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.

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

Inspired Sustenance At Lazy Ox Canteen

Beef tartare with juniper berry, fried quail egg & olive oil toasted bread
Beef tartare with juniper berry, fried quail egg & olive oil toasted bread

It can’t be the easiest time to open a restaurant. While everyone else downsizes, Josef Centeno and Michael Cardenas take the opportunity to fill a niche in Little Tokyo. The aim would be to create a neighborhood canteen. That is, a watering hole with inventive yet casual plates at which you could count on to be there during all stages of your night’s indulgences. They have a permit in the works that will grant them operating hours that stretch until 3 AM.

Charred octopus with pickled shallots, lima beans & calamansi vinaigrette
Charred octopus with pickled shallots, lima beans & calamansi vinaigrette

Lazy Ox Canteen opens today. With previews going on the past two nights, I was lucky enough (with special thanks to Dawson) to be invited to occupy a spot last night along with Caroline on Crack, Shawn of Blog Downtown, Elina Shatkin, Sinosoul and Tyson, one of Michael Cardenas’ food-loving friends. The atmosphere is warm and inviting with clear, oversized light bulbs and frosted candleholders providing the ambiance. Perch on barstools underneath the red glow of the backlit bar or sit back in your chair or lengthwise booth behind small tables. Choose from a three-tiered menu, split simply into 1, 2 and 3: starters ($4-6), small plates ($9-15) and bigger plates ($20+) that can be doubled as entrees. The manageable brew list commands respect, from the St. Bernardus Triple on tap to Old Rasputen Imperial Stout and Allagash White (my choice for the night). Don’t overlook the bottle list, either – the Japanese “American IPA-style” Ozeno Yukidoke is unattainable anywhere else in the vicinity, confirmed by the back label which reads “Not for sale: For exhibition use only.” Most of the wines on the list run under $30 for the bottle and exhibit good range. And if your heart so desires, there are also a handful of sakes and shochus available.

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