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Jan 27, 2011 09:41 AM

Aburiya Toranoko (Little Tokyo) - Review

Last night (Wednesday, Janaury 26) we checked out the new izakaya opened up by the Lazy Ox Canteen group in Little Tokyo. I live the neighborhood soI was pretty excited when I heard that there was going to be a new addition to the Lazy Ox family. While I'm not a huge fan of Lazy Ox, I really felt that Little Tokyo needed a new Japanese concept style retaurant and I figured the Lazy Ox guys would probably be the best team to bring that concept to Little Tokyo.

We went on opening night, which in most circumstances would mean that I would not write about a restaurant. Some of my favorite restaurants (e.g., NOPA in San Francisco) had horrible opening weeks and months, so I feel its not very fair to write about a restaurant on its opening night. I'm making an exception here because as a group we unanimously felt the food ranged from good to excellent and we also thought the service was good, especially considering that it was opening night.

In addition, just want to point out, we were not invited by the restaurant or VIPs - we were just regular patrons.

I'm going to apologize in advance for the VERY long review!

Appearance/decor - The restaurant is very similar in size and shape to Lazy Ox Canteen (they are right next door to one another and it looks like the spaces may be identical). Toranoko is a long, rectangular shaped restaurant with the bar on the left, table seating in the middle, and tables along the side. The end of the restaurant is where the sushi bar is located. One side of the restaurant is exposed brick that consisted of Japanese style mural graffiti art. The restaurant is loud – as would be expected of a place with high ceilings.

We sat at the sushi bar. At first, we were a little disappointed to sit at the bar as we had 6 of us and sharing plates and conversation would be difficult, but we were fortunate to be seated in front of chef and part owner Hisaharu Kawabe.

Menu can be found here:

We asked Chef Kawabe to just order for us. We figured if were seated at the sushi bar with the owner, we may as well take advantage of it.

5 of us had no dietary restrictions, my wife is vegetarian so all of her dishes came from the first column on the top left of the menu.

1. Snow crab and jelly fish with cucumber sunomo – A great first dish. Very nice citrus (from the yuzu) and the texture was just great. I really liked the snow crab and all the flavors were very subtle but a perfect prep for the palate.

2. Yanagita seafarms uni goma tofu – I'm a little biased here because I love uni. The tofu was almost like a buttery custard and melted in your mouth. The uni was rich and delicious. Probably one of my favorite dishes from the evening.

3. “Catch of the day” with shiso salsa – The fish of the day I believe was halibut. Sliced sashimi style with a very interesting salsa made with yuzu, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some other ingredients that I am sure I am forgetting. I thought the salsa would over power the delicate flavors of the halibut, but was really surprised how well everything went together.

4. White fish sashimi with pomegranate –The fish I believe was flounder. Another one of my favorites. The fish was thinly sliced and tasted very fresh. The pomegranates went unbelievably well with the wish. I would have loved to have more servings of this dish.

5. Baby tiger shrimp tempura with curry aioli – This was probably my least favorite dish. The shrimp was a bit tough and the tempura was a little soggy. The curry aioli was good, but the dish felt like something you would order at a chain restaurant.

6. Colorado black pork kakuni braised & porridge – The pork was fatty and moist and full of flavor. I didn’t really see where the Japanese influence was for this dish, but it tasted great so I really didn't care.

7. Tsukune meatball – Ground chicken cooked over a charcoal grill. Very good and reminded me of some of the izakaya food I had in Tokyo.

8. Toro with Japanese pickles – Also very good. The toro was nice and fatty and just melted in your mouth. The pickles were good and added a nice textural contrast, although I would probably order just the toro on its own because I felt that the pickles masked some of the toro flavors.

9. Mixed oden bowl – interesting assortment of fish and vegetable cakes in a broth. I liked it, but not one of my favorites. One of our dining companions, who is Japanese and lived in Japan for some time, pointed out that the dish was fairly common in Japan and Toranoko's version was pretty dead on.

I also sampled a bit of my wife veggie dishes.

1. Edamame steamed soybean with himalaya salt – good edamame, but nothing spectacular

2. Marukastu farms yasai vegetable sticks with kara miso – My favorite of the veggie dishes. The yasai was grilled eggplant and tasted very good with the miso.

3. Shishito pepper with soy butter – This dish was ok. We had to add some lemon to the dish because we felt that it lacked acidity.

4. Takana croquette of mashed potato and mustard leaf – My wife really liked this dish, although I was a bit underwhelmed.
Drinks – Extensive sake and wine collection. We ordered some sake and Japanese beers.

Service – Attentive, although on several occasions we had to ask several times for water or an extra glass. Opening night you'd expect the restaurant is still working out service kinks. Despite that, we though the service was really good for being an opening night.

Overall, a very good restaurant and I would not hesitate to back again. I really enjoyed almost all my dishes and it really brought me back to my trip to Tokyo a couple years back. It really had a feel and the energy of a Japanese izakaya (all the way down to the waiters who all seemed to be from Japan).

Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Aburiya Toranoko
243 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

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  1. Great review and the photos are excellent too. What did the meal set you back before tip?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Servorg

      Surprisingly, not as much as I would have expected. Came out to about $55/person including drinks and tax. We were pretty stuffed after our meal.

      1. re: Servorg

        I was in shellshock's group and enjoyed the meal as well. Just to clarify, for our portions we paired up to split dishes, meaning the chef would make 3 portions of something to serve to us 5 diners. Otherwise, it would've been too much food for a single person!

        I asked our Japanese-speaking friend again about both fish sashimi so I could know to look for them in the future, and he said the one with pomegranate was hirame, which is halibut, and the one with the salsa was sawara, which is Spanish mackerel. The sawara was my favorite of the night.

        1. re: mikeop34

          Thanks for the clarifications Mike. By the way, those great pics were taken by Mikeop34!

      2. I came back tonight and luckily the food was comped by my boss. I was not impressed by the food though. I did like the fact they make a great okonomiyaki though.

        Sushi wise its done well and you can't go wrong with the sushi here.

        Atmosphere was really nice and the staff was well trained especially for their opening week.

        I know the chefs behind this place can do more interesting things but I feel this place may have fallen into the trap of being a cookie cutter izakaya with some modern fluff. Nothing was bad but nothing really excelled, I suppose this would be a great place to eat if you have friends that want to eat sushi, sumiyaki, oden, and Japanese style meat dishes at the same time.

        Basically I guess its like Honda Ya Izakaya in that they are doing many styles of Japanese cooking but at least they do it all moderately well.

        Honda Ya Izakaya
        333 S Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90013

        1. I noticed you didn't order too many of the grill items, which was the main focus of my disappointment with toranoko. everything off that part of the menu was terribly undercooked including the asparagus, mushroom, chicken skin, and heart.

          Enjoyed the uni goma tofu.

          The motsu nikomi we got was served at room temp. (terrible!).

          We had a server who was not at all familiar with the menu, and it took a while to place our order, because he had to read each item we ordered to make sure he wrote it correctly.

          I don't think I'll be back anytime soon, because I imagine it will take some time to work out the kinks that I had problems with.

          1 Reply
          1. re: andytseng

            We ordered based on Chef Kawabe, which now that I think about, did lack the grilled items. It's unfortunate the motsu goma wasn't served at the right temperature. Maybe because we had zero expectations going in is why we enjoyed our meal so much. Chef Kawabe explained the menu to us in pretty good detail. In addition one of our dining companions spoke Japanese so we had a easy time communicating with the chef. I surely hope our experience wasn't a one-off because we would love to go back.