REVIEW w/ pics: Dinner at Izayoi
Having experienced eating tapas-style in the past, my first foray into izakaya dining was at Izayoi in Little Tokyo. For those of you who didn't know, the name "izakaya" is a compound word consisting of "i " (to remain) and "sakaya" (sake shop), showing that izakaya originates from sake shops where a night out consisted of dining on bar food in between bouts of sake and beer, very similar to the concept of eating tapas paired with wines. Since I'm not actually much of a drinker, it was all about the food and for our meal, we sampled 15 different dishes, from salads all the way to dessert. Being a first-timer, Izayoi has definitely set a pretty high standard for future izakaya outings because except for 2 or 3 items that were just so-so, everything I had was extremely tasty.
First to arrive was the Cooked Broccoli Served Chilled with Spicy Cod Roe Dressing. This dish was pretty straightforward but I really enjoyed how the sweet and tangy onions along with the slight salty-heat of the dressing added great flavors to a vegetable that a lot of restaurants normally cook to an unappetizing mushy mess. Along with the broccoli came the Mustard Greens and Fried Bean Curd Tossed with Sesame Dressing, which was fresh and even re-freshing. Both were great starters for the meal to come.
A couple of dishes later, the Homemade Tofu with Ground Sesame Paste landed on our table. At first, it didn't look very appetizing. I kept thinking about camouflage colors every time I looked at it. After a few bites, I did end up appreciating how the fairly creamy tofu absorbed both the nuttiness and a tinge of bitterness from the sesame sauce for a duet of flavors that somehow worked well together. The Steamed Clams with Sake Broth also hit the spot. Though not a hearty soup, it's a bowl of goodness, tasty and light, that would be great to have on a chilly evening when you're not in the mood for a heavy meal.
Something that else that stood out for me was the egg custard presented in a tea cup with a little wooden spoon. It was a perfect complement to a meal with ts fair share of grilled and deep fried items. Both creamy and silky, it helped give our taste buds a rest in between courses and in a way, was a great palate cleanser as well.
Other delicious offerings from Izayoi were the Garlic Sauteed Scallops and Mushrooms, though a tad oily, still packed a lot garlicky punch while the Miso Eggplant was on the other end of the flavor spectrum because of the delicate sweetness of its miso glaze. Overall, most of the dishes we sampled were quite stellar, but there were those 2, even 3 items that did disappoint.
First, there were the tempura squid legs. The tempura wasn't light or crispy. In fact, I found it to be a bit heavy. What I also found unappealing is that when trying to take a bite out of the squid legs, the whole thing literally came out of the tempura. I felt like a cat in front of an aquarium looking perfectly innocent while a part of a fish was hanging out of its mouth. Get the picture? The whole squid leg section was just too big to have been fried because there was certainly no way anyone could eaten the whole thing in one bite. Second and third actually because both the Miso Duck and Ponzu Grilled Chicken had the same problem. Both meats were a little too over cooked and as a result, a little chewy.
In the end, to have only 3 out of 15 items not quite come up to par, definitively speaks well of Izayoi. People have told me that izakaya food actually tastes better with sake and/or beer, but in my book, Izayoi's food really doesn't need any further enhancement. Their menu can definitely stand on its own merit.
To see pics, go to:
132 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Izayoi is my favorite izakaya so far! Regarding tempura: I had the best tempura ever in life there. Fresh just out of the hot oil, crisp, light, clean, perfect. My friend and I looked at each other and said, yes, this is so it--and then, yes, we lucked out with a fresh batch of oil, and it may not be like this again next time. :)