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Foodie visitor from Japan?

My friend, who has lived in Tokyo all her life, is visiting. We only have 3 hours on Saturday night to go eat. Where should I take her?

She is leaning toward California Cuisine, maybe Pacific Rim, or even exceptional Japanese food. Fresh fare preferred - nothing too greasy or spicy, or mediocre but interesting local fare (i.e Pinks hot dog or Pantry type of food). Extra points for small portions with many courses, as that's how Japanese like to eat - no 2lb steaks or half a chicken. Need not be a very fancy place, but I am not ruling out pricey places either ($100/person)

I feel pressure to pick a right place, since Japan is a country full of foodies - it is a national pass time - its as if EVERYONE reads Chowhounds over there : )

I am on the Westside, near LAX.

Please, send me your recommendation! Thanks in advance...

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  1. How about wine flights/tasting menus? They can get pricey - $70-$150 - but if time is of the essence, then I think flexibility on the tab might reap great returns on a memorable culinary experience...

    Opus, Valentino, Joe's, La Cachette, and Melisse are among a generous number of restos that have decent reps for tasting menus that are often paired with wines.

    Another option might be Orris on Sawtelle. Your guest might appreciate the familiarity of some of the ingredients but at the same time intrigued by the Cal/Euro slant on many of the dishes.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bulavinaka

      Orris, I agree, small interesting dishes of exceptional quality and great service. Nice wine and sake lists too.

    2. *IFF* you can get there right when it opens for the evening, Father's Office in Santa Monica might be interesting. If you arrive later, you'll wait in line and spend half of your 3 hours waiting to get a seat. I haven't been since they started opening for lunch on weekends, so please call to verify when doors open for a Saturday night.

      They have a fantastic selection of great and obscure beers. The burger's legendary. I liked their braised pork belly dish a lot - it's like a mutated buta no kakuni. Portions are small to medium-ish, and very shareable.

      Food is excellent. Opinions vary greatly on the wait for a seat & the atmosphere, though.

      Father's Office
      1018 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403

      1 Reply
      1. re: Professor Salt

        Great suggestion! The pork belly must have been a special. I was there last night and had the burger, of course, and white anchovies. The anchovies were amazing! They had soft shell crab on the specials and it looked really good too.

      2. I lived in Japan for two years and as an American, my suggestion would first be to look at typical Japanese food first then American style. The Japanese love Italian (noodles, etc) esp. pizza. (Japanese style pizza and spaghetti isn't very good and it's rare to find a true Italian restaurant without Japanese influence in Japan. Cuban, Brazilian, African, no way will you see such. Real Indian is a good option too. Yes, the Japanese have curries but, again, with the Japanese influence. I would go real Italian for dinner then to an amercian a bakery that has really good chocolate chip cookies. Have you asked your friend?
        Alejo's - I love the bread, salad and pesto pasta w/extra garlic. On the corner of Lincoln and Washington in the strip mall where you'll find a donut shop on the corner. Park on the street behind or in the parking lot from the nearby fast food joint that is kaput. Bring your own bottle of wine and uncork there -no fee!

        5 Replies
        1. re: Kitchen Queen

          Don't have any idea where to take a Japanese foodie who doesn't want to eat something different then she has back home. Almost everything is better in Tokyo, including Italian and the many wood burning pizzerias feature pies better than you will ever see in LA. What they don't have is a Jewish Deli, a proper Italian deli like Bay Cities, Mexican food, Decent dim sum and other Chinese like in San Gabriel, BBQ, a steak house, Armenian etc.

          1. re: steamer

            I would try things our restaurants have competitive advantage in like:
            1) Pacific Rim/Fish
            2) Chinese
            3) Oysters
            4) Wine Bars

            I would stay away from beef because Japanese people like very marbalized and fatty beef.

            1. re: steamer

              Your comments were almost identical as my thoughts while reading this post and doing a "hmmm... this is a tough one." In trying to figure out what to do in trying to entertain a Japanese foodie friend within such a short time span, I immediately nixxed great Chinese, as San Gabriel Valley would eat up at least two of the three hours just in drive time on a Saturday night, and dim sum ("small portions many courses") wouldn't cut it in the evening anyway. If the OP had four hours, this might work. Most Japanese are weak-kneed when it comes to Chinese food, particularly noodles, dumpling-like things and seafood.

              Although BBQ and steakhouses are natural choices for guests from Japan, looks like the OP feels the guest doesn't prefer these things as they may be too heavy.

              Mexican food can be quite dynamic, depending on which region and particular dish one chooses, but my personal experience with guests from Japan has been luke warm - the flavors and ingredients are somewhat off the average Japanese palate map. I think if the OP had a week or two to entertain the guest, she might warm up to Mexican food after acclimating to LA.

              Great delis like Langer's or Bay Cities close early - what a drag because these would probably work and as you've mentioned, nothing like these exist for the most part in Japan - particularly the bread from each respective place, except from some artisnal bakeries over there.

              I think I'm standing pat on a place that offers tasting menus/wine flights like Opus or tapas-style menu like Orris. Given the time constraints I think these would work.

              1. re: bulavinaka

                Orris is a good rec IMO.
                In general, Japanese don't like Mexican food as evidenced by the abundance of Mexican fare served in Japan (and its awful! They refuse to use anything but Japanese rice in their arroz-sticky arroz is bad). If you do a mexican place, make sure you do it for "the cultural experience" so get some Mariachis and margaritas, a tequilla shot and make it fun.
                After a little bit of thought, why not try outdoor seating Kings Fish House. The food is ok, but I think its a good "American" experience that is not expensive and the oysters plates are not bad. You can get in and out and done in less than 3 hours, wear jeans and have a good laugh.

                1. re: I make my own pickles

                  true that japan do not have any good mexican food. almost all of my guests from japan does love good mexican when they try it. they never had a great soft taco, taquitos or burritos
                  in fact....most of the country never had a great mexican outside of southern cal imo.

          2. ORRIS on Sawtelle will be a beautiful choice...the same owner of Shiro.
            The freshest fish, the greatest attention to detail, great wine list, plenty of wines by the glass, and plenty of sakes with staff that takes pride in food and sake/wine pairing.
            Not too pricey, a nice room, a nice vibe.

            1. I would take her to Opus for a tasting menu. Please please don't take her (or anyone else for that matter) to Alejo's.

              1. My suggestion would be to take her to either Todai's or Onami's. I know it sounds Japanese but they have other choices besides sushi, sashimi, and/or seafood. What I'm suggesting is multiple selections to choose whether it be Japanese, Chinese, American, etc. I think there still is a Todai in the Marina Del Rey area near the airport but Onami's is in Torrance on Carson and Cabrillo Aves. There she gets to choose and how much she wants to eat for little over $20 a person.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Clinton

                  todai's?? are you kidding? i wouldn't bring ANY friends to todai even if i remotely liked them. are you thinking of the same thing i'm thinking of? the giant asian buffet? everytime i have japanese guests they love eating fresh fish especially oysters in summertime b/c in japan they're really hard to get. how about the lobster in santa monica? i took my dad there who lives in japan and he really liked it.

                  1. re: Clinton

                    Todai would make a Japanese person either die laughing or crying. Heck, it makes me laugh, it's such a joke.

                    Disgusting food in overly huuuge portions left out to dry up of go bad.

                  2. I always used to take my friends from Japan to eat some sort of Latin food, if only because there is a severe shortage of it in Japan. The only places I ever found Mexican were Okinawa and Odaiba, and the Odaiba stuff was inedible.

                    I'm certainly no expert on Westside food, but how about a place like El Nido or Cafe Bolivar, or even a Versailles? For something smaller, tapas might be nice and would certainly fit the small portions with many courses.

                    1. Sabor a Mexico
                      Providence for fish
                      Cobras and Matadors for Tapas
                      Rahel for veggie ethiopian.
                      Hit the salad bar/food area at a local Whole Foods
                      Quality seafood at the Redondo Pier
                      John O' Groats for an american pancake breakfast
                      Clifton's Cafeteria for LA nostalgia
                      Greek food at Pappa Chirsto's (NOT the greek feast, that wold kill her, LOTS of food)
                      Musha's in Santa Monica (althougI mean,heck, why come to LA for Japanese.)
                      Hot dog on a Stick in Santa Monica
                      Chaya in Santa Monica
                      Pann's Diner near LAX for diner food

                      1. Small portions with many courses, California cuisine? Hatfield's tasting menu sounds like a good idea.

                        1. I haven't been there for a few years, but perhaps Axe on Abbott Kinney? Very fresh, California cuisine, heavy on the vegetables, so you can avoid the fatty/non-fatty meat issue. Lots of pretty little dishes. And it sounds like it's close to your location.

                          1. If you're thinking California Cuisine, the two places to visit are Campanile and Spago. For California cuisine mashed up with a New York Italian, there's the Mozza's.

                            I'd definitely vote for AOC or Orris, as the small plates concept allow you to get a huge variety. AOC might be a Mediterranean menu but Chef Goin uses a lot of local products.

                            1. Absolutely agree with Orris

                              1. i would take your friend to opus, providence, spago, etc. for any of their fantastic tasting menu dinners.

                                1. Only 3 hours....does that include driving time? I'd stay on the westide. Orris is good as others had suggested. How about Upstairs 2 for small plates and wine tasting?