Thursday, March 12, 2009
South Bay Japanese Marathon
What do bloggers do in their free time? We eat; that's a given. But we also meet up to eat. In this case, we journeyed the South Bay one Saturday afternoon, searching for our Japanese fix.
Organized by the multi-talented Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, this marathon had been in the making since our last expedition into the concrete Jungle. We teamed up with Javier the "Teenage" Glutster, Mattatouille, Choisauce, RumDood, Pepsi Monster, and budding blogger Danny for this trip. My girlfriend Yoko proved essential for some of the translations and the photos on this entry.
First stop: Gaja for okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese crepe/griddle cake. Made from yam flour, filled with ingredients, and fried on a teppan, this was my first experience at an okonomiyaki-ya. Thanks to the hot tip from I Nom Things, we were able to discover this fun DIY place. She even has several recipes if you want to try it at home. Of course, if you can't figure out the Japanese instructions, you can also get help from the friendly staff. Remember to proclaim "Yes!" in a tone as to indicate to your waiter your satisfaction for his efforts.
Here's the waiter helping with spicy cod roe, mochi, cheese monja-yaki, a creamier, more gooey relative of the okonomiyaki. The monja-yaki is fried to form a crust, but then mashed and eaten with individual spatulas. This particular monja-yaki had the miniature texture of the cod roe and the runny mochi and cheese.
Not terribly appetizing in appearance, but fun to eat nonetheless
Our Modern Mix Okonomiyaki had beef, squid, oysters, noodles, egg and preserved ginger, a seemingly odd mix, but formed a satisfying pie. Topped with the special sauce, Kewpie mayonnaise and bonito flakes, this could easily make a decent meal for the hungry traveler. Unfortunately, the life of a marathoner is tough; it was one slice, then out the door for our next stop.
Second stop: Patisserie Chantilly, a delightful Japanese desserts shop. The picture at the top of the page is from Chantilly. Our large group rolled in and took over the small place. We laid down $3 each and partook in a foodie communism experiment. A communal order of three macarons; black sesame, vanilla, and chocolate profiteroles; passionfruit mousse; cheesecake souffle; cheesecake bar; chocolate tart; and a white sesame blanc manger was put down and quickly devoured. Luckily, Pepsi Monster bought additional treats and donated it to the still hungry citizens. Funny how even in desserts, communism doesn't work.
If given the chance, make sure to try the souffle fromage, it is cheesecake heaven; at least you'll feel like you're eating clouds.
After a failed stop at Otafuku, our valiant troupe ended up at Hakata Ramen. Given that our soba stop fell through, we entered into a furious debate over a suitable replacement (I only say furious because at this point we were starting to get hungry again). Before our table was ready, we hopped back into the caravan and drove down to Ichimiann Bamboo Garden for homemade soba
It certainly doesn't take much to constitute a "bamboo garden." But I guess if it took acres of bamboo to be considered a forest, pandas wouldn't be so endangered. Of course I quickly got over the lack of foliage when I sat down to my platter of cold zaru-soba, a refreshing mound of buckwheat noodles served with accompanying dipping sauce. I found each noodle to have springy integrity...chewy, a little before al dente. According to Matt, the sauce is mixed with soba water afterwards and drank. I preferred the brown rice tea instead.
Last stop: Izakaya Bincho, the charming mom and pop restaurant with extremely demanding chef/owner. On that day, the staffing situation was even worse. With a sick wife, the husband manned the entire place by himself. Although it's not unheard of for him to turn away customers, the restaurant stayed especially empty that night. This was my first visit since its closure last year as a yakitori. The tsukune chicken meatballs, which were godly last time, disappointed this time, probably due to the lack of bincho charcoal. Juicy as usual, but there just was no depth of flavor you'd get with the ashy charcoal. Instead, the braised pork belly shined. Despite the overexposure of pork belly these days, the chef managed to bring out the melty texture of the pork and supplement it with a rich braising sauce. He doesn't rely just on the fat of the dish as so many restaurants do. In fact, the long braising time made the whole slab fall apart enough to eat with a spoon. The tebasaki fried chicken wings with sweet and spicy sauce stole the show. Amazing flavors hit me all at once, intense at first, but gradually fading and lingering on the palate. The wings were deep-fried, but they didn't weigh me down. All I could feel was the crispy skin and the sticky sauce. With the decline of the tsukune, I believe the tebasaki is the new gotta-have-it dish. Though I will still give runner-up position to the agedashi tofu. The chef's dashi shows amazing care in its umami complexity. Plus large slabs of silken tofu make this a hearty dish for tofu.
Braised pork belly
Tebasaki (Deep-fried chicken wings)
As I've settled into my home in LA, I've found so much diversity in the cuisine. I don't know if there's anywhere else in the world with so many ethnic options within driving range. With denser communities, they start to blend and lose some of their uniqueness within each cuisine. LA's just large enough that you can find places that just specialize in okonomiyaki, Japanese desserts, soba and izakaya. We have so much at our fingertips; it's a shame if you don't take advantage of it. I appreciate that I can have a Japanese food marathon without even once mentioning sushi. That's the kind of dining city that LA is.
2383 Lomita Blvd, Ste 102,
$18 per okonomiyaki though that can probably feed 3-4
2383 Lomita Blvd, Ste 10
$3-4 each dessert
Ichimiann Bamboo Garden
1618 Cravens Ave
$6 a bowl
112 N International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, 90277
Get here early on a non-weekend and pray for a seat
~$20 per person if you're eating at the end of a marathon