Friday Night Fun at Musha

Friday night dinner with Tiffany, Jesse, Shannon, and Kevin, at Musha in Santa Monica. TGIF!biggrin

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(Clockwise from top left): Aburi Saba; Ponzu Duck; Kakuni; Spicy Tuna Dip.

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Tofu French Fries; two kinds of sauces for the tofu; M.F.C. (Musha Fried Chicken); Ebimayo.

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Musha’s Risotto; Aski; Black Sesame Ice Cream; Takotama.

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Pre-Game Dinner: Honda Ya

My boyfriend and I love to go to Staple Center to cheer for our favorite team, Los Angeles Kings. (It’s especially fun now because the boys are having a pretty good season!) Hockey is, hands down, the best sport in the world to watch, with great speed, intensity, and energy, but it’s unfortunate that the fun doesn’t translate well on television. I always encourage people to go watch a game live to really understand the beauty of the sport. I wasn’t even a fan either, until I went to my first game about seven years ago … and the rest is history!

Before the game, if time permits, we like to make a trip to a nearby Little Tokyo to grab something to eat. Granted the food at Staple Center is fairly decent (especially the pasta place), but why pass up great Japanese eats when they are just a couple blocks away (where the glass of wine doesn’t cost $12)? Our latest pre-game outing was Honda Ya, located on the third floor of Little Tokyo Mall, a former home of Mitsuwa (aka Yaohan) Supermarket in Downtown. It’s always very depressing to walk through the mall, knowing how alive it once were back in mid-80s to the mid-90s, when Japan’s economy was well and there were lots of Japanese people living in Los Angeles. The good thing is that this izakaya, the younger brother of the original Orange County location, has been gaining some buzz, bringing in much-needed traffic to this ghost town.

The interior of the restaurant reminded me a little bit of Musha in Torrance, but larger and slightly less modern. The wooden tables and paper lamps dangling from the ceiling added a sense of comfort and authenticity to the place. My boyfriend, along with several of my friends, have been here and liked it, so I was really excited to be able to check it out myself!

We started out by sharing the order of Sashimi Salad, mix green topped with pieces of tuna, yellowtail, and other sashimi, and avocado slices, smothered in spicy mayonnaise. There was nothing too special about the salad but I liked taking a bite out of the shell made out of deep frying a spring roll wrapper. It was so much fun to eat!

Ebi-furai, Japanese version of fried shrimp (breaded with crispy panko and deep fried in vegetable oil), is a favorite for many Japanese. Most of us Japanese grew up loving this dish as kids, especially because of the tartar sauce that accompanies them! These shrimps were plump and delicious, and brought back the sweet memories of childhood! 🙂

Because Honda Ya is known for its yakitori skewers, we had to try the basics: bacon-wrapped asparagus, sasami (white chicken meat), tebasaki (chicken wings), tukune (chicken meatballs brushed with sweet soy sauce) and negima (chicken and green onion). There is something so lovely about eating these yakotori with a nice glass of wine.  Perhaps the popular drinks of choice at a cozy place like this are sake and ice-cold Japaense draft beer, but I like to pair my skewers with a glass of red.

My favorite dish of the night was Hiyayakko, generous blocks of silky tofu enjoyed with aromatic yakumi (garnish) like grated ginger, green onion, katuobushi, paper-thin bonia flakes, and soy sauce. I also loved the presentation of the dish, with tofu arriving in a traditional Japanese “zaru,” usually used to serve cold soba (buckwheat noodle).

We finished the dinner with an order of Spicy Yellowtail Roll.

Although none of the dishes were earth shattering, I though everything I sampled were certainly above average and even better, very affordable. I will definitely come back here to try other dishes, like boxed sabazushi (mackerel sushi roll), Au gratin potatoes, and grilled black cod, that people are raving about. I can’t wait for our next hockey game and Honda Ya outing!

Honda Ya
333 S. Alameda, #314, Los Angeles, CA 90013
★★★★☆

Kinkakuji and Izakaya in Kyoto

kinkakujiMy mother and I were off to Kyoto for a much-needed relaxation. The last few days in Chiba required us to take care of some business and fulfill family obligation so we were definitely looking forward to spending the stress-free week in the cultural and culinary capitol of Japan. We stayed at my other aunt and uncle’s house (my mother’s sister), located in the middle of all the historical action of the city. It was very strange to walk on the streets of Kyoto and find Seven Eleven sitting right next to a 1,000-year-old castle!

Our fist stop was to visit Kinkakuji, a gold covered, pimped out temple built in 1397 known as “Golden Pavilion Temple.” I was still very young when I was here last so it gave me the different perspective and a greater appreciation for this breathtaking piece of history.

green-teaMy mother, my aunt and I stopped at a tea shop and enjoyed a real matcha tea at Kinkakuji. Unlike the green tea Frappacino many of us are accustomed to, the traditional kind is very rich and bitter which is why it is usually enjoyed with a small piece of Japanese sweet. It was a perfect place to enjoy the scenery (people-watching in Japan is so much fun!) and rest our tired feet from walking around the temple.

After we got home and rested a little more, the family took us to a neighborhood izakaya called Sou for dinner. It was a traditional izakaya, the Japanese style tapas that offer small individual dishes, but all the waiters were all young, modern and very good looking. But what took center stage this night was not the hot waiters but the wonderful conversation with sweet Aunt Shigeko and Uncle Toru, my lovely cousin Chiaki and her charming husband Toshio and my partner-in-crime mother. Food, however, was a close second. Just take a look!

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Appetizer

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The sashimi platter

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Crisp assorted tempura

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Eggplant dengaku (miso sauce)

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This is a dish called, “dobinmushi.”  Inside are incredibly aromatic matsutake mushrooms and other seasonal ingredients swimming in simple broth. You drink the broth and eat everything else.

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Egg filled with cooked anago (saltwater eel)

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Chicken karaage

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Rolled cabbage (ground beef wrapped in cabbage leaves, simmered in special ketchup-based sauce)

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All dinner ends with some kind of rice dish. This is how the rice came in!

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Rice with shirasu and umeboshi

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This is how it looks when served

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Rice with salmon

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Rice with salmon, with salmon roe on top

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Green tea ice cream with fried gyuhi (textured like mochi)

Mother’s Day Celebration: Kushiyu

mothers-day-liversEvery year, a venue for the Mother’s Day celebration is a toss up between Kushiyu and a few other Japanese restaurants but the yakitori house in Tarzana won out this year.  And I’m glad it did.

I like the playfulness of yakitori, the Japanese skewers. It’s like eating fondue, expect contents of vegetable and protein are a little more nutritionally dense than a melted cheese and a piece of bread. These yakitoris are more of a casual eat in Japan – perhaps something you munch on while enjoying ice cold Sapporo at izakaya (Here’s the 411 on yakitori) – but Kushiyu, a popular Ventura Blvd. joint, somehow turned the Japanese pub food it into a chic, trendy staple of an upscale Valley community. It’s not uncommon to run into some celebrities here dining at a sushi counter.

But unlike those celebrities, I like to go straight to yakitoris and a few appetizers when I’m at Kushiyu (we don’t mess with sushi here), and I’m glad my family was up for it as well.

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Oyster in curry sauce (front) and fried crab and shiitake mushroom (back)

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Crispy tuna (crispy rice topped with spicy tuna)

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Vegetable and Seafood Yakitori Combination

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Renkon (our favorite!)

Happy Mother’s Day, mom!  Thanks for everything and we love you!

Kushiyu
18713 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, CA 91356
★★★★★

Delicious Walk Down the Memory Lane: Musha

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:

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“Ebi Mayo Mayo,” fried battered shrimps (plump and absolutely satisfying) smothered in mayonnaise-base sauce.

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Buta Kakuni

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Baguette Gratin (what diet?)

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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

★★★★★

Leave It Up to the Chef: Wakasan

Wakasan, a quiet and cozy izakaya hidden in the street of Westwood, helps put an end to the popular misconception that Japanese food is only about sushi and tempura. Sure, sushi and tempura are an important part of the Japanese cuisine, but there’s much more to the Japanese culinary tradition than just raw fish and fried whatever.  Just come by Wakasan and you’ll discover the wonders of Japanese homestyle cooking yourself.

I would have to say that izakayas rank as one of my all-time favorite places to dine because you get to sample variety of dishes with absolutely no guilt. Each dish is served in a tiny portion so there’s no fear of over indulgence, and those tapas-like dishes are generally cooked steamed or sautéed with little or no oil. This explains why Japanese women are so darn thin. But of course, I too am Japanese but I’m also American bred, so I’m the super-sized version of those Japanese women.

We ordered the “omakase” dinner so we were able to relax and talk without stressing over what to order. With “omakase,” which literally translates to, “I’ll leave it up to you (the chef),” the dishes just keep coming and coming. Because the menu changes daily, it’s a mystery as to what you would get, but everything served here is nothing but perfection.  And the friendly and skilled servers deliver those treasures to your table at a perfect timing — never too fast, never too slow.

I don’t want to ramble on about how the food tasted and all the technical stuff because no words will do justice, but I hope these pictures would illustrate how magical this place and the food truly is.

The night’s offerings were (I think there were more dishes but I was too busy eating):

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Crab Sunomono and Kongnamul

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Grilled Salmon and Assortment of Sashimi

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Spinach tossed with ground sesame

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Fried Shrimps

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Somen with a hint of plum

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A special birthday gift for mom, courtesy of Wakasan himself

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Chawanmushi, the perfect way to conclude the fabulous dinner

Wakasan: 1929 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025
★★★★★