With a name more appropriate for either a health insurance policy or a lifestyle magazine, "Genki Living" wouldn't be a place you'd expect to find food. This begs the question, "So what does 'genki' mean anyway?"
Yet after looking it up and finding out that 'genki' is the Japanese word for "energetic," I'm still not any closer to explaining what it has to do with crepes, which is the specialty of this newly-opened Irvine franchise.
But the name isn't the most beguiling thing about the restaurant. A bigger head-scratcher is the place's most striking feature; a life-sized mock-up of a Japanese subway train which dominates an entire wall. It looks so real that you can almost imagine the Japanese salary-men in business suits going to work, being stuffed into this diorama's sliding doors like sardines, their faces smooshed up against the glass.
The rest of the store looks like a pre-teen girl's bedroom. Mismatched "Easter" pastel colors, faux picket fences, posters of cherubic Asian teen idols, and pink flower patterns gives the room a distinct "Sanrio-ness". The vibe is a little kooky, but still oddly charming.
The menu board, however, is hung so high up that I had to crane my neck like I was watching a movie from the first row. It also doesn't help matters that the list of items they offer is encyclopedic and the font size is two sizes too small. But how else are they to fit all their choices on it? With so many crepe permutations, both savory and sweet, they'd give Baskin-Robbin's 31 flavors a run for their money. If this weren't enough, they also have boba drinks and tea.
I opted for the classic crepe filling of Nutella, sliced banana, and ice cream topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Each crepe is prepared to order, with the batter poured fresh onto a round steel griddle and cooked until leathery brown and crisp. The pliable disk is then folded into a conical shape and the toppings are piled inside the well. This gigantic mass is meant to be eaten like an ice cream cone, although it's definitely a more awkward experience, since you need to grip it firmly with both hands, lest you want the whole mess to come tumbling down onto your lap.
But as I nibbled around the edges, working my way to the goopy, chocolatey, and Chiquita center, I found that the crepe skin withstood the onslaught of the moisture working against it. Instead of tearing, the slowy melting contents made it supple and chewy, because unlike its more delicate French cousin, this Japanese crepe is of a thicker and sturdier stock -- the lovechild of a pancake and a tortilla.
Genki Living's friendly Taiwanese proprietor, William, also cooks up a decent okonomiyaki. His rendition has stir fried noodles and wilted cabbage, set atop a thin crepe membrane. It comes with the traditional topping of katsuo-bushi, thin shavings of dried bonito fish flakes, which have the uncanny ability to writhe and billow from the emanating heat of the noodles like disembodied worms. Japanese mayo and a tart okonomiyaki sauce is sluiced on top for a finishing touch.
Good crepes and okonomiyaki served in a place with an inexplicable name and fake subway train. Yup...sounds like just the type of thing boring Irvine needs!
15435 Jeffrey Rd. #110
Irvine, CA 92618
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