I was a bit of a wallflower until this blogging thing started. Look at me now--I've got link buddies, comment friends, a whole wealth of people I communicate with who, until recently, were complete strangers. Why, I've even been doing some outside socializing as of late thanks to some encouragement from Sarah from The Delicious Life! Last month, a bunch of us food bloggers went in search of a Queen of Cuisine. This month, she told us to get out there and meet ourselves a freshman!
The freshman that I chose to haze for this month's Dine and Dish, Izayoi in Little Tokyo, kinda already knows what he's doing. Izayoi ain't no deer in the headlights, scared shitless twerp; instead, he's more like a bad-ass college graduate going into his first year of grad school with every ounce of confidence in the world. So no, I'm not going to spank this one with a wooden paddle or throw him head first into a trash can or make him slam beer after beer until he passes out. In fact, from what I hear, this freshman can hold his own pretty well; he'd probably come kick my ass.
Izayoi, which has been open for lunch a little over a month now and has only been open for dinner for, oh, five days, is actually the reincarnation of Hollywood's Sushi Ryo. Along with graduation from his former Hollywood digs, the freshman got a bit of a makeover. No more adult book store or seedy donut shop neighbors; Izayoi now sits proudly as one of several new storefronts in Little Tokyo. The occasional panhandler passes by its exterior as is typical of Little Tokyo, but its airy interior which could pass as a West Elm showroom, boasts soaring ceilings, exposed pipes and dark, sleek tables and chairs.
I didn't know Izayoi back in his Sushi Ryo days, but the word from a couple of fellow Chowhounds is that its sushi chef, Jun, has mad fish skills. Naturally, we decided to test this new (but experienced!) man on campus could do so we ordered a variety of nigiri sushi: tuna, hamachi (yellowtail), albacore and ebi (shrimp). Brought out on a giant square platter lined up like troops, all of the fish was like butta'...amazingly fresh and buttery soft. Our ebi was meaty but springy, and perfect in its simplicity. The albacore was lightly seared on the edges and came with a very pleasant citrusy ponzu sauce for dipping.
Neat little rows of nigiri
We were also interested in trying the albacore dressed in some different clothes, so we ordered the albacore salad. I enjoyed it, but what I had hoped to be the same quality of fish as our sushi was just slightly lower. I wondered if maybe restaurants traditionally use older pieces of fish with salads and the freshest pieces only for sushi and sashimi. Or perhaps it was because the slices were obviously larger, but the albacore in the salad was definitely not as tender as that in our nigiri and even had a very slight "fishy" taste where it was seared. The flavors in the entire salad were delicious, however. The lip smacking tartness of ponzu dressing complimented the slight bitterness of the field greens and roasted yellow peppers very well. Making the tart and bitter flavors stand out even more--something that hit me as I was mid-salad when I thought to myself, "Hey! This actually tastes kinda good"--were our ice cold pints of Kirin beer.
In his self-reinvention, Izayoi has also decided to become a little more well-rounded and offer a variety of izakaya, or Japanese small plates, to its menu. With appetizer, deep-fried, grilled, and simmered & steamed sections on their menu, Izayoi is sure to attract more friends. As a huge fan of izakaya, I was very excited to hear that our freshman was offering up so much in his first year: sake and miso marinated black cod, grilled baby barracuda, steamed mixed mushrooms, seafood cream croquette, amongst many others. Izayoi prices their izakaya slightly higher than than many izakaya joints, with dishes priced between six and ten dollars, but offers a much tighter selection, so as to not skimp on quality, I'm sure. With the one izakaya dish we tried, the pork kakuni, I was right. Every ounce of quality was put into this small but delicious and artfully presented dish. Here, tender chunks of pork that was cut with just the right amount of luscious fat was braised until the meat seemed to melt in my mouth. To the side, dabbed in a nice amount of the pork sauce, a fried soybean curd pocket (the kind typically used to make inari sushi) stuffed with mochi, an ooey-gooey treat. A few strands of boiled spinach and shredded radish made the dish even more interesting.
Izayoi's newness was very evident, however. Arriving at around 6:30 pm and leaving close to 8pm, we were the only customers there (except for a group of men that seemed to be friends of the owners), its staff waiting for people to walk in so it can show its stuff. Its staff made us feel so appreciated, giving us the most attentive service and even two Izayoi smiley face pens as a parting gift! To make even more friends, Izayoi offers its Izayoi Lunch Box to its first 20 lunch customers. It seems like quite a bargain at $9.50 as it contains a variety of goodies, according to some Chowhounds--mixed sashimi, hijiki seaweed, pickled vegetables, mixed tempura, broiled fish, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), rice, miso soup and salad. A little more word of mouth and our freshman could be the next big man on campus. And me? Well, I'm glad to have another new friend!
132 S. Central Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012