May 29, 2009

Izayoi: Strip Mall Izakaya

izayoi sign

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.

ankimo - monkfish liver

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.

shishito peppers

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.

pork belly scallop roll

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.

agadashi tofu beef 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.

miso cod fish cakes

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.

deep fried cod cold udon noodles

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
(213) 613-9554


Diana said...

I don't think anyone can go wrong with an order of pork belly. The shishoto peppers look pretty great too! I really love reading about Christine and your foodventures -- you make a most charming foodie couple! :)

weezermonkey said...

I'm glad you like Izayoi! I am spoiled because it's only 5 minutes from me. :)

pleasurepalate said...

Izayoi is one of my favorite izakayas. I've been to Hara Ululu (sp?), also in the same neighborhood and it's just not as good.

Food, she thought. said...

I love love love Izayoi. I always hone in on the ankimo! What a perfect way to ease back into Los Angeleeeezzz.

Tokyoastrogirl said...

I love Izayoi- I must insist you get the kani kreme korrokke(creamy crab croquette) next time:). It's like little pockets of heaven.

mattatouille said...

Diana: thank you so much for following and keeping track of our foodie lives :) pork belly and shishito peppers are izakaya staples for me.

Weezermonkey: 5 minutes! lucky..i'd go there for a snack once a week.

Abby: what are some of your other favorite izakayas?

Lizzie: izakaya fare has so much affinity to Korean food for some reason, so I love it. Ankimo is a perfectly good alternative to foie gras. Most of the time.

Tokyoastrogirl: will definitely remember the crab croquette! I love croquettes of all kinds :)

Sarah said...

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Kung Food Panda said...

Matt, I'd love to check this place out. Let me know when you two are going back! =)

Alex said...

introduced to your site by Alex Chyu. Amazing photos, amazing writing! Wow, I have a lot to learn.

Kat said...

Congratulations on your engagement! ^_^ Though I have yet to meet you both, but from all the wonderful things I hear you guys are a match-made in heaven ^_-

The pictures look fantastic and what a wonderful review. I will have to check this place out the next time I am in Little Tokyo.

Aaron said...

The picture of the window is great. I don't know if I'll have a chance to go, but I'll take it under consideration

Grace said...

hahaha... this is where you guys took us yesterday! :) BTW, yes... booty is a crazy 21 player. Girl can win big $$. :)