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Jul 10, 2012 07:15 AM

Review: Yanagi Bistro - Torrance

So, for several months now, I've been seeing the former House of Vege get transformed into this slick appearing building called Yanagi Bistro. The sign says, "contemporary" Japanese cuisine. The location has been open for several weeks now. It's next door to a Sizzler and across the street from a Norms, close to the Rolling Hills Shopping Center. Last night, I decided to check it out.

When I first walked in, I was kinda shocked with the interior, in a good way. What the heck is this doing in Torrance (actually, it's in Lomita but it's only 100-200 feet from Torrance)? I felt like I walked into more of a trendy Hollywood restaurant or maybe more like a newer place in Manhattan Beach.

I checked out the menu, and in addition to the regular sushi bar items, they have what I think is less Japanese and more Pan-Asian dishes with some non-Asian (mostly Italian) influences. I was surprised by the menu so I decided to sit down and have dinner. The server told me that this food is different from their other location which is more of a bento box and sushi type place. He also informed me their chef just moved from NY and wanted to try something different.

Here's what I ordered

1. Yanagi Caesar (Menu description: Artisan romaine wedge, pear tomatoes, panko fried-poached egg, Ferrari proscuitto, crispy rice croutons) - The presentation was very nice, and the egg was perfectly cooked. The rice croutons were interesting, in a good way, crunchy exterior with a chewy interior. If I had to tweak the salad a bit, I would've added some cracked black pepper. The proscuitto was the layer directly on the plate, so if you scooped some of that with the rest of the salad, it was just the right amount of salty. The tomatoes tasted great too..

2. Mixed Tempura - A couple of shrimp, some typical veg (pumpkin, squash, green beans) - It was typical tempura. The coating was light and not too thick. I would've liked it to be a bit crisper (my personal preference) and the dipping broth could've been a touch saltier. It wasn't greasy. This was the least sexy dish of the night, but in all fairness, I think it would be a challenge to sexy-up a basket of tempura just about anywhere.

3. Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice - Beautiful presentation. Not spicy though. I think they should've put a thin slice or two of serrano on top instead of the garnish (which I think was a trapezoid of avocado).

4. Seared Scallop Risotto (Menu description: Giant pink diver scallop, white balsamic glaze, fresh yellow sweet corn, bacon bits, truffle oil, parmesan) - Beautiful presentation again. Sorry, I was hungry and didn't take photos. There was this edible flower popping up next to this nice sized scallop. The scallop was perfectly seared... really one of the best scallops I've had in eons. I enjoyed the dish overall but maybe it felt a touch too sweet (from the sweet corn and scallop). I would've liked more parmesan flavor (to get a bit more salt). I'm really not a salt craver, but I felt this may be just a tad underseasoned, even with the bacon bits. I could see Gordon Ramsay sending it back. The risotto itself, I felt, was cooked perfectly.

5. Braised Angus Short Rib (Menu Description: Sweet and Spicy Gochujang chili sauce, whipped potatoes, scallions, fried mochi) - Again, gorgeous presentation. This block of short rib was... chopstick ten....fork ten....just meltingly tender. I enjoyed the flavor and it had that darkened carmelized/glazed appearance that I enjoy on properly cooked short ribs. The potatoes were light and airy. The fried mochi (in the shape of a flower) had a crispy-chewy texture that was interesting (but a touch bland, like mochi typically is, which isn't a bad thing). The sauce was sweet and had a slight kick to it (but since I'm haven't had Gochujang before, I am not sure if this is a typical rendition or great rendition). It was really a beautiful dish and it tasted great.

I didn't order dessert but looked at the menu. No green tea ice cream as the token dessert item. I saw the table next to me order, and again the plating was gorgeous (and the portions small). They had a cheesecake, some Thai Iced Tea pudding that I think was served with 5-spice spiced churro "fries" (think mini churros), some cannoli assortment, and one or two other items.

Other than the spicy tuna on crispy rice, I didn't order any sushi. I did overhear the table next to me comment on how tasty and reasonably priced the sushi was.

This restaurant is a pleasant surprise in the "Torrance" restaurant scene (I know, using the word "scene" is a stretch).... and calling it "Torrance" is a stretch too because I think the actual address is a Lomita address. I think this place will find their way amongst the plethora of Japanese restaurants in this area. I feel they still have some of the "new restaurant kinks" to work out in the kitchen (i.e. salt and spice levels) but they really do NOT have to work on the presentations.

Atmosphere: A (Noise level was fine with the place half full, seats were comfortable, on the darker side)
Food Presentation: A+ (I was surprised at the level of presentation.)
Portion size: B- (I wouldn't go here starving. I don't think this place was going for a small plates concept when it came to their non-sushi entrees.) However, I don't think you need to order this many dishes to be full. I think I over ordered because I was intrigued by the presentation and description.
Taste: B (for the reasons above, but the short rib and scallop cooking was an A+ for me).
Value: B/B+ (Entrees ranged from 6-16 dollars, sides were 2-5). I think they were reasonably priced based on the quality of ingredients, creativity, and presentation.
Service: B (they kept my drink refilled, they were pleasant, the pacing of the dishes was reasonable, and the only hiccup was that they forgot to offer me dessert before bringing me the check).

Yanagi Bistro - Torrance
2439 Pacific Coast Hwy
Lomita, CA 90717

Bottom Line (literally): I would go back.

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  1. Thanks for the report. This locale had continuously been one Chinese restaurant or another for nearly 25 years so it's interesting to hear about the transformation.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chandavkl

      You're welcome. Yeah, it's a total trip compared to the other restaurants in the area. It's almost like they put it there by accident.

      1. re: DrBruin

        Great review DrBruin. Funny, I had the same feeling walking into Guh Mok Korean bbq on Sepulveda in Torrance a couple months ago- this time transported to Koreatown. (And right next to a dumpy Chile Verde). I dunno, I think Torrance has been on the ascent as an Asian food destination for a couple years.

    2. Thanks for the review! I live close by and have been wondering if/when they were finally going to open. Sounds like it's worth a try!

      1 Reply
      1. re: heinous

        I thought it was worth a try after passing by and seeing how much effort they put into the building... the menu was interesting when I walked in, so I decided to stay. If you go, I hope you add on to this post to let me know what you thought of the food.

      2. I used to live around the corner from the other Yanagi (on Artesia) and really enjoyed it. It was a nice neighborhood sushi joint with a very tasty and reasonably priced chirashi bowl and other sushi lunch specials. Service was always friendly and pleasant. I still stop in there from time to time for lunch when I'm up that way.

        I live closer to the one in Torrance/Lomita and have been waiting to hear that it was open. I'm looking forward to trying it--the food definitely sounds different than the other place.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chowbee

          The server I had told me this is the same owners but they wanted more of an upscale/refined concept. Looking at their website, the food (excluding the sushi bar) is completely different from one place to the other. By the way, if you go, please let me/us know what you thought of it.

        2. Thanks for the review! Will try to make it over there soon, maybe this weekend. Will report back. Like you, I think I'll mostly stick to the cooked items--can't imagine ordering sushi there when Miura is literally down the street.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Nicole

            I don't know when you last visited Miura, but when I went last week after not having gone for a long while, it was HORRENDOUS. Couldn't believe how much it'd gone down. Just taking a look at the sushi case made me hesitant and so I just ordered a few different things and everything except the scallop(which was just ok) was downright fishy and inedible. And all the cooked items were oily and/or overcooked. Really sad and disappointing since I used to love the place.

            1. re: baloney

              I hadn't been in a while, but then writing about it made me want to go and I actually went tonight. :) Sushi was excellent as always. Maybe you were there on an off day? Still, what you describe is unacceptable, ever.

          2. Had lunch the other day. The fish on chirashi was very fresh and of excellent quality although I would have liked some seasoning (seaweed, furikake or those pink fish flakes) in the rice. Spicy Ponzu Pork Belly Slider was a hit.

            11 Replies
            1. re: fdb

              Stopped in for lunch last week. They didn't have a Sashimi set, so I asked them if I could just get the sushi set, but sans rice. :) They were very accommodating, and I ended up with a beautifully presented plate of sashimi. The sushi set is 10 (5x2) pieces, but they gave me 14 pieces of sashimi. For the lunch price of $14, this was a great deal. The fish was fresh, nothing tasted off. This is my go-to for a quick sashimi lunch now!

              The service was extremely courteous and attentive. I was going to get the food to go, but the room was relaxing, and the people were so nice that I ended up just deciding to sit down and eat. I'll have to go back with a group to try some of their other stuff.

              1. re: heinous

                Perfect timing for this review as I have a lunch date in Lomita this week and we were wondering where to go. Now I know.

                1. re: maudies5

                  Update: Thanks for posting your review, heinous. Three of has had lunch there today and we all LOVED it. The food was outstanding, the presentation of the food was beautiful and the service was great. Definitely my go-to place next time I am in the area.

                  1. re: maudies5

                    I'm glad it worked out! Thanks to DrBruin for his original post - that's why I went there in the first place. I'm happy to hear that your experience was good too - I'll definitely have to go back with more people.

                    By the way, if you're in the area and are looking for a more traditional sushi experience, I also highly recommend Miura, just down the street on PCH. They're only open for dinner, but super excellent sushi, and a great omakase. I also love Hirose, just around the corner on Crenshaw - they're open for lunch and dinner, and also excellent sushi. They're both smaller mom and pop places, so not much for atmosphere, but just great sushi. :)

                    1. re: heinous

                      Thanks heinous. My son just recently moved to Lomita so this is all very helpful and he loves sushi. I am going to copy and paste your latest post and send it to him.

                      1. re: maudies5

                        No problem! And if you have any other questions about the area, let me know. I've lived in the South Bay all my life and moved to Lomita about 2 years ago - so I've explored all over the area!

                        1. re: DrBruin

                          Thanks for the original post, DrBruin.

                            1. re: maudies5

                              and for including a noise report. That's often neglected