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Sep 29, 2008 05:24 AM

First REVIEW [w/pics]: ROBATA-YA on Sawtelle (long)

Hi all,

It's not every day that I get to attend a new restaurant's grand opening. But then again, when one eats on Sawtelle as much as I do, there's a good chance you wander into one of these events by chance every now and then. Lucky for me Sunday night...

Robata-Ya is brought to you by Chef Makoto "Mako" Tanaka (yes, the head chef at Mako in Beverly Hills). He was indeed on hand for its maiden voyage. He was very cordial, walking around the room and the kitchen to make everything was running smoothly. Mako-san chatted with us briefly. It seems he's also putting the final touches on another Hawaiian-inspired place in Beverly Hills called Luau - what a busy guy! I noticed Chef Hideo Yamashiro (of Shiro and Orris fame) and his party, dining next to us.

LOCATION: Robata-Ya occupies an auspicious location on Sawtelle Boulevard, in the same complex housing Mizu 212, Orris, and Chabuya. Specifically, the restaurant inhabits the space formerly known as Yuzando (which served decent sushi; it just never took off the ground). Parking is available on the street (usual meter rules apply) or in the lot behind the complex.

DECOR: Quite fitting for a robata establishment - The robata bar figures prominently in the room (as it should), along with an iced "fresh seafood of the day" display which reminds me a bit of the display at Urasawa. Robata-Ya features clean lines, large roof-mounted vents, a handsome sake display on the wall, semi-dimmed lamps, and a matching house-ish soundtrack for background. The decor enhanced our experience. There's also a nice front patio area for either dining or waiting for a table (which is very likely in the near future). Promising.

SERVICE: Very enthusiastic. Everyone on the staff is interested in making sure you have a nice meal. First night gaffs (running out of gingko nuts, one or two mis-delivered dishes, for example) are expected, and easily forgiven. There was no shortage of personnel roaming about, so it's easy to hail a server for refills on drinks, take additional orders, etc. Excellent service, for a first night.

DRINKS: Interesting sake and shochu selections, and 3 wines (sold by the glass only). Usual Japanese beers are also offered, along with a "Special Micro brew" (I didn't get to try it - yet). We enjoyed the Star Rabbit Raspberry sparkling sake, only because Mrs. J.L. felt like having a "foo-foo beverage" that night.

...and now, onto the FOOD!

The menu at Robata-Ya is divided into 2 pages:
Page 1 features Sashimi, Salads, Cold Plates, Hot Plates, Soups, Rice & Noodle Dishes.
Page 2 encompasses the Robata bar fare, as well as drinks and desserts.

Mrs J.L. & I started with two of the "cold plates". First, an excellent, refreshing suno-mono. Razor thin slices of cucumber. This was followed by a tasty ohitashi (boiled spinach with enoki & shiitake mushrooms), [pictured below]. A great start.

Robata time! I ordered some chicken thigh [pictured below], and it was executed deftly. The sauce was just right and didn't "drown" the meat. I was pleased to find out that their jidori chicken purveyor also supplies many other top local restaurants. In general, I found the chicken to taste quite good at Robata-Ya. The kushikatsu (deep-fried) U.S. kobe meatball was perfectly seasoned. The robata potato with black caviar [pictured below] came with a nice onion white sauce and a generous caviar garnish. Yum.

The robata bar shishito peppers, eggplant, shisyamo (smelt), and chicken meatball were all "up to snuff".

As for the "hot plates": The black truffle chawan mushi was flavorful, redolent of the large truffle slices on top. The highlight for me, however, was the gyu-nikomi (braised beef stew) - what a nice hearty dish for a cool evening! The motsuni (braised pork stomach with miso & mountain root) is a dish I haven't been able to find elsewhere in L.A.

Stuffed at this point, but always with room for dessert, Mrs. J.L. & I shared a very good coconut cheesecake. Hot green tea capped off a lovely grand opening.

BOTTOM LINE: Restaurant grand openings are tough to pull off smoothly, but the experience of Mako-san clearly shows in this outing. Sawtelle is no stranger to good food. With FuRaiBo and Nanbankan both in the same 'hood, Robata-Ya may have some friendly but stiff competition.

We'll be back soon - with friends! I still need to try that Special Micro brew....

2004 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

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  1. Hi J.L.,

    Great review! :) I was thinking about going to the Grand Opening on Sunday, but have run into too many Opening's problems recently. Thanks for the early report.

    It sounds like it has potential. If I may ask, how much did it cost that evening? (just a rough estimate is fine.) I'm curious how the prices compare to the other long-time favs in L.A.

    1 Reply
    1. re: exilekiss

      About $50pp for our trip. But I suspect they shaved a bit off once I broke out the camera.

    2. great review. in the same train of thought as exilekiss, i'm also curious what the pricing is at mako's new joint. i'm excited as it is walking distance from my house. woohoo!

      1. Hi, J.L. Thanks for your terrific report!
        We stopped by on Saturday around 5:00 as they were scurrying about; we thought that they had already opened their doors...but not until Sunday.
        With your report in mind, we are anxious to return!

        3 Replies
        1. re: liu

          J L,
          we sat for 2.5 hours on opening nite (6:30 onwards) at the robata-counter and I did not see anyone else at the bar taking photos.

          If you enjoyed the braised beef, you should definitely give the fried braised Berkshire pork a try. Lightly dusted pork belly, previously braised with a hint of five spice/dashi, etc. It was brilliant and instantly made top 10 things I've tasted this year.

          Pricing is nebulous as our ticket came out completely snafu'd. Each robata skewer is $2-3, containing 3-4 pieces (as per usual). The truffled chawan was the most expensive item at $9, while the Dover Sole, etc. robata seafood specials were $16/peace. That said, with the quality of the ingredients being used and the natural bincho charcoal, the yakitori pricing is on par with Kokkekoko and Yakitoriya.

          While the kushi items we sampled were fun and the robata handler was great to watch, I find the strength of this joint lays in the home-style (and some NOT-so-home-style) items proffered under the hot menu. The sake steamed clam were quite nice and all of the "apps" came, on time, well plated and easy identifiable.

          We will be back, but will bypass the robata counter and the robata content. The chawa mushi alone is far superior to anything else offered across the street at Hayama.

            1. re: TonyC

              We stopped in last night and I dug up this thread to report back. I'm in full agreement with TonyC that the pork belly is easily one of the top ten best things I've eaten this year. Oh. my. god. I cannot stop thinking about it today. We also got the delicious, garlicky clams and I wished at the end of dinner that we had ordered more dishes from that section of the menu. Of the robata items, the gizzards, chicken skin and chicken meatball were all very good. The bacon wrapped tomatoes were also good, but the kobe skirt and foie gras skewers were massively disappointing. All of the creaminess of foie, but none of the livery funk. I had to order the ankimo (monkfish liver) to make up for it. This is a cold preparation and while I prefer the seared versions at Zo and Echigo (that one is my favorite), it was still great. Also got the cod roe onigiri, which I liked. They comped us a nice slice of chocolate cake with mochi balls for dessert. But really, I'll be back again sooner rather than later for that pork belly.