Niseko, Japan: Outstanding Kaiseki at Sobatei Rakuichi

Soba Master and Owner of Rakuichi

We were closing out an epic week of snowboarding and skiing some serious powder in Niseko, Japan, when on our last night we visited Rakuichi, the 12-seat kaiseki restaurant at the foot of Annupuri resort. During lunchtime, I hear Tatsuru and Midori Rai have quite a queue as they keep service strictly to soba. While absolutely every plate was pristinely and passionately prepared, soba was definitely the centerpiece of our multi-course dinner.

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Beyond Celebrity Sushi Rolls: Omakase at Hamasaku is Top Notch

Kuromutsu Sushi Topped with Shirako

Hamasaku is a Westside strip-mall sushi joint, its designation as such not lost on the many regulars who have gone for a particular sushi experience for a number of years. There’s a menu full of celebrity rolls – that is, name-saken sushi rolls with ingredient combinations made up by celebrities – and it is this menu on which Hamasaku has built its reputation. Until recently, that is. Now, you’ll have to specially ask for the celebrity roll menu should you want to order off it.

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First Taste: Paiche Brings Refined Peruvian Izakaya to Marina del Rey

Uni Shrimp Toast

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.

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Pingtung Brings Pan-Asian Café Favorites to Melrose

Neighborhood Hot Spot

It’s curious that Pingtung is called an “Eat-in Market,” the “market” designation perhaps being a way of propping up the Asian goods that lie on overhead (to me) shelves along the sides of the deep-drawn cafe. Though I have a few guilty snack pleasures such as Yan Yan, Shrimp Chips, that clear, Japanese soda with the swingy little ball, Calpico and the like, I’d make the trek to 99 Ranch, Mitsuwa or Zion if I wanted to go Asian grocery shopping. (I’m trying to cut down on the snacks, much less MSG-laden ones, anyway.)

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi Opens Today

There are pivotal moments in a sushi lover’s life. Sukiyabashi Jiro is one of those famed restaurants that I have aspirations of eating at in the case that I not only make it to Japan, but have the money (Â¥30,000, or $360) to put up for – at maximum – 20 minutes of the best fish I’ve ever had in my life.

(The closest experience to this has to have been my last meal at Sushi Nozawa – now closed - which clocked in at about 30 minutes and not a minute longer. Warm rice with excellent fish, yes. Jiro’s? No. )

The 10-seat, 3-star Michelin starred Sukiyabashi Jiro is helmed by Jiro Ono, the first sushi chef and oldest chef to be awarded the honor. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is 81 minutes of pure food porn laying the foundation for Jiro’s life story, including the pursuit of literal perfection of his craft and the contingent (and not-so-contingent) roles of his sons and apprentices. It’s an intriguing perspective into Japanese culture and the evolution of its food.

New York opened last week, and finally Los Angeles has its chance – specifically on the Westside at the Nuart. For tonight’s showtimes, filmmaker David Gelb will appear in person for a Q&A after the 7:30pm show and to introduce the 9:40pm show. Tomorrow (Saturday, March 17), he’ll do another Q&A after the 7:30pm show and introduce the 9:40pm show. You can also check out Food GPS’ excellent Q&A with the guy.

And I would be negligent if I didn’t recommend that you be prepared to visit a decent sushi place before or after the movie – so you’re not left hungry and envious, or shall we say, “hangry” (personal experience). While there is no Jiro in LA, perhaps try a SUGARfish location, Sushi Central (Palms) or Sushi Park (Sunset Blvd, WeHo) for some unadulterated omakase nigiri made by chefs who, at the very least, say “no california roll or spicy tuna?”

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Opening March 16, 2012:

Nuart Theatre
10850 W Pico Blvd Suite 520
Los Angeles, CA 90064
310.281.8223

Opening March 23, 2012:

Laemmle NoHo 7
5240 Lankershim Boulevard
San Fernando Valley, CA 91601
310.478.3836

Playhouse 7 Cinemas
673 East Colorado Boulevard
Pasadena, CA 91101
626.844.6500

First Taste: Tsukemen at Ikemen, Hollywood

Johnny Dip (topped with pork)

I love all the Metro L.A. expansions the noodle shops have been undergoing, lately. When I say lately, I mean especially within the past month or two. After all, I was never quite a South Bay (or Daikokuya) kind of gal.

"Eat ramen here." Okay.

Yamadaya in Culver City. Shin-sen-gumi in Little Tokyo. Robata Jinya is even within the same proximity to my workplace as Ramen Jinya is to my Hollywood apartment. Ikemen itself is not an expansion, but another project of Yasumasa Kawabata and Sean Nakamura – the latter of Ramen California fame.

But Ikemen. I can walk there.

I’m lucky because the parking at this plaza, quite frankly, is as horrendous as you might expect parking would be for any establishment at the Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue intersection. I went solo the other night and sat at the counter beneath several sticks of bonito. Equipped with the knowledge that tsukemen (dipping noodles) is their specialty, I ordered the Johnny Dip topped with pork (chicken is your other option). The dipping sauce is described as “Tonkotsu au jus mixed with green onions and Italian basil.” The non-traditional flavor was very good in that familiarly super rich way. Of course, the basil flavor was the most novel thing about it. The noodles were thick – all the better texture to sop up that delicious dipping broth.

Pre-shaven Bonito

My next visit will be soon, and I’ve already decided on the Zebra Dip tsukemen, flavored with slowly roasted garlic. Only after then might I venture into traditional (or “genuine,” as Ikemen labels it) noodles in broth. Perhaps those recipes are from Ramen California?

Oh, Hollywood. The best part about this ramen movement is that finally, ramen as drunk food really will become a reality. That is, really good ramen – and not just the dehydrated form we’ve all grown up with. Ikemen is open until 12 AM on the weekdays and 4 AM on Fridays and Saturdays. With all the flack L.A. gets about last call and lack of late night food, Japanese noodles may turn out to be my saving grace.

Further reading - Ikemen Ramen: Now Open + Bringing Hollywood Cool to Japanese Noodles – LA Weekly Squid Ink

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Mon – Thu

12 – 2 PM, 6 PM – 12 AM

Fri

12 – 2 PM, 6 PM – 4 AM

Sat

6 PM – 4 AM

Cash only

Ikemen
1655 N. La Brea Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90028
323.800.7669

Checking Out the (Off-)Menu by Chef Haru Kishi at Chaya Brasserie

Almond Three Ways | Milk, Roasted and Green

At 25, Chaya’s time in Los Angeles almost doubles my own. I was unsure whether I’d feel more intimidated by their history or blasé about the menu. Turns out that it was neither of those things. Chef Haru Kishi, who, for the first time, was recruited from outside the Chaya family, brings in a fresh approach. Though yes, the tuna tartar is right there on the menu, overall, it’s a strong departure from what was served before.

Saffron Pappardelle | Wagyu Bolognaise

It’s a pleasure to meet the chef, who himself personifies the Franco-Japanese Chaya tit for tat. Yes, this is Los Angeles, but I still don’t remember the last time I spoke to an ethnically Japanese man who speaks English with a French accent. His menu, however, has tinges of Southern influences. Vernacular and second languages aside, Haru speaks through his food ever elegantly – at least through the La Petite menu, which is the facet of Chaya H.C. and I were privy to on our visit. Not to be confused with the Chef’s Tasting menu or dining section of the restaurant, La Petite is your prerogative to go a la carte.

Our (off-menu) amuse was a sight and concept to behold and opened my eyes to one of the ways almond could be served: Young and green. The overall amuse was delicious and evocative of morning cereal thanks to the charred rice puffs

Coconut Sorbet, Compressed Strawberry, Agave Syrup, Black Peppercorn, Chocolate Dots

While I wasn’t crazy about the gravy consistency in the otherwise mouth-watering Scallop Pot Pie, the Hamachi Mole Pressed Sushi was pretty fantastic. I guess there are some things you can count on Chaya for – variations on that raw fish dish you’re sure to never tire of.

There are still entrees offered on the La Petite menu – and excellent ones from what I could tell.  Our small portioned (for tasting purposes) Saffron Pappardelle had that perfect handmade pasta bite with just the right amount of Wagyu Bolognaise sauce.

La Petite Menu Dining Area

My favorite cocktail was the Apple Knocker with Laird’s Apple Jack Brandy Blend, apple juice, pomegranate, citrus and bucket. With most of the drinks being vodka, acai and soju based, this was kind of a no-brainer. But the dessert! So good. Again, I am guilty of blogging about an off-menu item but maybe you can get Chef Haru to make a special case for you, as well. It had compressed strawberries enveloped in a fluffy coconut sorbet. But the details really made it a treat, with crunchy chocolate dots, mint and candied orange peel topping the heavenly dessert that made me close my eyes. So hopefully you’ll forgive me for teasing you with this dessert since I implore you to ask for it when you visit Chaya.

The end of it is that you’ll have a solid experience at Chaya. The conclusion of my visit was that it’s no accident that they’ve been around for such a long time. It seems that Chef Harutaka has successfully ushered in a new vision and diners everywhere (not just Cedars Sinai employees) have good reason to see what he’s up to.

All food and cocktails were hosted.

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Lunch

11:30 AM – 2:30 PM

Dinner

Mon – Sat: 6 – 10:30 PM
Sun: 5 – 9 PM

Bar, Lounge & Patio

Mon – Fri: 11:30 AM – Close
Sat – Sun: 5 PM – Close

Chaya Brasserie Beverly Hills
8741 Alden Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Aburiya Toranoko Adds a Lively, Playful Vibe to Little Tokyo

Yanagita Seafarms Uni Goma Tofu

Over the past year, Lazy Ox Canteen has been one of my favorite spots to drop in and dally at the bar with a glass of wine and a couple small plates. I very much enjoy the energy of the place, though I prefer to not be in the middle of it – or the dining room as part of a 6 top, for example. 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 also wanted a lot of energy pulsing through this adjacent space, and I can now vouch that he’s successfully achieved this element.

Cocktail bar and flatscreen

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. This is where the flatscreen is should you want to keep updated on the Laker game. The other bar, of the sushi variety, is along the back wall. You’ll receive multiple laudatory and exuberant greetings in Japanese on your way back there, or wherever your seat may be - and enjoy it. It’s an induction into this restaurant and a tone-setter for your meal.

You may find yourself having a hard time narrowing down which 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 it was a perfect starter and a great little dish of savory topped with fresh uni to kick things off. 

Hakata-Style Tripe

The New Union Farms Sizzling Mushrooms with Tobanyaki 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 braised 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 very little fat and came with a little sliver of extra-potent mustard that broke up the richness with its kick. (I also saw it garnishing other dishes.)

Oysters on the half-shell with caviar, uni, ponzu & ceviche

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 a “rice/noodle/soup” section for that home feel. I hope to try something from this section next time on maybe a cold (for LA) day – perhaps a bowl of porridge. 

On my visit, we also ordered a delicious sushi roll but I can’t confidently comment on Aburiya Toranoko’s raw fish without a whole meal of it, and the focus was on the small plates for the night. The outlook on their sushi 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, unpasteurized one that was pleasantly at the bottom of the price range: Rin “Organic” out of 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.

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Lunch

Mon – Sun: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Sun – Thur: 5 – 11 PM

Dinner

Fri – Sat 5 PM – Midnight

Happy Hour: 5 – 7 PM (Food items: $5, Well drinks: $5, Drink items: $3)

Aburiya Toranoko
243 S. San Pedro
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213.621.9500

Ramen Jinya Is Good For Your Ramen Fix

Tonkatsu Premium Ramen

I’ve had a lot of ramen. Truth be told, those bowls of ramen don’t come from very many places. My inaugural non-Top Ramen bowl was at Shin-sen-gumi in Arcadia, but my favorite is (and the majority of those aforementioned bowls were from) Santouka with their Shio broth being the trump card to my ramen cravings. With those locations being San Gabriel and the Westside – and my new apartment being in Hollywood proper with Torrance and Gardena even further away – I became eager for other options. Ramen Jinya does a great job filling in.

Curry

Another confession: I have a bias against chicken broth ramen. Give me that chashu in all forms – fatty pork slices and fatty pork bone broth. So while Ramen Jinya is like Ramen California (so I have heard, haven’t tried) in offering chicken broth options, I just have a hard time making the leap. So Tonkatsu and Premium (bonito-infused) Tonkatsu ramen it is. With, perhaps, a side of curry. In retrospect, it’s not the most complementary side you can order with ramen, but I can always eat curry. For everyone else, I’d go with the gyoza. They’re bite size, but they’re good and have a proper crisp on the outside and a hot center. (Unfortunately, I was off form on my first visit and don’t have a picture.) As far as price point, you can get a salad, side and ramen combo for $13.50 and a bowl of ramen alone for $8.50.

I’m not sure where my menma (bamboo shoots) were, and the egg was perhaps a little stale, but the broth was solid and less salty on my second visit than my first – a good thing. It could maybe use more body, though I did like the Premium broth better than the regular Tonkotsu. A bonus: You’ll find yourself scooping soup less since the spoons are so big. The noodles, though, are my favorite thing about Ramen Jinya, and house made from what I could tell. They have good bite yet are plump enough to keep you satisfied.

Ramen Jinya is great for this South Bay-averse ramen lover. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be adventurous enough to try the chicken. According to a tweet of Mattatouille’s, however, I hear that the newly-opened Robata Jinya on 3rd Street offers their restaurant family’s ramen – and I just so happen to work in Beverly Hills. Even better. Who can argue with accessible, good ramen?

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Sun – Thur 11 AM – 10 PM
Fri – Sat 11 AM – Midnight

Ramen Jinya
11239 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City,CA 91604
818.980.3977

Blogger Prom Redux: Hollywood Confidential Glamourous

Blogger Prom Committee - Credit Heather Kincaid

I’ve been kind of busy these past few months. It all culminated a week ago at Yamashiro, atop the Hollywood hill that also hosts The Magic Castle. Indeed, it really was magical. All the hard work really paid off – at least from where we were standing. And it was fun to celebrate a culture that only continues to influence as well as permeate our urban lifestyle in Los Angeles. We tried to celebrate that in the best way we know how.

Credit - Heather Kincaid

With last year being an inaugural success, the Blogger Prom Committee and I had a solid boiler plate to improve upon for this year. While it was fun to recreate the ’80s, we knew that we wanted to keep things interesting and change it up. So, we decided to go even further back in time and a tad more grown-up. OK, maybe a lot more grown-up – as in glamorous Hollywood. We became inspired by a particular Los Angeles-specific movie chronicling crime, press and celebrity in the ’30s and ’40s; our theme was Hollywood Confidential. Fortunately, we also had the setting that would be the perfect backdrop for our theme – Yamashiro. Their team was an absolute dream to work with throughout the entire process, displaying the utmost in professionality and hospitality. I would recommend Yamashiro to anyone looking for a place to hold a high class event.

Chef Brock's tacos

…And the food! Who could forget the food? Chef Brock of Yamashiro brought his famous Garden Market tacos to the event as well as unveiled a brand new one incorporating Brock Family Farms’ sausage. They were delicious and perfectly complemented by his als0-famous wasabi guacamole and chips. Passed YamaBites were plentiful and guests enjoyed Asian-style ribs, albacore with jalapeno on fried crackers and more. We had Barrie Lynn, the Cheese Impresario, return from last year and educate us on the wonders of Wisconsin cheese. It is always a joy to have her and as a cheese fanatic, myself, I couldn’t be happier she was there. We also had amazing chocolates from Chocolate Box Cafe and Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches where you could customize your own sandwich.

Last year, it was an amazing thing to flex our star power and experience first-hand just what muscle L.A. bloggers have as influencers on our city. This year, we wanted to take it to another level and give back not only to bloggers but also to our community. And so, thanks to Blogger Prom Committee for taking on my suggestion of benefiting Operation Frontline Los Angeles. I became inspired by their ground-up approach to cooking and nutrition by providing classes to those who would otherwise not have access to these invaluable tools. (You can still donate to Operation Frontline Los Angeles here.) Admission to our closed event required a $10 donation to OFL, with Goldstar so graciously providing the donation ticketing. We ended up raising $2400 for the program. I’m proud that with all our resources, we could put on such a great event while benefiting a great cause.

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