May 29, 2009
Izayoi: Strip Mall Izakaya
If you happen to be visually impaired and unable to cast your eyes upon my most beautiful Christine (choisauce, olivejina, jujube - take your pick), then you'll be happy to know that I am the luckiest guy in the world. Why? Well not only does she cook (though she doesn't clean clean), drive (I get lots of rides), sing (anyone know what NRB means?), read (my blog as #1 fan), and dance (last time was La Cita...yeah be careful), she happens to have a bit of luck at this simple game called "21."
It was a sunny, if parched Monday, after I had bravely asked her to marry me, and she even more bravely agreed. We'd driven somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 miles in the last 48 hours and we were tired and hungry, but not beaten. Christine and I were debating what to do on this holiday (a personal one). I'll skip the unimportant part (cash infusion from Vegas) and get to the good part - Christine walks away a little more wealthy, a little more skippy, and a lot more hungry. We stop by the local clothing outlet, stock up on some chic styles and make our way up the 5/101 before rush hour hits.
Our debate from here starts like this: "we've got a few dollars to spend for dinner, where should we go?"
"how about...Church & State? I haven't gone yet"
"...I went last week, how about...(insert nice restaurant here)"
"nah we've been there before...what about (insert talked-about restaurant here)"
Back and forth, to and fro we discuss our options before us like children debating which Halloween candy to eat first. Or which ice cream flavor we want.
Then it hits us - Christine's been raving about Izayoi for months, since the days of our first dates when she raved about the pork belly.
"YES! It's perfect!" "It's not TOO expensive, so maybe we can even eat another good meal tomorrow!" "I was totally craving Japanese izakaya, it's delicious, not too filling but still super flavorful!"
OK, those weren't our exact words, but the 101's traffic seemed a lot more bearable knowing what we had ahead of us.
Izayoi is nestled among a Starbucks and Yogurtland along the outer edge of Little Tokyo, where lucky patrons can park in the large Office Depot lot just a few steps away. Parking is a tough commodity to find in this part of town, especially in the evening when the restaurants are buzzing and the hipsters are out in full force waiting for their staples of Spitz and Komasa Sushi.
The menu's expansive, featuring noodles, fried bits, and some stewed items that are typical of an izakaya. The space is decidedly industrial, with a thin counter abutting the kitchen and a humble dining area containg tables separated by low-flung barriers.
Christine jumps first at the ankimo, monkfish liver drapped seaweed and sprinkled with a light ponzu and sliced scallions. The first flavor beckons memories of our foie gras the day before at The French Laundry, but without the luxurious mouthfeel. Still the unctuous offal has a twinge of the sea tempered by the acidic ponzu that refreshes the palate as much as the liver coats it. A lovely beginning.
I flick to the shishito peppers, a favorite izakaya item of mine since Otafuku, where the little nubbers are grilled to a near char. A salty glaze evens them out and I munch on them like vegetable anchovies, plucking off the stem on the last bite.
The dishes don't come out in any rational progression so we get the highly desired portion of pork belly, doused in a sweet, soupy broth and topped with snap peas and a flowered carrot. The meat pulls apart, melting in your mouth like a luxurious porcine marshmallow while the sauce keeps it juicy. Christine would dub this, 'fist-pound' worthy, as would I. Christine ordered a simple scallop roll, which had some fleshy, tender scallop meat tightly wrapped in decently flavored rice.
Agadashi tofu was one of the best I've had with tender tofu boxed in a slightly tougher skin that held it together while the appropriate sauce made it as flavorful as tofu can get. Definitely worth ordering again. Beef tongue was a slight disappointment as it was slightly overcooked with tough texture. Still, the flavor was buttery and gamey just how I like my tongue.
Miso cod was another disappointment, the fish not glazed enough in sweet miso and the fish showing a deficiency of freshness in its overly flakey demeanor. It could've used more flavor or sauce. The fish cakes were a beeline back home, as I would eat buckets of this stuff growing up as a kid. The spongey texture and the almost artificiality isn't a deterrent to me at all. It's neither fishy or overly forward, but it's just fun to munch on.
Think of this next dish as Japanese Fish and Chips with Cod and Panko. Tarter sauce comes on the side to the fish that's crunchy on the outset and a tad stringy in the flesh. Not hugely memorable but worth getting if you want something fried. Cold Udon noodles slurped a la soba in a soy broth spiked with wasabi, grated radish, and seaweed was a delicious and refreshing finish to the meal that left us rather satisfied after the large meal.
I've been to a healthy handful of Izakayas and Izayoi might be up there with the best of them. The prices are reasonable as long as you don't go crazy on the extracurriculars. Stick to the classics and you'll have a fine meal on your hands. I hear the place gets packed on weekends so best make your trip on a more quiet weeknight like we did. I assure you, you will have a great time.
132 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012