Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Taste test: Izayoi

mussels with garlic butter
Izakaya, or Japanese pub snacks, have got to be one of the best food trends of the last year. They combine everything I like: savory little fishy bites, vegetables, decent prices and casual restaurants, with sake and beer to boot. This is really just a preview of Izayoi, since I'll definitely go back soon with more people to taste some different dishes. We just went for a bite before screening Graeme's suburban creepo tale Neighborhood Watch. Graeme was serving lumpia and chicken skewers afterwards so we just tried three dishes at Izayoi: shrimp dumplings, spinach salad with anchovy dressing and julienned potatoes and grilled mussels with garlic butter.
The food: Everything was beautifully presented, like little treasures on the plate. The salad was a great light dish to mix into the richer meat and fish dishes. The sushi plates going by to the other tables looked excellent, as they should since the owner used to own Sushi Ryo on Highland. A lacquer box of glazed eggplant and rice at the table next to us looked amazing.
The room: The Japanese modern setting is a cut above Haru Ulala. It's small and still informal, but a good spot for a date or when you don't feel quite as funky. Reserve ahead if you want to sit at the small sushi bar.
The verdict: A great spot to graze on sushi and small plates, with a large menu full of interesting sounding seafood, meat and vegetable dishes. Servings are quite small, but with prices from $4-9 or so, you can try lots of things.
132 S. Central Ave.
Little Tokyo
(213) 613-9554

Izayoi update: Kathy and returned for some unfiltered sake and lots more dishes. There were some real winners, especially the grilled black cod. The spicy scallop roll and assorted sashimi plate were both good, so either sushi or cooked dishes are both good bets here. We also had an unusual dish of minced sardines fried in shiso leaves -- the sardines didn't have much flavor but the presentation was interesting; steamed spinach with sesame; and seafood croquettes (pictured above). These creamy fried seafood dumplings seemed almost over-the-top rich at first, but settled comfortingly in my stomach almost like dessert.