Good New Asian Joints in Hollywood - Ikemen and Soy Sauce Roll & Bowl
Great news for Hollywood Hounds. Two new Japanese-y options in the area. You can see this review fully formatted with links and pics on my blog, linked at the end. Enjoy!
I'm all a-twitter and a-flutter. I love Little Tokyo, to the point that I actually look forward to jury duty because it means I'll get to eat my fill of ramen at Daikokuya and donburi at T.O.T. Between rounds of public service, I make pilgrimages downtown, just to get out of the culinary wasteland that is central Hollywood and into some good Japanese food.
The options for a quick meal in walking distance of my house have been pretty grim: the big chains and awful pizza joints on Hollywood Boulevard; fair to middlin' Thai food; strip mall Hawaiian BBQ; El Pollo Loco. It's telling that even this Food Crazy, on those nights when my Better Palate is at an exercise class or whatever and I can indulge in take-out for one, usually settles for solid but unexceptional Singapore style Chinese from Le Mandarette.
But all that has suddenly changed, with the opening in the last two weeks of two genuine, delicious, Japanese holes-in-the-wall that would be worthy of Little Tokyo, right here in Hollywood. Did I mention I'm a-flutter?
Soy Sauce Roll & Bowl
7131B W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
I know, I know, it's an awful name for excellent and authentic Japanese lunch counter food. LA. Eater noted its opening with understandable lack of enthusiasm a couple of weeks ago. But then I received a menu in my mailbox, and I was mightily intrigued by the photos. Nearly half of the menu is a variety of donburi bowls (protein and vegetables over rice): spicy scallop, baked lobster, eel/avocado, spicy seared albacore, chicken katsu, Japanese curry. There are also izakaya-style skewers, miniscule but delicious tastes of things like grilled pork belly, baby octopus, and quail egg at miniscule prices ($1.95 for three bites of pork belly). True, there are also the ubiquitous "special rolls" with names like "Super Crunch" and "Japanese Burrito." Bot don't let the questionable nomenclature fool you. This is real Japanese/Asian Fusion food, made and served by Japanese people. And the quality of what I've ordered has been excellent.
The Spicy Scallop bowl ($7.50) comes not with the generic American broccoli and carrots pictured on the menu but a delightful salad of fresh greens; the bay scallops are plentiful and indeed very spicy, and made sans mayonnaise, with just a chili oil sauce. The bright red pickled ginger adds snap and color to the bowl.
The Chirashi ($8.50) features generous portions of fresh, tender fish -- yellowtail, salmon (raw, thank you!), tuna, albacore, and shrimp. The "Bake Lobster" ($7.50), is the dish that brings the mayo. If it's lobster, they're they're tiniest tails I've ever seen (think crawfish), but the creamy bake is rich and satisfying. One or two caveats: the "crab" in the Crab Bowl and Rainbow Bowls (pictured above... a chirashi with avocado and crab salad added) is actually Krab. And the fried "popcorn" scallops, by the time they're delivered to our door, are a bit rubbery.
But wait -- they deliver?! Oh, yes, my friends, they freakin' deliver. Promptly and courteously. When one of my orders arrives missing a baked lobster bowl, Brian (the chef? owner?) returns almost immediately with the AWOL bowl, but also three miso soups, a giant order of edamame, and a voucher for another lobster bowl next time I order. That will, I assure you, be very, very soon. Note that the "dining room" of the place is tiny, although clean and stylish in modern Japanese lunch counter style: three small tables and counter space for maybe a dozen. The staff is almost impossibly friendly and enthusiastic. I have yet to work through the menu to decide if the food is better than the comparable T.O.T on 2nd Street in Little Tokyo; but that I even am considering such a question, regarding a place in what we call "the Pollo Loco mall" makes it a great day in Hollywood.
And then, just a long stone's throw away, there's:
Ikemen Dip Noodle
1655 N La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
In the same parking-challenged strip mall that houses our go-to takeout pizza (Raffallo's) and aforesaid go-to Chinese takeout, Ikemen quietly appeared in a soft opening a couple of weeks ago. The space formerly occupied by Casablanca (which was once our go-to Mexican but has for years been sad and inedible) is now home to a tiny, ultra-hip noodle counter serving black-belt ramen from a genuine celebrity Ramen Master. This little bit of Tampopo three blocks from Hooters and the Hard Rock is so wonderful and unlikely. This place couldn't be more Japanese-cool, from the "Urban Youth Smoking" art to the Louis IVX chandelier to the black painted tile to the chef and wait-staff wearing red or pink straw pork-pie hats. And the ramen might be the best I've had in L.A.
The "dip ramen" consists of thick, gloriously chewy noodles served cold, soba-style, with either chashupork tonkotsu (pictured below ) or grilled chicken on top and a bowl of richly seasoned hot broth, into which you dip the noodles bite by bite.
The broth comes in four styles, from the garlicky "Zebra" to the heavily fish-powdered "Ikemen." My waiter recommends adding a "topping" of "Onsen Tamago," a perfectly poached egg, to my Zebra noodles. He's right... stirring the egg yolk into the noodles gives it a carbonara-like flavor and texture. This could be my new favorite dish within a three mile radius of my house.
The "Genuine Ramen," a manageable list of four varieties, is a classic thin rice noodle soup which I ordered with tomatoes (cherry tomatoes, to be exact, which were farmers market fresh and flavorful). This is the real deal.
The broth (a light chicken broth, not the heavy miso or salty soy sauce versions of ramen I'm most familiar with) is subtle and flavorful. The noodles are divine, and no wonder; the place is owned by Sean Nakamura, who is currently in New York opening a Ramen Lab, teaching other chefs his mad noodling skillz. You can read about him the rather baroque relationship between owner, chef and general manager, and their Japanese-cum-Torrance-cum-Beverly Hills foodie cred in an LA Weekly piece here. Again, I have yet to work my way through their menu, which promises other delights like grilled chicken and teriyaki pork sliders. But the lunch (or late night!) counter landscape is suddenly, and I hope permanently, altered in my 'hood.
327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
15462 S Western Ave, Gardena, CA 90249
1651 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Little Tokyo Restaurant
150 E Bonita Ave, San Dimas, CA 91773
31441 Santa Margarita Pkwy Ste J, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688
Checked it out this past week with my girlfriend another ramen junkie. We were a little tired of our local ramen joint (Jinya) and didn't feel like driving all the way down to Gardena, so we opted to give newcomer Ikemen a try.
Everything EXCEPT the food...
The place is TINY. 5-6 bar spots, a few tables, another bar lining the back wall. You a literally sitting right next to/around the kitchen - it's actually more claustrophobic than Daikokuya. The place was pretty busy, and while they were fairly quick at cleaning up the tables, they were not quick about taking care of the dishes.
Unfortunately, the back kitchen is directly in view, so you can see literally trays full of food needing to be cleaned. Not exactly the most pleasant visual, but I digress...
We ordered 3 items: Zebra Dip, chashu pork miso ramen, chashu pork ramen. Let's break it down here:
Zebra dip: by far and away the noodles were the best part of this dish. Loved the chewyness of it. The broth I felt was heavily lacking - maybe I don't understand this dip concept, but all I could taste was the garlic black sesame oil (ie the Zebra). The chashu was suspect - they literally leave all the cooked chashu in a stainless steel container, on a shelf, that they pull meat out of and then blast it with a propane torch. Well that's fine and dandy and all, but the stainless steel container does not sit on ice, and does not sit on a warmer. It just sits there for who knows how long. I don't really care, but my friend who is a germophobe found this behavior appalling.
I normally wouldn't care, but the chashu didn't taste good. It was chewy, and chewy, and well chewy. Probably the second worst chashu I've ever tasted in SoCal (Yamadaya, that honor goes to you).
Chashu Pork ramens - these ramens had the same chashu as above, and we all found it equally disappointing. The broth was subtle, fatty (as evidenced by the lip smacking), but at the end of the day not special. The best part of these broths was the fresh bonito flakes shaved on top of the bowls. The noodles were okay, nothing special.
At the end of the day I just felt Ikemen did not compare to any of the other established players in SoCal.
Went to Ikemen the other night. I tried the dipping ramen and a few appetizers. I think I prefer to have the regular soup ramen. The dipping ramen has a thicker noodle and a more condensed soup. It reminded me of zaru udon, which is cold udon with a soy sauce based dipping sauce. I wonder if it would be better if it used the traditional ramen noodle instead. The appetizers were ok, nothing that great. They do use freshly grated bonito flakes which have a much more intense fish flavor. I think I will go back to try their regular ramen.
Got takeout from Soy Sauce (honest to god the worst name ever) - rainbow bowl & chicken katsu bowl - they were ok... the chicken katsu could have used a bit more sauce... and I'm not one to complain about things being undersauced. The sashimi in the rainbow bowl was, er, well, let's just say I wouldn't order anything involving raw fish here again. As my husband would say, good from far, far from good. I'd probably go again for occasional takeout just because it's so darn convenient and the prices can't be beat and if I stick to cooked items, I'll come out ok. But I'm a bit more intrigued by Ikemen which looks far more promising and is also convenient for me so I'll give that a try next. So thanks for the tip since I agree there's a dearth of Japanese food around here and I have another option now.
BTW, the people running the joint are Korean, not Japanese... pretty typical for these Japanese takeout lunch joints. I heard the four the them have a protracted discussion about delivery, traffic, Hollywood bowl, calling the customer, etc etc etc... Not sure why it took a committee to sort all that out while letting my food sit on the counter (rather than handing it over so I can get on my merry way) but oh well... it wasn't that long of a wait.
Sonia, that's too bad about the sashimi. I've had three bowls from them and the fish has been (somewhat to my surprise) very good. Overall, It may not be Little Tokyo, but it's Hollywood and it's decent. Except for the name. Why? I could only think that every time they give you packet of shoyu, it's free advertising.
Little Tokyo Restaurant
150 E Bonita Ave, San Dimas, CA 91773
They may be "Ikemen" , but there outfits were giving me 80s nightmares. The porkpie hats are a little weird. Maybe the girls will start wearing Flashdance sweatshirts and leggings.
But....the noodles are very good. It's a dinky place though and in need of better air con. If you want noodles and live in Hollywood, this is a fantastic choice. And they stay open until 4am on weekends. In my clubgoing days, I would be all over this place.
Really friendly service too. Even with the skinny ties.
Read the article at squidink's laweekly blog and, after seeing pix of the food, knew I had to try this place out ASAP. I've eaten at Ikemen 4x in three weeks: Zebra Dip w/chashu pork; Chicken Ramen (add extra green onions & sauteed mushrooms); Premium Ramen w/chashu pork; and Bonito Dashi Ramen w/chicken & Onsen tamago. All were absolutely delicious!
Also, Ikemen has updated it website http://www.ikemenhollywood.com/ to include info, pictues & current menu.
1655 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046