Sunday, November 13, 2005
Do You Know The Way To The South Bay?--Yuzu, Torrance
I am scared of the South Bay. I think it's because it's just so expansive and spread out, it freaks me out. I don't why it's even that bad; I mean, the major streets are pretty much the same as the ones I'm used to in LA: Western, Normandie, Vermont. And there are numbered streets to make things easier. But for some reason I always feel like all those wide streets are going to swallow little ol' me and my little car up and spit us out onto the same scary wide streets. And then I'll get lost. In the South Bay. Which wouldn't be much of a good thing.
Recently, Food Cabbie duty has forced me to find my way around the streets of Torrance and Gardena, so I am proud to say that some of my fears have been conquered. I think I now have my bearings of East-West-North-South down here and I'm certainly getting much more familiar with the whole area surrounded by the 110, 91 and 405 freeways.
My second night of Food Cabbie duty prompted me to do some research via Japanese Restaurant Info and Chowhound as I'm sooo not familiar with the area. My friend and I wanted izakaya and Isaac wanted sushi, so wouldn't it be great if we could find something a little Izayoi-ish around these Southern parts? I've already been to Fu-Rai-Bo and love their teba-saki but wanted to try something new. Some people recommended Musha, a popular fusiony izakaya restaurant in Torrance but we wanted something a bit more traditional and plus they didn't have sushi or sashimi to please my better half. Finally, one of the 'Hounds came to the rescue and suggested Yuzu, a fairly new, mostly traditional izakaya restaurant that also serves sashimi. OK, now I just had to figure out how to get there.
Mapquest maps and driving directions in tow (and a Thomas Guide in the backseat just in case), Isaac and I set out to pick up my friend and then find this Yuzu place. Picking up my friend was a piece of cake...I'd already gotten that down over the last couple of days! But finding the restaurant? Hmm, turn left on 190th, right on Van Ness (Hey! There's a street name that I recognize being that I'm from the City By The Bay) which turns into Cabrillo....Yay! I found it! And I passed a bunch of landmarks, the Honda and Toyota plants to be exact, so that I can find my way back. This wasn't so bad after all!
After doing underground parking and taking a short escalator ride upstairs, we saw our dinner destination and it was much fancier than we'd expected. Dark wood slat walls and handpainted banners separated the restaurant's patio area from the plaza's walkway. Though the restaurant's vibe is tranquil, there is a good energy about this place, from the way the restaurant's elegant decor just flows with the practicality of the bar and counter in the center to its modern, zen-like feel. Dark wood tables and chairs, leather benches, and dim lighting give Yuzu a calming yet sexy feel.
After placing our order we were asked if we wanted to come and look at the night's vegetable selections. The three of us trotted out of our seats and across the room to the counter area where a pleasant older lady showed us steamer trays with various goodies floating around in a dark broth. I felt like this was their version of "Bob For Apples"--do I win a prize? She proceeded to tell us what everything was: ground chicken wrapped in cabbage leaf, various fish cakes, daikon, mochi stuffed bean curd, Maui onion, and a couple of other things I can't remember. We chose an order of daikon since we hadn't really ordered many vegetables from the regular menu; we started returning to our seats but of course I had to ask, "Can I take a picture?" "Of course," the woman giggled. So I dashed back over to the table to grab my trusty Digital Elph. A few seconds later, the woman was at our table with a stump of boiled daikon which she cut into three sections for us. The daikon was perfect, a little funky and pungent like all daikon should be, and was juicy with all the flavor that it had soaked up from that sweet soy-based broth.
Try to get as many as you can in 30 seconds!
Our daikon "log", cut into three
Yuzu's sushi was good for the restaurant not being a sushi bar, yet nowhere near as good as a sushi bar's. We ordered a 10 piece nigiri sushi combination for $16 which included maguro, albacore, ama-ebi, ebi, unagi, sake, salmon roe and hamachi. The small cuts of fish tasted fresh but were a teeny bit on the dry side. Needless to say, I wanted to save my appetite for izakaya, so I let Isaac eat most of this.
I'll give these 10 a 6
I'm a sucker for oysters and beer, so an order of Kaki Fry, fried Hama Hama oysters, to go with my Sapporo on tap was very, very necessary. And boy were these fat, prolly the fattest oysters I've had in awhile. A nice crunch from a panko crust gave way to plump, briny oysters. A few squirts of lemon and a couple swipes in the Worcestershire sauce-based dipping sauce and I was in fried oyster heaven.
These oysters were PHAT!
Yuzu uses an "Aburiyaki" grilling method in which food is grilled over a "ceramic charcoal brazier" where "mellow flames and gentle heat produce very fragrant smoke that will season and flavor the ingredient wonderfully." We ordered two items off the Aburiyaki Grill portion of the menu, but unfortunately, our waitress informed us that this supposed magical grill was broken tonight and that we could still order the items but they'd be cooked on something else. We went ahead and ordered the teba-saki (chicken wings) and nama tsukune (seasoned ground chicken) anyways. We did notice that these grilled chicken items lacked a certain smokiness...was it perhaps because the Magic Grill was broken and that maybe they had to cook these things on a stove? The 'Hound that suggested Yuzu in the first place recommended the chicken wings, but our chicken wings, seasoned with sweet soy and sea salt, were somewhat bland and should have definitely been charred a little more. I did enjoy the nama tsukune; they were tasty with onion and white pepper and despite me being paranoid over swishing it in raw egg and despite the fact that this, too, could have been a wee bit more smoky, I liked it.
Un-magically grilled teba saki
Another un-magically grilled dish...nama tsukune
Next up: Aona & Age Nibidashi, a simple dish of the Japanese green aona and age (fried bean curd) cooked in a light dashi broth. Our thin strips of airy bean curd were the perfect compliment to the crunchy, refreshing greens which were almost like spinach stems.
Aona and Age,like two best friends
I hate it when something on the menu sounds so much better than it tastes. We thought the Butamiso Crepes would be fantastic, described as something like miso marinated pork and egg served with vegetables and light crepe pancakes. We expected something more like pork in folded over crepes, something a bit more omelettey. Wrong. Out came a plate donning a big wooden spoon with the pork mixture in the spoon part, assorted vegetables like radish sprouts and cucumber, and a few small crepes that felt and looked just like Ethiopian injera bread. OK, I see, so it's kinda like make your own miso pork taco. That could be fun. Only the pork, which kinda had a pasty consistency was extremely salty, making me pile on more vegetables to take the sting away. Oh, and the crepes? They were injera bread--small little injera bread tortillas to be exact. Now you know I love Ethiopian food. But at izakaya? Something just doesn't go.
A spoonful of salt with injera bread tortillas
We were still a little hungry after finishing all that, and we almost asked our server if we could make another trip to the "Bob For Food" goodies pool that we'd picked our daikon from earlier, but decided to order dessert instead. "Homemade Custard" was basically flan but was nicely done, having a firm yet smooth-as-silk consistency and luscious caramel to go with. Two scoops of capuccino ice cream looked like a song out of South Park that I won't mention, but were surprisingly good...not too strong on the coffee flavor nor too sweet, just icy and refreshing.
Fancy Japanese Flan!
Better not be Chef's version
So I wasn't blown away by Yuzu; it was good, not great. But I will give them an "A" for service and atmosphere--we had a great time despite the inconsistent food and broken magic grill. And I will also give myself an "A" for passing South Bay For Beginners with flying colors. Now if I can only find my way home...
1231 Cabrillo Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501