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Sep 6, 2008 12:45 PM

Japanese Lunch Party in the South Bay For Mom's 80th B-day

Mom is turning 80 in October. We've been heeing and hawing over where to celebrate... She is relatively narrow-minded in her takes on food. Japanese, Chinese, maybe some Vietnamese. Outside of that, it's a huge gamble, and even within those cuisines, she can get cantankerous if the parking is tough, if the menu prices are high (to her, which means anything beyond free can be too high!), or if the place seems too high-end or too far from their home.

Westminster area is out, as is the San Gabriel Valley - she doesn't like to go that far from the Westside. And speaking of the Westside, we can't think of a place in the Westside that does good renditions of the food she likes and that will be able to accommodate a group of 25-30 guests. This leads me to think that the South Bay (within her geographic radius tolerance threshold) would fit. We think Sea Empress in Gardena would work for her (not our choice but it's about her, not us), but were wondering if there might be Japanese restaurants that would fit the bill as well? We only are versed in the small relatively informal places in the South Bay - Kotohira, Yuzu, Eboshi, Gaja, etc., none of these are suitable for this purpose. Places like Musha are out - she doesn't get the food there "Cheese? Mayo?" - generational gap and too loud for her.

- Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese - the more traditional, the better
- Lunch "party" on the weekend
- South Bay, or?
- Decent atmosphere - doesn't have to be great, but clean
- Accommodates a party of 25-30, mostly seniors
- Either set/arranged menu or menu listing no prices

Thanks so much!

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  1. With the understanding that I have not been, what about Sashi Sushi + Sake in Manhattan Beach? While it would be upscale in terms of look maybe too trendoid? It might be worth looking into.

    Add: Did you see the review by Exilekiss of I-Naba in Torrance? Looks pretty interesting:

    1 Reply
    1. re: Servorg

      I think you're right about the trendoid factor at Sashi. I found their website and while the frontage is nice, the interior view is immediately that of a back-lit bar with Pink light! I think it works for the young to mids Beach Cities crowds in the South Bay, but she's a 180 of that...

      Thanks about the mention of Exilekiss's review of I-Naba. I also read over his other excellent review of Komatsu. Those two are on our list for now. We need to find out if either place can accommodate our group's size. I think the general Torrance/Gardena area tends to be more traditional - the better for her temperament, or in this case, TEMPURA-ment... :)

    2. Sanuki no Sato in Gardena may work for you. They don't have the best Japanese food, but they have a variety and a banquet room.

      2 Replies
      1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

        The first thing I pictured in my mind was Sanuki no Sato's banquet room as well. They have good food & have set lunches....

        1. re: OCAnn

          Thanks for this tip - we will look into it soon. As much of a regular stop this place seems to be, we've never eaten here before. We found out that they do have a banquet room that holds up to 30 people. To reserve the room for lunch, it's free, and a $20 deposit secures it for dinner.

      2. Sea Empress dim sum luncheon came to my mind too and would be perfect for seniors. Also the parking is very manageable.

        1 Reply
        1. re: monku

          I think most in the South Bay and even the Westside are familiar with Sea Empress - easy to find, easy parking, food suits the tastes of most JAs, and so many in the community have held banquets here that the familiarity factor sets most at ease...

        2. So far we've visited and tried I-Naba and Sanuki no Sato, and dropped by Komatsu. All say that they can accommodate us - I-Naba for dinner only; Sanuki no Sato and Komatsu for lunch or dinner.

          I-Naba is very stylized. The dining area, the service, the level of ingredients, preparation, plating and serving is very good to excellent. My only gripe about the food experience is that while I ordered their kaiseki, I felt a little rushed as they various dishes came out too fast. In kaiseki, one typically expects at minimum to savor every thing about each dish or set of dishes at a smooth unrushed pace. I wasn't able to finish and enjoy each course before the next were brought out. At the same time, the pricing was right in line with the experience - $50 - this would be a laughingly low budget in Japan, where that amount probably wouldn't get me through the first few courses at a true kaiseki experience.

          While we truly enjoyed our meal, we feel the space may not be suitable for our needs of about 30 guests. We will keep I-Naba on the list, but are still looking...

          We stopped by Komatsu after our meal at I-Naba. While we have heard great things about Komatsu, the place was relatively quiet for a Saturday night. We also found the interior to be in need of an upgrade - the private rooms seemed fine though, none of which were big enough for our needs. The thing I keep forgetting about Japanese restaurants in Torrance and Gardena is that most are run by Japanese and patronized by Japanese. As my conversational Japanese has seriously lapsed from decades of erosion and nonuse, I had a hard time communicating with the waitresses in extracting details for our needs. Given our impression of the place - I am sure the food is great - the sparse parking and the perceived level of service, we will probably pass on Komatsu in this particular case, but plan on returning for what I expect to be a very good meal...

          Sanuki no Sato in Gardena seems to be halfway between I-Naba and Komatsu. The place, while much more informal relative to I-Naba, is far more stylized in a traditional Japanese sense than Komatsu. The quality, preparation and presentation of the dishes is not as focused as I-Naba but I think more than adequate for our needs for now. Also, Sanuki no Sato is much larger than both I-Naba and Komatsu - this is a big plus for our immediate concerns, as they do have a small private room that can seat around 30 people. Reserving the room for a lunch party is free, while a $20 fee is required for a dinner party - more than reasonable to us. Parking is ample, and the menu items should make most of the guests happy in terms of quality and serving size.

          We're still on the hunt, and will probably give Sea Empress a needed update visit as we haven't been here in a few years. In the mean time, thank you for the recs and keep them coming!

          4 Replies
          1. re: bulavinaka

            After a few visits to some restaurants in the South Bay area in searching of a place to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday, and a little hand-wringing as we kept our fingers crossed that we chose the right place for her, everything went off without a hitch, mom was surprised and happy, which made us happy.

            As I signed on to Chowhound to write up our experience yesterday, I came across another thread where the OP was inquiring about a place near the airport area - preferably ethnich - that could accommodate a party of 35.

            Since we were a party of 30, I thought I'd chime in on that post about our very recent experience. I've just copied the text from that post and transposed it here.

            >>We explored our options at I-Naba on Hawthorne in Torrance, Sanuki no Sato on Western in Gardena, and also Sea Impress on Redondo Beach Blvd which is also in Gardena. All three locations could do a party of thirty. All three could do multi-course meals given a reasonable price range - $35 would probably be stretching it at I-Naba ($40-50 more reasonable here), probably a can-do at Sanuki no Sato, and definitely will-do at Sea Empress. We really liked I-naba, but squeezing 30 into their main dining area seemed a bit tight - 35 would stretch the room's seams. Sanuki no Sato was a slight compromise on the food but had a broader menu - still, the private room that they had would fit 30 max. Sea Empress is used to having wedding banquets and other occasions of all sizes - probably up to 200 if I had to guess.

            Our ultimate choice? Sea Empress. We found the space to be more than accommodating, the food (Cantonese) to be very good (no bantering about them vs. SGV choices please!), and the price ranges to be broad enough to fit most budgets. Family dinners for 10 start at $188, and the eight dinner/banquet options progressively increase to $438 per table of 10. All of these family/banquet dinners have 10 courses. We chose the "Banquet Menu," at $328 per 10 guests, and substituting the shark's fin in the sharks' fin soup w/ crab meat with shrimp and scallops (for personal reasons). We found all of the courses to be very good to excellent with the exception of the soup, which we considered to be just average. Here's a list of the ten courses:

            Barbequed platter - char siu, chicken braised in soy sauce, pork and beef cold cuts, jellyfish.

            Sauteed prawns w/ honey glazed walnuts (huge prawns, very delicious if you like this dish


            Twin style pan fried scallops (huge scallops both battered/fried and sauteed w/ asparagus

            Shark's fin soup w/ crab (again - we had them sub the shark's fin w/ scallops and shrimp - was just average)

            Sliced abalone w/ mustard greens (abalone was generous, very tender, and the mustard greens were some of the best I've had - tender, sweet, with just a tinge of pungency)

            Golden fried crispy chicken (surprisingly good - very crisp on the outside, still very juicy and tender on the inside, a little garlicky, served w/ lemon, shrimp chips, that li hing moi type of salt on the side)

            Peking duck ( this was actually two courses counting as one - one with the crispy skin/breast meat served w/ the steamed buns, hoisin and scallions, and the other was the rest of the duck served separately after another course)

            Steamed fresh fish (huge Rock Cod - probably 5-pound fish)

            Fried rice (not greasy at all - great with la cha)

            Steamed bun w/ lotus seeds

            Mango Pudding

            The meal was not mind-blowing but the food was prepared well, the freshness and quality of the ingredients were definitely well above average, the quantity of food was actually too much for us, the service was far above-average for a Chinese restaurant, and the room was clean. Tax and tip will be added in. My sister is a vegan, so she ordered straight off of their regular menu - I think she ordered three dishes (again, tons of leftovers for her as well). The total came to $1,306, including tax, tip, drinks (I think 10-15 beers/wine from the bar), and my sister's orders from the regular menu. No charge for cake service. Sea Empress has a full bar, does have a lot of live seafood tanks, and only needs one day advanced notice. Contact is David Lo, 310-538-6868.

            Mapquest indicates a 15-minute drive and 9.64 miles from Four Points on Century to Sea Empress. We made it in just over 15 minutes from the Westside through mid-day Saturday-lite traffic on the 405.

            If I-Naba had a bigger dining area to accommodate our group, they would have been a slam-dunk. Their focus on quality and presentation is impressive, especially given the price where one typically pays a higher premium for Japanese food. However, in our case, it worked out well just the same. My mother enjoys Chinese as well as Japanese equally.<<

            Thanks to all who responded, and if you're in a similar situation, Sea Empress is a cinch. They do parties of all sizes, so our group of 30 was a piece of cake for them. I can think of only a couple of minor issues. The pacing was a little faster than I'd hoped for, but this might have been do to the fact that most of the guests were seniors - they don't eat as fast or as much as us younger folks. Also, they allotted only one tea pot per table of ten. The tea went fast so we were constantly in need of more tea. In the future, we will request two teapots per table. Other than that, Sea Empress made life very easy for us...

            1. re: bulavinaka

              Glad to hear that your mom's birthday bash went nicely!

              1. re: OCAnn

                Thanks, OCAnn. She was truly surprised - had the paddles ready in case she lost it... :) It's been a good month for her circle of friends - one friend hit the big 88 - yone no iwai! Basically almost the same group of friends got together, which is good because they really don't see each other nearly as much now that they are all in their 70s - 80s, and some have moved away over the years.

                I was actually pretty impressed with Sea Empress. I used to go in the past up until the mid 90s when we had gone for a banquet that was sub-par, with food either undercooked, over-seasoned, or just not hitting the mark. I was expecting just the opposite as the banquet was for a bunch of Singaporean expats - some of the pickiest and most critical eaters in the universe. I wrote off Sea Empress after that. But a few of our South Bay friends swore that they were pretty darned good and that they had expanded their menu with a more serious focus on seafood (Lots of live tanks), so we decided to give them another try - in this case for the birthday gig. We walked in cold on an early friday evening, ordered various dishes from different parts of the menu, and all were pretty much on the mark - definitely acceptable by my mom's standards.

                What also encouraged us about Sea Empress was that one of my mother's friends told us she has been going to Sea Empress about twice a week for as long as she can remember, and also gave the place a thumbs-up. Given its location, size, food, and prices, Sea Empress is definitely worthy of another visit...

              2. re: bulavinaka

                Hi bulavinaka,

                Nice review and report back! :) I'm glad to hear that the Birthday party went well.