Azuma - so so Gardena izakaya (w/ pics)
One of my big plans for when I came home was to try Torihei, I literally planned this out weeks ahead of time, deciding on it after reading exilekiss's blog: http://exilekiss.blogspot.com/2009/03/newest-la-treasure-stunningly.html
So I showed up with my gf, grandmother, mom and sister. Showed up early at like 6:15pm on a sunday, turns out they were fully booked with reservations until 7:45pm...ugh!!! I was so pissed, normally being the food person that I am I probably would've just waited, but I felt bad b/c I was with my grandmother, so I agreed to find somewhere else. She was looking forward to it too since she likes yakitori and loves oden.
I literally couldn't think of anywhere to go, probably b/c I was so disappointed. Then I thought of this small izakaya, Azuma, that I'd been meaning to try forever on Western across the street from Sakura-Ya (best manju place ever, but that's a separate post). So we decided to go there.
It's a pretty unassuming little place that has a sushi bar and some tables upfront and then opens up into a bigger place in the back. The clientele was mainly japanese both japanese-americans and japanese people from japan, which is usually a good sign. It's got signs in japanese and sometimes english that have various specials and drinks on the walls. It's kind of a comforting sort of homey "let's drink" type of place. The menu has the standard izakaya fare and bunch of platters over rice (curry, tonkatsu etc etc). The prices are pretty cheap. The service was standard, albeit they were pretty packed and I think the waitresses were a little overwhelmed.
We ordered a ton of food since there was 5 of us (the yelp links are the pics, I'm R.L. on yelp):
- natto (fermented beans): I hate natto, my grandmother loves it and has always tried to get me to eat it. So, I said ok fine I'll try it. Turns out to be one of the better dishes of the night. It's prepared with nori and chopped green onions with a raw quail yoke on top, they also give you a nice yellow mustard on the side. With some rice, it turned out to be the first time I've ever liked natto. Wasn't too stinky and tasted pretty good once you mixed everything together and put it on some rice. I'm not really sure how to describe natto, but its sort of slimy with a pretty pungent flavor (guarantee 9 out 10 chounders end up hating it if they try it, but for some reason i really liked it here
- buta kakuni (braised pork belly): this was ok...the fat itself was tasty, nice and rich, but the meat was too dry, i mean it wasn't super dry or anything, but pork belly done right should be melt in your mouth. The sauce was fine, but nothing special
- pike fish w/ sauce: this was a special and turned out to be the other good dish of the night. It was a grilled pike fish prepared in a manner very similar to unagi kabayaki (grilled eel) with a very similar, but less sweet sauce. The fish was grilled, but still tender and the sauce complimented it well although they put a bit too much on. Pretty solid dish
- okonomiyaki (japanese pancake): this was reasonably decent, I wasn't expecting it to be great, but it was better than I expected. Pretty crispy on the outside (probably a bit more crispy than i'm used to), but nice and hot in the middle...there is alot of flavors going on in okonomiyaki, so i think you'll have to just try it, but it's a very like soul food type of dish mainly being a pancake made out flour, grated yam, dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage then they add all types of ingredients this one had alot of octopus, bonito shavings and was covered in a spiced mayo sauce
- curry rice tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet in curry sauce over rice): my gf got this b/c she loves this dish. It was ok, the curry was a little bland (not enough spice to it) and the tonkatsu itself was alright, but nothing to write home about (it was huge though for the price
- ebi nasu in chili sauce (shrimp and eggplant in chili sauce): this is exactly what it sounds like, shrimp and chopped up eggplant in a sort of sweet chili sauce. my grandmother liked it and i thought it was just alright
- ika yaki (grilled squid): i thought this was bad, it was way too chewy, so i barely ate any of it, pretty disappointing considering it's a pretty classic izakaya dish
- tsukune (chicken meatballs): these were pretty decent although i've definitely had better. they were pretty tender (i hate when they are dry) and were covered in a sort of thicker sweeter soy sauce, they put too much sauce on them, but overall they were pretty decent
- hamachi kama (grilled yellowtail collar): i love this dish, so i was happy they had it as a special. It was pretty good, nice grilled exterior with good tender meat...hit with a little lemon and grated daikon and you're good to go
- spam and spinach omelette: exactly what it sounds and tastes like, i found it a bit bland and its made a little more runny than an american omelette (which i like), but overall just kind of whatever
- spicy chicken wings: blehhh, these were not good, the skin was all soggy, the sauce was not good, just kind of sour and spicy...think of bad buffalo wings and that's what these are
So, overall, while I see why people come here (cheap japanese comfort food) given the wide swath of great japanese food in LA, I don't think I'd come back here. I mean it's fine, but nothing really stood out and given how much of the menu we tried, I don't think that i'm missing something. But, everything is worth a try once. Next, I will not make the mistake of not making reservations at Torihei and I will finally get to eat there (you don't understand how disappointed i was, i'd been looking forward to that for a month)
My dad is obsessed with that eggplant dish. I like it myself but as you said its not earth shattering.
Do you know if they make their curry from scratch? I ask because I've seen the chefs hunched over a pot of curry before, so I'm curious about it's origins.
I also really like the Miso Cod. Melts in your mouth and has a great flavor. But, truth be told, when I go to Azuma I usually get a big combo platter or a donburi bowl.
Auuu! :( Sorry to hear you couldn't get into Torihei! I even added a comment on my post recommending to call ahead for reservations (instead of just walking in). They're definitely getting busier now. So you had to leave LA. before trying Torihei? Hopefully next time!
Thanks for the info on Azuma.
BTW, if you're in the mood to seek out good Katsu Kare, give Foo Foo Tei (Hacienda Heights) a try: Murakami-san makes my favorite Japanese Curry (made from scratch, No MSG) in town! :) Delicious (you can find photos of it on my site or the Chowhound post on Foo Foo Tei). The actual Katsu is ~OK, but the Curry is simply wonderful. :)
yah i was only in town for 4 days and had a bunch of stuff i had to do (sitting at the beach being one of them), but i literally planned out every meal i had that was free to go try somewhere (not done with all my posts yet)...so i didn't get to try torihei
im not sure why i didn't make a reservation, but ill do it next time
i do want to try foo foo tei...we weren't specifically looking for curry rice this time even though i do love it