Thursday, January 25, 2007
During one of those heated discussions about all-time favorite restaurants, I was shocked to find out two of my Japanese coworkers weren't as thrilled about Shinsengumi (yakitori) as I was. In fact, they downright hated the place. They both agreed it's just too darn loud in there. One coworker said he was once cheered on as he got up to use the bathroom.
Maybe it's all in my head but being there always makes me feel like I'm back in Japan, though when I really think about it it's really not. Generally speaking, Japanese like to eat in peace. That is, unless you're at a summer matsuri and even then you won't get people cheering you to the port-a-potty.
This week, I was discovered great alternative-- Torimatsu in Torrance. Instead of three guys behind the counter there's only one, an oyaji who seems to prefer staring solemnly at the floor as the grill sizzles. The restaurant is fairly small with about a half-hour wait for a counter seat. Once there, you can break open a bottle of Sapporo beer with a friend and shout "KANPAI~" all by yourself.
I choose about 5 skewers of juicy meat variations. I'm not a fan of guts and organs but I did notice they carried motsu (intestines) on-a-stick which lots of natives love. The tsukune (chicken meatball) isn't as good as Shinsengumi's--they nearly fell apart in my mouth--but tasty just the same.
I felt like getting something healthy so I tried the renkon (lotus root) which was stuffed with ground chicken and lightly sprinkled with red pepper. Renkon is one of those vegetables you can deepfry in lard and still not feel guilty about eating. They're that good.
The deal-breaker with yakitori houses is when the meat comes out a tad dry. Afterall, they're sitting over high heat for a good 15 minutes so it's easy for a novice chef to mess up. I was impressed with the chicken and onion skewers. Oh so juicy. The shiso-wrapped chicken worked well too. Shiso is a pungent green leaf so it packs some punch to the tame taste of chicken.
And then came dessert... Oooh, I never though I'd have a favorite sweet at a savory restaurant. The pineapple sorbet is contained in a real McCoy pineapple and topped with some randomly assorted fruits. Though imagine the aerial view of it and you'll see a funny face smiling at you. It was so cool and refreshing I was tempted to save it for the ride home.
So the next time you're in the quiet mood for chicken sticks I definitely recommend Torimatsu. If you need a cheering squad, head to Shinsengumi.