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Okonomiyaki at Gaja (review+pics)

pleasurepalate Mar 21, 2007 05:16 PM

When my friend first mentioned the word "okonomiyaki" to me, I have to admit to giving her a blank stare. "What in the world is that?" I asked. So then she started talking about Japanese pancakes and cooking it at the restaurant and that shed some light, but it still was a bit confusing to me.

I think what threw me off was just the notion of Japanese pancakes in general. Like a lot of people, pancakes for me brought up a vision of a stack of sweet bready goodness topped with pats of butter and doused with maple syrup. Somehow I didn't think that Japanese pancakes or okonomiyaki as they are better known as would be the same thing and I was right.

So after doing a bit of online research, I found out that Okonomi means "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki means "grilled" or "cooked" (e.g.. yakitori and yakisoba); thus, the name of this dish means "cook what you like, the way you like". Okonomiyaki is a dish usually associated with the Kansai and Hiroshima areas. The toppings and batters of this savory, not sweet, pancake vary from region to region. While the chefs will cook the okonomiyaki for you if you wish, most customers choose to cook their own at table side griddles found at most okonomiyaki restaurants.

After learning a little more, I went with a group to Gaja, a restaurant in Lomita, and experienced okonomiyaki for myself. Now I went the lazy way and just opted for my pork and kimchee pancake to be cooked in the kitchen and believe me, it was tasty. However, I sat between two grills where I actually got to see the differences between the Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style of cooking okonomiyaki.

To the left was the Kansai-style. First, the griddle was oiled and heated and then the shrimp was cooked. Than the batter which consisted of veggies, a raw egg and other items was mixed together and than shaped into pancakes and cooked on the griddle. While one side was cooking, the shrimp was added to the uncooked version. Than the pancakes were flipped over and topped with a sauce. Soon, they were ready for eating.

To the right of me was the Hiroshima-style. Instead of four mini pancakes, this was one large one. After the griddle was oiled and heated, the batter was added to form one large pancake. Soon the veggies, meat and noodles were layered on top and more batter added to the top of those layers. After the first side cooked a bit, the whole pancake was flipped over so that the other side would now cook. While the other side was cooking, okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter) was added as well as bonito flakes. After a bit, this pancake was also ready for eating.

It was really enjoyable watching the cooking, but it was also just as enjoyable savoring every bite of the pork and kimchee okonomiyaki that was cooked for me. Other than okonomiyaki, we also had a variety of appetizers and dessert.

What was also nice is that the owner gave our group a bowl of Japanese seafood bouillabaisse to try. Wow, that soup was awesome. Spicy, rich and lots of flavor. Definitely a must have for anyone who decides to check Gaja out.

Overall, it was a great lunch. The service was wonderful. The food was excellent. I would definitely make my way back to Gaja again and maybe, I'll even cook next time. :)

To see pics, go to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/la_addic...

Gaja
2383 Lomita Blvd Ste 102
Lomita, CA 90717
(310) 534-0153

Thanks,
Abby

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  1. elmomonster RE: pleasurepalate Mar 21, 2007 05:28 PM

    What a treat to read! I love GaJa and had no idea you could ask them to cook it.

    If interested, here's my write-up on the experience with some so-so photos (not as good as yours).

    http://elmomonster.blogspot.com/2006/...

    1 Reply
    1. re: elmomonster
      pleasurepalate RE: elmomonster Mar 21, 2007 05:40 PM

      Thanks for the link to your Gaja write-up. It sounds like you all had just as much fun as us. After having watched it first, I think I'll definitely give it a go the next time I'm there, although I'll probably opt for the smaller pancakes vs. the one large one. :)

    2. notmartha RE: pleasurepalate Mar 22, 2007 03:19 PM

      Thanks for the report and the pictures. It's been on my must-visit list for a while, but I'll have to make a special effort to go. I love the mochi & cheese version and am glad there's a restaurant here in LA that make it.

      1. OCAnn RE: pleasurepalate Mar 22, 2007 03:43 PM

        I'm glad you enjoyed Gaja. Although they're known for their okonomiyaki, their spicy seafood udon/soba (I can't remember which noodle) sounds like what you had, was awesome!

        I think the main difference w/okonomiyaki of the two regions is not so much the size, but the components of the dish. The Hiroshima version (which I've had in the okonomiyaki building in Hiroshima) has noodles and is served w/mayonnaise; while the Kansai version has neither.

        Great pics & thanks for the review...I'm a Pavlov hound right now!

        3 Replies
        1. re: OCAnn
          pleasurepalate RE: OCAnn Mar 22, 2007 05:02 PM

          Oh, one more thing. The spicy seafood soup actually had rice and not noodles.

          1. re: OCAnn
            The Chowhound Team RE: OCAnn Mar 24, 2007 03:11 PM

            Please note, the digression about okonomiyaki style and techique has been moved here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/384559 and here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/384562

            1. re: The Chowhound Team
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              bulavinaka RE: The Chowhound Team Mar 25, 2007 10:27 AM

              Sorry - since Gaja lets one choose between having your okonomiyaki made by them, or allowing you to make your own, I personally thought that digressing to suggestions on technique was appropriate on this particular case... Most restaurant experiences seperate the kitchen from the diner, but in some cases, the diner becomes part of the preparation as well. Thanks

          2. onigiriyumyum RE: pleasurepalate Mar 22, 2007 04:11 PM

            Thank (insert deity of choice) for people who like to go out to eat and tell others about it! I frakkin love this site! and thank you Abby for your post on Gaja. I'd never heard of it until now, but the way people are talking about it, I'm sure to give it a try. I haven't had good Okonomiyaki since I went to Osaka. Okonomiyaki, YUMYUM!

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              gsmoose RE: pleasurepalate Mar 22, 2007 05:02 PM

              Thanks Abby, those are some beautiful pictures and your report makes me want to check out Gaja even more! It's definitely on my last of places to try... I've had okonomiyaki at several places but none have had the "do-it-yourself" option. Sounds like fun!

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                bulavinaka RE: pleasurepalate Mar 22, 2007 09:07 PM

                Thanks for the great write-up and pictures of your meal. My favorite part is the sliced pork as it develops that wonderful crust from being griddled. If you do it yourself, shake a little salt on the pork before flipping over the okonomiyaki, and the pork will reward you ten-fold.

                1. Donia RE: pleasurepalate Mar 23, 2007 11:25 PM

                  My husband spent some time in Japan before we met. I LOVE to cook and he's been asking for me to research and make okonomiyaki. I'm determined to to do it next month. Seeing your pictures and reading your methods helped so much! I can't wait to cook these!

                  1. E Eto RE: pleasurepalate Mar 26, 2007 10:34 AM

                    Judging from the photos of the Hiroshima style okonomiyaki, it seems obvious that they're not from there, since they mangled it so badly. While I'm sure it was a good beginner's version of a Hiroshima style, they would be laughed out of town in Hiroshima. I'll consider this a cautionary note to stick with the Kansai style okonomiyaki when visiting Gaja. By the way, did you notice if they use grated yamaimo in the batter? or if they offered it?

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: E Eto
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                      bulavinaka RE: E Eto Mar 26, 2007 10:07 PM

                      This is such an uncommon dish in LA that to even have a choice between Hiroshima and Kansai or any other style says alot. As for being laughed out of town in Hiroshima, the same could be said for finding a great al pastor taco in Furuichi - if they were to even offer it and it was half-decent, I'd thank heaven above... We can lob it back and forth all day about this place doesn't measure up to fill-the-blank. The important issue is that we have a few places that offer this homey dish, and that maybe more will pop up if it becomes popular enough. This is how sushi, ramen, and udon got started back in the 60s and 70s... IMHO, the question is not how authentic it is, but did the diner have a fun and delicious experience?

                      1. re: bulavinaka
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                        bagdoodle RE: bulavinaka Mar 27, 2007 01:05 AM

                        I agree with Bulavinaka completely. Be pleased that we have the opportunity to try new goodies. Let the snobs and ethnic purists get catty about them later.

                        1. re: bulavinaka
                          pleasurepalate RE: bulavinaka Mar 27, 2007 01:30 AM

                          Being the OP, I can tell you that the group of people I was with at Gaja had a really fun time. It was a great interactive experience plus we got to try something that all of us actually have never tried before. :)

                          As for the grated yamaimo, I don't remember it being offered, but it could also have been part of the batter, but I'm just not sure.

                          1. re: pleasurepalate
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                            bulavinaka RE: pleasurepalate Mar 27, 2007 06:17 AM

                            Not to knock E Eto in my previous posting, but I think it's a little early in the oko experience here in LA to be too critical of but a small handful of places that even dare to offer this comfort food that is so obscure beyond Japan. But on the same token, it's great to have someone who brings alot to the table, so with this knowledge, those that visit in the future can nudge the restaurants with possible inquiries and subtle suggestions... Thanks E Eto...

                        2. re: E Eto
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                          rameniac RE: E Eto Apr 30, 2007 11:05 AM

                          i don't think you can really grade gaja's hiroshima okonomiyaki based on the photos posted by the original poster. did the chefs prepare it? or did the diners? at gaja, unless you specifically request the dish be cooked by the kitchen, you can make the the hiroshima okono yourself, as complex as it is, using an instructions sheet verging on rocket science.

                          if you've had the stuff in hiroshima and know what you're doing, you can create a pretty good replica of the real thing. even if you don't, and it's just your first time, taste-wise, the result probably won't be too far off from what you might find across the pacific, as it's okonomiyaki, which literally translates to "do it yourself grilling."

                          while kansai and hiroshima styles do exist, this is one of those very few J-cuisines with a lot of flexibility when it comes to authenticity. hiroshima-style is prepared in layers with yakisoba, red ginger, and often an egg, sunny side up, while osaka-style is typically all mixed together. yet i've been to some fine shops in kansai that vary that up quite a bit, and even layer the thing to some degree.

                          http://www.rameniac.com/index/comment...

                          go to gaja, order the 'hiroshima seafood mix', and if you're brave enough, cook it yourself. it's by FAR the most challenging item to DIY, with pork, scallops, etc. but it's also the tastiest thing on the menu, loaded with the mosts ingredients, and it's also the most fun you can have "working" for your own dinner. i would hardly recommend against ordering it; you'd be missing out on a lot.

                          1. re: rameniac
                            E Eto RE: rameniac Apr 30, 2007 01:00 PM

                            Just for the sake of accuracy, okonomi (お好み) does not mean "do it yourself grilling". Here's a list of some usages.
                            お好みで (okonomi-de): according to one's taste // if desired
                            お好みの料理の (okonomi no ryorino): a la carte
                            お好みの~で (okonomino... de): your choice of
                            For that matter, when in Hiroshima, you'll be hard pressed to find a place for "do it yourself grilling" because okonomiyaki is pretty much elevated to a skilled craft. Most of the do-it-yourself places are kansai style okonomiyaki places, that might offer soba or something that might be like Hiroshima style, but doesn't really quiet achieve it. By the way, you don't find red ginger in Hiroshima style okonomiyaki (in Hiroshima). Perhaps as a side condiment, or unless you specifically request it be placed in there. Most Hiroshima-jin that I know are quite appalled by what passes as Hiroshima okonomiyaki in other parts of Japan, let alone abroad. I liken it to a cheesesteak or NY pizza for that reason. While you're right that there's a lot of room for flexibility based on the ingredients, it's another thing to find the right combination that passes muster to someone who has some experience with them.

                            1. re: E Eto
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                              rameniac RE: E Eto Apr 30, 2007 03:30 PM

                              i stand corrected. forgot that it meant "whatever you like," although the principle is the same in that with "お好み焼き," i was implying that the diner has a level of control over what he or she is about to eat.

                              i've never lived in hiroshima, but i'm quite certain i've seen the red ginger used in at least one meal i had there, even if it was only as a condiment (in which case i probably used a tank of it as i typically do with any available accessories hehe - but anyway it was far too long ago for me to recall). i remembered though because it struck me as unusual at the time.

                              also, you're correct in that chefs cook it for you - as far as i've seen in hiroshima, the customers never cook it themselves. but i'd disagree that there's a specific ingredient combination that somehow "defines" the style. there are certain things, like the strips of pork, etc. that are fairly standard, but even in the hiroshima shops i've been to there were always several options for the customer to choose from. in that sense, i'd say there's enough wiggle room for gaja's particular version to be tasty and delicious, if not entirely authentic.

                              i'll be the first to say that hakata ramen in gardena will never come close to, say, the ramen you can find in hakata lol. but i wouldn't advocate NOT eating gaja's version simply on that basis. as a few other posters have mentioned, we're fortunate enough to actually have such a fairly obscure, region-specific comfort food here in L.A. (i say all this because gaja's hiro okono really is the best thing on the menu! =)

                              1. re: rameniac
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                                pirikara RE: rameniac Apr 30, 2007 04:09 PM

                                Oh heck, it's just a pancake for chrissakes!

                                Sorry, just kidding. =P I've been watching a J-drama about a girl who spends time creating the perfect pork okonomiyaki. Her father, the master chef, disappears one day and so it's up to her to live up to dad's legacy. It seems silly to think that such a fuss could be made about such a seemingly simple food. I've yet to have a moment of enlightenment with okonomiyaki and that's probably because I rarely travel to Hiroshima. But that doesn't mean I'm not a believer. I used to think takoyaki was bleh, and then I came across a shop where the line was around the corner. Let's just say the light bulb went off once I sunk my teeth into one. I never bothered going to any other takoyaki shop again. As for okonomiyaki, E Eto pointed out a key ingredient: yamaimo. It's a type of starchy yam that looks slimy once you grate it. That, I'm imagining, is integral for creating that certain chewiness (mochi-mochi-ness, if you will) that most okonomiyaki lack.

                                But yeah, I doubt any master okonomiyaki chef will be setting up shop in LA in the near future. So in the meantime we'll have to settle for Gaja, which isn't half bad.

                                1. re: pirikara
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                                  bulavinaka RE: pirikara Apr 30, 2007 10:53 PM

                                  Just about every household in Hiroshima with even a half-capable cook will have their own version of oko. Not to say that they are all great, but the variations are numerous. It's probably one of the least uptight meals you'll ever have...

                          2. re: E Eto
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                            bohemiana RE: E Eto Jun 5, 2007 09:06 PM

                            I just went to Gaja for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I thought the Kansai style was very good (almost as good as mine!). Even though I lived in Japan for a few years I never had Hiroshima style nor had I ever heard or the "Tokyo" style they have at Gaja, so I can't compare those types to the real thing. However, the texture, consistency and taste of the Tokyo style was horrible--later the waiter told us that mostly toddlers in Japan eat it. Does anyone really like that stuff???

                            1. re: bohemiana
                              E Eto RE: bohemiana Jun 5, 2007 09:40 PM

                              What you had is called monjayaki, a food native to Tokyo, especially in the area called Tsukishima. It's different from okonomiyaki, and it takes a little know-how to make properly. I'd probably go to Gaja for Monja than anything else they offer, since it's something you really don't find anywhere else, and you really do need that flat grill to make properly, so not really something to do at home.

                          3. groover808 RE: pleasurepalate Apr 1, 2007 09:17 PM

                            Just went there with my girlfriends tonight. The Hiroshima style (kitchen made for us) was tasty. Bottom was like chinese onion pancake minus green onion, noodles and meat in the middle, and then then thin layer of omlette. I did enjoy the interactive cooking, reminds me of hotpot or kbbq. The "batter" is on the bland side, meant to be served with the sauces on the side. Personally all the sauces were too sweet for me so I would prefer a saltier batter. We ordered the shrimp and beef/kimchi variety. Next time maybe I'll try the spam or potato/cheese. Also ordered the yakisoba and garlic fried rice.

                            15 Replies
                            1. re: groover808
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                              bulavinaka RE: groover808 Apr 1, 2007 11:19 PM

                              My interpretation is that the batter is there to more or less hold everything together. Of course this is a comfort food that has many many interpretations and variations in just about every household and oko place in Hiroshima. Everyone has their own take on it, meaning that it's up to you as to how you decide it should be put together and what should go in it for the most part.

                              If you decide to try making it yourself on your future visits, address the salt issue by LIGHTLY salting between layers as you lay them on, but it's most critical to salt the meat but with not too heavy of a hand. They should also offer various garnishes like bonito shavings(katsuo), dried seaweed (like shredded nori and couple others - the names slip my mind but they kind of look like grey or green dust bunnies), and fried tempura batter that serve to flavor your oko almost like croutons. Any or all of these garnishes will contribute more layers of flavor and can be added on the very top before you flip the oko over. IMO, it's that top layer that plays out to be the most critical in how your oko will taste.

                              Do you know if Gaja offers takoyaki or has any plans to do so? This would really be nice as takoyaki is another very tasty and common street food in Japan, yet pretty hard to find here in LA. I hope you have a great time when you go back!

                              1. re: bulavinaka
                                pleasurepalate RE: bulavinaka Apr 1, 2007 11:31 PM

                                What's takoyaki? I haven't heard that term before.

                                1. re: pleasurepalate
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                                  bulavinaka RE: pleasurepalate Apr 1, 2007 11:43 PM

                                  It's a snack-sized ball of batter that has chunks of squid, katsuo, and some other ingredients mixed in as well - usually small amounts of veggies. I would put it in the same category as okonomiyaki, as the ingredients can be similar, but the cooking method is different. A specialized pan/griddle that has semi-spheres forged or pressed into it is used to make the takoyaki. As the batter cooks into these "half-balls," half of them are picked out and flipped on to the other halves that are still cooking, creating these round golfball-sized yummies that are very easy to eat and very tasty with oko sauce, and that sweetish Japanese-style mayo if one chooses.

                                  I am now realizing that my posts might be moved to a similar thread on Gaja that focuses more on cooking techniques, as this has happened in the past... just a heads-up... Welcome to the world of Japanese comfort foods!

                                  1. re: bulavinaka
                                    groover808 RE: bulavinaka Apr 2, 2007 06:39 AM

                                    They don't have it there to cook yourself probably due to the heating element being pretty heavy duty, although I've seen portable ones like those you would cook hotpot with at home. I think they might have it to order from the back, their menu is quite extensive and there is an appetizer section.

                                    They do have tayaki (sp), which is the sweet batter in a mold with I think red bean inside. It's in the shape of a fish. This type of food reminds me of "nau" food in vietnam. It's not necessarily a specific set of dishes but a style of meal that is usually interactive where you eat with friends (sometimes for hours) and you hang out and drink too.

                                    I know there is takoyaki and tayaki (savory and sweet) at Genki Living...Life Plaza in Rowland Heights and on Jeffrey and Alton area in Irvine. Haven't had the takoyaki there, just the tayaki.

                                    1. re: groover808
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                                      bulavinaka RE: groover808 Apr 2, 2007 09:18 AM

                                      Thanks for the info. Takoyaki is a knotch higher in skill level for most, so I wouldn't think that Gaja would offer their patrons a shot at making them. But it would be great if they offered this on the menu.

                                      And thanks for your tips on Genki Living - they're new to me. Although their two locations are a bit of a stretch for me on an average day, I now know we have a place to stop when we're going through OC... thanks!

                                      1. re: bulavinaka
                                        groover808 RE: bulavinaka Apr 4, 2007 06:57 AM

                                        Here is the Irvine website: http://www.irvinegenki.com/
                                        If you click on menu, they have a fabulous pic of takoyaki. They even have a few Okonomiyaki dishes. I can't find the tayaki though, wonder if they don't offer it...haven't been there in a few months.

                                        Years ago they used to sell takoyaki in Life Plaza in Rowland outside in a sidewalk booth....next to Life Plaza.

                                        1. re: groover808
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                                          bulavinaka RE: groover808 Apr 4, 2007 07:32 AM

                                          Amazing place! Thanks for posting their website - Genki Living is a veritable one-stop comfort food shop for any homesick Asian. Looks like okonomiyaki and takoyaki are but a couple of items they offer... The oden and croquettes are relatively uncommon, and the number of drinks they offer is amazing. Udon and crepes are so common in Japan, but starting to gain more popularity here as well. But that paper hot pot thing is totally new to me.

                                          Thanks again for you posting - this place is a must-go when we're in or going through Orange county...

                                          1. re: bulavinaka
                                            elmomonster RE: bulavinaka Apr 4, 2007 10:41 AM

                                            I can confirm that their Takoyakis are quite good. Better than the crepes they specialize in actually.

                                            Here's some pics of the place and their food that I took:
                                            http://elmomonster.blogspot.com/2006/...

                                            1. re: elmomonster
                                              notmartha RE: elmomonster Apr 4, 2007 03:06 PM

                                              Wow, didn't know that they have okonomiyaki, and I pass by the Rowland Heights branch several times without looking as it seems like an all crepes shop from the outside.

                                              1. re: notmartha
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                                                gsmoose RE: notmartha Apr 5, 2007 04:43 PM

                                                Yup, Genki Living at Rowland Heights does indeed have okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and taiyaki... all of which I've tried and enjoy... perhaps not the best okonomiyaki and takoyaki I've ever had (considering I've only tried both at one other location, that doesn't say much), but I haven't tried fresh taiyaki elsewhere so I'm sticking w/Genki Living for now. ;)

                                                You can watch the staff make all of these products, including the crepes... fun!

                                                1. re: gsmoose
                                                  notmartha RE: gsmoose Apr 6, 2007 07:27 AM

                                                  Thanks! That's a heck of a lot closer to me than Gaja. Have to try both now and compare.

                                              2. re: elmomonster
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                                                bulavinaka RE: elmomonster Apr 4, 2007 07:08 PM

                                                Wow again - that crepe had me from the word go, and that oko is piled high with enough food to feed a small community! I'm personally not used to seeing an oko with a mountain on it - usually more like a low plateau, but I like the idea! Genki needs to come out to the Westside or at least South Bay! Until then, I guess I have no choice but to head out there!

                                      2. re: bulavinaka
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                                        bulavinaka RE: bulavinaka Apr 6, 2007 09:59 PM

                                        Sorry - I meant octopus in the takoyaki - tako means octopus in Japanese... just wanted to clarify in case the self-appointed Japanese cultural cop is ready to descend upon me... you know who you are... I don't know why I would say such a thing...

                                    2. re: bulavinaka
                                      Dommy RE: bulavinaka Apr 2, 2007 09:10 AM

                                      They do NOT... they offer Tako Okonomiyaki, but no Takoyaki. :(

                                      --Dommy!

                                      1. re: Dommy
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                                        bulavinaka RE: Dommy Apr 2, 2007 11:06 AM

                                        Hmmm... double :( :(...

                                  2. liu RE: pleasurepalate Apr 4, 2007 10:02 AM

                                    Thanks for posting! I found out that they are open for lunch and dinner. Do you think this food is too heavy for lunch?

                                    Many months ago, the Mitsuwa Market in Torrance had a special weekend Japanese pancake cooking event with several chefs from Kobe. These were the most delicious pancakes, so I am really looking forward to trying Gaja.

                                    6 Replies
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                                      bulavinaka RE: liu Apr 4, 2007 10:39 AM

                                      I couldn't tell you how much is too much there, since I haven't personally been there. If you're a petite eater, then I'd stick with the Kansai style but even these can be filling because there's literally no air in these things. Plus I don't know what the one portion includes - one or two maybe?

                                      If it were a perfect day for me in Lomita, I'd go there for lunch on the weekend, then head next door to Chantilly for a nice dessert or two, or three... and their great coffee...

                                      1. re: bulavinaka
                                        liu RE: bulavinaka Apr 4, 2007 01:01 PM

                                        Gaja AND Chantilly...nice pairing! We will do that...and thanks for the plan.

                                        Speaking of pairing, I think I "sense" another post coming on: "Pairing Eateries."
                                        Gaja and Chantilly, Somewhere on Sawtelle and then Beard Papas, etc. Maybe even THREE places would go together, such as late afternoon yogurt, dinner and then dessert??? Geography is a huge factor here, and it is always nice -- and necessary -- to be able to walk from one snack to dinner to dessert and then maybe coffee or tea or boba.

                                        1. re: liu
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                                          bulavinaka RE: liu Apr 4, 2007 07:03 PM

                                          Time is of the essence - why waste it driving from place to place when you can just stroll... Your future post on "Pairing," sounds devine - and very very practical...

                                          1. re: bulavinaka
                                            groover808 RE: bulavinaka Apr 4, 2007 07:40 PM

                                            If you do dinner make sure it's a little earlier, tried to go to Chantilly after Gaja but it was closed :( We had one of our friends pop over right before 7:30, confirmed it was open so thought it would buy us some more time to pay and finish up. Sadly, sign said shop closes at 7:30.

                                            1. re: groover808
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                                              bulavinaka RE: groover808 Apr 7, 2007 02:24 PM

                                              Sorry to hear that, but at least you were batting .500 - that ain't half-bad! I should have warned you that they'd shut down before most finish dinner at Gaja... I tried to infer it by mentioning lunch... I'll try to be more direct in the future...

                                              1. re: bulavinaka
                                                groover808 RE: bulavinaka Apr 7, 2007 09:59 PM

                                                No worries! I was bummed we went all the way out there and couldn't do both. That always means more new adventures for next time!

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                                      elainew RE: pleasurepalate Apr 4, 2007 07:30 PM

                                      Thanks for the inspiring photos. I went this weekend to try the Okonomiyaki and it was great. We were quite proud of our okonomiyaki skills as we had not trouble flipping ours over. We noticed on the menu that besides okonomiyaki, they have monja-yaki. Can anyone explain what this is? The waitress couldn't explain it well and pointed to the next table that had ordered it. It looked like a blob of goo that they were eating of the grill with tiny spatulas, but then again, this same group couldn't even cooked their own okonomiyakis (they had to brought back into the kitchen to finish cooking). So, what is monja-yaki and how do you eat it? Thanks.

                                      3 Replies
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                                        bulavinaka RE: elainew Apr 4, 2007 08:40 PM

                                        I've never experienced it, but I've seen this on, "Dochi Cooking," on UHF channel 18 (LA)on Saturday nites at 8PM. It's sort of like oko and teppan together, in that the ingredients are very similar to oko, but the action on the griddle is more like teppan. Like oko, there are no hard and fast rules, other than you need to start out with your "dry ingredients cooking on the griddle, then you form a ring with the ingredients - almost the diameter of the griddle, and then pour the monja into the middle of the ring, making sure to contain it in the ring as it is somewhat runny. As it cooks and starts to solidify, you start to work the "ring" in to the monja and end up with something resembling a frittata, but obviously the ingredients are quite different. At this point, hopefully you've been able to form some sort of shape that can then be cut using those mini-spatulas they gave you to work this whole thing together. Unlike oko but more like teppan, the monja-yaki is typically shared by everyone around the table. It's a very social thing, where alot of beer is drank, lots of jokes are passed, and more manja-yaki is cooked up to keep things rolling. In fact, you've probably guessed by now that the whole communal griddle thing has a great amount of cultural fabric to it in Japan. There are other yaki dishes that are specific to cities - even parts of cities. I'm hoping that we'll get to see more of this soon! Thanks for revealing another little gem at Gaja...

                                        1. re: elainew
                                          MeAndroo RE: elainew Apr 5, 2007 08:22 AM

                                          Monjayaki came up when I asked my friends about what food Tokyo might be famous for, since so many areas of Japan have specific foods you just HAVE TO TRY. The description I received from was something like "it's like okonomiyaki, but more runny." (Keep in mind they said it in english)

                                          1. re: MeAndroo
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                                            rameniac RE: MeAndroo Apr 30, 2007 11:26 AM

                                            hah yep that's pretty much it. okonomiyaki is considered to be from kansai/osaka, while monjayaki is from tokyo. although you can find both in either city and throughout japan. appearance-wise monja-yaki can take some getting used to, especially while it's cooking up =P.

                                        2. WildSwede RE: pleasurepalate Apr 5, 2007 12:45 PM

                                          Thanks for the great review and pics, Abby! I have a question, on the calamari appetizer, what kind of sauce was it? My mouth is watering!!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: WildSwede
                                            pleasurepalate RE: WildSwede Apr 5, 2007 01:14 PM

                                            Unfortunately, I don't know. It wasn't my appetizer, but everyone was just patient with me taking pictures of theirs. :)

                                          2. s
                                            spicychow RE: pleasurepalate Apr 7, 2007 10:48 AM

                                            thanks for the post!

                                            I lived in Japan when I was little, and my mom used to make me okonomiyaki growing up... I even remember she would say "what do you want for lunch?" knowing I would always say okonomiyaki. She made it big, with lots of seafood, and I would lather on mayo and the okonomiyaki sauce on top. It was definitely one of my favorite dishes growing up.

                                            And so funny, because I just went to Gaja for the first time two weeks ago before I saw your post, and I loved that they had it on the menu. Of course it wasn't as good as my mom's (like anything could be) but I enjoyed it a lot, and I'll definitely back there for some more. Thanks for the detailed review.

                                            btw, as for takoyaki, I can not find anything that is remotely good as the ones from street vendors in Japan... I've tried them at couple of japanese restaurants and some freshly made ones at Nijima (sp?) market on Sawtelle, and it is always too doughy or runny. I love takoyaki, so if anyone knows a good place in south bay or westside, please let me know!

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: spicychow
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                                              bulavinaka RE: spicychow Apr 7, 2007 10:56 AM

                                              I'm missing takoyaki as well - a recent poster mentioned a restaurant called Genki Living in Irvine and Rowland Heights(?) - check out there website:

                                              http://www.irvinegenki.com/

                                              I was amazed at how much this place has under one roof...

                                              1. re: bulavinaka
                                                MeAndroo RE: bulavinaka Apr 8, 2007 08:48 PM

                                                A friend of mine went to Genki Living with her family and said the Hiroshima style okonomiyaki was made on a tortilla (!!) as opposed to with batter. Her family is from Kobe and laughed it off, but I can't help but wonder what someone from Hiroshima would have thought :)

                                                She didn't mention the takoyaki, but after I had it at the Cherry Blossom Festival in LA last week, I'm looking for more.

                                                1. re: MeAndroo
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                                                  bulavinaka RE: MeAndroo Apr 8, 2007 09:10 PM

                                                  Hmmm... on a tortilla - well, I guess I would consider trying it - I'm from here. As for someone from over the Pacific trying it? I think the reaction would be head cocked, bewilderment, and... maybe reach for a beer and clear their head to make sure they weren't hallucinating... =<

                                                  The takoyaki griddle shown on the website photos looks like it can crank them out by the dozens... they just have to have a great batter with the right ingredients - hopefully no bits of tortilla... but I'm willing to try most things...

                                                  1. re: bulavinaka
                                                    MeAndroo RE: bulavinaka Apr 9, 2007 01:13 PM

                                                    I think BECAUSE it was with a tortilla, it was so weird and different that they couldn't even really equate it with okonomiyaki. Sort of like asking for a piece of apple pie and having the crust be a chocolate chip cookie...similar but fundamentally different.

                                                    That said, she didn't say it tasted bad. But it WAS different :)

                                                    1. re: MeAndroo
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                                                      ernpob RE: MeAndroo Apr 28, 2007 10:42 AM

                                                      The best takoyaki is at Izakaya Haru Ulala in Little Tokyo. They might not have it on their menu but just ask for it.
                                                      http://www.haruulala.com/

                                            2. hch_nguyen RE: pleasurepalate Apr 28, 2007 12:47 PM

                                              Is there any place on the Westside where one can get decent okonomiyaki?? A co-worker and I have been really wanting to give it a try since this post originally appeared.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: hch_nguyen
                                                Dommy RE: hch_nguyen Apr 29, 2007 11:37 PM

                                                Sadly nothing exactly like we experienced here. Even on Sawtelle, I haven't seen the premade versions availble... the CLOSEST thing that I've seen (and not tasted) is the "Omelet" at Musha in Santa Monica. P. is now an Okonomiyaki fiend and was sad not to see it on Musha's menu and then right after we paid the bill, this 'omelet appeared!! We are for sure going to have it when we get down at Musha Torrance.

                                                --Dommy!

                                                1. re: Dommy
                                                  hch_nguyen RE: Dommy Apr 30, 2007 08:09 AM

                                                  hmmm....oh well...thanks for confirming my fears. at least the omelete thing sounds somewhat promising....

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                                                    bulavinaka RE: Dommy Apr 30, 2007 10:50 PM

                                                    Dommy!, in case you folks haven't caught another post on oko, a fellow poster mentioned that Dochi no Ryori (Doch Cooking) is going to have an okonomiyaki showdown - Hiroshima vs. Osaka - this Saturday at 8PM. I'm still prehistoric on the boob tube - no cable/sat so it's channel 18 in LA on UHF. I think it's worth a watch...

                                                    1. re: bulavinaka
                                                      Mattapoisett in LA RE: bulavinaka Jun 4, 2007 12:21 PM

                                                      We have a season pass of the show and are sad it's run will end soon even though we were just turned on to it. We have a Backlog of stuff to watch but I'll make sure I watch it soon.

                                                      Take care

                                                      - P.

                                                      1. re: Mattapoisett in LA
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                                                        bulavinaka RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jun 4, 2007 08:29 PM

                                                        Doch Cooking is such a great concept for a food show... we will miss it as well... You'll find the Oko show very informative and entertaining! Happy viewing...

                                                  2. re: hch_nguyen
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                                                    elainew RE: hch_nguyen Apr 30, 2007 10:53 AM

                                                    I know that Crepes to Go on sawtelle has okonomiyaki, but I have never tried it. I've walked by and seen it on the menu. But since I'm not a big fan of even their regular crepes, I've never ordered the okonomayaki.

                                                  3. nakni RE: pleasurepalate Apr 30, 2007 02:39 AM

                                                    Haven't been there before, but I read that it's quite small. Is a reservation recommended, even for a weekend lunch? Do all the tables have griddles, or would I need to specify when making a reservation?

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: nakni
                                                      OCAnn RE: nakni Apr 30, 2007 08:36 AM

                                                      I'm not sure whether they take reservations. For a weekend lunch, I'd get there when it opens so you don't have to wait.

                                                      Yes, all tables have griddles.

                                                      1. re: OCAnn
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                                                        ristretto RE: OCAnn Apr 30, 2007 11:48 AM

                                                        They covered the griddles during my recent weekday lunch visit, probably to encourage faster turnover of customers (cooking it yourself takes more time), and the salarymen/women don't have the time for it.

                                                        1. re: ristretto
                                                          OCAnn RE: ristretto Apr 30, 2007 11:59 AM

                                                          =( Too bad about the covered cooktops.

                                                          Haven't heard "salarymen" or for that matter OL (office lady) in a LONG time!

                                                    2. c
                                                      crystaw RE: pleasurepalate May 2, 2007 10:09 PM

                                                      Would it be a good idea to make reservations for Gaja-that is if they take them?

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: crystaw
                                                        pleasurepalate RE: crystaw May 2, 2007 10:23 PM

                                                        My friend, who brought us all to Gaja, made reservations for lunch, so I think you can as well.

                                                      2. liu RE: pleasurepalate Jun 3, 2007 01:11 PM

                                                        Thanks, Hounds, for this terrific find! We enjoyed lunch there yesterday. Our server suggested that we each order the three-pancake plate which would offer us several varieties to try. While each different pancake was not hugely different in flavor or consistency, it was fun to have experienced the array of ingredients: scallion, shrimp, teriyaki chicken, squid, mochi and pork.

                                                        I loved experimenting with the different condiments on the table (seaweed, mayo, sauces), but in the end -- after having played with all kinds of mixtures -- I enjoyed the pancakes simply as they were served, with no added flavors.

                                                        We found the servers extremely friendly and anxious to please. This was, indeed, a very unique lunch!

                                                        8 Replies
                                                        1. re: liu
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                                                          bulavinaka RE: liu Jun 3, 2007 01:30 PM

                                                          Thank goodness... I hope this was somewhat redeeming after Joe's... I have yet to try Gaja... I'm guessing their oko is Osaka-style, or maybe a hybrid? I think the mayo thing is something that was more recently added into the oko experience... my mom's from Hiroshima and emigrated to LA back in the early 50s - she never had the Japanese-style mayo on her oko back in the day... I am like you and her - prefer it less adorned... you can taste the sweetness of the griddled pork and various ingredients alot better...

                                                          Did you get a chance to stop by Chantilly? Or maybe you were too full... That double-play is do-able, but a hard reach unless you have a hollow leg to stash all of that food...

                                                          1. re: bulavinaka
                                                            liu RE: bulavinaka Jun 3, 2007 01:55 PM

                                                            "...double-play..." and "...hollow leg..." -- You always make me laugh!

                                                            Chantilly...been there and enjoyed that!!!

                                                            You are quite right, bulavinaka; Chantilly and Gaja make a convenient set. We "did" Chantilly a few weeks back. It is a rather delicate and refined experience, while Gaja is all about "grub." So, I prefer not to feel like an elephant in a China shop and walk into Chantilly immediately after Gaja. It's a drastically shocking contrast!

                                                            1. re: liu
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                                                              bulavinaka RE: liu Jun 3, 2007 02:20 PM

                                                              Hi Liu, glad you made it to Chantilly and Gaja on a seperate occasions - you exude style without flashing it. Lomita is a small town that is relatively off the foodie radar for those outside of the South Bay, but has alot going for it... Gaja, Chantilly, Kotosh at Kamiyama, lots of very respectable Chinese on PCH like A-1, PCH and Regal Palace... as the comedian Jo Koy says, "un-buh-reev-a-burrrhhh!" But shall we keep Lomita our little secret?

                                                              1. re: bulavinaka
                                                                liu RE: bulavinaka Jun 3, 2007 02:49 PM

                                                                Thanks, bulavinaka, for all these other Lomita treasures. The problem is: Marukai Market and Mitsuwa, both in the South Bay general area, are like magnets if I am within 25 miles of either. So, anything "down there" is just incidentally on my way to one of these Asian markets and always gets second billing. But I will try to make one of your recs a destination on my satellite guide and not be distracted by the main market event!

                                                                Yesterday, I spent over an hour in Marukai; I was intrigued by a special display they had set up for shaving dried bonita. The fish were rock hard, and they had a machine that would shave them freshly...a delicious experience because I suspect that most of the dried bonita that we buy in the sealed packets is pretty "old" by the time we obtain it.

                                                                More to the point, one time recently when we were at Mitsuwa, they had a special road trip carnival happening inside with a team from Kobe -- just in for the weekend -- making Japanese pancakes quite similar to what we just enjoyed at Gaja.

                                                                So, if I can stay focused, it's nice to know that Lomita is worth further exploration in its own right, and I thank you for the specific recs!

                                                                1. re: liu
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                                                                  bulavinaka RE: liu Jun 3, 2007 03:03 PM

                                                                  The shaved bonita (some say bonito) is quite a different thing when it's freshly done. You are right - the packaged stuff is only a hint of what you would get by utilizing one of those shavers which is required to shave those dried fishes that are as hard as hardwood. I remember a neighbor actually using a hand planer to collect shavings from a dried bonita that his wife brought home from Japan... I am also assuming that the quaility of a whole dried bonita would be much better, as opposed to the stuff that is used on a mass scale... This is the stuff you want to sprinkle on your lovingly prepared oko, and watch it writhe and dance from the oko's ambient heat... the briney funk it gives off will truly remind you of things from the sea...

                                                                  1. re: bulavinaka
                                                                    liu RE: bulavinaka Jun 3, 2007 03:09 PM

                                                                    Oh, YES! We did watch the flaky bonito dance yesterday on our oko as the steam arose. Who knew Gaja would offer such entertainment!!!

                                                                    Good point, bulavinaka: I think "bonito" is the preferred, or perhaps bonita wears pink and bonito wears blue...

                                                                    1. re: liu
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                                                                      bulavinaka RE: liu Jun 3, 2007 10:18 PM

                                                                      Gender-conscious fishes... how flakey can they get...

                                                                      1. re: bulavinaka
                                                                        PseudoNerd RE: bulavinaka Jun 4, 2007 12:16 PM

                                                                        oh ho!

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                                                          miffy RE: pleasurepalate Jun 4, 2007 09:58 PM

                                                          Thank you for the best reviews and great choice for restaurant as always

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