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 )
|« Nite Moon Cafe||Brent's Delicatessen & Restaurant »|