It’s a silly running joke between my internship director and me that I’m obsessed with Little Tokyo.
I’m really not. I do love Little Tokyo, but I somehow hang out a lot there just because all the new hip restaurants somehow seem to cluster around that little neighborhood north of downtown Los Angeles. Also, it’s close to where I live, and it’s also nearby the Los Angeles Times building where I worked in the summer.
Anyway, it made me realize that I should probably branch out more out of downtown, as awesome as it is. However, that was not to be Sunday when my brother and a longtime friend visited.
(My friend Joanna on the left, my dear brother on the right)
Joanna is my childhood friend, so we three are tight. My brother and Joanna both live in northern Virginia, but my brother was visiting for a networking conference, and Joanna was temporarily stationed at San Diego for her work.
When I asked my brother what he wanted to eat in Los Angeles, he texted back: “Anything Japanese. Ramen, sushi, soba, whatever.”
That left me with little choice. I could probably have taken him to Sawtelle or Gardena, where the “real” Japanese community lives, but those cities are kind of far and after Sunday service in church, all three of us were starving and needed food—fast.
It wasn’t intentional at all; there’s just an irresistible lure to this tiny quaint tourist-friendly village.
After browsing around the area for a bit, we decided on lunch at Fat Spoon, the same place I took my parents to when they last visited.
Fat Spoon is squeezed into a row of small Japanese eateries; a modern oddball among all the other traditional ramen and sushi houses. It’s a place opened by Michael Cardenas, superstar restaurateur who had already polka-dotted downtown with his luridly themed restaurants.
My friend Joanna could hardly contain herself as we walked in and bathed ourselves in the spicy fragrance of melting curries and the golden savory roasted smell of deep-frying carby buns.
(Oops. The lady looks pissed.)
The place was quite packed that Sunday afternoon, so service took a while and we impatiently squabbled over the meaning of “Fat Spoon” and nibbled on Japanese pickles while waiting for our orders to arrive.
We started out with a uni (sea urchin) croquette:
Perfect!!! The outside was crispy, golden with panko crumbs and making a lovely crunching sound as you bite into it. It came with a sticky, sweet and tangy sauce that is probably a donkatsu sauce
The inside was pink, creamy, slightly sweet and buttery.
It was gone within seconds. Thankfully, our entrees arrived soon after.
Joanna got the pork cutlet curry with plain steamed rice:
Isn’t that lovely? I liked that they gave her a separate jar of curry so you can pour it over your fried cutlet without it sitting around getting soggy.
The pork cutlet (or donkatsu) was light and crunchy with a lovely flaky coating. The curry, as I knew it would be, was gorgeous. Complex, spicy-sweet, smooth and thick like melted chocolate.
My brother got the Jidori chicken curry:
Jidori means free-range vegetairan chicken. It’s a special breed in Japan that guarantees you amazingly sweet, tender meat.
My brother, unfortunately, did not know what “Jidori” meant and was expecting a deep-fried chicken cutlet. Silly boy.
I ended up getting pasta again, this time their special pasta of the day, a mushroom and uni (sea urchin) creamy pasta:
Spaghetti pasta, tossed with uni, shitake and bunashimeji and a touch of cream.
It was heavenly. A bit heavier than I would like, but I really liked the soft, creamy uni flesh blended into the hot noodles. The mushrooms gave it the savory touch it needed, but I would have liked just a squeeze of lemon in there to cut the richness.
We licked our plates. Our bellies were filled, but darn you, Little Tokyo. You tempt us with your sensuous, come-hither advertisements for snacks, sweets and bakeries.
We caved. We stopped by Mikawaya Ice Creamery for some mochi ice cream. If you’ve never tried a mochi ice cream, drop everything right now and get one! It’s a cold, sticky, chewy ball of glutinous rice wrapped around a nugget of ice cream. We went crazy and got six different kinds to share:
From left to right, top to bottom: Mango, Guava (gelato), Creme Brulee (gelato), Green tea, Strawberry and Coffee.
Yes. I’m drooling looking at these colorful balls again. Aren’t you?
We took this precious tray of ice-cold desserts and skipped to my all-time favorite Little Tokyo coffee shop.
It’s called Cafe Demitasse, and I’ve been frequenting this cute, super-interesting coffee shop ever since I wrote about it for the Daily Trojan. I’m going to give this place its separate post, because it’s fabulous enough to warrant its own.
My brother got an iced coffee that was served in a sake bottle:
The super cool thing about this is that the ice is suspended in a separate compartment in the bottle so that the coffee doesn’t get diluted with melting ice. I told you this cafe is cool!
And of course, we devoured the mochi ice creams:
So. So. Soooo good. The mochi casing is delicately thin, yet substantially chewy. The ice cream or gelato inside was rich and smooth. The powder dusting around the mochi is not powdered white sugar—it’s sweet rice powder to keep the mochis from sticking to each other.
It also doubles as white lipstick for Joanna. She’s so adorable.
After that we needed to burn off all that solids in our bellies, to we did our most favorite workout: shopping!
My brother and I turned out to be a perfect counterbalance to Joanna’s shopping compulsions. While my brother always said “Uh, do you need another belt?” I would tell Joanna to “Get it! Get it!” Just curious—what role do you play as a shopping buddy? If you need a buddy to feed your addiction to shopping, I’m your girl.
After a few hours of shopping, we were ready for an early dinner so Joanna could get a head start to her 2-hour drive back to San Diego. Since both my brother and Joanna still wanted Japanese food, we decided on izakaya, which is Japanese bar food, tapas style.
A quick Yelp search told me that Izakaya Fu-ga is one of the most highly rated izakaya places.
Izakaya Fu-ga is situated in the basement right behind Cafe Demitasse. You have to climb down a flight of stairs before you reach a sign beckoning your destination.
I had expected a dark, traditional place, but it turned out to be a warmly lit, resplendent lounge with a glowing bar, flat-screen TVs and plush private booths.
I was just happy that the light was good enough for decent photography. And the fact that I am with family.
It took a while to decide on our orders, because there were just too many mouth-watering dishes. Finally my brother and Joanna trusted me to make the ultimate decisions.
We started out with Grilled Cajun Curry Shrimp:
Shrimp and green beans, doused in spicy curry stir-fried with Cajun spices.
Woo! This certainly packed a punch. It was fiery and bold, all the flavors fighting to stand out, like a rave in your mouth.
Our second dish was something creamy and mild to mellow out the spices from the previous dish. It was a Spicy Lobster Roll:
The name is misleading; there was nothing spicy about it at all. Not that it wasn’t delicious. In fact, I think it was my favorite dish of the night.
It’s a roll stuffed with spicy lobster flesh, avocado, asparagus tempura, eel, spicy mayo and creamy sesame sauce. The mound at the center was crabmeat dressed in spicy mayonnaise. The whole thing was drizzled with sweet and sour donkatsu sauce.
It was truly outstanding!! It tasted distinct and fresh, with rice that was cooked just right into plump beads lightly flavored with sprightly rice vinegar. The crabmeat pyramid was also lovely—creamy, sweet, succulent.
Our third dish was the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna:
A strip of fried rice mounted with tuna tartare. Again, misleading name…or maybe my taste buds is just weird? I couldn’t figure out a hint of spice from the tuna.
Still, it was yummy and was my brother’s favorite. The top tuna was fresh—none of that nasty fishy odor. It was lightly perfumed with toasty sesame oil, and the pink raw flesh melted into your tongue.
The base, however, was the star. How can you say no to crispy and chewy fried rice bars?
Fourth dish was another sushi, this time the Spider Roll:
Soft-shell crab, Kanikama crab, Avocado, Gobo and Cucumber.
I’m pretty damn sure there was tempura in there too. It’s now official: I will not eat a sushi without tempura in it. It brings such a juicy burst of deep-fried goodness into the sushi roll.
The last dish of the night was a glorious, sizzling dish of Shrimp & Scallop Dynamite:
Shrimp, scallops and vegetables baked in dynamite (?) sauce and mozzarella cheese.
I’m not very sure what dynamite sauce is, but it tasted like mayonnaise and béchamel sauce to me. It was super rich and pretty oily, but the kind of hot steaming food that you keep shoveling into your mouth despite the scorching heat.
It was a zappy punch to the end of a fantastic Little Tokyo “Stuff Our Faces” Day.
Currently as I type this, my brother is out alone and I’m stuck in nine hours of back-to-back classes in school. I’m looking forward to a quieter night with him tonight, and tomorrow, I’m taking him up Mt. Hollywood to view the famous Hollywood sign before dropping him off at the airport.
Sigh. The day passes too fast when you’re having fun. My brother isn’t gone yet, and I’m already missing him.
Question of the Day: Curry! Ramen! Sushi! Baked rice! Okonomiyaki! Yakitori! What is your favorite Japanese dish?