Nothing will ever replace Kokekokko in my heart as my favorite yakitori joint in Los Angeles ever since the Cute Gardener opened my eyes to the screaming, beer drinking and chicken parts grilling chefs who stake claim to the place on one of our very early dates.
But last weekend after a few lazy days of Cinco de Mayo billiards and the brightest moon of the year, we stumbled upon Sawtelle’s Little Osaka strip on the hunt for ramen and ended up revisiting our lust for yaki, or food grilled Japanese style over an iron griddle instead.
Robata-ya was empty when we walked into the place. But within an hour it quickly filled up with many Asian faces, a sure sign that we were in one of the area’s better-loved places known for its use of Binchotan charcoal imported from Asia which burns hotter than normal and sears in the flavor of the food stuffs upon its never ending stream of wooden skewers. With Japanese birds in multicolored pinata strings hanging in the air, casual wooden furniture and a lack of overly, loud chefs at the sushi bar offering all the ordinary fare, it seemed like a place that was a notch up from the norm.
The shishito peppers were a surprise treat. With similar innards to okra without the slime, and sweating with a vibrant, grassy green, they delivered a punch of salt to the tongue followed by a crunchy and hot, liquid explosion with each bite.
The ramen was filled with spicy ground chicken, ginger and chili sauce and chewy, yellow noodles that featured some heft but overall not the most memorable bowl. Although a woman at the table next to us was overheard swearing it was the best broth around, we decided we were snobs when it came to ramen because we haven’t been wowed by the dish yet, even though we continue our hunt.
The tongue was flavorful and not too grisly. Duck was more roasted than the Peking style it claimed. The eggplant was a hit of the night, saturated in a sweet miso coating and plump with hot juices. We had to order a second one, which is surprising considering we are usually more desirous of meat than veggie.
Robata-ya uses Jidori chicken, which produced nice and juicy hearts and livers full of flavor.
I love quail eggs but will probably stick to them raw since the grilled versions, even wrapped in crispy bacon, fail to highlight their true exoticism tasting more like a dry hard-boiled egg.
You can’t really mess up fried, fatty slices of eel and these were good.
Three different kinds of mushrooms swam in a warm, buttery broth.
The cod was simple and undressed so tasted just like any filet of white fish.
We probably should have tried Tatsu, which I recall seeing in the unassuming strip mall where we parked our car as it was written up the next day in Eater L.A.
I guess the good thing about Japanese food in L.A. is that there is such a plethora of affordable options that you can keep hitting the places until you find one that sticks and that it is always fun trying because it’s hard to screw up things grilled in their natural flavors on a stick enough to foil the exploration.