While I caught a peek of the new Marina del Rey restaurant’s interior and fare through one of the Best New Chef reunion dinners brought to Paiche by Food GPS (Portland’s Naomi Pomeroy was guest chef), last night was the first time I got a real taste of Ricardo Zarate’s new menu, taking center stage, thanks to a lucky invite to Friends & Family night.
Over the past year, Lazy Ox Canteen has been one of my favorite spots to drop in and dally atÂ the bar with a glass of wine and a couple small plates. I very much enjoy the energy of the place, thoughÂ I prefer to not beÂ in the middle of it – or the dining room as part of a 6 top, for example.Â So when Michael Cardenas talked of his upcoming project immediately next door that would be a Japanese eatery, I was instantly curious. I could sense that he alsoÂ wanted a lot of energy pulsing through this adjacentÂ space, and I can now vouch that he’s successfully achieved this element.
There are not one but two bars at Aburiya Toranoko. One, of the spirits variety, rests opposite the restaurant’s trademark brick wall mural – complete with an oversized, looming mirror so diners and drinkers not be deprived of its view.Â This is where theÂ flatscreen is should you want to keep updated on the LakerÂ game.Â The other bar, of the sushi variety, is along the back wall. You’ll receive multiple laudatory andÂ exuberantÂ greetings in Japanese on your way back there, or wherever your seat may beÂ -Â and enjoy it. It’s an induction intoÂ this restaurant and a tone-setter for your meal.
You may find yourself having a hard time narrowing down whichÂ izakaya dishes to order. The courteous and knowledgable waitstaff are an important resource to aid you in doing so. When we ordered uni sushi, our helpful server instead suggested the Yanagita Farms Uni Goma Tofu. I’m glad she did, because itÂ was a perfect starter and a great little dish of savory topped with fresh uniÂ to kick things off.Â
The New UnionÂ FarmsÂ Sizzling Mushrooms with TobanyakiÂ is a must-order. Sizzle, those mushrooms did. You’ll find yourself licking the broth out of the bowl before it’s bussed away. Another one of my favorites happened to be off the special menu: Hakata-style tripe. It had a ton of flavor and I was only used to experiencing this profile with ramen noodles. But the tripe just soaked it all up with its extra soft texture. Its savoriness made me forget that I used to consider tripe as one of those weird things my parents ate…along with chicken feet.
Another favorite was on the regular menu, the braisedÂ Colorado Black Pork Kukuni, which came with a couple broth-soaked daikon slices and was so tender the cut fell apart at the…chopstick. Though you would have to try pretty hard to screw up braised pork, I loved that it wasn’t too sweet with veryÂ little fat and came with a little sliver of extra-potent mustard that broke up the richness withÂ its kick. (I also saw itÂ garnishing other dishes.)
Besides the izakaya, Toranoko also offers kukuni – or yakitori. That is, vegetables and/or meat on skewers. Those of you in the foie gras cult can appreciate the Duck with Foie Gras in White Balsamic Soy Sauce Reduction…on a stick! There’s also a selection of oden, or objects in broth, as our server explained. This was new to me, and we got a tofu purse bundle with mochi inside. It was good yet unsurprising and struck me a bit as a novelty, but I clearly have more to learn about oden. For those more bowl-inclined, there’s aÂ “rice/noodle/soup” section for that home feel. I hope to try something from this section next time on maybe a cold (for LA) dayÂ – perhaps a bowl of porridge.Â
On my visit, we also ordered a delicious sushi roll but I can’t confidently comment on Aburiya Toranoko’s rawÂ fish without a whole meal of it, and the focus was on the small plates for the night. The outlook on their sushiÂ is auspicious, though, since – for starters – the sushi chefs are indeed Japanese.
While they tout their hand-crafted cocktail menu made only with fresh juices and no added sugar, I still found the recipes themselves to err on the sweet side. A good bet would be to stay with the sake. My dining companion and I actually discovered a really delicious, unpasteurizedÂ one that was pleasantlyÂ at the bottom of the price range: Rin â€œOrganicâ€ out ofÂ Fukushima.
Aburiya Toranoko is one of those places that you have to go back to try all the different dimensions of their playbook. If you come with a group, I guess you could play all sections of the field by ordering a little bit of everything. But one thing’s for sure, the place continues to carry out Cardenas’ insistance on playing with his food. Since everyone in partnership, management and the heads of kitchen are Nobu alumni, however, it tends to give the food a more refined take.
Mon – Sun: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Sun – Thur: 5 – 11 PM
Fri – Sat 5 PM – Midnight
Happy Hour: 5 – 7 PM (Food items: $5, Well drinks: $5, Drink items: $3)
243 S. San Pedro
Los Angeles, CA 90012