so last night i wound up at haru ulala for the very first time after an evening in little tokyo. i'd gone to izayoi for the first time last month during that wondrous platonic orgy of geeks and booth babes known as E3 (a dinner to which my much-wealthier programmer friend treated me). anyhow, this pretty much completes my initial wave of taste testing between the two newly-hyped izakayas in the area.
once again, i apologize in advance for a spotty comparison since izayoi was a month ago.
the good: the decor. hot dang, i love me that urban japanese minimalism. foodwise, everything was really really fresh as far as i remember. the buta kakuni was great, as was the chicken miso karaage. to confess, i'd already eaten dinner and it was past 10pm, so my friend and i just ordered a few random things off the menu without any real chowish intentions. i don't even remember everything we had. i do however recall that the black cod was pretty good.
the bad: we had a chawan-mushi type soft tofu thing which i'm sure was supposed to be good and a cut above standard soft tofu, but this stuff was runny drippy straight up goo. i think it was supposed to be that way - the waitress proclaimed it as their special homemade tofu - but i really wasn't feeling it, especially not with my old college roomate and 2 little wooden spoons to share. (maybe i'd have liked it better if i was on a romantic date, i don't know haha)
the ugly: nothing about this place is ugly. although the lighting isn't quite as warm as i'd like. but i guess it's a small price to pay for minimalist ambiance. also, we were shunted off to the table in the far back of the restaurant, which kinda killed the vibe a bit. i'm sure i would have had an entirely different experience if we'd been sitting at the counter and ordering sushi to boot.
the good: hamaguri. omg it needs to be said. "hamaguri." probably my favorite word in the pan-pacific common tongue, well behind "tonkotsu ramen" and "gyu tataki" and "tan shio" oh... never mind. hamaguri are those gigantic clams the size of your fist - quahogs perhaps? that are pretty hard to find these days. i love em raw if possible but haru ulala's hamaguri - grilled yakitori style and served on a bed of salt with a wedge of lemon, though a little tough and chewy from the cooking, is like a flavor explosion straight from the sea.
also surprisingly, their generic "yakitori" skewer - a generous stack of thigh meat, is very very good when you don't want to drive down to shin sen gumi.
i also could find no fault with their kumamoto oysters - though on the smallish side, they were exactly what i was expecting.
the bad: you know, i can't think of anything bad about this place. maybe one or two of the things we ordered weren't "fantastic" - i'm thinking of you, tsukune chicken meatball skewer. though nothing to write home about, you were completely serviceable and filling.
the ugly: the decor. it's rather plain and old school, with japanese specials hand-scrawled on paper and stuck to the walls. the place is saved by warmer lighting than izayoi so i can definitely live with it.
bonus points: the woman who owns haru ulala was taking a break outside when we left the restaurant. i forget her name (i know she was mentioned in the L.A. Weekly recently), but she was exceptionally friendly and modet. "i hope the waitstaff didn't mess up your orders," she said. and we just laughed. the service was impeccable.
HARU ULALA takes this round. i'm sure i would have had a different experience sitting at the counter for izayoi, but, i definitely found haru's food more to my liking, at least based on my limited samplings. also, it feels like the kind of place i can go to on a regular basis, eventually getting to know everyone. it has a laid-back, casual vibe, while izayoi seems more like a "dining out" restaurant. i dream of living out my old age in japan and hanging out at my local yakitori or izakaya. haru ulala is like a little taste of that right here in downtown L.A.