Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Torihei - Alcohol + Oden + Yakitori = FTW!! (Torrance)


Warning: These pics are from a few visits, so this might be one of those photos galore posts...

One of the things I miss the most about living in the South Bay besides the weather is Japanese food, more specifically, yakitori. I remembered the monthly trips to Shin Sen Gumi for my beer and grilled meat intake galore, fun times with friends are things I'll remember for life. However, like all good things in life, it appears AFTER you leave, as in the case here with Torihei.

I first found out about Torihei from reading Exile Kiss' posts and was eager to try it for myself. Located right across from Musha, Chef/Owner Masataka Hirai opened Torihei in the Spring of 2009 and the business has since boomed, especially after the LA Times article. Since the article, and this is coming from a first hand experience, make sure you CALL and reserve a seating, as my party had to take refuge at Musha for two hours for our table. Now, let's see if the food was worth the wait.......

I'll start with the oden side of the menu that's headed by Chef Masakazu Sasaki. Just to recap, oden is a pot of various items (daikon, fish cake, vegetable, eggs, etc) cooked in a dashi broth, especially perfect for winter time.


Daikon (Radish)

This is a great starter dish, and a staple of almost every oden dish served. Served in a bed of dashi broth and bonito shavings. Very nice.

Fuwa-Fuwa chicken ball

Fuwa-Fuwa Tori Tsumire (chicken balls)

For the chicken balls, I'd have to say I was a bigger fan of the yakitori version (shown below). The broth itself again was wonderful, but the meatballs sadly didn't do it for me. Good dish, but I didn't order it again on my future visits.

Beef Collagen

"Konjac" Yam Cake

I liked the texture of this dish, but overall, I'm not sure if I'd order it again. I thought the miso paste on top of the konjac was slightly overpowering and masked the taste of the dashi broth.

"Mochikin" rice cake

"Mochikin" Rice Cake

This one I do like quite a bit. It's basically deep fried tofu skin stuffed with fresh mochi (rice cake), ginko nut, and shrimp) all tied together by a dried turnip. This combination works well, and I've ordered this each time I've been back. Delicious.

"Hanpen" Fish Cake

"Hanpen" Fish Cake

The texture of the fish cake is wonderful. Slightly airy and light, it was a dream to eat. The texture differed from all the other fish cakes I've consumed in the past. Fantastic!

Whole Tomato

Whole Tomato

I feel like I'm going down my list of favorites, and the tomato oden was an awesome dish. Stewed in the dashi broth, topped with a mashed potato puree and soy broth, my dining companions have no trouble fighting over the remaining broth in the dish. I'm usually not a huge fan of tomato, but this one was fantastic. A MUST order item!

I love this half cooked egg with ikura!
半熟たまご (Half raw egg w/ikura)

半熟たまご (Half raw egg w/ikura)

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this is my favorite dish at Torihei. Although a few of my friends would argue for the tomato, I'd have to say this dish is magnificent. Running soft boiled egg with ikura (salmon roe) on top in a bed of dashi broth. I honestly want some RIGHT now!

The oden menu are between $1.95 to $2.80 per order and there are 13 different dishes to choose from. Lots of fantastic choices, but make sure you order the half raw egg and the tomato dishes.

Before I switch off to the Yakitori menu, we'll go into an alcoholic intermission.....


Pitcher of Sapporo on draft - $10

Beer and Yakitori goes hand in hand, one order of beer should be deemed necessary, especially during this heat in LA right now.

House Sake

House Sake

For all you non-beer aficionados, Torihei does offer a few good selection of cold/hot sake.

Now, onward to more food!!


From Left: Sansho Pepper (green) Shichimi Togarashi (red)

I've read on Yelp that people complained the yakitori here is slightly bland. Well, let me solve that problem for ya, ok? The sansho pepper (green) is fantastic, but quite numbing to the mouth, while the shichimi togarashi or the 7 flavored pepper offers a more mild, but definite, noticeable taste.

Breast w/ Wasabi
Breast meat w/cod roe and plum

From Top (Breast with wasabi, seasoned cod roe, and plum)

Normally, I hate chicken breast. I still don't get why people in the United States love chicken breasts, as one should know, the best part of the chicken are the thigh, drumstick, and even the chicken butt. However, the chicken breast at Torihei was very juicy, one of the best chicken yakitori I've had. Depends on your taste preferences, 3 variations of the chicken breast yakitori are offered: wasabi, cod roe, and plum. I personally prefer the cod roe.

Chicken Thigh

Chicken Thigh

It's tasty, juicy, and flavorful. What's not to like??

Limited Special Heart
Chicken Tail

From Top: Special Heart, Chicken Gizzard, Chicken Tail (butt)

Offals are not for everyone, but I sure love them. The fatty special chicken heart with the cloves of garlic was wonderful, although your cardiologist might not agree. The gizzard offers a nice crunch and flavor. Very nice. Finally, the chicken butt, ass, tail, whatever you want to call it, it's some fatty goodness. One of the favorites amongst us Taiwanese people, and I guess the Japanese as well, so I'll say this once, and only once. I'd hit that ASS again! =P

Beef Tongue
Chicken Wings
Awesome "Torihei" Meatball

From Top: Beef Tongue, Chicken Wings, "Torihei" meat ball

The tongue is always good, and the version here, topped with a dot of wasabi definitely did not disappoint. The chicken wing was a surprise to me. Usually, I'd avoid ordering chicken wings at a yakitori place, but the version served at Torihei was delicious. 2 very generous sized wings, grilled to perfection. Very nice. Finally, probably my favorite yakitori item at Torihei, the Torihei meatball. The meatball was very soft, and flavorful from the sauce. It's a definite must order item on the Yakitori menu.

Fatty Pork
Shiitake Mushroom

Top: Fatty Pork, Bottom: Shitake Mushroom

The fatty pork (bacon) was cooked well and the side of grated daikon in ponzu sauce was an important complement to the meat. The shitake had a very pleasant smoky/woodsy flavor until grilling, I wasn't expecting this dish to be that good.

Chicken Cartilage

Top: Chicken Cartilage, Bottom: Liver

As the same suggest, the cartilage is pretty much the cartilage of the chicken. Very little meat, but I enjoyed the crunchy texture. Finally, the liver, one of the main staples of my yakitori diet. I love liver, my favorite offal to date, and yes, I enjoyed it here at Torihei. Mmmmmmm....liver.

In addition to oden and yakitori, Chef Hirai offers a pretty extensive menu, from sashimi to green tea mousse.

Chicken Karage

Chicken Karage

Quite simply, the best chicken karage I've had. Yes, even better than Izakaya Bincho, etc....the chicken was hot, incredibly juicy, and full of flavor. I could eat a bucket of this, no question. Chicken karage + beer and I'll be a happy dude!

Whole Squid
Chicken Skin w/ponzu

Top: Whole Squid, Bottom: Chicken skin w/ ponzu

The squid was very nice, and at $5.25, it's a great deal. I personally really enjoyed the chicken skin with ponzu sauce, and it's probably best ordered as an appetizer to whet one's palate. Delicious!

Finally, to those that know me, I have a sweet tooth, and I definitely made sure desserts were ordered at all times.

Baked Cheesecake with Blueberry Sauce
Green Tea Mousse
Blac-manager aux amande "Annin Tofu"

From Top: Baked Cheesecake w/blueberry sauce, Green Tea Mousse, Blanc-manger aux amandes "Annin Tofu"

While I enjoyed all 3 desserts, I'd have to say I like the "annin tofu" the most. Refreshing and delicious, which is great after a yakitori meal. The baked cheesecake was a bit less sweet than cheesecake found at say, the Cheesecake Factory, but I do prefer the Japanese version a bit more. Finally, the green tea mousse has a very heavy macha taste, along with the red beans and mochi, it was quite nice. Even though the dessert menu was quite shallow at Torihei, it definitely gets the job done!

When all the smoke clears, I feel that dining at Torihei was a fantastic experience, and dare I say it's my favorite restaurant in the South Bay, and one of my favorites here in Los Angeles. Again, to try this place out, calling in for a reservation is highly recommended. Even though I live in the SGV now, I do plan on making frequent visits to Torihei, like this upcoming Saturday night! =) I will note though, the service here can be uneven as they're slightly understaffed and one lady barely speaks any English, but in the end, Torihei is definitely a hidden gem in Torrance.

What my other foodie friends thought of Torihei:

Gourmet Pigs

1757 W. Carson Street, #A
Torrance, CA 90501
Tel: (310) 781-9407 (Again, use this #, & be sure to make your reservation ahead of time!)

Torihei in Los Angeles

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Park - Hip? Yes. Tasty? I'll plead the fifth (Echo Park)

the Park exteriorthe Park

Echo Park is one area of Los Angeles I'd rarely travel unless I'm out at a Dodgers game. Not that I have an issue with the area, it's more due to the fact I'm used to eating in my comfort areas of SGV, Koreatown, and the South Bay. On this occasion, I joined Tony of Sinosoul and Sharon of Weezermonkey for a Tuesday night 3 course dinner for a recession low price of $15.

Yummy3 course menu

Although the menu seemed simple, I was really looking forward to the fried chicken. I mean, come on! You can't really F up fried chicken, right?

Tomato Soup w/rice

Tomato and Rice Soup

First up, the tomato and rice soup. I really hope this soup was not Campbell's tomato soup (or an imitation) with a scoop of rice, because it tasted pretty similar to the ones I've had in the can. Thus, I should be quite impressed with the canned version I've had in the past or just consider a throwaway dish. I love soup, this was fine, but it reminded me too much like the ones I consumed as a kid.....

Classic Chopped Salad

Classic Chopped Salad

This was one dish I wasn't able to try, but it looked pretty standard with plenty of lettuce and tomatoes.

Fried Chicken
More Fried Chicken shot

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

To start, I'll say I enjoyed the buttery biscuits and the greens on the side, but hey, who doesn't like collard greens? The fried chicken would have been fine it wasn't smothered with a ladle of gravy. Now, I've had smothered chicken before when I'd frequent a few Soul Food places in the Compton/Carson areas, and they do it quite well. As for the Park? Not so much. The fried chicken was OK, but as my dining group agreed, it was no better than making a stop at a local Popeye's (2 pieces for $1.99 on Tuesday people!). The chicken looked better than it actually tasted.

Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding

Now this was probably the best thing I had that night. The bread pudding was pretty good (and I'm not a fan of the bread pudding in the first place) and the whipped cream was smooth and light. Although it was the capper of a pretty average meal, I could have finished another plate of this particular dessert.

Overall, The Park didn't really impress me. Maybe I should try the a la carte menu next time, as I was told it was better than the menu served on that particular night. If that's the case, then it's quite disappointing. If a restaurant has a promotion for a particular set menu, then they need to make sure it's on par, if not better than their set menu. The dinner had more misses (don't try that chili) than hits. As for me, it's not worth a return trip, even if they have another special. Maybe I don't have the hipster taste buds or style, but I think I know my food, and this to me, was just passable. Maybe this is the reason why none of these new truck foods (Kogi, Coolhaus, Marked 5, and that sushi balls) appeal to me, as the target audience are the hipsters and artists on the Westside or in Downtown.

The Park
1400 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 482-9209

The Park in Los Angeles

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ham Ji Park - It's Porkalicious! (Los Angeles)

Ham Ji Park on 6th

Ham Ji Park, one of the first Korean restaurants I visited when I moved to Los Angeles three years ago, and to this day, it's one of my favorites. While the food and decor is nothing fancy, this place serves Korean "comfort food" at its finest.

On this visit, I came with Jackie of Citynitz and her boyfriend David and we were all starving. Usually I'd get 1 order of pork ribs and 1 order of the famous pork neck/potato soup (gamja tang) and it'll feed 3 easily, but since we let our stomaches order for us, we got an extra squid dish.


Panchan (반찬)

Here we have the usual 반찬 served at Korean restaurants. Kim chi, Gakdukkee, potatoes, among others. Nothing fancy, and nothing really stood out, but you're not here for the side dishes (반찬). Next!

Pork Ribs
Marinated Pork Ribs (da gi kalbi)

Marinated Pork Ribs - $16.99

I have to say, these ribs are tender, flavorful and just simply delicious. When you visit Ham Ji Park, this is THE dish to order. Served on a bed of onions, the ribs were marinated in daenjang (fermented soy bean paste) and other seasonings. There's not much I could say, but try it, it's VERY good!

Gamja Tang

Pork Neck & Potato Soup (Gam Ja Tang) - $15.99

Since I'm a fan of soup, I actually prefer this over the pork ribs. Paired with a bowl of rice (bap), the pork meat was fall off the bone tender, and the soup spicy, yet not too much so. One thing that was disappointing on this trip was that the potato served in the soup was still actually raw, unlike the previous 20+ trips here. Maybe I came on an off day, but the raw potato took away something from the dish, albeit slightly.

Spicy Squid & Noodles (before)

Spicy Squid with Noodles - $17.99

This was a dish that Jackie insisted on ordering and it was solid as always. It's hard to go wrong with squid, hot pepper paste (gochujang), and noodles. The spicy squid provided a nice contrast for the noodles.

Spicy Squid & Noodles (after)

More pictures of the squid noodle dish

All in all, Ham Ji Park provided me with another solid, if not great dinner. Other than the raw potatoes found in the soup, everything I had tasted familiar, and delicious. This is a family operated restaurant, and the service can range from brisk to excellent (It definitely helps to have a Korean speaker present, but you should have no trouble ordering in English). If you have more room, Bouchon is a few steps away, as is the famous Ice Kiss for their Korean shaved ice (pa bing su), but their quality has gone down in the past few years. Nevertheless, check out Ham Ji Park, especially if you're craving something warm and hearty!

*Note* Street parking sucks around here, but there's valet parking to the side (across from Chevron on Catalina) for $1.50 with validation.

Final Grade
  • Taste: 4.5 out of 5
  • Decor: 3.5 out of 5
  • Service 3.5 out of 5
Ham Ji Park
3407 W. 6th St. Suite 101-C
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 365-8773

Ham Ji Park in Los Angeles