vegetarian just back from tokyo and kyoto craving everything
yuzu ramen? Yuzu everything? with small wedges of japanese citrus that looked like limes but had a tangerine taste?
tempura shiso leaf?
soba with amazing veg
creative things done with tofu skin and tofu
where do I find it in LA?
Had show-stopping vegetarian set meals in Kyoto, at Kikunoi. Deserved all those three michelin stars.
Since then, have been looking for this level of experimentalism and flavor in US japanese food but feel frustrated.
Any advice? I live in Santa Monica. tis!
First of all, welcome to the newest member of the Japanese Kaiseki Ryori Fan Club! I agree wholeheartedly that Kikunoi is quite the feast for the senses!
In searching for what you are missing from your trip to Japan, please know that the "food chain" in L.A. is very different than the supply of raw ingredients a chef would encounter in Japan. Having said that:
Yuzu is not hard to find in SoCal, given its recent boom in popularity. Many SoCal Japanese supermarkets carry the fruit. There is also yuzu-infused sake, yuzu liqueur, even yuzu mayonnaise for sale! The best "shot" of pure yuzu juice is found at the end of the sushi omakase meal at Zo (Downtown L.A.), where Chef Keizo-san serves it to you chilled. Super-refreshing!
Tempura shiso leaf: Most Japanese tempura places will serve this. If memory serves, I believe Hannosuke, the excellent tendon outlet in the Mitsuwa Market food court (West L.A.) offers this as an a la carte item.
Soba: There was a recent soba thread on this very board:
Near Santa Monica, for soba, you might try Sojibo (on Sawtelle). Yabu (on Pico) also serves soba, but I didn't think it was very special.
Yuba (tofu skin) is a specialty I enjoyed most at Nikko (a popular shrine city a bit north of Tokyo). I'm not sure where yuba is consistently served in SoCal, but Chef Shunji-san has been known to incorporate this into his dishes at his eponymous restaurant in West L.A.
Your BEST bet for modern kaiseki in L.A. would be at n/naka, Chef Niki Nakayama's wonderful restaurant in Palms (yes, Palms). Another great option is to try for dinner at Shunji Japanese Cuisine - Shunji performs miracles with vegetables. Both places are fantastic. Both places are vegetarian-friendly.
As a sidenote: Did you try shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) in Japan? A good place to try this type of vegetarian eating in L.A. is at Shojin in Little Tokyo (in the mall at the corner of 3rd & Alameda).
Just a note since this comes up when you search "Shunji for vegetarians." Shunji might have great vegetable dishes but nearly all (confirmed on the phone with them) are cooked in a dashi-based broth and thus would not be suitable for a strict vegetarian.