After a year and a half of living in exile in Boston, I realized what a god-forsaken landscape New England was when it came to truly authentic Japanese cuisine. After rounding up my luggage at LAX, I was quickly whisked off to Otafuku in Gardena. My very first time there, and definitely not my last.
Apparently they have a different menu for dinner with an additional appetizer (ip'pin ryori) section so we were able to sample dishes beyond that of their famous handmade noodles.
*Nimono (simmered) dish of buri-daikon (yellowtail and radish): To me, nimono is a comfort food; slowly cooked dishes in simple dashi (soysauce, mirin, bonito flakes, etc). The fish was well-cooked (not overdone) but the highlight of the dish was the daikon; it had cooked long enough where the delicious dashi had infused into the entire morsel and each bite was truly delicious.
*Fried aji (mackarel): The fish was expertly fried in lightly-salted batter but the kicker was the fresh shiso leaves sandwiched in-between 2 slices of aji. Also came with chilled Momotaro tomato (Japanese heirloom tomato of sorts; THIS is what a tomato should taste like) on the side, with a light sprinkle of sea salt on top. Next to it were chilled Japanese cucumber sticks laid on top of a mound of Kewpie mayonnaise (Japanese-brand mayo).
*Kaki-age zaru soba: The kaki-age is a tempura in a circular sort of shape, with chopped up shrimp, scallops and onions. Not exactly the best, but still tasty. The tsuke-jiru (dipping sauce) for the cold buckwheat noodles had a sprinkle of mitsuba (Japanese cilantro or trefoil) and zest of yuzu (citron). Afterwards, the waitress came out with a little pot of the soba-yu (which is the water that the noodle is boiled in). After finishing the meal, one is supposed to pour the boiled water in the left-over dipping sauce and enjoy the noodles from beginning to end by drinking the noodle water.
*Ebi-tempura soba (warm): The noodles came in a hot soup also with mitsuba and yuzu sprinkled on top. The tempura came separately on the side; 2 juicy shrimp, 2 small asparagus, a shiso leaf, and a thin slice of kabocha (pumpkin). The tempura was good but not exactly spectacular; the problem with fried items is that you have to eat it quickly before it gets limp and soggy. I was enjoying the noodles and soup too much to take notice of the tempura.
*Anago-donburi (tempura-style sea eel over rice): The anago was boneless and deep fried whole. Very similar to unagi, but not quite as oily. There were some other tempura items, such as kabocha and shiso (and some other things, but don't quite remember...) The tentsuyu (soysauce, sugar, mirin, dashi, etc) that covered the tempura and rice was not excessive at all; some restaurants make the mistake of putting too much or making it too salty or even too sweet. In addition, there was a small side dish of nuka-zuke (rice-bran pickles; not tsukemono, which is salted pickles) of Japanese cucumbers and kabu (turnips). I actually prefer nuka-zuke over tsukemono, and thought that this was the perfect accompaniment for a dish like this donburu.
The noodles were definitely a highlight and everything that I had hoped for. But I would like to go back and try other things from the ip'pin ryori (appetizer) section. After finishing the meal, we noticed how full we felt but not sick; usually after such a dinner with that many fried things, it can feel as though a rock is sitting at the bottom of your stomach. But Otafuku obviously uses only the best ingredients (as reflected in prices) and everything that we had that night was well-prepared.
Ahhhh.... it's good to be back in LA, where I don't have to scrounge around for decent Japanese food anymore.
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