So, for several months now, I've been seeing the former House of Vege get transformed into this slick appearing building called Yanagi Bistro. The sign says, "contemporary" Japanese cuisine. The location has been open for several weeks now. It's next door to a Sizzler and across the street from a Norms, close to the Rolling Hills Shopping Center. Last night, I decided to check it out.
When I first walked in, I was kinda shocked with the interior, in a good way. What the heck is this doing in Torrance (actually, it's in Lomita but it's only 100-200 feet from Torrance)? I felt like I walked into more of a trendy Hollywood restaurant or maybe more like a newer place in Manhattan Beach.
I checked out the menu, and in addition to the regular sushi bar items, they have what I think is less Japanese and more Pan-Asian dishes with some non-Asian (mostly Italian) influences. I was surprised by the menu so I decided to sit down and have dinner. The server told me that this food is different from their other location which is more of a bento box and sushi type place. He also informed me their chef just moved from NY and wanted to try something different.
Here's what I ordered
1. Yanagi Caesar (Menu description: Artisan romaine wedge, pear tomatoes, panko fried-poached egg, Ferrari proscuitto, crispy rice croutons) - The presentation was very nice, and the egg was perfectly cooked. The rice croutons were interesting, in a good way, crunchy exterior with a chewy interior. If I had to tweak the salad a bit, I would've added some cracked black pepper. The proscuitto was the layer directly on the plate, so if you scooped some of that with the rest of the salad, it was just the right amount of salty. The tomatoes tasted great too..
2. Mixed Tempura - A couple of shrimp, some typical veg (pumpkin, squash, green beans) - It was typical tempura. The coating was light and not too thick. I would've liked it to be a bit crisper (my personal preference) and the dipping broth could've been a touch saltier. It wasn't greasy. This was the least sexy dish of the night, but in all fairness, I think it would be a challenge to sexy-up a basket of tempura just about anywhere.
3. Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice - Beautiful presentation. Not spicy though. I think they should've put a thin slice or two of serrano on top instead of the garnish (which I think was a trapezoid of avocado).
4. Seared Scallop Risotto (Menu description: Giant pink diver scallop, white balsamic glaze, fresh yellow sweet corn, bacon bits, truffle oil, parmesan) - Beautiful presentation again. Sorry, I was hungry and didn't take photos. There was this edible flower popping up next to this nice sized scallop. The scallop was perfectly seared... really one of the best scallops I've had in eons. I enjoyed the dish overall but maybe it felt a touch too sweet (from the sweet corn and scallop). I would've liked more parmesan flavor (to get a bit more salt). I'm really not a salt craver, but I felt this may be just a tad underseasoned, even with the bacon bits. I could see Gordon Ramsay sending it back. The risotto itself, I felt, was cooked perfectly.
5. Braised Angus Short Rib (Menu Description: Sweet and Spicy Gochujang chili sauce, whipped potatoes, scallions, fried mochi) - Again, gorgeous presentation. This block of short rib was... chopstick ten....fork ten....just meltingly tender. I enjoyed the flavor and it had that darkened carmelized/glazed appearance that I enjoy on properly cooked short ribs. The potatoes were light and airy. The fried mochi (in the shape of a flower) had a crispy-chewy texture that was interesting (but a touch bland, like mochi typically is, which isn't a bad thing). The sauce was sweet and had a slight kick to it (but since I'm haven't had Gochujang before, I am not sure if this is a typical rendition or great rendition). It was really a beautiful dish and it tasted great.
I didn't order dessert but looked at the menu. No green tea ice cream as the token dessert item. I saw the table next to me order, and again the plating was gorgeous (and the portions small). They had a cheesecake, some Thai Iced Tea pudding that I think was served with 5-spice spiced churro "fries" (think mini churros), some cannoli assortment, and one or two other items.
Other than the spicy tuna on crispy rice, I didn't order any sushi. I did overhear the table next to me comment on how tasty and reasonably priced the sushi was.
This restaurant is a pleasant surprise in the "Torrance" restaurant scene (I know, using the word "scene" is a stretch).... and calling it "Torrance" is a stretch too because I think the actual address is a Lomita address. I think this place will find their way amongst the plethora of Japanese restaurants in this area. I feel they still have some of the "new restaurant kinks" to work out in the kitchen (i.e. salt and spice levels) but they really do NOT have to work on the presentations.
Atmosphere: A (Noise level was fine with the place half full, seats were comfortable, on the darker side)
Food Presentation: A+ (I was surprised at the level of presentation.)
Portion size: B- (I wouldn't go here starving. I don't think this place was going for a small plates concept when it came to their non-sushi entrees.) However, I don't think you need to order this many dishes to be full. I think I over ordered because I was intrigued by the presentation and description.
Taste: B (for the reasons above, but the short rib and scallop cooking was an A+ for me).
Value: B/B+ (Entrees ranged from 6-16 dollars, sides were 2-5). I think they were reasonably priced based on the quality of ingredients, creativity, and presentation.
Service: B (they kept my drink refilled, they were pleasant, the pacing of the dishes was reasonable, and the only hiccup was that they forgot to offer me dessert before bringing me the check).
Yanagi Bistro - Torrance
2439 Pacific Coast Hwy
Lomita, CA 90717
Bottom Line (literally): I would go back.