki rolls tend to be soft and yielding, but the Fatty Tuna and Scallion Roll has impact, the nearly too-strong, impetuous green onion calmed by the o-toro.
On the trendier side, the Dragon Roll snakes around its plate, the avocado inside cushioning the snap of cucumber; umber ripples of eel are laid atop.
For a fuller experience with eel, which Ebisu does well, get a Freshwater Eel Box, a seemingly bottomless meal in itself over rice.
Ebisu is owned by Bishamon Group, which includes Daikokuya among its children.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, Japanese )