I should go ahead and declare February Japanese Food Appreciation month. From budget sushi to high-end fishes, not to mention spicy ramen and modern Japanese fare, it seems that the bulk of my meals these past 25 days have hailed from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Continuing on my streak of delicious Japanese cuisine, I traveled to Torrance for a feast of yakitori and oden at Torihei. I was joined by a band of merry eaters including The Astronomer, Remil, Danny, Amy, and Dennis (Amy’s fiance). Torihei is Danny’s favorite spot for skewered and grilled goodness in the South Bay.
Torihei is the collaborative effort of chefs Masataka Hirai and Masakazu Sasaki. Chef Hirai heads up the yakitori portion of the menu, while Chef Sasaki is an expert in Kyoto-style oden dishes. [To learn more about the histories of both chefs and their specialties, I recommend reading Exile Kiss' thorough write up.]
Danny spearheaded the ordering effort, sticking mostly to the yakitori side of the menu. However, I heard from a trusty source that the oden dishes are equally superb.
Every table is outfitted with wooden boxes filled with shichimi togarashi (Japanese spice blend) and sansho (Sichuan pepper powder). Both are used as dipping condiments for the grilled items. The numbing sensation of the Sichuan pepper powder paired marvelously with the skewered odds and ends that graced our table this evening.
Danny started us off with a few appetizers, although truth be told, our entire meal was comprised of small nibbles. The first to arrive was the “chicken skin with ponzu” ($3.95). Torihei exclusively uses Jidori chickens in all of their dishes.
For me, the best part of eating chicken has always been the skin. This small plate highlighted the skin’s natural richness without overwhelming the palate. The bright and citrusy ponzu was key to its success.
Everyone’s favorite bite of the night was the “homemade chicken liver pate” ($4.95). Smeared generously upon toasted bread and drizzled with honey, the pate was unbelievably delightful. We tried to snag another order later on in the evening but the kitchen had already sold out. Next time, we’re ordering three portions up front because it’s that good!
The lone miss of the evening was the “squid marinated in salt” ($4.95). We didn’t realize when we placed our order that the squid was prepared shiokara-style, which entails a month-long fermentation in a “brown viscous paste of the animal’s heavily salted, fermented viscera.” The fishy funkiness of it all was too much for us to handle.
Our constant companion throughout the chicken-on-a-stick tour was a vessel of roasted garlic ($3.95). We popped these mellow cloves into our mouths in between each skewer.
The yakitori items, which are grilled over Japanese white charcoal, arrived in a staggered fashion. The chicken hearts ($1.80) were evenly cooked and properly tender.
The chicken liver ($1.80) was a little too assertive for me, but my dining companions adored its creamy, iron-tinged nature.
The chicken gizzards ($1.80) made me smile in all their chewy glory. God, I love gizzards.
Chicken tails ($2.30), which are traditionally trimmed and thrown in the garbage, are skewered neatly and grilled at Torihei. They tasted appealingly fatty and rich like chicken skin, with a smoky hit imparted by the charcoal.
The battered and fried “chicken karage” ($6.95) didn’t disappoint. The boneless nuggets were crisp and golden on the outside, while the meat was juicy within.
I was also a big fan of the chicken meatballs ($1.80), which were beautifully caramelized and painted with a slightly sweet sauce. Our second batch of balls contained bits of chicken cartilage, which I thought was pure genius.
The grilled chicken thigh ($1.80) was well executed, but it didn’t excite me nearly as much as the unappreciated odds and ends.
I was completely fascinated by the skewers of chicken cartilage ($2.30). Cartilage doesn’t provide much flavor, but it totally brings it in terms of texture. I find the battle and crunch of breaking down the sinewy bits to be an absolute pleasure.
And just in case our cholesterol wasn’t soaring high enough, skewers of grilled “chicken skin” ($2.30) joined in on the fun.
The mint topped “chicken breast with plum” ($1.80) didn’t taste as great as its menu description promised. I have yet to meet a chicken breast that didn’t make me yawn.
To supplement our plates upon plates of chicken, we also indulged in skewers of beef tongue ($2.30) dotted with wasabi…
…as well as servings of “fatty pork” ($2.30) that were completely true to their name.
Finally, we tried a duo of oden dishes, which were comprised of various items stewed in a carefully constructed dashi broth. Danny’s favorite oden offering features a soft-boiled egg topped with salmon roe ($1.95). The salty salmon eggs and delicate broth perfectly balanced the runny yolk.
On a whim, we also ordered the “whole tomato” ($2.80) oden, which was topped off with a slab of mozzarella. The tomato could’ve been cooked a smidgen more, but the combination of oozy cheese and warm broth was unbeatable.
Even after dedicating an entire month of eating out to exploring L.A.’s Japanese eats, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. The breath and depth of our city’s culinary scene never ceases to amaze me. Maybe I need to declare a Japanese Food Appreciation year…
1757 West Carson Street, Ste. A
Torrance, CA 90501