Thursday, August 07, 2008

Varying Degrees of Amazing

OK, friends. I have to tell you about a new restaurant. Why? Because it's delicious. You see, I go to a good amount of restaurants, and I often go places that are fresh, use great ingredients, are fancy, but it's rare that the food really is delicious. Last week, I went to Ronin Izakaya Bistro, a new Japanese tapas spot on La Cienega, and although the service and ambiance were certainly fine, it was really about flavors. The dishes were brimming with fresh, strong tastes, each different from the next, and each delicious.

As those of you who frequent this site (sorry, I can't say it with a straight face) know, I'm a big fan of izakayas. So, when, in my endless hours of poring through the internet, I discovered that people are raving over a new one so close to my neighborhood, needless to say, I rounded up my Team Tokyo's LA contingency, and headed over to check it out.

The place isn't raucous and alcohol-centered like you'd expect from a typical izakaya. Its small dining room is a little more subdued, although samurai movies projected on one wall add some edge. The menu is made up of cold, hot, and sweet tapas -- mostly inventive twists on Japanese basics -- as well as beer, sake, and a small wine list.

The moment the first bit of the washu beef tataki hit my tongue, I swooned. Now, I don't know what a washu is, but I want it in my mouth for dinner every night. Sitting atop a bed of greens, ribbon-thin slices of tender beef, seared on the outside, glistening pink in the middle. You take a bite, and are confused at the explosion of intense smokiness in something mostly raw, which also manages to feel rich and light at the same time. It's a fantastic kind of confusion. Totally the standout. So very good.

And of course, their signature dish, the taco-shimi -- a Mexican-Japanese fusion of seared ahi on tortilla chips with guacamole, shiitake mushrooms, and a wasabi sauce -- did not disappoint. After the chunks of fish were long gone, I was dragging slices of kumquat through the creamy wasabi sauce to make sure I got every last bit.

Nearly every dish we tried came with a salad component, and it was never an oversight. In the case of the tataki, it included crisp Asian pear and ponzu dressing. In other dishes, it was flavored with yuzu, or with a wasabi cream sauce. It kept the meal light, despite our ordering, between the 4 of us, about 300 dishes.

Yuzu is another welcome theme. Our tried and true savory citruses, lemon and lime, are so well-loved, but it's actually really exciting to get that same clean tartness with a flavor that's totally new. The yuzu custard's richness is cut with a topping of refreshing yuzu granita and served with fresh berries.

Other highlights included the chocolate bar dessert, a rich 'bar' of flourless chocolate cake, served with vanilla milkshake shots and fresh berries; and the miso cod, sweet and buttery, skirted with a purple mash of taro.

So, yes, the food was the thing at Ronin the other night. In fact, one dining companion compared it to Musha, a similar restaurant, and came to the conclusion that while some dishes at Musha are winners, it's hit or miss overall, but at Ronin all the dishes are just various degrees of amazing. I'm in clined to agree, but it was the hospitable service that makes me want to go back (well, actually it's the list of menu items I still haven't tried ... and the washu beef tataki ... that makes me want to go back). Between a personable and attentive waitress, and a couple check-ins from the restaurant's owner, I felt really taken care of during our meal -- like I was an esteemed guest at the home of someone who happens to be a crazy amazing chef. Hope they don't mind me dropping in again and again.

Ronin Izikaya Bistro is at 359 N La Cienega between Beverly and Oakwood (next door to the nudie bar, if you're looking for a landmark, you perv). Call ahead for a reservation: 310/289-8404.

1 comment:

  1. Ooooooh Japanese Tapas AND a Nudie Bar? Now it's finally starting to sound like you're having the BSE.