A Bite-Size Romance: Shinsengumi

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I was a sophomore in high school when I went on my first “real” date. A very nice boy invited me to a Homecoming dance and I happily obliged.  Before the dance, a group of us went to a fancy steakhouse for dinner, and I was so nervous, I could not eat. A sizzling plate of filet mignon was starring right at me and I could not bring myself to eat in front of my date!

Thinking back, perhaps what intimidated me the most about that dining experience was having to cut the steak with a knife and fork, and even though I knew how to use my utensils properly, the idea that I might cut the piece too big and having to chew it for 10 minutes before I get to swallow (and what if I had to cough while chewing?) scared the life out of me.  Silly, I know!

If I could relive my first date experience, I will definitely find myself in a yakotiri joint, like Shinsengumi in Monterey Park, where appetizers like fried oysters and tofu salad, as well as meats and vegetables on the skewers come in small, edible bite size. Seriously, how cute and romantic is it to share a plate of toriniku (white chicken meat), negima (chicken and green onion), tsukune (ground chicken meatballs), and perhaps some jalapeno skewers with your date? And there would be no embarrassment of  food cut too large, or pieces flying all over the place.  Sure, izakaya and yakitori restaurants may not be the first choice for your first date, and you might also risk stinking up your fancy wardrobe from the charcoal smoke from the grill but who cares when you’re having fun by actually being able to eat on the date!

In addition to the traditional yakitori selection, this location of Shinsengumi offers shabu shabu and other colorful array of delicious one-plate dishes. One of my favorite dishes here is ochazuke, flavorful dashi broth poured on top of white rice, which provides a great finish to a wonderful izakaya-style dinner.

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It’s funny to think how nervous and embarrassed I was to eat in front of a guy back then, but after I left the restaurant leaving my food virtually untouched, I promised myself that I would never let my nerve get in the way of a perfectly fine piece of steak (or any food) ever again! Even after 15 years, I still think about that filet mignon and weep!  And so far, I’ve been good with the promise (except for that one time with my beau … but that’s for another time).

Shinsengumi
111 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, CA 91754
★★★★☆

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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
★★★★★