I remember finding an old photo album that belonged to my parents one day. Between the dusted and now-faded pages stood a young couple, happily in love. My mother — so vibrant and beautiful — looked just like the Japanese version of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. It’s quite surreal to think that your parents were once a teenager too. … And she is still very beautiful today.
Every time I see things reminiscent of the Kurosawa-esque post World War II Japan, I somehow think of my parents as young adults (although they are of much later generation). And I image Musha would resemble a place they may have frequented back in the days in Tokyo.
The décor of Musha, a warm dining room-like izakaya in Torrance, has a distinct feel of an old Tokyo, with a little sprinkle of Japan’s own interpretation of the Western world — with cherrywood tables and chairs, dim lights, and a menu written in traditional Japanese calligraphy but with hip, modern, playful fonts. In the corner, on the other side of the counter, chefs whip up Japan’s take on popular non-Japanese dishes in an open kitchen. The place is full of energy — an optimistic, positive, old-school spirit — possibly that of Japan in the 40s trying to rebuild the country and mend the broken spirits.
The food is reminiscent of the old era as well, offering the Japanese incarnation on worldly menu, as well as some truly authentic Japanese dishes. Personally, I love Japanese “Western” food, if I may call it that. Some of my favorites are croquet, spaghetti with meat sauce and gratin. I also find wafu meat loaf (“hamberg,” as it’s called) delicious. This type of food is the perfect reflection of Japan’s approach to things – take something that’s already in existence and improve it, and make it its own in the process (we didn’t invent cars, we just made them better!). Musha perfects this genre of food while successfully preserving the spirit of authentic Japanese culinary wonders.
My friend (whom I bestowed the title of “honorary Japanese” because of her impressive knowledge and interest in the Japanese culinary culture) and I ordered several of the restaurant’s popular dishes.
The refreshing Harusame Salad was a perfect way to commence the epicurean adventure. The salad combined two of my favorite things — harusame and tangy vinegar — and whet the appetite for more.
Here are some of the delicious food we devoured in:
“Ebi Mayo Mayo,” fried battered shrimps (plump and absolutely satisfying) smothered in mayonnaise-base sauce.
Baguette Gratin (what diet?)
The most impressive dish of all was Cheese Risotto (pictured on top and right), served in a well of Parmigiano-Reggiano block. The chef mixed the risotto with the cheese at the table, scraping the generous layers of the cheese as he assembled. I have never seen anything like this in my life and my eyes almost teared up with joy and anticipation. The flavor and texture were as heavenly as it looks. The interesting part is that the risotto tasted nothing like the ones I’ve had before, different from the ones served in Italian restaurants. I can’t pinpoint what it was that made it unique, but the Arborio rice, panchetta and cheese tasted like the creamy gratin my mother used to make for us as a child.
Even with same ingredients, Musha has the magical touch to create something that would take me on a journey down the memory lane.
Musha: 1725 Carson Street, Suite B, Torrance, CA 92780