The fourth and final stop on the Sunday leg of my 24-hour L.A. food tour (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854334) was not one I had anticipated making, but after escaping from SGV back to the Westside, I found myself short half the stops I wanted to make.
Since my earlier stops that day were all somewhat related to comfort foods of my native Taiwan (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854601), I decided to continue with the same theme of comfort foods, but switch up the nationality. So I ended up at Wakasan, which serves what J.L. calls washoku, “homestyle” Japanese cuisine.
I ordered the $45 omakase ($35 on Mondays), which came with 8 courses:
1. Chilled egg custard: The waitress did not say the Japanese name of the dish, but I’ve got to think this was a chawanmushi, though I’m not sure if the clear layer of gelatin on top of the egg custard is standard. Beneath the custard were some shrimp. This was a salty yet refreshing start to the meal.
2. Assorted sashimi “salad”: Slices of raw tuna, salmon, and albacore, served with onions and tomato. As one might guess, the quality of the sashimi was not on par with what could be found at higher-end sushi restaurants, but it fit the “homestyle” mood. I could definitely see myself picking up some sashimi-grade fish from Mitsuwa or Nijiya and making this simple dish at home.
3. Assorted small appetizers: This was a long plate with an assortment of items (steamed spinach, radish sunomono, wakame seaweed, potato salad, sauteed shrimp, gyoza (dumpling), tamago (egg), grilled shrimp, boiled vegetables (taro, kabocha, bamboo, broccoli, carrot, cauliflower). Despite all that variety, they actually forgot an item, chicken karaage, which was served separately. The various items were all serviceable, except the gyoza, which was cold and limp, and the grilled shrimp, which was a bit overcooked.
4. Kalbi with scallions, onion, and grated radish: The marinated short ribs were very comforting, with the aromatics sizzling in the cast iron pan as I ate the dish.
5. Snapped-wrapped soba, with quail egg yolk and shishito pepper: I mixed the yolk with the noodles. Under the snapper was a shiso leaf, the taste of which was very prominent, as the other ingredients, even the yolk, were very mild. The soba was a little clumpy.
6. Hot pot with tofu, vegetables, and slices of beef: I cooked everything in the very flavorful broth on a clay stove over a alcohol gel flame. The beef was overcooked a bit--I blame the chef... me! But it was very delicious.
7. Fried baby sardines and rice in dashi: When I was growing up, my favorite thing to do was to fill my bowl of rice with soup and eating it together. My mom would always tell me not to do that because it’s bad for digestion. I have no idea if that’s true or not (and if it was true, why wasn’t it true for congee, which was supposed to be good for digestion?), but here I was, presented with the last dish of my omakase that flashed me back to my bowls of rice with soup. I know I’ve used “comforting” to describe a lot of what I had at Wakasan, but that’s exactly what this was.
8. Shishamo: I ordered this tradtional Japanese grilled smelt, with the roe inside the fish (komochi-shishamo), off the a la carte menu; I had also ordered the conch sashimi, but the chef said the conch was not good that night. The fish was quite a bit saltier than I expected. I’ve had fresh shishamo before, lightly seasoned, and this was unfortunately not as good.
9. Berries in sweetened condensed milk: A very simple dessert to close out the meal. The tartness of the berries mixed well with the sweetness of the milk.
Despite not knowing what traditional homestyle Japanese cooking was, I could imagine many of the dishes being what Japanese people would make and eat at home. It’s not as fancy as most Japanese restaurants I go to, which have recently been higher-end sushi restaurants. but then it’s not meant to be. To be honest, with the plethora of other new-to-me restaurants to try, I’m not sure that I’d come back again anytime soon, but it was a really nice and comforting (there’s that word again!) way to end my food tour!
[Something new (to me) that I saw at Wakasan: A wall of glass bottles of liquor, mostly or possibly all shōchū, with names written on it. At first I didn’t know what that was about, but then the gentleman next to me at the bar said something to the waitress in Japanese and was brought one of the bottles, a can of cold oolong tea, and a bucket of ice. He proceeded to mix the oolong, shochu, and ice into a drink I now know was oolong-hai. It was pretty cool to buy your own personal bottle of shochu and the restaurant will keep it for you. Shows how many regulars Wakasan has. Oh, and I also noticed that I was the only non-Japanese (or non-Japanese speaking) person in the restaurant.]