[Review] NEW Shin Sen Gumi (Monterey Park, CA)
Last month, at Shin Sen Gumi's annual Charity Summer Festival (Natsu Matsuri), it was announced that they were opening a new location in Monterey Park (San Gabriel Valley), serving Yakitori and Shabu Shabu(!). My friends and I were stunned and elated. If they could maintain the same high-quality deliciousness of their original restaurants, it would mean the first legit Japanese Yakitori house in the San Gabriel Valley (finally)!
The new Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori and Shabu Shabu Restaurant just had their Grand Opening yesterday, Tuesday, Sep. 25, 2007. We decided to swing by and try it out:
Their new location is on the corner of Atlantic Blvd. and Garvey, in the same plaza as Empress Harbor. The owners of Shin Sen Gumi spared no expense in redecorating the location. It's by far THE most elegant of the Shin Sen Gumi restaurants, featuring gorgeous Red Wood paneling, Stone Brick walls, and a romantic atmosphere. It's classy and clean, without being too off-putting. We were worried at first that it might be signaling a change to the "rural, down-to-earth" style food SSG is known for. But all those worries went out the window when the dishes arrived.
It should be noted that this is a hybrid Shin Sen Gumi: It serves Yakitori (roasted meats over a mesquite fire) and Shabu Shabu (Japanese-style Hot Pot). As a result of both distinct styles, their Menu for each style is more limited than their individual branches down south. The Yakitori menu serves about ~40% of the items on their normal full Yakitori menu, which was a little disappointing, but the items they did have were amazing!
They brought in their master Yakitori chefs, and it showed: The traditional Yakitori (Shio) (Roasted Chicken Thigh Meat with Green Onions, Salt marinade) was super moist and tender! Even better than their original branches (we were shocked). Their Cartilage, Gizzard, Beef Tongue skewers were all just as good as the originals as well! (excellent!)
They also had a small Izakaya-style menu, with some Fusion dishes and traditional dishes like their Chicken Kara-age (Fried Chicken, Japanese style). It was extremely delectable and moist! Their Tako Wasabi (Raw Octopus and Wasabi marinade) was also very well done. Really fresh, and the flavors of the wasabi and spices and octopus blended perfectly.
They brought in a great Sake Menu (not the full selection from their Fountain Valley branch, but still a good selection), and that means we finally get some real Sake in the SG Valley now. :)
They had many other dishes that we tried like the Fried Pork Feet in a Dijon Mustard & Apple sauce, which was a bit too overwhelmed by the mustard, but still tasty. Their Tuna Carpaccio was amazing! Tender, fresh, perfectly seared Tuna, that was still raw on the inside, and the blend of flavors was top-notch!
We were even personally greeted and served (at times) by "Mr. Shin Sen Gumi" himself! The Big Boss! It was exciting and an honor.
Overall, the New Shin Sen Gumi (Monterey Park) is a welcome addition, and makes a GREAT restaurant to dine at when we don't feel like driving down to the original branches. If you're in the mood for some delectable Japanese Yakitori or Japanese Shabu Shabu, in a really nice setting, but still classic "SSG" - they still shout out "Irasshaimase!!!" and cheer you on when you Toast for the first time, and "Thank You!" when you leave - look no further than Shin Sen Gumi (Monterey Park).
(Note: They said starting in November, they will start Lunch, but for now it's Dinner only.)
Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori & Shabu Shabu Restaurant
111 N. Atlantic Blvd. #248
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Dinner: 6:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
were you there at the opening? the chicken was EXCELLENT, but then again, ayumu, veteran of the torrance yakitoriya, was manning the helm. they don't have the bacon-wrapped maki items on this menu though, which might be a good thing as i'll probably be eating there all the time and that stuff would be the end off me. their motsu nabe soup is very flavorful and an exotic treat for anyone who's never had this hakata regional specialty.
i was like, with the 2nd to last table to leave (not counting the staff and owner)... it was a blast!
We went on the 2nd day of their Grand Opening. Thanks for the heads up on the motsu nabe soup (we were eyeing that but we ordered so many other items we passed on it. We'll definitely have to try it this weekend! :).
All-in-all, I'm definitely happy we have a great new restaurant in the SGV area!
the motsu nabe might take some getting used to if you're not a regular tripe/intestine eater. i certainly am not, and usually pick out the tripe in my pho. but having it in this manner at shin sen gumi was by far the most palatable, and i would order it again. mainly because the soup has such a distinctive flavor!
No, unfortunately those 3 yakitori items on their normal menu aren't served at their new location. But they make up for it with some unique (and tasty) Broth / Stew styles on the Shabu Shabu menu, and their Izakaya menu.
But there's hope: It's a new restaurant, the Big Boss was present, and there's always room to *add* more of their Yakitori menu to this new location as the weeks go on (I'm guessing they're getting a feel for what items are selling best and will expand in that direction).
(Added Pictures and More Updates on Food:)
Update to my Review of Shin Sen Gumi: I brought a friend to try it out tonight. I was curious to see how Shin Sen Gumi would hold up after its second full week in operation, and?
The New Shin Sen Gumi (Monterey Park) is still as tasty as ever!
Tonight we decided to try out a unique item on the menu (not normally found on a Shabu Shabu menu): Hakata Style Chicken Hot Pot. This was basically a large soup pot filled with Nappa Cabbage, Green Onions, Mung Bean Noodles, Tsukune (Marinated Ground Chicken Meatballs), and pieces of fresh Chicken, all combined in a House Special Chicken Broth that's been stewed at least 24 Hours(!). This turned out to be one of the tastiest Soups I've ever had! Beautifully combined with interesting herbs and a very light broth, not too salty, wonderfully done, and paired perfectly with their fresh Champon Noodles. This is definitely something we'll go back for, especially as the Winter months approach.
The traditional Shio Yakitori (Marinated Roasted Chicken with Green Onions, roasted over Mesquite Wood Coals) was still as tender and amazing as during their Grand Opening (2 weeks ago)! It's still superior to their other original branches, which is amazing. Their Nankotsu (Chicken Cartilage) skewers were fabulous as well. The Kaisou Salad (Fresh Mixed Green Salad with Japanese Seaweed and a Sesame Dressing) was very fresh and a perfect complement to the meat dishes.
With their Izakaya / Fusion Dishes (Japanese Tapas-like small plates), Yakitori menu (Roasted Meats on Skewers over Mesquite Coals), and their Shabu Shabu menu (with unique specialty items like the Hakata Chicken Soup, and Motsu Soups), combined with Warm, Effervescent Service ("Osu!!!"), Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori and Shabu Shabu in Monterey Park, CA, is turning out to be a real winner, and fabulous addition to the San Gabriel Valley!
(Pictures added below. Note: The one picture is of Musashimaru, the Yokozuna (Grand Sumo Champion) who made an appearance at Shin Sen Gumi's Annual Charity Summer Festival this year. :)
Ok, went over, on last minute impulse, to Monterey Park on Friday (the Pup was unavailable) and back to the Gardena yakitori location, with Pup in tow, last night, as an "A-B" test, or as close as I could get to it.
These, at least for the moment, are very different dining experiences. MP is clearly aiming for a more "upscale" market; the decor is more elaborate, the "show" is more pronounced, and they not only claim to have a wine list, they also quote ($20: not insubstantial) corkage on their menu.
Gardena clearly has a large pool of regulars (they open at 6 on Sundays; by 6:45, the place was full), and is clearly playing to what they regard as the strengths for their regulars. The GR restaurant regulars know what they want, know the staff, apparently know each other. My sense is that Gardena is much closer to the local yakitori place in Japan where the locals go to hoist a few beers, a sake, or a shochu, (after work, or when "hanging with the guys") with what is probably the most refined "bar food" on the planet; the MP location is trying to be much more of a "night out" occasion location.
Me, I prefer the olive-oil vinegareette on the tuna carpaccio at MP to the tuna sashmi which came with the (not mentioned on the menu) addition of what I believe is Japanese yam (the stuff that the Pup descibes as "kinda like snot, texture-wise, but in a GOOD way. . . ) but I don't know if the regulars see it that way. At least it wasn't natto. . .
For the actual chicken (that's REALLY what it's about, isn't it) I'd give the decision on points to Gardena, though it's close. Wifey says that MP gets it on the strength of their tsukune meatballs. (If given the opportunity, she'd order nothing but tsukune in any yakitori, ever...)
MP says they're expanding their menu, if "the boss" says OK. I'm waiting to see what develops.
Thanks for the same night(!) comparison between both branches. :) I usually go to the Fountain Valley Shin Sen Gumi (Robata Yakitori) since it's more convenient for most of my friends, and go to the Gardena branch probably twice a year.
Yah, you hit the nail on the head with what the Gardena (and Fountain Valley) branches are like: They are definitely more "rustic" and "blue collar" in a sense, and my friends from Tokyo enjoy them for that (they said it reminds them of some places back home).
The Monterey Park one as I noticed as well, is definitely the nicest (most upscale) of the branches they have, but overall, it was still in the "spirit" of the Shin Sen Gumi group (the food and greetings, etc.).
And for me (living in the SGV), it's a godsend that the new Shin Sen Gumi is in Monterey Park (saves me some gas if I get a hankering for some authentic Japanese Yakitori or Shabu Shabu). :)
Thanks for the heads up on the expanding menu; I hope they add on to the Yakitori Menu (and hope it's not Natto :p).
for what it's worth, the restaurant that ssg monterey park took the place of was already a swank, decked out shabu restaurant. so i actually don't think they had to spend too much to pimp out the place... musashimural notwithstanding. i have a feeling that if they had decided to go all out, they would very well have thrown up a lot of wooden walls and greased the place up a bit!
Sorry, I haven't, but I've seen their Sake List, and they offer some winners, for sure. (Suigei, cold, is one of their best sakes offered there). I hope they add a few more choices from their Fountain Valley branch; once they do, they'll have the most formidable Sake Menu in the SGV.
NO argument; though I'm a plebian, and I like me some o' that cloudy chunky nigori sake (here sticks hand in shirt, scratches beard and otherwise does best uncouth "Toshiro-Mifune-in-Yojimbo-by-way-of-John- Belushi" samurai bit) , the wife always wants some Otokoyama.
I'm more interested in seeing, however, what kind of wine pairings they're thinking of. . .
Fantastic news! This makes me very very happy, i'll make sure to have dinner there when i'm down visiting family in LA. Thanks for the posting, and the great pictures!
We checked out it out last night. My boyfriend's been very excited about going, as SSG's Hakata Ramen is our favorite in SGV, and he'd been to the Gardena location for yakitori before.
The space is pretty impressive considering it's in the now-aging Empress Harbor plaza, and the service was impeccable. But I think because the Chowhounders talked it up so much, and the bf had high expectations, the food itself fell short for me. The shabu shabu was delicious (I've never seen a more beautiful marbling in beef) but perhaps not worth $24.95? Most of our chicken and beef yakitori was chewy and not that flavorful, except for the beef tongue, which was tender and succulent but almost Lilliputian, with four pieces smaller than a quarter each. Maybe it is more well suited for a traditional Japanese palate. I'm happy we tried it, but I think we'll stick to the ramen house for that Shin Sen Gumi experience.
Although this thread is somewhat old, it is the newest on Shin Sen Gumi in Monterey Park. Having run out of new places in Monterey Park/Alhambra/San Gabriel to try, we ended up at the MP branch of Shin Sen Gumi yesterday. The best thing I can say is it was not a lot of food, unlike the Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants.
We went for the Yakitori skewers and stuck to that rather than try their lunch special Shabu Shabu, all of which were fairly pricey. We had 10 skewers priced around $2.50 each, edamame, and bowls of miso soup.
The skewers were all competently done, but to my personal taste, nothing that would draw me back. The chicken thigh with green onions in sauce style was probably the best tasting, and undoubtedly because of the slightly sweet sauce. The chicken thigh salt style was not as notable. I was expecting some kind of grill flavor from their famous "Bincho-tan charcoal wood", but nothing came through that I could not make on my home grill. The chicken gizzard was so-so, probably the chewy texture is not to my taste. The cartilage was a bit little for the price they charged. The meatball had a slight off flavor, and amongst the beef and pork skewers, I think we got flap-meat and tongue, which were OK, but again nothing to pull me back in.
I am wondering whether the experience has to be in context - perhaps of a great Yakitori meal in Tokyo or somewhere else in Japan, missing that here in SoCal, and then suddenly finding a place that perhaps evokes those memories. I see it in myself missing some of the street foods of my native birth country India. Memories and context can make something rare a special meal when in a different place. Or could it be that my taste buds are just not attuned to the nuances of Yakitori dining? Everytime I go to Japan, we end up going to Tsukiji market for high grade drinking and sushi, though last time it was in Roppongi hills.
Thanks for the report. I haven't been back to the Monterey Park branch of Shin Sen Gumi in about 4 months or so? So I'm not sure what's going on. I heard reliable reports from my tomodachi that the Yakitori Master that they brought on during the Grand Opening period wasn't there the night they went about a few months ago (and this was on a Saturday night, usually when their best staff should be working). They also mentioned that all the Grand Opening staff we saw weren't there either. But to be fair, the Grand Opening staff was comprised of some of the better staff from their Fountain Valley and Gardena branches (maybe just to make sure things went well and to train the newbies?).
I'll have to check it out again and report back. Especially now with Yakitori Bincho dominating So Cal. :) (Mmmm... I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. (^_~))