On Monday night, Kevin invited me to join him at his table for a "friends and family" dinner at Toranoko, the new Michael Cardenas venture downtown. With it's first official night of business being this Wednesday, we all got a little preview of the rustic, Japanese menu. Toranoko is situated next to another Cardenas establishment--the successful Lazy Ox Canteen. Although their offerings are very different, with Toranoko offering "down home, 'real' Japanese cuisine," I still find it pretty gutsy of him to open them right next door to each other.
We were told we should try to eat and sample the entire menu. That night, I learned that even with a limitless amount of delicious food before me, my stomach is only so big. The menu is so extensive, I was a little overwhelmed when reading it at the restaurant. It was only afterwards that I realized we missed a lot of dishes I would've liked to try. There just wasn't any room left in my stomach!
243 South San Pedro St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
An awesome mural covers one of the brick walls in the space. The vibe is casual, and at times a little lounge-y.
The sushi bar is located at the back of the restaurant. That's where I want to sit next time. We ordered the daily specials and they were all very fresh. I can't remember the names of the other ones, but the fresh water eel was particularly memorable. There was some sort of citrusy spicy on it that made it a little different than your average unagi.
The bar is manned by Curtis, who calls himself not only a mixologist, but also a wine lover and sake geek.
I asked for a girly drink, and a girly drink was what I got. Sweet and fruity, the only thing noteworthy about this Tangerine martini was the fact that it was hand-blended with an immersion blender.
I got a little taste of white wine sangria that sits behind the bar. There was a little twist to the sangria, with Asian pear instead of apples. If only the Asian pear was more apparent...
The bar had a pretty awesome lighted design. From what I heard, it's a picture of a tattoo? Not sure, but it definitely looks cool.
The menu is catagorized into different sections: vegetable, seafood, beef/pork/poultry, sumiyaki, oden, rice/noodle/soup, and sushi/rolls. That's how I've organized everything we ate on here.
Toranoko french mountain potato fries with plum aioli
Crunchy sticks. The aioli was good though.
New Union farms sizzling mushroom with red cheddar cheese tobanyaki
My favorite dish of the night! It tasted of butter and ponzu and I guess I have to say, "umami." I'm not sure the order we got had the cheese on it, or if it did, I didn't get any of it but I imagine it would work well with the flavors.
Takana croquette of mashed potato and mustard leaf
Upon the first bite, it just tasted like a generic fried ball of potatoes. However, I later noticed little bits of crunchy mustard leaf inside which I enjoyed.
Yanagita seafarms uni goma tofu
I was slightly disappointed by this. The uni was barely present and the tofu was a little too firm for me.
White fish sashimi with pomegranate
This was the first dish that came out, and I really enjoyed it. The little pops of tanginess from the pomegranate seeds were a very interesting addition to the fish.
Baby tiger shrimp tempura with curry aioli
Even though the shrimp were overcooked, I could still taste the sweetness in them. Just a little less time in the fryer! I really enjoyed the curry aioli though.
Colorado black pork kakuni braised
This was a homey dish with very familiar flavors of soy and dashi. It tasted like something I would make in my own kitchen. The braised daikon and the pork were very flavorful.
Pork and vegetable okonomiyaki pancake
Very good, this savory pancake was like a takoyaki without the octopus.
Jidori Fried chicken with orshi sesame
The chicken was juicy and flavorful and the batter was delightfully crispy.
The sumiyaki section of the menu featured lots of different grilled meats and vegetables on skewers.
Basically a giant meatball on a stick, it was heavily seasoned but tempered by the egg yolk we were instructed to pour on top.
Heart on a stick! Definitely my favorite skewer of the night.
Negima chicken and green onions
The chicken was very juicy, but I didn't try a piece of green onion.
Crispy skin! Really, what could be better?
Not so tender.
Cherry tomato in bacon
First you bite into the salty bacon and then you get a sweet, acidic burst of juice from the blistered cherry tomato. Basically a flavor bomb.
Kinoko zosui porridge of rice and egg
Again, a very familiar dish for me. Silky smooth egg with rice in a clear broth.
Sauce yakisoba with beef
So surprisingly good. I think this may be the one dish I was still thinking about the next morning. We all thought a vegetable roll would be boring but this was the most exciting and flavorful vegetable roll I've ever had. I loved the freshness and crunchiness of the daikon skin. Thank you Josie for ordering it!
Green tea pudding
I found the dessert a little too sweet and not delicate enough to be associated with anything Japanese, but still a nice sweet end to the meal.
There are a few dishes that I didn't get a decent picture of but are worth mentioning. The house made shiokara marinated intestines were difficult for some to enjoy, but I really liked the fishiness and chewy texture. The natto kinchaku under the sumiyaki section is my favorite preparation of natto to date. It still had that distinctive smell and stringy gooeyness, but it was wrapped in some bean curd before being grilled. There was a welcome smokiness to it.
Chef/Partner Hisa Kawabe and General Manager Tommy Tomioka. Both are veterans of the Nobu Matsuhisa empire. Thanks for taking care of us!
P.S. Thank you, Ryan, for lighting my pictures :)