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Okonomiyaki at Gaja (review+pics)

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. 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

      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. 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. 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

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

          1. re: OCAnn

            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

              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. 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!

            1. 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!