July 17, 2007

Kan Izakaya Yuzen [Torrance]

Kan Izakaya Yuzen is like the new kid in school that messes up the curve for the rest of the class--it has now displaced Gochi's in Cupertino as my favorite izakaya.

An izakaya is the equivalent of a Japanese gastropub, which serves food side-by-side with alcohol (namely sake and beer). Dishes are meant to shared family style and the dining experience is similar to what you'd find at a Western tapas restaurant. Some izakayas such as Musha are loud and rambunctious, while others, such as Kan Yuzen have a mild temperament.

The dining room is gorgeous in its simplicity with blonde wood paneling and sleek stainless steel fixtures. The waitresses wear kimonos and the room hums with the low buzz of diners chatting.

Upon sitting down to the menus, a quizzical look fell across our faces--there was not a speck of English to be found anywhere! We quickly made the most of a potentially disastrous situation and decided that we would instead order from the photos, which accompanied each menu item. We got revved up for the excitement of trying something new, but then were brought English menus when someone realized that none of us were Japanese. Go figure.

The menu is divided into raw, appetizer, vinegared, yakitori, stewed, grilled, and fried dishes, while an additional section offers larger portions of noodles, rices, and soups. There are also huge combo meals (+$25) listed at the end of the menus, but we decided that we wouldnt wouldnt order from the only English section in our Japanese menu.

The five of us opted for six small dishes and a salad, which came in one huge wave that overwhelmed our table even more than Korean panchan would. Next time, I will order as we go along to ensure better pacing.

The Roast Duck with sweet soy sauce ($8.20) was tender with a delicate enough flavor that made the duck an appropriate starter for our meal. The crispness of the lettuce really brought out the subtleties in the dish by serving as both a flavor and textural contrast. We had hoped the Karamari Salad ($10.80) with its deep fried shrimp and calamari in mustard-mayo sauce would be like the creamy rock shrimp tempura that we so adore at Ikko and Katsu-ya. While the deep frying gave the proteins a good smoky crunch, the dressing was quite literally mustard and mayonnaise straight from the bottle. The dish as a whole was more the sum of its components than a cohesive salad.

I think I let out a sigh of protest when someone at our table wanted the Dynamite ($9.80), a dish of baked scallops, mushrooms, and cheese often found at sushi restaurants. But since no one objected, I was enlightened by a version of the dish that I actually liked! Kan Yuzen's reminded me of a perfect French onion soup, with mushrooms and scallops layered into a well-rounded broth that implored every taste bud in your mouth to perk up. The Pizza ($10.90) was the most expensive item we ordered, but also quite large. The crust was baked to a thin crisp and then layered with a light margherita base, mild cheese, and sweet shrimp.

Gindara or Miso Cod, is never bad, but is also seldom extraordinary. Kan Yuzen begs to differ with its buttery fish that is charred just enough to give it visual interest. At only $7.80, it is a great deal for the quality. I was put off by the fatty pork in our Buta Kaku ($6.20), but quickly learned why people seem to have an affinity for fat-laden foods. The miso braising infused the meat with a melt-in-your-mouth sweetness that was accompanied by firm bits of daikon radish, root vegetable, and gelatin.

Last but not least were our Satsuma-Mentai ($6.80), hor d'oeuvre sized sweet potato chips with spicy cod roe and mayo. Though the presentation was nothing short of gorgeous, the cod roe and sweet potato were lost in the overpowering mayo.

Dish after dish, our eyes would pop out of our heads and our mouths would salivate with anticipation. Every aspect of our meal was enjoyable and almost every dish, solid.

With all the food that we had, our bill came out to $17 each, including tip and tax, though we all could've polished off a few more plates. There was also a freezer that displayed today's fishes at market price that we'll have to give a go next time.

*Note: There seems to be some confusion as to the actual name of the restaurant, which appears in three different ways. The business cards advertise Kan Izakaya Yuzen, the receipts print Izakaya Yuzen-Kan, and the storefront reads Izakaya Kan Yuzen. I was told Yuzen is the name and Kan, the place. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Kan Izakaya Yuzen
2755A Pacific Coast Hwy
Torrance, CA 90505
(310) 530-7888

*Look for the Smart&Final plaza, since you cannot see the restaurant while you're driving by.

1 comment:

Joe said...

izakaya is the type of restaurant
kan is the name of the owner