The SO and I found ourselves craving tempura Fri eve and ended up wandering around a somewhat desolate Japanese Village about 7pm. The sleek Manhattanesque interior of Sohoju with its lighted wall of sake caught our attention so we thought we'd give it a try. We were surprised to find a Korean fusion place in the heart of Little Tokyo and intrigued by the idea of "nomadic cuisine." There were several two-tops of loft-types enjoying overflowing dishes of fried foods so we went for one of the three specials on the chalkboard: choice of 4 korean bbq + hot sake for 2 for $29. We chose the beef galbi, spicy chicken, shrimp and bulgogi (rice sticks). We added an order of shrimp + veggie tempura and rice.
A pleasant little soup with daikon radish slices came out first followed by a small bbq with red hot charcoal and four little dipping sauces: spicy red, house-made catsup, ponzu and a creamy horseradish. Our selections to bbq came next except all the items were already cooked; one just uses the bbq to re-heat and char the individual pieces. The shrimp were extremely tasty but way difficult to peel due to the multiple heatings, with the shell sticking to the hot little bodies, burning our fingers (nice and salty though). We only charred the larger pieces of chicken and beef as the other smaller chunks would fall through the grate. The chicken was tangy with a pleasant kick that was cooled by an occasional dip into the catsup. The beef was a bit chewy but provided a good vehicle for the mild horseradish sauce. The rice sticks were unusual, kinda gummy and sticky and not bad with the spicy sauce, but really a couple bites were enough. Couldn't find anything to do with the ponzu.
The tempura was very fresh, nicely crisped, and featured four good-sized shrimp, and a selection of asparagus, pumpkin, squash, potato, etc. but the dipping sauce was flavorless. No soy or other options on the table. Oh and the side of rice was different: kind of a dirty white rice with herbs. The sake was by far not a premium brand and I thought later we should have opted for a couple of beers instead. Our waitress was initially quite pleasant and accessible though she later disappeared. English was clearly not her (or the other waiter's) first language; when we asked for more of the spicy dipping sauce (wanting to try it with the tempura), we instead got more soup!
All in all it was a mixed bag. It didn't feel very authentic (no Soot Bull Jeep). Felt like a place that would be good for after work drinks and noshing but not a full meal (though I was intrigued by another table's friend chicken and a large bowl of noodles in seafood soup - I think fried foods is their thing). As we ate, the music got louder and louder to the point of annoying. Not sure if this is a new wave of style-over-substance but I think next time we're in Little Tokyo we'll probably pick a true Japanese joint.
104 Japanese Village Plaza
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