The Savory Japanese Pancake - Gaja Moc, the Okonomiyaki Specialist! [Review] w/ Pics!
(Formatted with All Pictures here:
It's sometimes easy to take a restaurant for granted, especially those that you've been back to time and again over the years. These oft-visited eateries become so familiar and second nature that it's only when you haven't been back in a while (or when you take friends who've never been there before) that you start to realize just how much you enjoy that particular establishment. Gaja Moc, one of L.A.'s rare Okonomiyaki Specialists, is one such place.
Thinking back on the multiple visits to Gaja over the last 6 years (they've been in business for 7 years now), I feel lucky to have been introduced to an Okonomiyaki (and Monja) Specialist so long ago (and that I've been able to enjoy the fun cook-it-yourself atmosphere each time I've gone). :)
Okonomiyaki is essentially a savory "Japanese Pancake" or "Omelette"-type dish, where a base of Water, Flour, Kyabetsu (Cabbage) and Yamaimo (Yam) can be cooked with a variety of toppings, from Pork to Shrimp to near limitless ingredient ideas. The Japanese name literally means "what you like, cooked," and it's with this idea that near endless varieties of Okonomiyaki can be had.
Gaja sits along a quiet section of Lomita Boulevard, and every time I've visited Gaja, there's been this fun, positive vibe running throughout the restaurant as each table gathers around the center grill to attempt their version of Okonomiyaki. There's just something fun about cooking with friends and family and that's what Gaja is all about. And this particular visit was no different, as I found myself in the pleasant company of Noah and Mr. Meatball from Man Bites World during their epic Japan Day journey. :) It was an honor to hang out with two people completely driven by the quest for good food and drink (and earlier in the day I had the honor to meet even more of the Man Bites World crew).
There was a crowd gathering outside of Gaja when we arrived, and in the few minutes before Gaja opened, everyone was either staring at the cute Takoyaki (Octopus Pastry Ball) scroll, or the wacky TV advertisement of this place :).
While waiting for our order, I'm reminded of one of the coolest things about Gaja (besides the food): Their selection of premium Japanese Beers, ranging from Hitachino to my favorite, Koshihikari Echigo. :)
Every table is fitted with a central teppan grill, ready to accept whatever gets thrown at it. :) Note that you can also request the kitchen staff to cook the Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pancake) for you, but that's missing out on half the fun. (^_~) If you decide to cook the Okonomiyaki, a step-by-step instruction sheet will be provided by the server, and they will gladly hop in and help at any point along the way.
Gaja has expanded its menu over the years, and can be quite daunting for first-timers. In addition to the Okonomiyaki, they serve Monjayaki (more on this later), a whole menu of different *types* of Yakimeshi (Fried Rice), Yakisoba (Japanese style Chow Mein), Yaki Udon (Japanese style Fried Udon), Salads, Ippin Ryouri / Izakaya Small Dishes, Teppanyaki dishes, and a massive Parfait / Dessert section! :) But the key is to stick with their strengths and basics: the Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki. And in fun Japanese fashion, they have their "Requested Top 10" most popular flavors for Okonomiyaki, in case you weren't sure what to order. :)
On this visit, Noah and Mr. Meatball decide to start with a good basic variation (and the #1 most requested dish): Modan Mix (Modern Mix) Okonomiyaki, in the traditional Kansai style. The Modern Mix includes a huge pile of Shrimp, Squid, Pork Belly, Beef, and Yakisoba Noodles, along with the base batter.
We cook up the protein on one side of the grill, while we lay down the foundation layer of Okonomiyaki batter (Water, Flour, Kyabetsu (Cabbage) and Yamaimo (Yam)).
When the meats are mostly cooked through, move them onto the bottom layer of batter and then top it with the remaining batter to form a top layer.
Flip the entire Okonomiyaki over at this point (which reveals a crispy, delicious crust), and let the other "side" of the batter cook through. (My attempt tonight was one of the messiest versions I've made in the past 6 years of visits - forgive me! I blame the alcohol Noah and Mr. Meatball was feeding me :)
You finally top the Okonomiyaki with your favorite toppings such as Aonori (Green Laver), Katsuobushi (Bonito Fish Flakes), Okonomiyaki Sauce (imagine a sweeter version of Tonkatsu Sauce, or a thicker Worcestershire Sauce), Japanese Mayonnaise and Beni Shoga (Pickled Red Ginger) (which are all in clearly marked containers along the side of every table).
The crispiness of the nice sear on both sides of the Okonomiyaki provided a great backbone to the rest of the ingredients, with the beautiful mix of Seafood and Fatty Pork happily meshing together. In the end, both Noah and Mr. Meatball seemed to have enjoyed the Modan Mix Okonomiyaki and I left with a sigh of joy and relief. :)
Gaja offers a wide variety of flavors that can be mind-boggling at times. On my very first visit to Gaja 6 years ago, I had tried their Buta Okonomi (Pork Okonomiyaki), which includes extra slices of Pork, Egg, Negi (Green Onions), Beni Shoga (Red Ginger), along with the batter. It was very good, with a pure Pork focus complemented nicely by the Egg and Green Onions; a classic combination.
On another visit, their Mentai Mochi Chiizu (Spicy Cod Roe, Mochi and Cheese) was a fun variation on the more popular meat-focused versions, with the Mentaiko (Spicy Cod Roe) giving a great, oceanic note that permeated each bite with the gooey goodness of Mochi and Cheese melting with the Okonomiyaki batter. Very nice. :)
From there, Gaja offers up about ~40(!) different flavor combinations for the traditional Okonomiyaki, ranging from Natto (Fermented Soy Beans), to Unagi (Eel), to many other interesting combinations. :)
About one month after the Man Bites World Japan Day visit, my 'dachi Keizo from Go Ramen! was craving some Monja (or Monjayaki), so we headed out to Gaja to help satisfy the hunger. :) Monjayaki is a popular Tokyo variation of Okonomiyaki, but it's a far different animal from the traditional Okonomiyaki: Monja is much more liquid and gooey, and eaten with tiny little spatulas. :)
We began this visit with my favorite style of Okonomiyaki: Hiroshima Style, which involves layering the ingredients, and with a much larger end result. :)
We ordered the Hiroshima Style Seafood Mix Okonomiyaki, which included Pork, Scallops, Shrimp, Octopus and Squid, along with lots of Kyabetsu (Cabbage), Yakisoba Noodles, Negi (Green Onion), Tamago (Egg), Beni Shoga (Pickled Red Ginger), and Ninniku (Garlic).
Just a warning that making a Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki takes more steps and is more complicated to construct than the usual Okonomiyaki discussed earlier. And as before, the kitchen is more than happy to cook it for you, or you can get the staff to help out as you go along. :)
With Hiroshima Style, we cooked the Tamago (Egg), Yakisoba Noodles, and Protein in layers and stacked them up, resulting in a massive version (that should've been pressed down a little bit more in hindsight :).
It was delicious, with the extra bit of Egg, extra Cabbage and Noodles and the layering giving the creation a bit more texturing to the usual version (which I like as well :). Lightly sweet from the Okonomiyaki Sauce, but savory and tasting of the pureness of the ingredients themselves, it was a good mix of Seafood and Porky flavors balanced out by the Okonomiyaki batter.
The next dish was the one Keizo was waiting for: Monjayaki! :) We decided to try one of their new flavors: Tonkotsu Mochi Chiizu Monjayaki (Pork Bone Mochi Cheese flavor). With both of us being Ramen fans, we were hoping that the Tonkotsu flavor would be similar to a good Tonkotsu Broth found in Ramen.
When the bowl arrived, it was mainly Cheese and Mochi piled high on top of the Monja batter (which is more liquid and contains no Yamaimo (Yam) unlike the regular Okonomiyaki batter). We were both curious where the "Tonkotsu" flavor was coming from.
Keizo deftly cooked the Tokyo-style Monja and soon, the sought after end result appeared on the grill: A wonderful, gooey and delicious dish was spread across most of the grill. Top it with your favorite toppings (we chose just the Aonori (Green Laver) and Katsuobushi (Bonito Fish Shavings)) and scrape off bite-sized chunks of the liquidy Monjayaki with the tiny spatulas provided. :)
This particular flavor was slightly disappointing: Keizo and I both noted zero Tonkotsu flavor (it was really Cheese and Mochi with the batter), but otherwise, it was fun getting some Monja in L.A. :)
My friends and I are usually too enamored by the different Okonomiyaki so we rarely order Monjayaki, but my favorite flavors would have to be the Sutamina (Stamina) Monjayaki (with Ground Beef, Spicy Miso Sauce, Egg, Garlic), and Pork Kimchee Monjayaki. The Stamina is lightly spicy, with the savoriness of the Ground Beef mixing really nicely with the Miso, Garlic and Egg, merged into the gooey Monja batter. And for the Pork Kimchee Monjayaki, the Kimchee's tartness mixed with the slightly fatty, delicious Pork slices give the perfect textural contrast to the gooeyness of the Monja itself.
Service has been consistently fine for this relaxing little Japanese eatery. I've encountered no problems over the 6 years I've been visiting this restaurant. Okonomiyaki dishes range from $12.90 - $17.90. Monjayaki dishes range from $12.90 - $18.90. We usually average about ~$13 - $16 per person (including tax and tip), depending on how hungry we are.
Gaja Moc is another wonderful Specialist in L.A., focusing on the rare Okonomiyaki (Savory Japanese Pancake) and Monjayaki dishes. With so many interesting variations and the ability to customize / add extra ingredients (an additional 28 extra ingredients!), it's easy to find something that you'd like at Gaja. With the communal, cook-it-yourself aspect, and with so many different offerings on the menu, Gaja easily fulfills the literal meaning of its specialization: "What you like, cooked." Recommended. :)
*** Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0) ***
2383 Lomita Blvd. #102
Lomita, CA 90717
Tel: (310) 534-0153
Hours: [Lunch] Sat 11:45 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
[Dinner] Tue - Thu 6:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Fri: 6:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
Sat: 5:30 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
Sun: 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
You should try to make it to Hiroshima to get some okonomiyaki. Then you'll realize that the stuff they make a Gaja bears little resemblance to the versions you get in Hiroshima. DIY okonomiyaki is pretty much verboten in Hiroshima because it's seen as more a craft than mixing everything into a batter and cooking it into a pancake. (The only DIY okonomiyaki places in Hiroshima seem to be Kansai style). To be fair, it's not easy to find a real Hiroshima okonomiyaki place in Tokyo either. It's like trying to find NY pizza in LA.
re: E Eto
And, like NY pizza in NYC, it's so easy to find excellent Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki-ya's in Hiroshima!!
Just returned to Gaja Moc last week... Busy as ever. The Modan (Modern) Mix okonomiyaki remains my favorite dish, while the Meron (Melon) Ice Bar Parfait was outstanding for dessert.
Hehehe EK, I couldn't have done it alone. Me and my stalwart "gang of five" were able to eat our way through the "Modan Mix" okonomiyaki, one corn+garlic butter monjyaki, teba saki, and takoyaki, while washing it all down with some fresh blueberry draft Kirin. The desserts are huge at Gaja Moc. I liked the "Meron Ice Bar Parfait", whilst my dining companions enjoyed the Calpico parfait. We also managed to down a "Taiyaki" Red Bean Parfait, a Deluxe Japanese Parfait, and 500cc serving of fresh strawberries and condensed milk.
... And Gaja Moc was our 4th eatery on our "tabe aruki" that day alone! (We had already descended like locusts upon Mottainai Ramen, La Espanola, and Patisserie Chantilly before that)...
2383 Lomita Blvd., #104, Lomita, CA 90717
2383 Lomita Blvd, Lomita, CA 90717
Why didn't you tell me you had Kobayashi in your party? :P
That sounds like... a lot of food. (O_o) :)
Does the Taiyaki Red Bean Parfait actually come with a Taiyaki pastry? That would be cool if it did! :)
And what did you think of Mottainai? (Or you can let me know in the other thread :) Thanks.
Actually, one person in our party resembled Gal Sone (ギャル曽根), the Japanese competition/eater/entertainer.
And yes, the Taiyaki Parfait came with a large, freshly made, fish-shaped taiyaki pastry!
Mottainai was the bomb (pardon the pun) - will try to add to your existing thread later...
I love Gaja Moc. Another great thing about their menu is their selection of outrageous Japanese parfaits. :)
I'd recommend newbies try out regular okonomiyaki first. The monjayaki takes some getting used to. It cooks up runny and everyone kind of eats off the grill with their little spoon.
Gaja also has a few izakaya style dishes as well as yakisoba and fried rice that you can also make yourself on the grill.
If you find the process too daunting, they can cook up the okonomiyaki up for you in the back, but that kind of ruins the whole fun of going to Gaja in the first place!
I think this place is a real jewel in the SoCal dining scene. Good, authentic, and very unique. You can get decent Japanese food in a lot of US cities, but just try to find an okonomiyaki place like Gaja!
cool review. perhaps i'm not a fan of okonomiyaki but i found the food to be just ok. a bit bland until i added copious amounts of bonito flakes and the sauces at the table. we ordered a pork okonomiyaki to cook by ourselves and had the kitchen make a hiroshima version. both were very bland (and i'm a fan of less is more when it comes to salt...hence the reason why i love noodle house) and required HUGE amounts of the aforementioned condiments.
am i missing something? ;-)
Thank you. :) No, you're right in that if you just take the pure Okonomiyaki batter (simple ingredients of Water, Flour, Cabbage, Yam) and whatever toppings you choose (e.g., Pork or Shrimp, etc.) and grill it / construct it, without any other condiments it's mainly a toasty, crispy, seared "savory pancake"-type thing. :)
I'm like you, I don't like too much salt in what I eat, so I judiciously use Bonito Flakes, Aonori (Green Laver) a bit of the Okonomiyaki Sauce and have come to enjoy it in that way over the years. I find the crispy / searing and communal aspect of the Okonomiyaki (fun in grilling / cooking / constructing and chatting with friends) a nice highlight in the overall experience. :)
I grew up with my mom's version of okonomiyaki, and I had the most fun spreading the mayo, sauce all over the okonomiyaki. I think most of the flavoring comes from the sauce you add on top, so I don't think it's unusual you had to add huge amounts. I usually don't like salty food, but when I eat okonomiyaki, I tend to drench them with sauce.