It may have been ambitious to have driven down to the South Bay on a Friday late afternoon, but we knew what we wanted, and what we wanted was uni.
Having 4 people in my little Mini Cooper enabled us to use the 110 Southbound’s alternating Express Lane (it weaves in and out with more preference now given to FastPassers), which was key in our Silver-Lake-to-South-Bay commute and miraculously amounted to little more than a half hour. We made it to Maruhide’s resident strip mall just after its 5:30 PM opening and, though we imagined there being a line out the door, we were the only table seated for another 10 minutes.
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.
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
The power duo is back – and they’re bringing back more options than ever to the Culver City cosplay cafe called Royal T. Chef Joseph Mahon and Sommelier David Haskell have expanded their thrice popped up pop-up to … you guessed it, three nights, starting onÂ Sunday, April 17Â and ending on Haskell’s 35th birthday,Â Tuesday, April 19th.
Mahonâ€™s French cuisine will be paired with Haskellâ€™s sake, Asian beer, and French and Italian wine selections. Choose from the five ($62), seven ($80), or ten-course menu ($118) with optional wine pairings ($45-92 additional) – orÂ go for theÂ special uni menu and separate wine pairings on Tuesday, April 19 in celebration of Haskellâ€™s 35th birthday (The Feast LA).
Magnum is working in collaboration with Tomo Kurokawa to donate a portion of the event and silent auction proceeds to benefit the Japanese SakeÂ AssociationÂ and subsequently sake breweries affected by the tsunami inÂ northern Japan.
Courses will include thoughtful selections such as:
Fennel Royale with Sea Urchin, Apple Cloud, and Nori Powder
Braised Baby Octopus with Leek Risotto, Pine Nuts, and Pancetta Vinaigrette
Miso-Cured Hangar Steak with Creamed Spinach, Shitake Mushroom Tempura, Sesame Seeds, and Ponzu Sauce
All wine, beer, and sake pairings will be announced the day of the event viaÂ Magnum and Royal/Tâ€™s Facebook and Twitter pages (@Magnum_dh and @RoyalTCafe).
At the bar, small plates and sake pairings will be available throughout the three-night series. Inspired by Royal/Tâ€™s newest street art exhibit â€œFACEMAKER, the bar bites will reflect graffitiâ€™s free-form streaks, which include:
Sliders with Grass-Fed Beef, Potato Chips, Bibb Lettuce, and Chipotle AÃ¯oli ($15)
Tuna Rolls with Crab, Jicama, Mango, and Spicy Mayonnaise ($19)
Oysters with Brown Butter and Lemon ($14)
Everything sounds absolutely delicious. Pop-up restaurants may come and go…and come and go…but this bigger and badder rendition of MagnumÂ looks like one not to be missed. Be sure to call or email to reserve. Zeus The Cat will be standing by.
Also, be sure to check out the items up for silent auction, which are constantly being updated on Twitter and on the official Magnum website.
Pop-ups are an oft-occurring phenomenon these days, but just because the concept is novel doesn’t mean the execution always is. My experience with pop-ups range from dinners with emphasis left on the setting and ambiance, to the exclusivity the secrecy of the event brings. Truth be told, I’ve rarely tasted food that matched up to my steadily decreasing expectations.
Yes, it’s a hard deck to deal. Diners can and should expect hiccups to occur in kitchens unfamiliar to the chef – par for the pop-up course, that is. And that’s when things like pacing or even the overall length of the meal can go awry – like that one dinner party I was at from 7 PM to 12:30 AM. When you sign up for a pop-up dinner, don’t schedule anything afterwards unless your dining hours are extra early.
And that was the rule I broke at the debut of Magnum, Chef Joseph Mahon and Sommelier David Haskell’s pop-up session at Neil Kwon’s Biergarten in the unlikely Koreatown. Well, I was fulfilling an airport pick-up favor (beggars can’t be choosers), and even after my 7 courses of deliciousnessÂ my guest’sÂ wait was more thanÂ bearable. Impressive.
The carrot pudding with orange granita and shaved peanuts was a beautiful amuse. It even packed a little punch – thanks to an unbeknownst-to-me ingredient – and effectively made me eager for more. I found myself devouring the following coconut soup, with mussels, tapioca, cilantro pistou and lime – and even some of Aaron’s (thanks to his Kosher-like diet). But I couldn’tÂ appreciate the soup as much as I did without Haskell having paired it with a surprisingly acidic-for-a-junmai-daiginjo (made with 50% polished rice) -Â Wakatake “Onikoroshi”. It cut the spice in the soup so well yet was smooth enough to make it all go down like silk. Delicious.
Another one of my favorites had to be the cured salmon, with the fat of the fish cut by the spicy kimchee broth in which it stood. The really refreshing notes were brought by the sprouts and cucumber, and the softness of the daikon matching the tender salmon really well. Haskell paired this dish ingeniously with Alesmith’s Nautical Brown Nut Ale. Yes! Beer! The dark ale really grounded this course out by offsetting the spice, fish and veggies.
There’s no question that David Haskell really knows how to pair his food. But as far as expertly-prepared food in and of itself on Joseph Mahon’s part, the table’s (and my) favorite dish was hands-down the duck confit. It had a richness and texture that was just perfect to the taste and touch of the fork. But that doesn’t mean that the pairing was any less inspired. The 2008 Pithon-Paille from Bourgueil, France, made with Cabernet Franc grapes, was amazing in that it tasted rather flat by itself – but when sipped with the duck confit, it was the perfect wine to cut the richness of the duck. And that whole picture makes for a beautiful pairing.
When I joined Aaron (SavoryHunter) and the Starry Kitchen duo (Nguyen and Thi) for a reservation this special night, I had an inkling that the Who’sWhoÂ inLAfoodÂ would be there – but not nearly to the capacity and fervorÂ that came about. Nguyen fulfilled Haskell’s request and wore his banana suit during dinner, and endless tables of bloggers were seated throughout the dining room, near and far. It was a successful and festive pop-up night, with many leaving while wondering where Mahon and Haskell will go next. So stay tuned…!!
Next Magnum location TBD
Biergarten 206 N. Western Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90004 323.466.4860 (after 4PM)
When Chef Joseph Mahon left Bastide just a few weeks ago, there was very little time wasted before his pop-up with restauranteur-sommelier David Haskell (Bin8945, Le Cirque) was announced. Pop-ups may be the norm instead of the exception, nowadays, but there’s no better way to get a dosage of your favorite homeless chefs and sommeliers than by attending one.
And if you haven’t been to Biergarten, anyway, this is the occasion to make it happen. It’s got a warm vibe with, of course, plenty of beer taps to boot – so tonight and tomorrow nights should make for a triple-whammy. For $56 you get served 5 courses, with an optional, additional 2 courses for $10 more that come with pairings should you choose to add them. Haskell’sÂ wine,Â beer, sojuÂ and sake pairings with the 5 course prix fixe will be a flexible feature, with the option to buy them by the glass or share with another diner at your table. Check the menu below for the delicious dishes:
It’s another culinary bazaar (we here in Los Angeles know how often these come around) but this time, it’s our city-wide flagship publication pulling out all the stops. It looks like the L.A. Times will live up to their name, too, because there are names to be had at this event held at on New York Street (yeah, pretty funny) in the backlot of Paramount Pictures.
Feelin’ a little indie with your wine? There will also be music, as She & Him are scheduled to headline the event with a full set. Angela McClusky will support.
Demonstrations will be taking place for your pleasure and education, as will panels by the following:
If you buy in advance, you’ll save $10. The best part is that general admission attendees also get to enjoy a good number of pours (8 to be exact) with their food. But if VIP is more your speed, you’ll get unlimited pours and in addition, you’ll get to taste bites from these participants. Benefiting from ticket sales are Share Our Strength and the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, so you can feel good that you’ve spent your day also supporting worthy causes.
Seems like a it’ll be a great debut. I’ll see you there.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
12 – 8 PM
$125 VIP Admission ($135 door) $55 General Admission ($65 door) $40 Concert Only, advance and door
It was a February night in Palms when I joined a few other writers in a lesson on sake by none other than Sake Master Yuji Matsumoto. The featured brewer was Dassai, who only makes Junmai Daiginjo sake – pure sake (no added alcohol) made withÂ at least 50% polished rice grain.
It was my first time at Sushi Central and though I could appreciate the casual atmosphere – IÂ won’t be fooled again by the inconspicuous signage nor strip mall placement. It was all about the fish, and thanks to their good sushi that I could really and truly appreciate the sake we were tasting. I plan to return for the omakase when I get my next sushi kick.
We were graced by the presence of Kazuhiro Sakurai, the Dassai representative and 4th generation Vice President of the brewery, who flew in to personally tell us about his family’s sakes. Sushi chef Philip Yi (once a challenged chef in Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!) was gracious throughout the night and wowed us with his extremely good sushi. For starters, the slightly-smoky, ultra-tenderÂ OnoÂ (Yi’s self-describedÂ “crack” fish)Â left us eager for the night to come. Our saucers remained untouched and unused the entire night, leaving the chef full reign over our tastebuds with no adulteration by added wasabi nor soy sauce.
We started off our sake tasting with the most refined sake of the night, the 23 Dassai Junmai Daiginjo ($80) – which I thought was unusual at the time since I’m accustomed to working up to the highest quality from the low. Later, the order would make sense. The ultra-smooth sake was so clean and so delicious and went well with the yellowtail it was paired with. Light sake paired with a white fish – it was perfectly complimentary.
After that came the 50 Dassai, which was still very smooth but had a little bit more acidity since less of the rice grain was polished away. This was perfect because when paired with salmon belly sushi, it cut across the fattier fish – but the sake still had a good amount of finesse. Perfectly paired sake and sushi is a truly heavenly thing.
Next was the Saba, or Japanese Mackerel (title picture) – which is a saltier, less fatty fish and went well with the 39 Dassai – a variety which isn’t available in the United States. We also tried a very lightly-carbonated, unfiltered version of the 50 Dassai – only available Stateside and perfectly complimented sushi chef Philip Yi’s spicy tuna roll. Before this night, I had shunned spicy tuna rolls – but there was excellent tuna, very little mayo and a good amount of spice in the roll; I could truly appreciate the ingredients in this version of what is typically regarded as “filler appetizer!”
It’s not often when I visit a place on occasion of a press release – and actually, I had asked Lindsay and H.C. to forward it to me, so Twitter gets the credit for this one. Something has to have really grabbed at me, and in this case it was the Black & Black. This is no Black & Tan variation, mind you – nor the latest beer float. This is one of two new signature drinks at Lamill Coffee in Silver Lake combining two of my favorite things originating in two completely different categories.
Half Old Rasputin Imperial Russian Stout and half iced Organic Lamill House Coffee, my pre-dinner libation consumed over the composition of this blog post was sufficiently weighty to a stout and porters fan like myself. But I also felt comfortable about evading a premature nap session (I am borderline narcoleptic and pass out in even extremely loud environments) because the house coffee, which is cold-brewed, was perfectly blended with the beer and even lightened up the overall beverage whilst giving it that awesome Lamill kick. The black to my black, indeed – and don’t ask me to choose which came first. The overall result is more impressive than the sum of its parts, and that would be dark and delicious.
The other signature drink to debut today is a Tea Champagne (Imperial Palace Brut Blanc de Blancs with Lamillâ€™s Organic White Pomogranite or Holiday in the Cup Tea). Or, perhaps you’d like to explore the sake menu, including the accessible Kuro Kabuto Junmai Daiginjo ($7 per glass) or the 21% rice grain-polished Dassai Junmai Daiginjo ($16 per glass). Full bottles of a separate selection of sake are also available.
Feel like beer? Get a pint of reliable Allagash White for a surprisingly reasonable $4.5 or go for an exotic orange brew like the Japanese Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale ($8) or citrusy-sweet Ozeno Yukidoke IPA ($10). Got a sour palate? How about a Duchesse de Bourgogne, a sour ale from Belgium aged in oak barrels?
The predominantly French wine portion of the menu offers even further selection for folks who are in the mood for a glass of white or red. It’s apparent that Lamill is looking to corner the market in matters of tasteful elixirs and with this menu expansion, there’s a little more something for everyone. As a result, Lamill will become a little less known for their $12 Chemex coffee brews because customers now have access to rare, $10 Japanese beers.
I had first met Barrie Lynn of The Cheese Impresario over planning for Blogger Prom. Our party was so swank, you would bring your cocktail over from the bar to Barrie Lynn – whereby she would taste a straw-full of your cocktail and pair the appropriate cheese to the libation in your glass. If you have cheese in any capacity at your party, you better have Barrie Lynn there.
The other day I was invited to the Learn About Wine loft in Downtown LA … to learn not about wine but about sake and its compatibility with cheese. Sake and Wisconsin cheese has been her recent breakthrough – a proclaimed “culinary epiphany.” I have to say, “Wisconsin cheese” is not a phrase I pass up on, ever. Let’s also say that my entire life I’ve always lived in The Cheese State, whether in the Midwest or on the West Coast.
Kei Inoue of Banzai Beverage was Barrie Lynn’s partner in crime, the liquid to her solid. He represents not one but many distributors of sake. Since my knowledge of sake was at 0, I was appreciative to get a lesson in what puts a good sake ahead of the others. Since sake is 80% water, water is the most important ingredient and indicative of the different regions of Japan and the quality of sakes that arises from each. Also important is how much the rice grains are polished. The more that is polished, the more amino acids – which taste poor when distilled – are shed from the brew, and the more refined. And right out of the gate, even the little that I knew about sake was thrown out the window when I realized that they gave us a sparkling sake to start. It was delicious and refreshing – and merely a prelude to the eight to come.
I had never had a dark sake before, but that’s exactly what we started with. The Mt. Victoria Old Fashioned Vintage Junmai had caramel and even almond notes due to it having been aged – a really complex sake that served as an aperitif. Or perhaps to contrast with the ultra smooth Junmai Diaginjo sake to come, called Legend of the Stars. About 60% of the rice grain was polished away for this brew (as opposed to 30% of the last, aged sake). It would go well with seafoods, as it was still stimulating – very fresh.
But finally, oh finally – we would get to the cheeses!! Hallelujah.