I miss many things about Japan, but the thing I long for most is the IZAKAYA. An izakaya is a Japanese pub that also serves food, but it is not the same as a drinking establishment here that does the same. Most izakayas in Japan are open late (some until 4:00 AM!), have a variety of small dishes which cover the spectrum from sashimi to kari kari cheezu (crispy fried wontons filled with cheese). When you walk in, you hear the familiar call of "irashaimase," take your shoes off, toss them in a locker and hunker down with your friends for a few hours to talk, drink and nosh. There are small, hole-in-the-wall izakayas and there are huge, chain-type places with photos of every single thing (drinks too!) on the colorful menus. I miss them all, and have longed to find an izakaya here that lives up to even the mediocre ones that I'd frequent in Japan. Unfortunately, I have found nothing close and my first (and probably last!) visit to Haru Ulala in Little Tokyo last week just discouraged me even further on my fruitless search.
I must admit, my search has not taken me very far. I'm sure there are places in Torrance that may grant one the true izakaya experience, but who wants to have a bunch of drinks and then face the daunting task of driving all the way home? (No one should, drinking and driving is bad bad bad!). Well, maybe I should designate a driver and search a bit out of my 15 mile radius zone, because when J and I found ourselves in Santa Monica last week for an evening appointment, we found what is definitely the closest thing to a true izakaya that I've found so far in Los Angeles. We had actually planned to go to the Newsroom (now called Interim Cafe) but when our eyes fell upon Musha, we couldn't resist walking in.
I knew of Musha- we'd been to the Torrance branch a long time ago and although we did enjoy it, it hadn't blown our socks off- but we just never make it out to Santa Monica for dinner so we had never been. When I heard the calls of "irashaimase!" I started to get a good feeling. The vibe inside reminded of the izakayas I used to go to back in Japan, and upon a visit to the ladies room I discovered a zashiki - a room where you sit on the floor instead of chairs and usually made with tatami floors, although this one had wood ones- which would be perfect for a private party of six or so. Inside the bathroom hung Japanese kanji characters brushed-stroked by one of the staff, along with a sign that said "Don't take these- if you want one, I will write one for you!" Are people really that tacky as to steal art off bathroom walls?
Example of a zashiki, not Musha's zashiki.....
Anyway, on to the food. My friends that frequent the Torrance Musha are always raving about their Musha Fried Chicken (MFC) so we ordered one of those, along with some scallop shumai, salmon sashimi, tofu salad and the aburi saba. J had iced green tea while I sipped on my sauvignon blanc (I know- I should have gotten sake but I wasn't in the mood for it) and we waited for the parade of food to begin.
The tofu salad came first- nice, beautifully soft scoops of fresh tofu atop mixed greens and capped with a dollop of good sesame dressing. Yum.
The "shumai" were delicious but totally different than any shumai I'd had before. Instead of being wrapped in wonton skins, each billowy shumai seemed to be made of some sort of steamed egg white/fish cake mix and contained a scallop in the middle. They were all coated with thin slices of cooked egg yolk and topped with a bit of caviar. They were delicious!
The famous MFC didn't disappoint- the tender chicken is first marinated for one day before being coated and lightly fried, which is what I LOVE about Japanese fried chicken- it is flavorful to the core. My mom's is better but their version was fantastic and came with a nice soy-based dipping sauce that also had grated daikon in it.
Get a little closer........
What came next is definitely our new favorite dish- aburi saba. We both love shimesaba, but had never had it like this before. The waitress brought out a sliced fillet of seasoned mackeral, lit up a blowtorch then proceeded to torch the top of the mackeral until its oils dripped down the sides of the fish and the top was nicely charred. O M G. Yes- the fatty fish just melted in our mouths and begged to be washed down with a bit of ice cold sake, which I was now regretting not ordering! Not only does this dish create an opportunity for a nice show, it really benefits from the torching and I will have to try this one at home. (oh- J loved it so much that I came home from work two days later to find a blowtorch on my dining table- a gift - and not-so-subtle hint!- from J!
Crispy on the outside.....
Lastly we had the salmon sashimi which, as you can see by the glistening fat in this photo, was fresh and beautiful. Without a trace of fishiness (which can be a problem with oilier fish) the salmon sashimi was perfect and oozing with oil. Who needs dessert when you have salmon this good to cap off a spectacular meal?!
Shiny and new........
We'll definitely be back to Musha again and again. I feel that our first Torrance Musha experience wasn't as good as the Santa Monica visit because we simply ordered the wrong things. I hope that a Little Tokyo Musha is in the works......Musha- please open in J Town!!! Little Tokyo NEEDS a Musha!!! It's too bad the two locations are so far from our house but we'll make the trek to have some more MFC and saba any day.
Musha Santa Monica
310) 576-6330 -
424 Wilshire Blvd,
Santa Monica, CA
1725 W Carson St