11330 Santa Monica Blvd
West Los Angeles, CA 90189
Adequately Fed: $30
(Out of Five Stars)
Considering the Nanban-kan is a Japanese yakitori-ya serving grilled skewers in small portions, I am doing something different for this review. Each dish will be listed with a picture and described individually before I wrap it all up at the end.
We ordered the Nanban-kan complete dinner set which comes with eight dishes plus soup, pickles, rice and ice cream. On top of that, I ordered an additional seven dishes.
First to arrive at our tables was the mixed mushrooms skillet of shimeji (oyster mushroom), enoki and shiitake sauteed in light butter with cherry tomatoes and scallions. I found this dish to be especially gratifying. The different mushrooms had different textures that complimented each other as well as flavors that are slightly different. The tomatoes were sweet and soft but still held their shape well.
Tan*****/Shiso Maki****/Ingen Maki****
The chewy tan is beef tongue. It was a little strange to be eating tongue, but the flavor was heavenly. It was smooth and buttery, a guilty indulgence. The tender pork tenderloin of the shiso maki combined with the delicate flavor of the shiso leaf made this skewer especially notable. The ingen maki was green beans with a side of pork. I thought the green beans were slightly tough
Ground chicken cooked with soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine) topped this bowl of rice. The sweetness of the wine went well with the rice, giving the sensation of sushi rice. I was initially skeptical of the ground chicken because it looked plain, but found it delicious upon tasting. However, considering all the other dishes going on, I would have preferred that the rice be simpler and not detract from the other items.
The squid legs and chicken wings carried much of the same grilled flavors. Although I must say that the squid was not over cooked so not too chewy. With a few drops from the accompanying wedge of lemon, it tasted even better. I don't know if I would completely forgo fried calamari for the geso, but I would feel much healthier with the latter. The chicken wings did not appeal much to me. They were solid, but not much better than the fried tebasaki at Fu Rai Bo.
This was my first time having a grilled rice ball. I found that the lack of nori took away much of the flavor of the rice. The grilled flavors were too heavy and made me anticipate a cancerous future. One of these were filled with dried bonito while the other one had ume (plum). I did not try the ume one because I personally find ume's flavors to be too sour and sweet. The grilling process makes the rice too hard and dry. I would rather have plain rice in this case.
These two skewer showed how Japanese food can capture simplicity in ingredients but complexity in flavor. The quail eggs had a much tougher texture than chicken eggs and the little bite sizes make them fun to eat. The yasi yaki is just a mushroom, cherry tomato and green bell pepper. Simple and straight-forward, but sure to make an impact in your mouth.
With the beef tongue, this Chilean sea bass was the best dish of the night. The green onions and sweet sauce combined with the delicate texture of the fish melted in my mouth. I have always been a fan of Chilean sea bass and am relatively certain its very difficult to cook badly. But this skewer was so memorable, my mouth is watering as I'm writing this description. This will definitely be on the reorder list on my next Nanban-kan trip.
U-10 scallops mean that less than ten of these sea scallops fit in a pound. The grilling process dries up much of the weight in moisture so they are not quite as large as they are raw. However, this also concentrates the flavor. These scallops were cooked perfectly to the point of doneness resulting in just the teeth resistance.
Considering this is their signature skewer, I found this top sirloin to be plain and unimaginative. At this point, I was tired of the overused yaki sauce. Perhaps it would have been more impressive on the first run, but by the time this came out I had no more room for the sweet and savory sauce. I would've liked to see this cooked with better beef.
After a blizzard of dishes, these next few plates did not come until we specifically asked them to check up on them. It turns out they left them out even though they were part of a set combo. The tskukunne was a chicken meatball that was fine but nothing outstanding. The negima was dark chicken meat sandwiched with scallions. It was also not very memorable
I'll admit that I do not exactly know what gingko nuts are supposed to taste like so I could not evaluate how well they prepared the ginnan. But from my perspective, they were tough and did not have the weight to be served on their own. Perhaps accompanying something else, the gingko would be more delicious.
Lychee Ice Cream****
We ended the night with a small cup of lychee ice cream. While it was good, it didn't look special or taste homemade. I may be wrong, but it was just as good as ice cream scooped from a tub. Still, it was a good way to top off a lovely meal.
Besides the food, the atmosphere was conducive to a relaxing evening. Though the exterior was under construction, the interior felt warm with good lighting over each individual table. In fact, the layout was designed to give each table a sense of privacy and space. I'm glad they did not try to pack more people into such a small place. The center grill provided a view of your food being prepared as three chefs took turns over the fire armed with sauces and skewers.
Besides the hiccup of service when they forgot a few of our dishes, the manager and waitresses were helpful and friendly. When I had a problem, the manager made me feel at ease and personally took care of everything. This kind of service makes dining a true experience and not just eating out.
Recommendation: Remember what you ordered in case something doesn't come out.