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Stumbling Out Of The Gates - Deep Fried Pork Cutlets at L.A.'s new specialist Tokyo Tonkatsu Kagura (and The Loss of a Kaiseki Restaurant) [Review] w/ Pics!

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(Formatted with All Pictures here:
http://exilekiss.blogspot.com/2010/04...

It was only a year and a half ago that Kagura debuted with a splash on a quiet corner in Torrance. Kagura marked the beginnings of a solid Koryouri-ya (Small Plates Restaurant), serving detailed Kappo dishes and one of the few restaurants offering Kaiseki (focused, multi-course meals reflecting seasonality) around Southern California. It had its rough spots, but showed great potential and a low-key, stylish atmosphere.

Jump ahead to today, and Chef Hiro Matsushita has left Kagura, and the owners have been forced to transform the restaurant into a Tokyo-style (or Kanto-style) Tonkatsu Specialist, citing difficulty maintaining enough business in their more upscale form, according to our waiter. I remember driving by a few weeks back and noticing that they changed their sign. It still said "Kagura" but as I was slowly accelerating, I noticed the words "Tokyo... Tonkatsu"(?!) and had to pull over. :)

Entering Kagura, the owners have kept the decor and ambiance exactly the same as before, wisely keeping the beautiful Sake bar, clean lines and lighting.

On the left side of the restaurant, they've kept their semi-private booths, which are welcoming and warm, and a great option when bringing in guests to enjoy their extensive Sake list.

During my 1st visit, we quickly grab a table and peruse the menu. The new menu is completely changed from their old one (their Dinner menu still retains ~10% of their old dishes), helmed by new Chef Kentaro Masuda, a native of Tokyo, who learned his trade from his father, who started and ran all 7 branches of Katsushin (beginning in Ueno and Kanda and expanding from there). With a family pedigree like that, Kagura looks to have a solid foundation.

The first thing I notice is the presentation on the menu. They are definitely going for a "high-end" dining experience. Their use of genteel Japanese words, the price tag (~$13 - $20 for lunch, even more expensive for dinner) for various Tonkatsu (Deep Fried Pork Cutlets) offerings, the overall plating and their amuse bouche, etc., all point to echoes of their former, polished Kaiseki and high-end restaurant beginnings.

To start, we're served a mini Chawanmushi (Steamed Egg Custard) and mini Salad of Kyabetsu (Cabbage) and Tamanegi (Onion).

It's a nice gesture (as a starter for the Lunch sets), but the Chawanmushi is overcooked, the Custard being too dense. It was the same result for all my visits. :(

But when our server puts down the mortar and pestle with fresh Shiro Goma (White Sesame Seeds), along with a jar of their Homemade Katsu Sauce, I could see this had all the makings of a wonderful Tonkatsu Specialist.

By fresh grinding the Sesame Seeds yourself (at the table) and mixing in their Homemade Katsu Sauce, it really elevates the whole Tonkatsu experience, giving you this fresh-cracked nuttiness and aroma you normally wouldn't get at almost all other Japanese restaurants serving Tonkatsu around town.

The 2 Selection Mix Gozen (Atsugiri Kurobuta Hire Katsu, Kani Kuri-mu Korokke (Deep Fried Premium Berkshire Pork Filet Cutlet, and Crab Cream Croquette)) arrives first.

One look and you can tell what Masuda-san is going for: 4 Small Plates (that change daily), little bites of delicately prepared Vegetables or other things that strike the chef's whimsy. For this meal, we're presented with some clean, simple Hijiki (Sea Vegetable), Lightly Poached Enoki Mushrooms, Konbu and Daikon. They're light, refreshing and another nice touch for a more upscale Tonkatsu presentation.

All set meals come with a housemade Tonjiru (Pork Broth with Akamiso and Shiromiso (Red and White Miso)), which is surprisingly tasty and not too heavy.

They also offer 2 types of Rice with your meal (bottomless for those who can't get enough Rice :), the standard Hakumai (White Rice) or Gokokumai (5 Grain Rice). We go with their rarer Gokokumai which has a more noticeable earthiness about it. It's undercooked, though (like their regular Hakumai), which is unfortunate, and nothing like the Tonkatsu Specialists in Tokyo that are as serious about their Rice as they are the Cutlets themselves.

But at the end of the day it's all about the star of the show, the focus of their revamped menu. Visually, the Atsugiri Kurobuta Hire Katsu (Deep Fried Premium Berkshire Pork Filet Cutlet) looks much different from the usual, local offerings. The Breading crust is looser and more flaky and is starting to resemble some of the offerings I've had in Tokyo.

But then I take a bite:

Disappointment.

It's earthy, with a heavy Pork pungency. It's uneven. Some parts are juicy with just the right amount of Pork Fat and Filet meat, other parts are very greasy, and portions of it are overcooked. As you can see from this picture (below), there are massive blobs of Pork Blood strewn throughout the Katsu. It's unsightly, unappetizing and shows the need for more practice by Chef Masuda. (Note: On all 3 visits, we ran into this problem on certain styles of their Tonkatsu.)

This is a far cry from the mouth-watering, succulent, perfection that is Tonkatsu in Japan. :(

We move on to the Kani Kuri-mu Korokke (Crab Cream Croquette). They use the same light Panko Breading and on this visit it's light and has a wonderful crunch. Then the inside comes oozing out. It's a hot, ultra-smooth, silky Cream infused with Crab. It's like a savory, heated version of a sexy Patisserie Chantilly Cream Puff. Wonderful! :) This is probably the best Kani Kuri-mu Korokke I've had in So Cal to date.

I'm hoping their Filet version of the Tonkatsu is a fluke (well after 3 visits, it's sadly consistently not the case), so my guest and I order their other major cut: Atsugiri Kurobuta Ro-su Katsu (Deep Fried Premium Berkshire (Black) Pork Loin Cutlet).

On this 1st visit, the Ro-su (Pork Loin) is good. It's leaner, meatier and as a purity just breaking through the clouds. They serve their Kurobuta Ro-su Katsu with an edge of Fat which is a nice touch, balancing out some of the ultra-lean bites, but overall it's overcooked compared to the "barely well-done" juicy, flavorful happiness of multiple Tonkatsu I've had in Japan. (And sadly, on subsequent visits, the Ro-su turns out worse and completely overcooked. Inconsistency rears its ugly head. :(

The highlight of this first visit is their Sauce: The combination of Fresh Ground Shiro Goma and their Homemade Katsu Sauce really does help hide a lot of the deficiencies in the Pork Cutlet itself. Their Homemade Katsu Sauce isn't the typical heavy Worcestershire / Ketchup / Shoyu blend, but something deeper and more complex. Like all Katsu Sauces, though, it's powerful stuff and dominates the Pork if using more than a tiny bit. Their Karashi (Japanese Mustard) is the standard mass-produced variety, dryish and sinus-clearing. :)

As we finish our meal, our server brings out a complementary searing hot cup of Hojicha (Roasted Green Tea), a great palate cleanser and good way to finish a meal of heavily fried foods.

On my 2nd visit, I'm excited and hopeful that Chef Masuda has turned things around. My guest is excited to try their Omu Raisu (Omelette Rice). I haven't had a good Omu Raisu in years and am curious to see how this upscale version turns out.

Their Fuwa Toro Omu Raisu Ranchi (Omu-Rice Lunch (Omelette Rice)) arrives, nicely plated as expected, and it looks delicious!

Just looking at the surface of the Egg and I can tell this might be something special: I take a bite and the Egg Omelette is fluffy, airy and still moist. It has just enough structure to cover and hold the Chicken Flavored Rice.

The Chicken Flavored Rice within is well-seasoned and while it's supposed to have chunks of Chicken meat, it is primarily just Rice, which is actually OK. My guest is smiling and happily proclaims this the best Omu Raisu they've had around town (I would agree).

A note for first timers trying Omu Raisu: This is one of those classic, funky Japanese interpretations of Western cuisine, some weird merger of an Egg Omelette with Flavored Rice, topped with their Demi-Glace Sauce (which is more like Ketchup and a quick reduction with Stock). For myself and my guest, it's more of a nostalgia thing; it's definitely not haute cuisine. :)

The last of their major cuts of Pork arrives at this point: Mirufi-yu Katsu (Millefeuille Katsu (Deep Fried Multi-Layered Sliced Black Pork Loin)) with Kaki Furai (Deep Fried Oysters).

Seeing this "Millefeuille"-style Pork Cutlet on the menu is a sign that the owners and Chef Masuda are aware of the latest trends in Tokyo. One restaurant in Tokyo has popularized the concept of taking ultra-thin slices of top-quality Pork and layering them, breading them and then deep frying the whole thing, to create a more juicy, tender, less dense Tonkatsu. The last time I was in Tokyo we saw lines going out the door, waiting for a seat (on multiple nights). I'm excited and hoping to see if Masuda-san can actually reproduce that Layered Tonkatsu dish.

Sadly, the answer is a resounding, "No." :(

If one has never tried this Layered Tonkatsu in Tokyo, it's actually a decent style to try at least once. But Kagura's version is completely overcooked, with the slices of Pork becoming dry and chunky throughout. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is another dish that's a distant runner-up to the versions I had in Tokyo. Very disappointing. (And this is another dish that had multiple blobs of Pork Blood running throughout.)

The Kaki Furai (Deep Fried Oysters) thankfully rebounds from the travesty of their Tonkatsu.

It's briny, juicy and creamy, perfectly cooked (like their Crab Cream Croquette), which makes you wonder what's going on in the kitchen.

Their big, non-Pork dish is their Jidori Chikin Katsu (Deep Fried Free Range Chicken Breast Cutlet).

Unlike their Pork offerings, their All-Natural Chicken Cutlet proves to be outstanding! It's so juicy and pure and bright. There's a good, fresh poultry essence coming through, and it's cooked perfectly. Easily the best Chicken Katsu I've had in So Cal. I'm stunned. :)

But unfortunately, this is yet another example of inconsistency with the kitchen. On another visit, the Chicken Katsu is completely overcooked (horribly so). :(

We finish this meal with one of their desserts: Nihonshu no Sha-betto (Sake Sherbet (Homemade Yuzu Citrus Flavored Sake Sherbet)).

It's very crisp and refreshing, with just the right amount of tantalizing Yuzu Citrus flavors coming through with each bite. Excellent.

On my 3rd visit, I invite Jotaru and another dear friend of ours to try their more extensive Dinner menu.

We begin with their Hotate no Karupaccho (Hotate Carpaccio (Fresh Hokkaido Scallop Sashimi with Garlic Soy Sauce Dressing).

I've always been a huge fan of Hokkaido Scallops and Kagura's dish doesn't disappoint. The Scallops are so fresh, vibrant, very tender and supple, yet still having the right amount of firmness, and the Garlic Soy Sauce Dressing doesn't overpower. The one quibble with this dish is Chef Masuda's odd decision to use a dab of Mayonnaise. It doesn't clash, but it feels unnecessary.

After having Heaven-sent Agedashi Tofu from Tomo-san, I know I'm setting myself up for disappointment ordering it anywhere else around town, but I'm curious how Kagura's version will turn out. Our Agedashi Tofu (Deep Fried Tofu with Fish Broth Soy Sauce Soup) arrives soon after the Scallops.

The Katakuriko (Potato Starch) breading is too thickly applied (and uneven at that), with the entire exterior of the Tofu being mushy. :( The Tofu itself is a medium firmness Tofu, but it's the funk of slightly older Tofu that completely brings down this version. Definitely a far cry from Izakaya Bincho's stellar dish.

Their Agedashi Soft Shell Crab (Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab and Rice, served with Fish Broth Soy Sauce Soup) arrives next.

The menu mentions that this is done in an Agedashi style (similar to their Tofu we presume), but instead, what we get is Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab - and it's enjoyable (not great, but decent) - with a small pitcher of some clear looking liquid. We ask the server what this is, and they bluntly reply, "Corn Starch." (^_^; Yikes. Well at least they're honest. It's a bit of a disappointment when the restaurant is aiming for a high-end Tonkatsu angle to take a shortcut and instead of serving some freshly-made, long-distilled, naturally concentrated base, they serve a Corn Starch thickened Sauce (that's rather bland) to douse the Soft Shell Crab in.

Our first main dish arrives: The Atsugiri Kurobuta Hire Demi Katsu (Deep Fried Premium Berkshire (Black) Pork Filet Cutlet with Demi-Glace Sauce). Being their most expensive Cutlet on the menu, I'm really curious what sets this apart from the normal version.

It turns out that the only difference between this dish and the regular Pork Filet Cutlet is the Demi-Glace Sauce. But I'm eager to try it and hope that the 3rd time's the charm. For using quality Berkshire Pork, my guests and I are disappointed: It turns out the Hire (pronounced "Hee-Reh") Katsu is, like my previous visits, overcooked. This particular cut tonight is also very uneven with huge blocks of Fat in about ~35% - 40% of the Cutlet, and the rest of it being quite lean.

Any attempts at enjoying the lighter Breading are lost as the Demi-Glace Sauce has turned the entire Cutlet into a very soggy mess. :( The Demi-Glace Sauce itself is a rather enjoyable Beef Stock Reduction, not as refined as a great French Demi-Glace, but for Yoshoku cuisine, this is one of the better ones locally.

One of the holdouts from Kagura's previous incarnation makes a spectacular return: Gindara no Saikyoyaki (Grilled Black Cod Marinated in Saikyo Miso Sauce).

The Black Cod is *flawless*. It's perfectly cooked, beautifully moist, tender, buttery and the best version of this dish I've had in the past year. Excellent.

Another dish I'm really looking forward to is their Ume Tofu (Cold Organic Tofu with Sour Plum and Okra).

I love Ume (Japanese Plum) and eagerly take a bite: The Organic Tofu tastes old and dull, and to make matters worse, they use a Firm Tofu. The Okura (Okra) and Ume are fine, but the disappointing Tofu really ruins this whole dish.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment (after their Tonkatsu, or maybe even exceeding it) is their Kurobuta no Saikyoyaki (Grilled Black Pork Loin Marinated in Saikyo Miso Sauce).

Just one look at these pictures (and comparing it to the ones on the menu) will show you the obvious problem. Besides it looking nothing like the picture (at all), this turns out to be the *worst* devastation of top quality Berkshire Pork I have ever had in my life (no hyperbole). (>_<) The Pork is so overcooked it's become completely dried out and chunky (at about the same density and chewiness as Beef Jerky(!)). I'm shocked at how bad this is. Jotaru and my other guest stop chewing their first bite and I can tell they want to spit it out. I'm so embarrassed that they had to suffer this dish I'm at a loss for words. Even if this was Chef Masuda's "homage" to, say, a classic Hong Kong / Cantonese-style Chasiu (BBQ Roasted Pork), even the worst, driest Chasiu I've had is an upgrade from this dish. :(

At this point, I'm hoping against hope that the next dish quickly rectifies things: Sake no Yuzu Shoyu Yaki (Grilled Salmon Marinated in Yuzu Citrus Soy Sauce).

The Sake (Salmon) is moist with a light ocean breeze coming off of each bite. It's a solid dish, but there's no trace of the beautiful Yuzu Citrus, which is disappointing. Their Gindara (Black Cod) is much better, but both of them are the highlights of our evening so far.

So, being as excited as I was over the first time I had their wonderful Chicken Cutlet, I order it again, this time for my 2 new guests: Jidori Chikin Oroshi Katsu (Deep Fried Free Range Chicken Breast Cutlet with Radish Ponzu Sauce).

Only this time around, the Panko breading looks like it's saturated with oil, fried at the wrong temperature.

I take a bite and what I expected to be a repeat of the succulent, juicy, perfectly cooked Chikin Katsu turns out to be completely and utterly overcooked. The Chicken is so dry that this version turns out to be one of the worst Chicken Katsu I've had in So Cal. My guests finish their 1 piece and never touch this dish again for the rest of the evening. How can a kitchen (with the same chef no less), cook one of the best Chicken Katsu I've had and the worst Chicken Katsu I've had within the course of a few days?! It's completely baffling. (Note: Kagura was only ~60% full for dinner.)

I wanted to give them one more chance and order their Atsugiri Kurobuta Ro-su Katsu (Deep Fried Premium Berkshire (Black) Pork Loin Cutlet) yet again, hoping that Chef Masuda could perform some magic here.

It's overcooked. More overcooked than my previous visits, resulting in a very chunky, dry Berkshire Pork Loin Cutlet. :( And the Breading falls apart and off the Pork itself (unlike previous visits).

To finish things off, we try their Kuri Zenzai (Sweet Red Bean Soup in Chestnut).

One of the things I enjoy most about many traditional Asian desserts is that they tend to be less sweet than most desserts you'd find in the U.S. Well it seems Kagura wants to challenge those expectations: I'm completely blindsided as a wave of saccharin sweetness overwhelms my mouth. It's beyond pure Sugar and the most grossly sugary Japanese dessert I've had in years. :(

We originally ordered a Matcha Pudding because I love Matcha Green Tea, but our server tells us they ran out this evening, but recommends their Tofu no Chi-zu Ke-ki (Tofu Cheese Cake (Homemade Tofu Cheese Cake with Blueberry Sauce)). This turns out to be thankfully less sweet than their Zenzai, and surprisingly decent being made from Tofu.

One highlight that should be noted is their extensive and *very fairly priced* Sake Menu. They carry some rare selections and popular classics like the ubiquitous, trendy Kubota Manju which they sell for only $110 per bottle (compared to the usual price of ~$180 - $200 around town). They have some rarer selections from Shizuoka, Ohita and Hyogo, but they feel out-of-place. I'm all for Sake (anytime, anywhere :), but these rather elegant selections feel like leftover stock from their previous Kaiseki and Koryouri-ya restaurant, Kagura, than a great pairing with Deep Fried Pork Cutlets. At least for Beers, they thankfully carry Koshihikari Echigo Beer (Niigata, Japan) which is wonderful. :)

Service is another disappointing aspect at Kagura. I understand that ownership may be trying to be careful in this economy and having to close their previous incarnation of Kagura and completely change the menu, but having only 2 waiters covering the entire restaurant (with no busboys) for lunch, and 3 waiters (with no busboys) for dinner is unfortunate. Trying to get more drinks, refills, or extra Rice or other things is painfully slow. And even for lunch on one visit, when there was only 1 other table, our waiter never stopped by to refill Tea or check on us. Plates were left uncleared for most of the meals (all 3 visits), and there seems to be a general lack of quality service. This is forgivable if this is a casual eatery, but Kagura is clearly aiming for "top quality" "high end" dining, with prices to match. With that in mind, their service is severely lacking. Prices range from $11.50 - $19.50 for Lunch, $4.50 - $24.95 for Dinner, with most main entrees around ~$18.

While it's sad to see Kagura the Kappo & Kaiseki restaurant go away (along with Chef Matsushita), it was with great excitement and hope that their new focus - Kanto-style Tonkatsu - would see the birth of a true, high-quality Deep Fried Pork Cutlet Specialist here in L.A. that could match the offerings in Japan. Sadly, this is not the case with Kagura. They have elements that excite and dazzle the eyes and palate - mortar and pestle, grind-at-your-table Sesame Seeds and Homemade Katsu Sauce! And a pretty darn good version of Omu Raisu - but the most important aspect of being a Tonkatsu Specialist - their actual Tonkatsu - falls miserably short.

From blobs of Pork Blood sitting in their Cutlets, to overcooked Cutlets, to oil-saturated Cutlets, and some tragic Dinner "specialties" (Kurobuta no Saikyoyaki (Grilled Pork Cutlet with Saikyo Miso Sauce)) that were some of the worst dishes I've ever had in my life, it's clear that Chef Masuda and Kagura need to seriously look at quality control in their kitchen. After my 3rd visit, the expressions of my guests says it all: One guest (who's so nice and gentle) quietly averted eye contact and meekly thanked us for dinner and slipped away as fast as possible; Jotaru (who's also a kind soul) simply said, "I'd rather eat the Tonkatsu at Mitsuwa's Food Court." :(

*** Rating: 4.8 (out of 10.0) ***

Tokyo Tonkatsu Kagura
1652 Cabrillo Avenue
Torrance, CA 90501
Tel: (310) 787-0227

Hours: 7 Days A Week, [Lunch] 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
[Dinner] 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.

http://www.littletokyorestaurant.com/...

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Kagura
1652 Cabrillo Ave., Torrance, CA 90501

 
 
 
 
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    1. You are out of control! I am ready to chip in for the heart replacement surgery.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Burger Boy

        Hi Burger Boy,

        I had no plans to try Kagura until I unfortunately drove by (on my way to Ichimian! :) only to see that new sign. Sigh. Well I'm glad I got to try Kagura and hope they can improve.

      2. I ate the rosu katsu on Monday and it was by far the best Tonkatsu I've had in LA as I reported in my post yesterday. As someone who makes a tonkatsu circuit of Tonki, Maisen and Butagumi, along with the Wako and Saboten chain stores every time I'm in Tokyo, I have been hoping for Tonkatsu of the quality that I was served at Kagura to come to LA. Obviously you had a much different experience, so I'm a little worried to go back and try it again. I personally hope they'll still be in business next time I go back, but with things like this floating around the internet that might be wishful thinking.

        8 Replies
        1. re: la2tokyo

          Hi la2tokyo,

          It's really disappointing believe me. I'm still utterly confused how Chef Masuda can cook one of the best Chicken Katsu I've had and the worst Chicken Katsu I had within the span of a week(!). All the guests I brought with me on the 3 visits had no inclination of returning. :(

          I hope they can work out the consistency issues, and for those that care about service, their mediocre, inattentive waitstaff. I've been dreaming for an L.A. Tonkatsu Specialist for so long as well. But Kagura isn't it (at least for my 3 visits).

          1. re: exilekiss

            We've had I-naba's tonkatsu a couple of times and it's been consistantly good. Nice thick cutlet with panko crust fried to a nice golden brown. It's been about 2-3 months since our last visit... I give this place credit for being pretty darned consistant on just about everything they offer.

            1. re: bulavinaka

              Hi bulavinaka,

              Thanks for the rec. As much as I enjoy Inaba, I've never ordered their Tonkatsu there. I'll have to try it the next time I go. :)

              -----
              Inaba
              20920 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA 90503

              1. re: exilekiss

                Hi exilekiss,

                No shiro goma at Inaba the last time we had it, so that takes expectations down a level, but the tonkatsu itself was very good. We've noticed that fried foods at Inaba to be very good in general. Maybe the tempura specialist has a hand in it, or maybe his skills just keeps the standards in the kitchen high as well - don't know which it is...

                -----
                Inaba
                20920 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA 90503

            2. re: exilekiss

              Off topic and I have no clue to authentic but 26 Beach is doing a chicken katsu or is it tonkatsu sandwich that I have really enjoyed! Sorry to hijack this. Back to your regularlly scheduled program.

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              26 Beach
              3100 Washington Blvd., Venice, CA 90292

            3. re: la2tokyo

              Seems you're not the only one with Tokyo tonkatsu experience who had a great meal at Kagura. I had quite an extensive meal tonight with three friends. We ordered Filet, Rose , the Millefeuille with cheese and shiso for and the grilled lion for pork. Along with the fresh sesame seed and tonkatsu sauce, we all really enjoyed our food. The texture, flavor and consistency were all spot on. We also ordered the jidori katsu, spicy chicken karage, kaki fry, kani cream croquette, hotatte carpaccio, nasu miso, salmon skin salad, agedashi softshell crab and grilled duck. Everything ranged from good to excellent. Kaki fry and the croquettes were fantastic. The only disappointment was that the Omu Rice is served at lunch only and that the beef tongue was sold out. They also wouldn't allow me to bring in my own beer, unlike Torihei, Musha torrance, Raku etc.

              The place itself is clean and spacious.

              I will be going back, although it's proximity to Torihei might delay my return. Especially since Torihei won't force me to drink their crappy Japanese beers and they don't mind me bringing my own IPAs to drink.

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              Raku Restaurant
              11678 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

              Musha
              1725 W Carson St, Torrance, CA 90501

              Torihei
              1757 W. Carson Street, Torrance, CA 90501

              Kagura
              6324 E Santa Ana Canyon Rd, Anaheim, CA 92807

              1. re: ronnie_gaucho

                Are you charged "corkage" for bringing your own beer?

                1. re: JAB

                  Torihei charges $15, yes. I usually bring two to three 22 oz bottles. I'd highly recommend it

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                  Torihei
                  1757 W. Carson Street, Torrance, CA 90501

            4. Hi exilekiss,

              Wow - first of all, I can't keep up with you, sir - another great review. At the same time, my heart drops as I was really looking forward to trying them out. Sounds like if they could be consistent and concise in the kitchen, they'd have a great thing going. Particularly if they're labeling themselves as a tonkatsu joint, they MUST hit the mark here first. Otherwise, they'll be looked upon as a restaurant that does some dishes really well, but ignore the katsu-part of the signage. Great sake, beer and auxiliary menu items can't be built on a weak foundation. Just curious - you've obviously given them multiple shots at showing their stuff. Was your last visit somewhat recent? Thanks.

              3 Replies
              1. re: bulavinaka

                Hi bulavinaka,

                I'm probably the most disappointed out of everyone I brought there. Yes, my most recent visit was only a few days ago. :(

                The bottom line is that something is very wrong in their kitchen. Their consistency is all over the place (one time their Ro-su Katsu is starting to shine and get close to my experiences in Japan. On another visit, it's severely overcooked and dried out. :( And many other problems listed above.

                The most heartbreaking part is that they list themselves as a "Tonkatsu Senmonten" and their menu is littered with proper Japanese terms. They try to convey that their Tonkatsu is "Atsugiri" and their Pork is "Tokusen Kurobuta." They are the most expensive Tonkatsu in L.A. at the moment and all of those factors make their inconsistency and some horrendous execution of dishes that much more disappointing and frustrating.

                I hope the kitchen turns it around in the coming months.

                1. re: exilekiss

                  I don't know whether to support them and hope they get their act together or stay away to send the same message. We regret not trying them when they had their kappo/kaiseki coat on. When poster la2tokyo mentioned Kagura doing tonkatsu, I figured this would be a slam dunk for them. Not that making tonkatsu is like throwing together a Subway sandwich - I figured that focusing on a specialty would be their saving grace.

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    Hi bulavinaka,

                    I'm sorry to hear you never got to try Kagura when they were serving Kappo / Kaiseki. They were much better than they are now; they've regressed, LA has lost a decent Kaiseki restaurant (and good Kappo restaurant) and I can only hope Masuda-san shapes up the kitchen one day.

              2. this is such a bummer.
                i could walk here from my house.
                related: they shut down the street in front of kagura today because they caught some dude in the motel above it who had stabbed someone.

                1 Reply
                1. re: alkylyou

                  Hi alkylyou,

                  Yikes, sorry to hear about the stabbing.

                  Well if you can walk to Kagura, I'm jealous, because that means you can walk to Ichimian for their Handmade Soba any time you want! :)

                2. After reading LA2Tokyo's positive review, my brother (diehard tonkatsu fan) and I were excited to try Kagura. Then EK's post came out and then we had second thoughts. My brother enjoyed great tonkatsu in Tokyo a few years ago and since this place is near both our workplaces, We felt we had to try it.

                  I'm really glad we did. I had the pork filet with the crab and oyster. The sesame seed cracking was a new experience for me and greatly added to the whole tonkatsu experience. And since I've never had tonkatsu in Japan, I have nothing with which to compare this experience.

                  I would have to say, EK's review notwithstanding, this was the best tonkatsu experience I've ever had. My brother thought the same. My best experience up to now was Torafuku. No blots of blood or greasiness. Also greatly enjoyed the oyster, the crab not so much. I think it's not my cup of tea.

                  This place must have read EK's review, because the service was gracious and attentive. We were served two different kinds of ocha, and the semi-private booths really added to the ambience.

                  My advice to those hesitating, it's worth the risk. I don't know if they've gotten consistently better, but our experience was obviously better than EK's. We will be back and bringing friends.

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                  Torafuku Restaurant
                  10914 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                  Kagura
                  6324 E Santa Ana Canyon Rd, Anaheim, CA 92807

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Ogawak

                    I hope they read EK's review. After all, they link to him on their page. =)

                    I love grinding the sesame seeds before pouring the sauce in it. It's awesome. It's just too bad the only time I got to do that was in Osaka, and at the time I was developing a case of food poisoning so I had no appetite at all...

                    So I'll definitely look forward to trying this.

                    1. re: Ogawak

                      Hi Ogawak,

                      I'm very happy to hear your experience was positive. Like I said, they served a great Katsu experience on one visit and one of the worst on another visit. I hope they've settled in and can consistently deliver great Tonkatsu and Chikin Katsu. LA definitely needs a good specialist. Even if the Katsu was bad, the fresh ground Sesame Seeds is one highlight and helps create an experience better than most Tonkatsu around town.

                      Although even my best Tonkatsu experience there was worse than the worst Tokyo Tonkatsu experience. But far better than what I've had locally. Let us know how your future visits turn out. Thanks.

                      1. re: exilekiss

                        Yeah we decided to chance it even after your review. Your reviews here are so revered by so many including me. Yes, it was the best tonkatsu experience I've ever had, not having had it in Japan. My brother liked his even better than what he had in Tokyo, which was a neighborhood place in Asagaya. But it was the grinding of the sesame seeds, the light and crispy quality of the panko and the overall presentation that made the experience worthwhile, even if the pork was bad, which it wasn't for us. I think Kagura pays attention to what you write, so here's hoping for the best. We will go again to check for blood blots and I will report back.

                        -----
                        Kagura
                        1652 Cabrillo Ave., Torrance, CA 90501

                        1. re: Ogawak

                          Hi Ogawak,

                          Thanks for your kind words. :) If you go back next time, try their other 2 major cuts: Ro-su Katsu and Millefeuille and let us know how those turn out (or even their Hire (Filet) one more time). I hope they're improving.

                          1. re: exilekiss

                            Finally got a chance to return to Kagura. I came with my brother and a friend who had been there before as well. The friend and I had the Mille Feuille, my brother the loin. The mille feuille was delicate, juicy and delicious. Nice thinly sliced pork that is then coated in flour, egg and panko and deeply fried. I also enjoyed the miso and the various small plates, takuan (pickled radish), slices of Japanese vegetables and daikon oroshi (ground radish) with salmon roe.

                            My brother's loin was also delicious.

                            The service was very attentive, and we never had to worry about our tea being filled (And I drink a lot of tea). And the waitresses were pretty.

                            We all agreed that Kagura's tonkatsu was even better than the last times we ate there.

                            We got there just after the 11:30 opening and a lot people were already there.

                            Yup, still the best tonkatsu I've ever had.

                            -----
                            Kagura
                            1652 Cabrillo Ave., Torrance, CA 90501

                    2. Hi exilekiss,

                      We dropped by Kagura last night and had a very nice tonkatsu-centric meal. I'm happy to report that those issues related to the tonkatsu itself that you experienced didn't befall our family last night. We ordered the premium loin, premium filet and the "standard (?)" filet w/ kani kurimu koroke and the kaki furai (respectively) in the gozen option. All variations of tonkatsu we tried were pretty much flawless. Our son who really enjoys tonkatsu likes his panko fried a little darker, but aside from that personal preference issue, the cuts were moist, tender, and the panko crust was a perfect golden brown. The loin had a nice clean flavor, the premium filet was noticeably porkier in flavor, and the standard filet was somewhere in between.

                      I'm hoping that someone may have taken notice to the various tonkatsu-related faults that you pointed out in your thorough review. I think that any restaurant that you review would be doing themselves a favor by reading through it and noting their strengths and weaknesses.

                      My one complaint about our specific tonkatsu experience would be that we received no shirogoma or any tonkatsu sauce. When we asked for the tonkatsu, we assumed that the shirogoma would arrive with it as well - never leave out specifics if you want something. We finally received a generous pot of tonkatsu sauce, but no still no shirogoma. At this point, our tonkatsu dishes had been sitting on the table for almost 10 minutes. And after repeated unsuccessful tries at waving down the waiters - they were literally running between dining areas and the kitchen - another five minutes had elapsed. Not wanting the dishes to become any colder and possibly a bit soggy, we decided to dig in sans shirogoma. It was still a wonderful tonkatsu experience, but I could only wonder how it could have been with that nice added touch. It would be like going to Torihei with the expectation of trying their sansho after hearing so much about it, only to find that they neglected to leave a box on your table an no waitresses could be found to rectify this problem. This service-related issue obviously is an example of what you have already mentioned as being another negative about Kagura. Two waiters on a Friday night for a place of this physical size and configuration is totally inadequate. The achilles heal of Kagura is still providing adequate amounts of service. The service itself is fine. It's a matter of not getting enough of it. Two waiters on a Friday night for a place of this physical size and configuration is a loss for all involved.

                      The chawanmushi was hard/dense - not the light custard consistency that I'm used to, but still had a nice flavor - I wonder if Kagura would benefit from a taller container as opposed to those shallow bowls? Just about all of the auxiliary items that surrounded the tonkatsu as well as the small dishes that we ate prior to the tonkatsu were really quite good. Even the tofu issue that raised its ugly head on your visits seems to have been corrected. We tried and enjoyed the peetan tofu (tofu w/ century egg) just because it seems so unique in an LA-Japanese eatery. The tofu still a medium firm, but was very fresh. Their kaki furai was very impressive. I don't know their source for oysters, but I'd be very tempted to try their nama dish as well.

                      We were also impressed with their sake list, and as you mentioned, the prices per bottle were more than fair for a restaurant. We enjoyed a bottle of the Born Muroka Nama Genshu junmai daiginjo. Nice acidity, very nice bouquet, medium-bodied and a slight sweetness all made for a very enjoyable palate refresher. We've gone to enjoying sake in pinot noir glasses at home. We find that taking in the very subtle nuances in the daiginjo and junmai daiginjo categories are more accessible to us. Since Kagura has wine, we will have to ask for wine glasses in the future - that is if they have the time to accommodate us.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Bulavinaka I'm glad you had a good experience! If it makes you feel any better the sesame seeds, while fun to grind, IMHO don't really make that big of a difference. Although it's common to see in Japan it's not a part of Tonkatsu in many of the best restaurants.

                        I had the loin katsu the first time and I'm going back this week...Should I try the filet? I usually prefer the extra fat that's around the loin, but if the filet's good I'll give it a shot. It's usually harder to make the filet.

                        BTW the chawanmushi is dense because the ratio of eggs to dashi is higher than in a regular chawanmushi - it's not because it's overcooked or because of the shape of the vessel. For better or worse their recipe is closer to tamago tofu - a harder version of chawanmushi. I guess that's the way they like it. Although it was quite firm they use good dashi and I thought the flavor was good.

                        1. re: la2tokyo

                          Hi la2tokyo,

                          The loin and filet are completely different. In using chicken meat as a comparison, the loin is the white meat - very clean taste. The filet is more like the dark meat. More earthy in flavor. But unlike standard chicken meat, we found both loin and filet to be moist, but I guess it depends on which you prefer or feel like having on that visit.

                          My thoughts were exactly as you mentioned concerning the chawanmushi being more like tamago tofu. Thanks for mentioning that, and I didn't realize the egg ratio is what caused the firmer texture. The dashi WAS good. I took a sip of that first to gauge their prowess in that department.

                          I don't know if you had any service-related issues, but to minimize them until they get enough staffing, I'd ask for a table or booth directly along the pathway to the kitchen. We were tucked in the very back of the booth section and we couldn't wave down either waiter - we had to give it a loud, "Sumimasen..." to even catch them in mid-stride. Little things like more ocha, gohan, or additions to our order were inordinately tough.

                        2. re: bulavinaka

                          Hi bulavinaka,

                          Thank you for the great follow-up report. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your meal there and that they might be improving.

                          One FYI, they have *no* "Standard Tonkatsu" cuts. Even though the menu doesn't take the time to list the kanji for it, I confirmed multiple times that the Tonkatsu served with the 2 Item / 3 Item Teishoku are the same cuts. So what you experienced (where 1 Filet was porkier and tasted better, and the 2nd Filet (w/ the Combo) wasn't as good) is an example where the kitchen still hasn't nailed it perfectly. :(

                          That Tonkatsu Sauce hiccup happened to us as well. :( How a *Tonkatsu Specialist* can serve their Tonkatsu and forget to give the customer the Homemade Katsu Sauce that is part-and-parcel with Tonkatsu is baffling.

                          *And* they forgot your Shiro Goma (they also forgot it on my 3rd visit) even after you asked for the Katsu Sauce. It's just sad.

                          There's a certain amount of pride the front and back of the house should take serving their customers the best experience they can get. In this case - ignoring the understaffed service (they're still trying to serve an entire mammoth restaurant with 2 Waiters and No Busboys :(, the fact that they just "forget" to bring the basic Katsu Sauce and Shiro Goma (to your party and my party) is just... not good. Even the smallest, hole-in-the-wall, mom&pop shop in some random neighborhood in Tokyo that I tried would make sure there's Sauce and check up on us for Ocha, etc.

                          Glad to hear about the Peetan Tofu. I love their Kaki Furai as well, so I'm relieved to hear that's still great. :) (And sadly, your Chawanmushi experience sounds like they still haven't improved that angle.)

                          1. re: exilekiss

                            Hi exilekiss,

                            Thanks for clarifying the filet discrepancy. The smaller two-piece filet servings did taste different from the single larger filet - I guess I can attribute that to the difference in moisture content and/or relative doneness. While the smaller filets weren't dry, they were not as moist as the larger one. They seemed a bit thinner as well.

                            The whole service issue is going to kill this place. I'm pretty easy going when it comes to service as long as I get the basics. I know it's not the fault of the servers - I still tipped them accordingly. But the powers-at-be at Kagura really need to address this issue soon. By the time we left, the restaurant was about 60%, and the two waiters were in constant motion, basically skimming along the pathways and only briefly touching down long enough to do what ever it was that was required. This kind of frantic behavior sits horribly with me. I can pick up on this energy and it's very unsettling. And I'm certain that SNAFU on the tonkatsu sauce/shirogoma was due to them being overtaxed.

                            Not sounding like I'm sucking up to you, but your eye and palate are so far above me that the subtle differences that I miss are like giant radar blips on a screen to you. I admire you for this. At the same time, I'm willing to admit that I really like the food here in general, and that the kitchen seems to be making serious attempts at making great food. As both you and I have mentioned already - if they're going to tout that they're a tonkatsu specialist, they need to nail it down and lock it up. The rest of the menu items seems so effortless for them - at least what we tried. The kaki furai, the kani kurimu koroke, and the avocado salad were excellent. All of the gozen times were at least very good (sans chawanmushi as metioned). But the pork-side of the menu obviously is wavering between subpar and excellent. Do you think that maybe the other parts of their menu might be drawing away the attention of the chef(s)?

                            1. re: bulavinaka

                              Hi bulavinaka,

                              Thank you for the kind words and additional details. :) While our servers couldn't confirm it, they either have a very good Sous Chef who does all the Non-Katsu dishes (if they do, perhaps a holdover from Kagura the Kaiseki and Kappo restaurant previous to this), or like you said, the Non-Katsu dishes have pulled away too much attention from Masuda-san.

                              Then again, their Grilled Kurobuta Saikyo was *so* horrible (the dish that made all my guests and I stop chewing after 1 bite and want to spit out the food), that I don't know what to think.

                              And I had the same feeling you did with the Service. I can also feel this frantic energy and inattentive Service, and it really makes the whole meal feel... not enjoyable and unwelcoming.

                              1. re: exilekiss

                                >>Then again, their Grilled Kurobuta Saikyo was *so* horrible (the dish that made all my guests and I stop chewing after 1 bite and want to spit out the food), that I don't know what to think.<<

                                Reason #1,345,988 to read through your posts - let exile kiss take one for the team and live to write about it. :) We gave this one a wide berth after reading your review - this would have been a definite pick for us had you not given everybody the heads-up. Thanks again...