Yakitori is, to borrow my friend Chris Hei’s oft-used phrase, so hot right now, to the point where trolls come to Chowhound to stir up trouble about whether the (in)famous Little Tokyo yakitori-ya Kokekokko (Chris’s review) would actually be closing permanently or reopening elsewhere after shuttering their current location next month (alas, the mods have removed evidence of said trolls’ efforts). Even high-end DTLA restaurant Orsa & Winston is eschewing its tasting-menu format for the first two months of 2015 in favor of yakitori.
Away from the spotlight and drama, Torihei in Torrance has been quietly serving superb yakitori since 2009. As the South Bay is a bit of a trek for me, I’ve only been twice. Reservations are highly recommended, though I actually managed to walk-in both times by going early and alone, and eating fast. While not the most ideal way to enjoy Torihei, my meals there were still great!
My most recent visit to Torihei was just last month. While I mainly focused on yakitori and did not order any oden (stewed meats and vegetables in light broth, another aspect of Japanese cuisine that Torihei is known for), I did start with a great bowl of noodle soup.
Tori-Shio (Chicken-Salt Based Broth) Ramen: This is a limited quantity item, apparently only 20 bowls are made. Since I was one of the first people in the door, I figure I’d give this a shot, and I was not disappointed, despite being more of a tonkotsu (pork based broth) guy. It’s not going to make me forget Tsujita, but I assume the same high quality chicken went into the ramen as goes on the grill.
Tsunagi (Special Chicken Heart) & Hatsu (Chicken Heart): Again, being one of the first customers of the evening, I went ahead and ordered two skewers of the “special” chicken hearts, having been denied it on my first visit. While it may be a turnoff to others, I love the chewiness of the valves and tubes of tsunagi, with its slightly sweet, slightly charred sauce. In contrast, the “regular” hearts were prepared with just salt and oil, and were very tender. Delicious in a completely different way.
Gyutan (Beef Tongue): If you just gave grilled beef tongue to someone to try, the person would likely think it was a tender piece of steak. Here, with a bit of yuzukosho (a spicy, salty paste made with yuzu and chiles), the tongue really speaks for itself; no pun intended.
Shishamo (Smelt): These come two per order, and the entire thing is edible, from head to tail (sans skewer). They have a very fishy taste, in a good way, and these had a decent amount of roe in them.
Kimo or Reba (Chicken Liver): I’m not sure what the proper Japanese name is for this dish. I’ve heard “kimo” used in reference to liver from fish–ankimo, or monkfish liver, being the most common usage I’ve encountered. But I’ve also heard “reba” (a loanword from the English “liver”) used. Regardless, the chicken livers were cooked perfectly on the skewer, pink and creamy in the center.
Sunagimo (Chicken Gizzard): Whenever I cook gizzards at home, they end up being tough and chewy, but here they are much more tender, while retaining a bit of the snap that’s unique to this little organ.
Tontoro (Fatty Pork): The fatty meat from a pig’s neck, jowl, or collar, also known as kormooyang in Thai, and hangjungsal in Korean, is one of my favorite non-offal cuts of meat. It is not hard to figure out why; the cut is tender and moist, fatty without being too unctuous, and the outer layers crisp up nicely on a grill.
Bonjiri (Chicken Tail): I ended at the end… of a chicken. You wanna know what? Chicken butt(s are delicious)!
(I forgot to note the prices for each item, but if I recall correctly, my total was around $28 including tax, before tip. And I was stuffed!)
Torihei is the kind of place best enjoyed with company over the course of an evening, where you eat too much and drink too much. I have yet to experience it that way, but I hope to gather up some friends and do Torihei “properly” someday, including exploring the oden side of their menu in greater depth.
1757 West Carson Street
Torrance, CA 90501
Having my sister visit in October gave me a chance to introduce her to Night+Market Song. It also gave me a chance to explore Grand Central Market. One other “place” that she wanted to try while she was out, based on a previous post of mine, was Guerrilla Tacos. Even though I only wrote them up in June, with chef Wes Avila’s ever changing menu, I thought a quick recap of the meal my sister and I had would still be well received. And I’ll even throw in some other highlights from my past six months’ visits.
We hit the truck on a Wednesday, the day I usually go, when it is parked outside Cognoscenti Coffee on Washington Blvd. in Culver City from 10ish to 2ish or until they sell out. (On Thursdays/Fridays they are in front of Blacktop Coffee, and on Saturdays/Sundays they serve outside Blue Bottle Coffee; both in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles.) If I recall correctly, on that day the truck was actually parked around the corner from Cognoscenti Coffee, on Roberts Ave, for some reason. The menu consisted of three different tacos, a tostada, and a torta. We opted to sample each taco and the tostada.
Crunchy Sweet Potato Taco, with Oaxacan cheese, leeks, almond chile, fried corn, parsley: We started with the vegetarian option. Now I’m not generally one for the crunchy tacos, but this was just so good! The tortilla had just the right amount of lightness and crispness, and the sweet potato tasted just bright yet earthy. Chef Wes uses the almond chile in at least one dish each menu, and it is surprisingly versatile!
Chorizo Taco, with pine nut chile , pickled onions, cilantro: I’m not sure if Wes makes his own chorizo or not, but it was quite good. The sausage was relatively mild, but the chile made up for it. Delicious, but I have to say it was overshadowed by some of the other dishes that day.
Duck Breast Taco, with Satsuma tangerines, pistachios, arbol chile, chives: What can you say? It’s duck! I like my duck breasts a bit more on the rare side, but these were still sufficiently tender and had a nice sweetness that was accentuated by the citrus. Love the use of the nuts in many of the dishes, including this one.
“Kajiki” Blue Marlin Poke Tostada, with white miso, wasabi, raw tomatillo chile, furikake: I had had this on a previous occasion, and it was just fantastic. The marlin has that fatty, melt-in-your-mouth flavor of hamachi (yellowtail) but with a firmer texture that makes it great for poke. This one definitely had more of a kick than the traditional Hawaiian dish.
I asked my sister which of the items we had she liked the best, and if I recall correctly I believe it was a tie between the tostada, which would have been my bet going in, and the potato taco, which was the dark horse. It just goes to show how deft chef Wes Avila is with vegetables!
Guerrilla Tacos turned out to be one of my sister’s favorite places, of the ones I took her to while she was in L.A. It is definitely one of my favorites, and I always look forward to see what dishes are coming to Cognoscenti Coffee on Wednesdays. I’ve even tried starting a hashtag, #TacoWESday, for when Guerrilla Tacos comes to visit the Westside, but it hasn’t quite picked up yet…
But we’re not done yet! As promised, in addition to my sister’s visit above, here are just a few more of the tacos, tostadas, tortas, and even a “stew” that I’ve had in the past six months:
Pork Liver Tostada, mint chile, olive oil, herbs. A little dry, but offal good!
Roasted Eggplant Taco, red pepper escabeche, feta, chives, burnt tomato chile. Purple/Cheddar Cauliflowers Taco, almond chile, Castelvetrano olives, Medjool dates, scallions, almonds. Gorgeous!
Japanese Sweet Potato Taco with braised leek, fried corn, almond chile, scallions. Brussels Sprout, Bacon, Fried Egg Taco, with roasted tomato chile, cilantro. Octopus Taco with pistachio, Castelveltrano olives, avocado, arbol chile, chives. Incredible variety!
Beef Basturma & Fried Egg Torta, market greens, queso fresco, chile del valle, herbs. Food porn!
Blue Lake Beans Taco, with cranberry beans, fried egg, almond chile, pickled onion, chives. Shrimp Taco, with Oaxacan cheese, raw tomatillo chile, cilantro, calabrian chile, pine nuts. Delicious!
Venus Clam & PEI Mussels Stew, with wine broth, chile del valle, radish, herbs. Spicy and comforting on a rainy day!
Alright, I’ll stop now. This is making me hungry. Looking forward to the next #TacoWESday! Also, someday I will make it to one of their DTLA locations; apparently, chef Wes Avila whips up a mean waffle with fresh fruits on Sundays!
Guerrilla Tacos @ Cognoscenti Coffee
6114 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA
Wednesdays, 10 AM to 2 PM
Guerrilla Tacos @ Blacktop Coffee
826 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA
Thursdays/Fridays, 9 AM to 2 PM
Guerrilla Tacos @ Blue Bottle Coffee
582 Mateo St, Los Angeles, CA
Saturdays/Sundays, 9 AM to 1 PM
Used to be, when friends and family visiting from out of town wanted a quick-and-easy way to get the “flavor” of Los Angeles, I would take them to the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax. It was one-stop shop(ping) for some decent eats, and for people watching, especially at the adjacent Grove shopping mecca. Nowadays, though, probably the best place to go is Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles. It is there that I took my sister and my baby nephew last month for a crash course in what’s hot in the L.A. food scene. Continue Reading →
Charcuterie plate? Check.
House-pickled vegetables? Check.
Flat breads from a wood-fired oven, located just outside the kitchen, in view of the dining area? Check.
Main Street Santa Monica’s Fork in the Road opened in late 2013 and had all the essential ingredients to make it a hit with “food enthusiasts” (my alternative term for “foodies”), like Waterloo & City or Gjelina. Yet it had only a smattering of pre-opening coverage from Eater LA, one mention on LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog, and nothing I could find in LA Times’ Food section, which isn’t that unusual as the Times can’t possibly cover every new restaurant that opens in the greater Los Angeles area.
However, with the number of food bloggers in L.A., I was surprised to not have found any independent reviews of the place longer than a paragraph blurb. What’s more surprising was lack of recon on Chowhound LA, which, with its grassroots army of food enthusiasts, generally covers much more ground than the above publications. I could only find a handful of mentions on the board, all of them positive, but light on details, so my wife and I decided to check it out for ourselves one early evening last week.
It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written about Night+Market, the ultra-popular West Hollywood Thai “street food” restaurant, and quite a lot has happened in the past year. Most significantly, Night+Market Song, the long-awaited Silver Lake location debuted in March. Helmed by power-couple Kris Yenbamroong and Sarah St. Lifer, back-of-house and front-of house, respectively, Song has been receiving accolades from the start. While less convenient a location for me personally, I made a point to dine there a handful of times since opening but had not been back very recently. Having my sister, her husband, and their toddler son visit this weekend was the perfect excuse to have a big meal with them and my own clan.
Arriving right at 6 PM on a Saturday, we squeaked in before the crowds built. By the time we left shortly before 8 PM, a large crowd had gathered outside waiting for tables. I was in charge of ordering, and with some direction from the lovely Ms. Sarah, I got a good variety of dishes, including all four items on the Specials menu that night, starting with…