Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mitsuru Cafe and Little Tokyo- Los Angeles

Japanese Village Plaza Sign

Every trip to Los Angeles has a purpose to make the drive worthwhile, just like with our Santa Monica day trip with lunch at the Lobster. What was this one? Buying a new clay pot. Yes, although you could just get one at your local Asian market, we did not like the selection in our area. So it was off to Little Tokyo.

Besides, I had bought a clay pot at the dollar store in Little Tokyo about five years ago. I bought it just because it looked pretty and cute, being less than a feet in diameter with a short height. There was not even any real purpose for it until we started using it for fun, and then for constant use as other pots broke. Amazing, it lasted for a long time, until a few weeks ago when it just cracked suddenly while being washed. (even if it was completely cooled)

Anyway, with Little Tokyo in mind, there were two places we wanted to visit. One was Sushi Gen, since my dining companions had been to there while I and another dining companion had not. The other was Mitsuru Cafe, since it is our usual place to eat if we ever go to Little Tokyo, which is not often.

Mitsuru Cafe

After parking at the Japanese Village Plaza, which I do not recommend by the way (Park somewhere else unless it is nighttime- you'll find cheaper prices), we headed off to Mitsuru. There was some change from my last visit about three years ago- the facade of all the places had changed to a more modern look. Mitsuru didn't have a cart outside anymore or an ice shaver that day. CeFiore closed, just like in Irvine's Diamond Jamboree.

Tables at Mitsuru Cafe

Inside not much had changed either. All the dark wood furniture were inside, and so were the pictures of the food and the screen to the side of the restaurant. One change with was that the Mitsuru A and B lunch plaques that were very old had been taken off from the side of each table. Instead this today special sign was here. What was on the other side? A really old version of the today special. :)

Certificates
Interior of Mitsuru Cafe

And yes, all the certificates and pictures to one side of the wall were still there. Honoring the restaurant and the family of the restaurant.

Mitsuru Cafe Pictures and Certificates

One very notable picture is a old picture of Hillary Clinton. Time warp? Exactly. Not much new with the certificates and pictures these days.

Interior

Here is another view of the restaurant, this time showing the kitchen. Notice the old chairs and the signs written in Japanese.

Mitsuru Cafe Menu
(click for a larger version on Flickr)

The last difference inside the restaurant was that the menus had changed. Before it was a tattered brown covered menu. Now, it is a white laminated one page menu.

Cabbage and Cucumber Appetizer

While we glanced at the menu, small dishes of lightly salted and marinated cucumber came for each person. These had a light seasoning of salt and a touch of vinegar and a nice crunch. It was good by itself or added to an entree.

Takoyaki

After ordering with our server, a friendly elderly woman who cared and treated everyone nicely, I went up to the front of the restaurant to get some takoyaki (2 USD per stick) Dusted with sesame seed and sesame powder and drizzled with a vinegary sauce, these looked fine. But the sauce was soaked up already. What to do?

Takoyaki with Sauce on Side

Some more sauce, of course. And that sauce came from a gigantic plastic squeeze container like you would see on a Guy Fieri's "Guy's Big Bite."

As for the takoyaki, they were slightly warmer than room temperature and came from a large platter. However there was still a crisp and the batter was bouncy like fishcake and slightly creamy too. Inside was a small piece of chunk of octopus which was slightly overcooked and could have been better. The vinegary sauce, sesame seed, and seaweed provided an interesting cut and combination of flavors to the existing batter and octopus. All for all, it was quite pleasant for food on a stick but was a bit pricey. At least it was a nice appetizer!

Salad with Sesame Dressing

Meanwhile, a salad with sesame dressing came, as part of the item I ordered from the A La Carte menu. With a simple romaine lettuce, tomato, and cucumber combination with some sesame sauce it was an easy and flavorful salad. A tad more sesame dressing, and I would have liked it even more.

Niku Udon

One of my dining companions ordered the Niku Udon (6.50 USD), which was basically slices of beef, thin udon noodles and green onions in a light soup base (dashi and kaeshi combined?). It was a simple bowl of udon noodles. What was different than what we usually see was that the udon noodles were thinner, not the thick udon that you usually see in the frozen foods section. Is this what you get with dried udon noodles? I think so.

The beef slices were very nicely beefy and the green onions, like in most noodle soups, added brightness to the broth and the entire noodle soup. And the udon noodles were tender with a light chew. Simple and easy.

Chanpon

Another dining companion ordered the Chanpon (7.50 USD), which was a noodle soup with napa cabbage, two varieties of fishcake, some pork slices, onions, and green onions.

Noodles

It was certainly a large bowl. The noodles had a yellow tinge to them and were chewy and thin. As for the broth, it was a thickened pork broth with a touch of soy sauce and mirin. The many fillings gave flavor to the soup and all together it was a very filling dish. Very nice fishcake too.

Satsuma Jiru Full Set

Another dining companion and I ordered the Satsuma Jiru (8.50 USD), described as pork and vegetables cooked in a miso broth. It also came with the salad with sesame dressing and a bowl of short grain rice that was plump and fat.

Satsuma Jiru

As seen by the photo, the Satsuma Jiru came with much more items other than pork and vegetables. There were blocks of firm tofu, plenty of napa cabbage, onions, carrots, chewy konjac noodles, and fishcake stuffed with gobo/ burdock. And the miso broth brought in additional flavor, with the flavors from the added ingredients providing additional flavor to a very light but filling dish.

It was very pleasant to eat. Not only was it a large serving, each component was delicious by itself with some broth. Rice was a nice carrier to balance out the flavor of the broth. And the fishcake was delicious! It was bouncy and flavorful, and the addition of burdock root was a interesting choice that worked well.

Making Imagawayaki

Making Imagawayaki

After the main course, we of course had to have dessert, because one of the popular items that we enjoy every time at Mitsuru Cafe is the imagawayaki. For those who do not know, it is a small, puck shaped cake like item which uses a round pan with molds. Batter is added and filling is added, and then one side is put on top of another side to make the "sandwiching" of the two sides complete into one round puck.

Places like 99 Ranch Market in San Gabriel used to sell a Chinese version that was quite similar to this imagawayaki but with more fillings to choose from quite often. Crispy from the pan, my favorite was the custard. But now, these are rare- the only place I know of is outside the S.G. Superstore as stated by Wandering Chopsticks. And those even are not as good as the 99 Ranch ones.

Imagawayaki

Since we were not going to go anywhere soon, we ate these imagawayaki in the restaurant. I requested for three of them and they were brought to our table, warm from the pan and lightly crisp. During my first visit they were crisp and we ordered quite a few for the drive home. Now, we don't eat or buy them specially to maintain better health, but they are still just as enjoyable as they were before.

Inside Imagawayaki

The batter for the imagawayaki was quite nice. The exterior had a nice chew and lightly crispy texture on the edges, and the inside batter was chewy and lightly sweetened. As for the filling, it was a delicious red bean filling where you could still feel the red bean. What was different was the taste of the red bean filling. Unlike other places which just add sugar, some salt in addition to the sugar was added for an interesting taste that worked out great. It is similar to what people say about adding salt to caramel.

For 1.25 USD per imagawayaki, these are not exceedingly cheap but they are worth the price to try out and enjoy once in a while. If you haven't tried one yet, do visit Mitsuru Cafe while you visit Little Tokyo. And if you have the time, also have a meal to see how friendly service and family style cooking is like.


Mitsuru Cafe
117 Japanese Village Plaza Mall
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel: (213) 613-1028

Mitsuru Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Entry Japanese Village Plaza

Afterwards, we visited around the shops, looking at the various items at what used to be the Marukai (?) dollar store (now a Tokyo Japanese Lifestyle store). There was a bread container and popsicle molds for sale. We were thinking of getting one of them but decided against eventually.

Japanese Village Plaza
(under construction)

We also visited the Nijiya Market to see if a clay pot could be found. There was not, but there was a lot of interesting Japanese food items like mochi and a wide range of bento boxes!

Weller Court and Square Knot

Then we headed off to Weller Court to see if the supermarket there had any clay pots. I didn't notice that Weller Court had a square knot sculpture before. Newly installed?

US Shuttle

This US shuttle was familiar though, since during our first visit to Little Tokyo it was there already there.

Water Fountain at Weller Court

There was also a water fountain at Weller Court.

After some pictures we then visited the Marukai supermarket. Which when we arrived I finally remembered that Marukai requires a membership or a one dollar fee. Before/ their past owners didn't have this policy. There were clay pots- all of them nice and under 10 dollars for the size we wanted, but the membership fee put us off. There were more food items to see at Marukai though, but why buy stuff here when I can visit their West Covina location instead and not need to walk so far to bring stuff back to the car?

Honda Plaza

Lastly we stopped by Honda Plaza to see Sushi Gen's opening hours. When we saw the sign, we were glad we had picked Mitsuru Cafe first! Sushi Gen only opens for lunch Monday-Friday and dinners from Monday-Sunday. We would have been not accepted inside if we had come for lunch. Now that would be a time waster.

Little Tokyo Fan Crosswalk

Walking back from Honda Plaza to go back to our car to go home, I spotted a fan on the street. A very pretty decoration it definitely is. :)

9 comments:

KirkK said...

Hey ETE - Nice post about one of my favorite places!

EatTravelEat said...

Kirk,
Thanks! Do you mean Mitsuru or Little Tokyo in general?

KirkK said...

As much as I kinda like Mitsuru (I don't think it's aged well)... I love Little Tokyo. We used go there every other week when we lived in LA! As I mentioned previously.... I loved the post.

EatTravelEat said...

Kirk,
Yeah, it's wishy washy. I didn't feel the family feeling as much this time compared to my first and second visits which felt very welcoming, but the food was still the same- just that the snack items were not as hot/fresh as they used to be.

And I love Little Tokyo. I still have tons to visit though. It all started out with the Tofu Festival. Wonder if that even still exists today...

Selba said...

Wow.. what a great place! A Japanese village in the USA :)

Wandering Chopsticks said...

They have one in front of Hawaii Supermarket too.

I always walk past Mitsuri, never though of dining in.

elmomonster said...

I haven't been to Little Tokyo in ages. That Satsuma Jiro dish looks and sounds awesome. $8.50 for all that!? Didn't think that somethign that generous and cheap was possible in L.A.

SinoSoul said...

there is also imagawayaki in front of what I call the "Rosemead Superstore" -- Vien Dong on Rosemead. I believe there's another stand in Rowland somewhere? Can't remember.

Never been to this place. Doesn't look like I'll ever make it.

EatTravelEat said...

Selba,
Yep, it's very nice. Just like a Chinatown in San Francisco or LA.

Wandering Chopsticks,
Yeah... and the boba and all the other vendors too!

Elmomonster,
It was nice. It's cheap, but the parking price makes it up. :(

Sinosoul,
Ha, rarely visit Rosemead. I don't think you would write a review about this place anyway :).