JAPANESE IN THE SOUTH BAY
My best friend lived and taught in Japan for 12 years. He has been teaching at Clemson for five. He will be in Los Angeles for a week the first of October. I am taking the week off.
He is dying to try the many varieties of Japanese food, regional, style, and specialized such as the single dish restaurants.
Hounds, I would welcome any suggestion and the reason for it. We have six days of two meals a day if necessary. He particularly likes the food of Nara, and the more rustic food of small towns and the Japanese Alps.
1000 thanks for your help.
If there was one source that I would consider to be a great starting point for filtering out the better Japanese food in LA/OC from the also-rans, I'd go to the blogsite of one of our more prolific Chowhounds, exilekiss. His taste is discerning, the write-ups are detailed yet easy to read, has lots of accompanying photos, and rates places on a 1 - 10 scale. His knowledge is broad and deep, and IMHO very unbiased. The varieties and levels of cuisines covered are broad, yet you'll find a strong focus (for now) on a lot of the Japanese eateries around SoCal. Another point that your friend might use as a point of reference is the blog's visits to eateries in Japan. I don't recall Nara being part of his itinerary but the places visited in Japan were chosen with a fair amount of discretion. I personally feel he owes me the debt that I am currently in (weight gain and $$) because of all the places that I've tried or will be trying based on his excellent reviews!
Sorry to pimp you, exilekiss - it's your fault for being such a standout hound...
One place that I recently tried from exilekiss's writeups is I-Naba in Torrance. The do the basics well. Tempura, sushi, sashimi, soba, etc. I didn't notice any particular reference to regional cuisine but I think their strength lies more in the general overall quality and style. The level of quality in terms of ingredients, plating, presentation, etc. was at the higher end of Japanese places one finds in SoCal - I'd say probably in the upper 30%. Having a separate sushi bar is no big deal in SoCal, but they also have a dedicated tempura bar as well - this is relatively unique. On a scale from 1 -10, I'd rate the tempura an 8. They do the standards but can also do less-common things with uni, ahi, etc. But probably the one standout dish for me personally was the zaru soba - this rated a 9.5 to me. I would have given it a 10 had come out on a bed of pine needles and a block of ice! The soba is sourced from one of I-Naba's sister restaurants, Ichimian. This place might fall under the category of more basic food that is done exceptionally well.
Another hound that you'd probably want to reference is Rameniac. Although more aloof on this site (I think he parties a lot), he has his own excellent blogsite that for the most part targets the world of (think of his blog name) ramen. He has a lot of LA ramen joint reviews but with a broad worldwide baseline for perspective (like exilekiss). His site's rating scale is more complex but equally helpful in 'boiling' down the more etheral aspects of the ramen experience. His reputation is such that he has been a guest on shows like, "Good Food with Evan Kleinman," on KCRW.
Rameniac, I don't know how you work, party, and blog so well all at the same time, but my hat is off to you...
Probably the easiest, most accessible ramen experience that rates very high on most eaters' scales is Santouka. Located in food courts that are normally attached to Mitsuwa stores, their reputation is excellent. Your friend should be familiar with Santouka, as they are Japan-based chain that has branched out overseas and is ready to dominate the world ramen scene (or at least make one). Ramen is very basic - broth, noodles, and condiments - Santouka does all three exceptionally well. The shio-based broth is unctuous and deep, the noodles are always perfectly al dente, and the slices of pork practically melt in your mouth. For food court food, I'd rate it a 10. Put it in an artisan ceramic bowl and eat it off of a hinoki cypress counter and it would still rate a 10.
For handmade soba that is truly incredible, I suggest Ichiman in Rolling Hills shopping center or on Cravens in Torrance.
2537 Pacific Coast Hwy
Torrance, CA 90505
He will also like the cream puffs (both vanilla and black sesame) at Chantilly in Lomita (Lomita/Pennsylvania).
2383 Lomita Blvd
Lomita, CA 90717
Two more izakaya in addition to Musha are Izakaya Kan Yuzen on PCH in the same strip as Pei Wei and Ikko on Hawthorne.
2755A Pacific Coast Hwy
Torrance, CA 90505
21008 Hawthorne Blvd
Torrance, CA 90503
For handmade udon, then there is only Kotohira on Western/Redondo (?).
1747 W Redondo Beach Blvd
Gardena, CA 90247
Shinsengumi on Western is great for yakitori.
These are the best of what I know.
You can't go wrong here. I promise!
Please report back.
The Japanophile in him might also like the new, freakish, "Maid Cafe" Royal T on Washington in Culver City. Good anthropological investigation. Bring your Otaku spray.
There are also several Japanese gardens to check out around town. In my mind, the most interesting one is the garden built at the Tillman Water Reclamation plant in Van Nuys. More here: www.thejapanesegarden.com
Another option is the Huntington Gardens too.
LACMA is having a major Japanese art show right now too.
LA is chock full of stuff for the Japan lover!
Great list, SAM... Just as an aside, the Huntington's Japanese garden might still be closed. I know they had to drain the pond for repair about a week ago and closed off the garden for that reason. However, the Chinese garden is in full swing, and aside for the foundation plantings still needing years to mature, the hardscape is by far the most exceptional examples of classic Chinese landscaping to be found outside of Asia.
I don't know if the OP's friend is interested in excellent versions of Japanese fusion cuisine, but like many, I think Orris on Sawtelle in West LA is well worth a visit for just about anyone who appreciates great food in general...