In April, a friend and I had a terrific evening at Habuya Okinawan Dining in Tustin. He loves bitter melon (goya) and that's the specialty here.
When the server describes the daily specials, a tray with the featured fresh ingredients is presented at the table to show the quality.
Homemade peanut tofu was so silky and soft. A light and lilting dressing was combined at the table. This was my favorite dish of the night.
Hokkaido uni was very fresh and mild. Together with salty ikura and Okinawan seaweed, the tart, salad-y bite sang of the sea.
Deep-fried crispy goya and avocado salad was recommended as the entry to trying bitter melon for the first time. The high heat tempers the bitterness, as does the creamy avocado. The perky base of baby spinach was dolloped with a rich, mayonnaisey dressing and topped with a blizzard of bonito shavings.
A5 wagyu carpaccio was tasty with fried garlic, sansho, yogurt sauce and cured onions but the top round cut was too lean for my taste.
Stewed pork ribs was the one clunker of the meal, oddly dull in flavor and texture.
I also adored the kimchi, bacon and cheese soba. . . think of it as a spicy pasta carbonara. The bouncy, chewy Okinawa-style soba is manufactured according to the family's own recipe and specifications.
A cold dish of goya kimchi was a refreshing, spicy and lightly fermented palate cleanser.
Sautéed goya with Spam, cubes of firm tofu and scrambled egg was more like the Okinawan bitter melon comfort food I've had in the past. Salty from the bonito and cured pork, and packed with umami.
And there's even a bitter melon dessert. We ended with goya and black bean ice cream.
The interior changes with the seasons. This illustrates the mid-spring lantern theme and reflection from the disco ball.
The family that operates the place was amazed that my friend gobbled up all the goya dishes. They declared him an honorary Okinawan. Prices at Habuya are moderate and the quality of the cooking is quite high. Even more worthy of note, the warm and friendly service.
Habuya Okinawan Dining
14215 Red Hill Ave.