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Japanese

Las Vegas: MSC (Min Sok Chong)

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The Skinny:  I needed a nice little reality check from some good friends and they decided to go here.  Apparently I’ve been here before, but it was so long ago when food was just something I ate to survive I couldn’t remember.  It did feel familiar when I first walked in.  I was a little excited because it is a Korean/Japanese restaurant.

The interior is this cute little homely place.  I felt comfortable the minute I walked in.  It was like you’re walking into your best friend’s Asian dining room.  We sat down and first thing we ordered was alcohol.  Soju (Korean alcohol),  Hite (Korean beer) & fresh iced green tea.  I’ve never been here and was open to try anything.  My friend ordered a dish that was slow cooked pork belly with oysters, tofu steak & a spicy potato & beef rib soup.  I loved that the owner’s daughter came to our table with fresh limes and made a special cocktail we named Achy hands drink because she squeezed fresh lime juice into a cup of ice and soju.  Loved it better then drinking soju straight up.  For our happy ending we had candied corn with cheese. OMG who thinks up these things?  At first when it came out my friends and I looked at the dish and looked at Sarah (the owner’s daughter) and said that’s a huge dish of corn!  Don’t know why we were so shocked by the plate, we actually finished majority of it.  It is THAT good.

The Good:  I didn’t have one bad dish here.  The slow cooked pork belly with oysters was fantastic!  I’m normally not a big fan of pork belly because of how fatty it is, but Sarah’s mom made it so good, I could’ve eaten the whole plate if it wasn’t so filling.  The dish came with pickled napa cabbage leaves to wrap the pork belly, oyster & sides (raw garlic, raw jalapeno peppers, and this fermented soy bean paste).  This dish is like an explosion of flavor in your mouth.  It actually really messed me up the first bite.  My brain couldn’t decide what I was eating.  I had the flavorful pork belly, the oyster and all the other flavors from the sides. It was delicious.

The spicy potato & beef rib soup was a great choice too.  It went well with the other dishes we ordered.  A lot of places when I order this type of soup are too spicy.  The spice level and flavor was perfect here.

Our last dish was the candied corn with cheese.  My friend told me that this is the best dish when drinking.  Boy is she right.  This dish is no joke.  Definitely a must try if you ever go.

 The Bad:  I don’t really have anything bad to say about this restaurant other than it’s kind of in a ghetto area.   The best restaurants are the little hole in the walls right?  It is a couple blocks from the University so it’s not that bad, but still quite a drive from where I live. Worth the drive though.

Would you come back again?  Absolutely, we didn’t even begin to take a crack at the menu.  There are so many choices to choose from. I will definitely be back again.  It’s Korean home cooking and you can’t find such great Korean home cooking unless you’re Korean yourself and if you are, then I’m jealous you grew up with such great food.  Next time I’ll try some of the Japanese items and report back.

More Info:  1801 E. Tropicana | Las Vegas, NV 89119 | (702) 262-5592 | Reasonable pricing

– Sniper Tam


Little Tokyo: Fat Spoon

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The Skinny:  So I learned about the Fat Spoon from another food blog called Weezermonkey.  The blogger had an Uni (Seah Urchin) Croquette, loved it, and that’s what I wanted for lunch today.  Unfortunately for me, when I went there with some coworkers, they did not have any in supply to fry up for me.  So instead, the waiter recommended their Uni Pasta special, so I went with that.

The Fat Spoon is a new restaurant in Little Tokyo that serves Japanese style Curry, Croquette, and Pastas just like the Curry House chain.  It’s right next door to the popular Daikokuya Ramen house and I’m pretty sure that Fat Spoon is owned by Aburiya Toranoko, which itself is somehow connected to the people at Lazy Ox.  I could be wrong though.

The High: One of my coworkers ordered some Mini Corn Dogs as an appetizer.  They were actually pretty good because the Hot Dog they used had a good meaty bite to them, while the Ketchup it came with had a bold Steak Sauce kick.

The Bad:  When Uni is good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, it’s really really bad.  From what people tell me and what I’ve experienced, fresh Uni tastes sweet and like the ocean.  Well, my Uni Pasta did taste like the ocean, but without the sweet and saltiness of the sea.  There were slivers of Uni still in intact throughout the dish, but they were quite bitter and a bit off-putting.  The Pasta sauce was creamy but bland, I literally had to drown my bowl with grated Parmesan just to add some salty depth.  The only redeeming things about the Pasta dish was the mixed Mushrooms that serve as a meaty texture component, and the Spaghetti Noodles, which were cooked just right.

Would you come back again?  In retrospect, I should have got the Curry since that’s what they are known for.  So next time, I’ll order that….but I won’t be in any rush.

More Info:  Yelp | Address: 329 E 1st St | Los Angeles, CA 90012  | They serve Beer and Shochu | The Uni Pasta cost me $14, but on average, every other dish costs around $10.

– MJ

p.s. pics taken with my android smartphone….sooooo….yeahhh


Las Vegas: Blue Ribbon Sushi

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The Skinny:  The last and final restaurant I wanted to try inside the Cosmopolitan.  When my friend from LA said he wanted Japanese food, I automatically thought of this restaurant.  A bunch of my co-workers had been raving about this chicken dish so I had to try it.  Blue Ribbon participated in Restaurant Week, so what a great time to try it!  The pre-set menu was $50 and it consisted of:

  1. First Course:
    Choice of: Miso Soup ~OR~ Hijiki Salad
  2. Second Course:
    Chef’s Choice of Assorted Sushi
  3. Third Course:
    Choice of: Braised Short Ribs with Celery Root Puree & Truffle Teriyaki ~OR~  Fried Chicken “Blue Ribbon Style” (which was fried chicken with a spicy seasoning accompanied with honey wasabi sauce)
  4. Fourth Course:
    Choice of: Ginger Bread Pudding ~OR~ Green Tea Cream Brulee

My friend and I tried one of each of the first course, we both were not fans of either.  Second course you can’t go wrong with.  It was a spicy tuna roll, one piece of salmon nigiri & one piece of tuna nigiri.  Third Course, my friend had the braised short ribs and I tried the fried chicken.  Both were delicious.

The Good:  Great atmosphere.  Has a traditional yet trendy feel to it.  Service was really good, food came out in a timely manner.  I LOVED the honey wasabi sauce for the chicken.  It was a sweet sauce with a kick.  The wasabi wasn’t overpowering at all.

The Bad:  A little too expensive for what it is, in my opinion at least.  A bowl of shishito for $10 when I can buy it at the store for $2?  Yea, kind of ruins it when you know exactly how much the dish really costs.  The Ginger Bread Pudding was disgusting! I know it says it in the description GINGER bread pudding, but I thought it was ginger bread cookie type of pudding.  Nope, had chunks of ginger root in it, almost made me throw up.  My own personal experience, I just REALLY dislike ginger.  So imagine the one thing you hate most, eating that dish with it in it not knowing it’s in there.  Good thing that wasn’t the second course or it would’ve ruined my whole dinner.

Would you come back again?  Probably not,  unless they had something like the Restaurant week at that price, it’s a little to expensive for me for Japanese food.  I’d rather spend my money at Yellowtail at the Bellagio

More Info:  Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill Las Vegas | 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South | Las Vegas, NV 89109 | This is a splurge restaurant.

– Sniper Tam  


Little Tokyo: Takoyaki Tanota

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The Skinny:  Went to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to play around with my digital cameras and came across a Nisei festival and a Takoyaki stand named Takoyaki Tanota.  In general I love Octopus, which is also why I love Takoyaki and this find was a treat!

The Good:  The painfully hot pancake balls with chunks of Octopus was just that.  They burnt the insides of my mouth, but the  portion size of the Octopus nuggets were good and made it worth while.  5 dollars bought me 8 pieces and they were all delicious.   I got the regular Takoyaki sauce but they also have Ponzu and Jalapeno versions.

The Bad:  It’s not the most filling meal in the world, but then again, it is just a snack really.

Would you come back again?  Sure, if I’m lucky enough to come across it again.

More Info:  Little Tokyo: www.takoyakitanota.com

– MJ


Gaja Okonomiyaki + Ryo Izakaya

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The Skinny:

Gaja is a Okonomiyaki restaurant that allows you to grill up Japanese style savory pancakes for Lunch or Dinner.  It’s located in the City of Lomita and sits in a tiny plaza next to two popular Udon Noodle shops.   Along with the Okonomiyaki and the vast variety of toppings, like Cheese, Seafood, and mystery Meats, you can also get Italian style Pastas, Soupy Noodles, and Beer.  A good time to go to Gaja is during lunch because they have specials where you get 3 personal size Okonomiyaki with 1 topping each, a side salad, and a drink for just about 15 bucks.

Ryo is a Izakaya not too far from Gaja and serves Japanese style Tapas, Sushi items, Ramen, and Yakitori.  It’s located in the Rolling Hills Shopping Plaza in Torrance and sits right in front of an AMC Movie Theater.  The interior has trendy old style wooden furniture and uses empty alcohole bottles as decorations.

The High:

Gaja was an interesting experience and cooking your own savory pancakes with a few friends is always fun.  We ordered their “Sparking Beer” which either has Blueberries or slices of Grapefruits. Both were good and refreshing.  Since I was in a party of 3, two of us ordered the lunch special to share and topped them with Cheese, Mushrooms, Scallions, Octopus, Teriyaki Chicken, and Shrimp.  I ordered some Takoyaki with a Spicy Sauce.  Of the 6 toppings that were ordered and shared, the Cheese was the best one, that is after we finally mastered the grill and made some decent well-done pancakes.    The way the Cheese crisped up on top of the stove was pretty awesome.   It was also fun seeing all the shaved Bonito flakes come alive as you place them on top of each cooked Pancakes.  The Takoyaki balls were decent and the spicy sauce needed more spice.

After Gaja, I went to Ryo Izakaya with a party of 4.  We shared Ramen with Pork, Yakitori items, a whole grilled Quail, Takoyaki, fried Squid Legs, Shrimp in Chili Sauce, Lamp Chops, Unagi, Asparagus in something-something sauce, and stewed Tendon in a spicy broth.  Of all the items that stood out, the stewed Tendon was my favorite.  It was gelatinous, tasty, and left a lovely sticky film on my lips.  The Ramen that one of us ordered had the thick porky broth and it was as good as those specialty places that only focuses on making really good Ramen.  The grilled items we ordered were the Chicken Hearts, Breast, Wings, Liver, Cartilage, a whole Quail and Lamb Chops.  The Chicken Hearts were pretty beefy in flavor while the Quail and Lamb Chops were both juicy, charred, and seasoned just right.

The Low:

I have no real lows about Gaja, it’s a fun place to eat at and once you master the grill, eating rare Okonomiyakis and half cooked seafood won’t be a problem.  You don’t even have to cook the stuff yourself, you can ask the waiter to have the in-house cook make it for you in the back kitchen.  Actually, one complaint I do have is that the Octopus came out raw and after grilling it with the pancake mix, it was super rubbery.  I think they should have precooked or prepped seafood items like that before hand so it’ll be easier to cook later.

At Ryo Izakaya, the tapped Kirin Beer during happy hour seemed to be really watered down.  It also came in a pitcher that has a pint size indent from the bottom for regular water to freeze up and keep the beer cold.  That’s just BS.  I didn’t really like the Chicken Cartliage, but only because it just isn’t for me.  Other than that, no real complaints about the environment or food.  The female waitresses were all friendly and the cook came out once in a while to see if the customers were cared for.

Would you come back?

Gaja: Only if I’m with a group of people. They have a menu that has as many combo items as a karaoke book has songs.

Ryo: Yes!  It’s a fun place to drink and eat among friends.

More Info: www.gajamoc.com | 2383 Lomita Blvd. Ste 102 Lomita, CA 90717 | (310) 534-0153 | Ryo-zan Paku | 2589 Pacific Coast Hwy. Torrance, CA 90505, Torrance | (310) 530-8720

MJ


Gardena: Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori

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The Skinny: The popular and always busy, Shin-Sen-Gumi’s Yakitori is in Gardena.   It’s one of those dining experience where everyone is shouting as you enter, have your first drink of beer, and after you paid your bill.  The place is as Japanese as it gets and it would be my 3rd trip there.  This time I ordered the Pork Belly, Pig Intestines and Knuckles, little sausages, Asparagus wrapped in Bacon and the Tail End, Wing, Heart and Breast of a Chicken.  Since I went with mi Madre, she was craving Duck, so we got that as well.

The High: For some reason, I love the promo videos (watch it here) they have playing at every location and the enduring quality of them.  The music playing let’s me know that I’m in for something good and it kind of makes me feel like I’m slightly buzzed on the strip of Las Vegas.   I bet drinking games can be made with how often the staff members look off to the side to read their lines.

Anyways, my favorite item at Shin-Sen-Gumi is the Pig Intestine.  It comes out crispy like Bacon, slightly fatty on the inside, and sweet because of the Teriyaki sauce used to coat it . Also, the tail end of the Chicken was succulent and the hearts were tenderly tasty.

The Low: The sliced Duck Breast was served cold and it was forgettable.  Mi Madre was slightly disappointed because she wanted the rendered kind of fatty Duck you get at a Chinese restaurant.

The Pork Belly is usually good, but that time, it was thinly cut and it wasn’t as juicy as the other times I had it.

Would I come back again? Yes!  I actually left my lucky hat there and they kept it safe for me.

More Info: Shin-Sen-Gum | 8517 S. Western Avenue. Gardena, CA 90248 | Phone: (310) 715-1588 | NOT CHEAP!

MJ


Little Tokyo: Orochon

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The Skinny: Orochon, the Ramen place that television host Adam Richman of “Man v. Food” visited and placed on the Travel Channel so viewers can see him drip away like the Wicked Witch of the West.  The restaurant is known for a challenge that gives patrons 30 minutes to eat a spicy cesspool of molten hot broth full of Egg Noodles and more Jalapeno slices than a bowl of cheerios.  The payoff, if someone finishes it, is a free t-shirt and a Polaroid picture of them placed next to Adam on their Bulletin Board of Fame.  While I did try to take on the challenge and failed in front of Nom Nom Bobbie a year ago, I only went there today to eat lunch with Echo and Jazzy.  Since every food blogger and their 2nd cousin on Yelp has already reviewed Orochon, I might as well too.

Orochon offers 3 styles of broth to choose from, Miso (which is a thicker kind), Soy, and Salt base. You get to choose levels of spiciness, 7 being free of it, 1 being face melting hot, and  “Special 2” being the reason why you died on the toilet. Each order of Ramen automatically comes with slices of Pork, Green Bell Peppers, and Green Onions.  You can also add extras like a Boiled Egg, Bean Sprouts, Char Siu Pork, Butter, Garlic, and more.  While Ramen is their thing, you can get side dishes like sauteed Bamboo Shoots and Gyoza and then pair it with cold Japanese beer on tap.

The High: I do enjoy Orochon’s version of Ramen since I am a fan of clear based broths.  I like how they use Green Bell Peppers to influence the scent and taste of the overall broth.  It is simply tasty stuff and their noodles are decent.  Jazzy ordered the Miso base version with a Boiled Egg, Bean Sprouts, and Hyper level 2 spiciness.  I could tell he liked it because even after we paid the bill, he kept on sipping on the leftover soup.  Echo got the Salt based Ramen at level 4 and even though his face was melting off from the heat, he was still enjoying the tastiness of it all.  I got the Soy based broth with Char Siu Pork and Bamboo Shoots at the same heat level as Echo’s.   Like I mentioned before, the stuff is just tasty and the fragrance from the Green Peppers really adds something different to their Ramen in comparison to other styles that prefer that thick broth.  Also, that extra Char Siu Pork I ordered melted between my chopsticks…..not sure if that’s a good thing, but it tasted great!

With our orders of Ramen, Jazzy also got some Gyoza and while I didn’t have one, I do remember a few times that I did and they were delicious.

The Low: Orochon isn’t the best Ramen in the world, but that’s as low as it goes.  People will either love it, hate it, or think it’s whatever.

Would you come back again? Yes and I have.

More Info: 123 S Onizuka St. Los Angeles, CA 90012 | If you pay by card, be sure to order more than 20 bucks.  All 3 Ramen without any extras are under 7 bucks.

MJ