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Sep 18, 2009 08:36 PM

Battle of the Japanese Made Italian Spaghetti

The Japanese are famous, some say, for their ability to improve on the work of others. They may not have invented the automobile or the television, but they sure know how to make them now. So what happens when the Japanese take on something as seemingly simple as spaghetti with tomato sauce? For this, I'll tackle two different versions, with both, amazingly, existing in separate Mitsuwa Marketplace food courts. In one corner, we have the popular Japanese chain restaurant, Italian Tomato, in its Torrance location. The other, Bella Pasta, is a relative newcomer, created by the owner of Sanuki Sandou, the simple Japanese food counter located about thirty feet away in the west side Mitsuwa. Both restaurants offer spaghetti fusion creations, like mentaiko or natto, but to get a pure gauge of their qualities, I decided to go the traditional route, and examine their simple tomato sauce.

At Italian Tomato, they offer a spaghetti with mozzarella and tomato sauce, which costs $5.90 by itself, or $6.95 for the combo (small salad, buttered bread and a drink). The pasta is about as close to al dente as you can reasonably expect, though it does have a slightly gummy texture. The sauce is subtly sweet, and the mozzarella, while very salty, makes for a fun, gooey addition. It's exactly the sort of spaghetti you'd be quite happy to find at, say, a sporting event, or a college student's dinner table. You should, however, avoid the combo at all costs. The lettuce wasn't dried properly, so the oddly selected ginger dressing sat at the bottom of the bowl, and gave no flavor whatsoever. The bread is even worse, and tastes like imitation cardboard topped with butter made from a synthetic cow.

Bella Pasta, meanwhile, does things slightly differently (รก la carte: $5.99. Combo: $8.50). The woman behind the counter described their pomodoro by saying, "you know that's just chopped tomatoes, right? They're really salty, so make sure you mix it all together really well." The salt, it turns out, wasn't the problem, as the pasta was a bit overcooked, and heavily buttered. For a "pomodoro", that creates an awful lot of fat, which presents itself by constantly coating the outside of your lips. The salad, however, is quite big, and much nicer, though just like at Italian Tomato, came, rather distractingly, with a ginger dressing.

So what's the final verdict? Japanese-made Italian food, much like Japanese-made Japanese food, is much better in Torrance than it is most everywhere else in L.A. But regardless, you may be better off sticking with their cars and TVs.

Mitsuwa Marketplace
21515 Western Av, Torrance, CA 90501

Mitsuwa Marketplace
3760 S Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, CA

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  1. Look in the Japanese markets and they have a variety of prepared tomato sauces for spaghetti.
    Curry House has decent spaghetti with tomato sauce..

    14 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Has anyone been to Spoon House? What are your guys thoughts on them?

      Anyway, there's something hilarious to me about being surrounded by good Japanese food and eating bizarro-spaghetti with tomato sauce. As the grandson of an off-the-boat Sicilian woman, I get some kind of sick joy out of that whole process.

      1. re: noahbites

        I'm not sure, but I think I may have eaten there 10+ years ago and had the spaghetti and it wasn't bad. If it's the same place they were raving about it when it first opened.

        Get over your surprise that Asians can make tomato sauce, it isn't rocket science and doesn't require exotic ingredients. My mother taught me to make a pretty respectable meat sauce that I'd put up against your grandmother's.

        1. re: monku

          My "surprise that Asians can make tomato sauce"? Where did that come from? How about amusement? How about interest? If there was a Cuban food court that had a Cuban chain of Italian restaurants in it, I'd be intrigued by that too. But I never once implied that I went in expecting the worst, and was caught by surprise. I wanted to know what it would be like, I wanted to have another version to compare it against and I did that. One was passable and one wasn't.

          But regardless, I'm not sure I understand the point of getting into a hypothetical debate about two meat sauces that the other person is never going to try.

          1. re: noahbites

            Maybe you'd be amused by Capperi. It's an Italian restaurant in Little Tokyo run by a Spanish guy. It's supposed to be decent.
            Capperi Italian Restaurant
            318 E 2nd St
            Los Angeles, CA 90012

            1. re: monku

              It takes very little to convince me to eat pasta. I'll definitely check it out. Thanks.

              1. re: noahbites

                if you want to try something a little more upscale in Japanese Italian Fare try Il Chianti in Lomita and have the 20" Sausage appetizer. Plus most of the past is decent with a Japanese twist.

                1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                  Agreed on Il Chianti. Miles better than the mediocre Spoon House, and not really worth venturing in to Italian Tomato or Bella Pasta unless you just want mall food. If you do end up going to these mall food stops, the thing to order is the mentaiko spaghetti.

                  1. re: E Eto

                    Yeah, the mentaiko is an enjoyable dish. It's reminiscent, somewhat, of a pasta with bottarga.

              2. re: monku

                Skip Capperi.

                In that area of town, you're *much* better off going to Colori if you want Italian.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  The no corkage fee at Colori really makes it for me. Their cioppino is enormous, too.

              3. re: noahbites

                Maybe you'll find this interesting...
                The Old Spaghetti Factory opened it's first restaurant in in Nagoya, Japan in 1980 and at one time there were 10 Old Spaghetti Factory's in Japan.

                1. re: noahbites

                  Well there are a lot of Argentinian Italian places in Southern California, especially in OC actually--you should check them out. Italians like many European immigrants have migrated to much of the "New World", bringing along their cuisine with them. Also tomatoes coming from the "New World", I'd like to point out that water buffaloes come from Asia, especially India. So another point in favor of cross-cultural exchange. No need to find a "sick joy" or find the experience "bizarro" . . . You guys should really eat each other's grandmother's sauces, there is something to learn in that postively. You don't need to treat it as some sort of conflict or competition.

              4. re: noahbites

                i'm a fan of spoon house, but their red sauce, is, imho, their weakest dish.

                1. re: noahbites

                  Lovge Spoon House, do not forget to add the dollar salad. The coffee jelly and coffee sorbet with vanilla ice cream are wonderful!

              5. The original comment has been removed
                1. Nobuko's in Little Tokyo makes a pretty good spaghetti dish.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    In H. Marukami's novel, "The Wind Up Bird Chronicle", the protagonist is thrown into stranger and stranger circumstances after the disappearance of his beloved. To comfort himself, he whips up "spagetti and a simple tomato sauce" . This is one of my very, very favorite literary food references, and an amazing novel.

                  2. The original comment has been removed