Izakaya restaurants - an establishment that serves a wide variety of small dishes of food to accompany beer, sake or other alcoholic beverages - are common in Japan, but, with the exception of Furaibo, are rather hard to come by in L.A. So I was quite surprised when I happened upon Echizen in Cypress, which I expected to be another average tempura and teriyaki house.
Upon entering, the waitress warned me that the restaurant does not serve sushi - fine with me as I was not looking for a sushi restaurant. The waitress handed my girlfriend and I the menus, then asked what we would like to drink. I asked what kind of sake they had, and she pulled out a list, but it was written in Japanese - an encouraging sign that this restaurant caters primarily to Japanese tastes. She named off a few to help us non-Japanese reading folks out. I also noticed what seemed to be a specials board with a variety of items listed in Japanese only.
The food menu listed a vast choice of selections broken up into categories such as small dishes, fried items, grilled items, cold items, large dishes, etc. There was also a separate card listing complete dinners that mainly seemed to be run-of-the-mill teriyaki items to placate the gaijin. I noticed several unusual items, including a variety of mentaiko (cod fish roe) dishes and various items featuring natto. The average price for most items was about $5, although some of the large noodle dishes were in the $7 - $9 range.
We ordered a variety of items to start - Korean-style bbq beef short ribs (kalbi), steamed scallops and mushrooms, broiled yellowtail (the waitress asked if we wanted the cheek - the best part), clam miso soup, and sashimi salad. The kalbi arrived first hot off the grill - excellent beef short ribs that were equal to the best I've had at Korean bbq restaurants. The sashimi salad was okay - about seven slices of decent quality tuna sashimi laid over a bed of green iceberg lettuce chunks dressed with a typical Japanese miso-based dressing. Not the best sashimi salad I've had - Cafe Hiro's is much better - but not a bad value for $5.75. The scallops and mushrooms (maitake, I think) arrived wrapped in aluminum foil and topped with bonito flakes. The tiny sea scallops were subtly sweet but the real focal point of this dish was the rich, earthy mushrooms. The yellowtail arrived looking somewhat over-charred on the outside, but inside it was cooked just to the edge of doneness, succulent with a slight flaky texture. The soup was your standard miso for the most part, although the three sweet clams swimming in the bowl tasted excellent.
Not quite feeling full, we ordered two more dishes - beef tataki and ebi karaage. The beef tataki was the highlight dish of the meal - lightly seared on the outside and rare in the middle, served in thin slices (but thicker than, say, carpaccio), and topped with some type of soy/citrus sauce (wish I took notes) and thinly sliced scallions. This may now be one of my favorite Asian beef dishes in L.A., with the sua rong hai at Renu Nakorn and miso harame at Gyu Kaku also being contenders. The fried shrimp dish was also exceptionally tasty - fried whole small shrimp (heads, legs, tails, everything) with a delicious sweet flavor and light crispy coating that included black sesame seeds. I could see downing several plates of these shrimp along with a few nice tall, cold beers.
The service was gracious and unobtrusive. The waitress let us linger as long as we wanted after the meal, which was welcome as this seems to be a place to socialize and relax after work. I believe the restaurant is open until midnight, but I didn't write the specifics.
The total for two people, including drinks (one small bottle of cold sake, each) but not tip, was $57.
Echizen, 9111 Valley View Blvd. (at intersection of Valley View and Lincoln Blvd., in a strip mall behind Kentucky Fried Chicken across from Cypress College), Cypress.714-828-2155