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Izakaya a step above - The fantastic cuisine of Morinoya [REVIEW + PHOTOS]


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Izakaya a step above - The fantastic cuisine of Morinoya [REVIEW + PHOTOS]

J.L. | | Apr 13, 2012 02:09 AM

As an avid participant in the L.A. dining scene, the closure of a favorite "go-to" restaurant borders on tragic for me. For years, I enjoyed (with alarming regularity) the Osaka-influenced izakaya cuisine of Chef Morishita Noriko (known to his regulars simply as Mori-san) at his restaurant Place Yuu on Sawtelle. Incidentally, it must be mentioned that the high quality sushi served at Place Yuu was as good as any that can be found on Sawtelle Boulevard (if not better), which meant I could get my cooked Japanese food and sushi fix, all at the same joint. To say that I was utterly devastated when Place Yuu closed in 2011 would be sorely understating my grief.

Izakaya is Japanese bar food - Small dishes meant to be enjoyed casually over a glass of beer or wine, much like Spanish tapas. For me, Mori-san elevated izakaya to an artform at Place Yuu. It was where you’d find Japanese expats at 11PM on any given night, drinking, nibbling, and chatting away until closing. Though Mori-san never garnered the media accolades I thought he should have, for selfish reasons, it meant that I could usually get a seat at his restaurant.

Morinoya represents the latest venture for Chef Morishita Noriko. I was happy to see that he had taken over the space previously occupied by noodle house Yashima in the Olympic Collection, just down the street from Place Yuu. Here, in this more intimate dining room, Mori-san is free to focus even more on creating exceptional izakaya and sushi-based dishes. Much to my relief and delight, the essence of the excellent food I enjoyed at Place Yuu is very much alive at Morinoya. Draft Japanese beer, and a good selection of wines and spirits (sake & shochu) give Morinoya a special upscale feel. The ordering is casual and a la carte, and the pacing is leisurely.

Without further adieu, onto the food! We tried a fair cross-section of the menu (forgive my crappy photography):

Pan-fried shishito peppers with konjac & bonito shavings… An izakaya classic, and Morinoya’s version is excellent.

Oden “The Works” with daikon radish, konjac, fish cake, egg, suji niku (beef tendon) & atsu age tofu… Wow. The best oden I’ve had so far in L.A. Nothing fancy; just solid execution of a very traditional Japanese favorite...

Renkon manjyu (yam and lotus root paste, sea salt, scallop & edamame, served with soy-based house sauce)… This was a new dish for me. Those of you who like sweet & savory, with many different textures all in one bite will really enjoy this dish. The addition of the edamame beans really balances the whole thing.

Seared albacore sashimi with onions & garlic ponzu sauce… Mindful of seasonality, and with albacore at its height this time of year, Mori-san prepared us this incredible appetizer.

Mini soymilk hot pot… A clay tabletop furnace lined with hot binchotan coals is brought out. Then, a hot pot with soymilk base and 5 different assorted mushrooms (shiitake, eryngii, enoki, shimeji & maitake) emerges. The resulting soup is phenomenal. The earthiness of the mushrooms is tempered by the lightness of the soymilk. A must-get.

Yakitori: Torimomo (chicken thigh) & teba (chicken wing), served with a green yuzu+wasabi shio (salt)… True beer food. Very glad there was a cold draft beer at our table when this dish came around!

Cold inaniwa udon noodles, with shredded nori, scallions, minced ginger, and dipping sauce… Another izakaya classic.

Buta ara-ni (slowly boiled tender pork)… Richer than your average buta kakuni, it is even more tender than advertised: The meat crumbles before the chopstick, and the stewed au jus is simply porky goodness.

Mini hitsumabushi (freshwater eel filets grilled on charcoal with ponzu over rice)… Even better than a typical unagi don (eel bowl), this comes with shredded scallions, freshly grated wasabi, and a teapot containing a light dashi broth on the side. First you eat some rice & eel, then you add the scallions & wasabi for a different “second dimension”. Finally, you pour the teapot filled with dashi broth into the remaining rice & eel in the bowl, chazuke-style, for a third way to enjoy this dish. The eel is perfectly cooked, by the way.

Cherry stone clam miso soup… The clam was huge! Very satisfying.

Ama ebi (sweet shrimp)… Three pristine, jewel-like Santa Barbara spot prawn are presented with the tail sashimi style and the shrimp heads fried to perfection.

Albacore sushi… The first round of seared albacore appetizer was so gloriously fresh, we had to get some albacore nigiri!

Ikura (salmon roe) sushi… Marinated, with proper texture, the quality of these salmon eggs is undisputed.

Mini chirashi don (sashimi over rice)… Akami (lean tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), tamago (egg), ikura (salmon roe), over a fluffy bed of rice. Super good. Again, the sushi selection here, while not particularly extensive, is all of high quality.

Think of Morinoya as a very upscale izakaya, with great quality sushi and reasonable prices. The atmosphere may be cozy and casual, but the food is definitely meticulously conceived and prepared – Izakaya fare worth lingering over. Just please save me a seat, Mori-san.

11301 W. Olympic Blvd. Suite 210
Los Angeles, CA 90064