Totoraku – 8/7/10

10610 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Some people know Totoraku as the “secret beef restaurant.” Others have no idea what it is. Likely the hardest reservation in Los Angeles, Totoraku is a non-descript “hidden” restaurant serving what many consider the best beef in the city. However, the restaurant does not serve steaks; rather, it specializes in yakiniku – grilled cuts of meat cooked over coals at your table. Given that I’m a beef lover, and that it’s consistently in the top LA restaurants on Yelp, it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a while.

The exterior signage of the restaurant says it’s a “teriyaki house,” which is kind of humorous since the restaurant is nothing like that. Unsuspecting passersby would not look twice at the rather plain awning and storefront.

Reservations are strictly limited to those with some sort of connection to the owner (which I didn’t have). Without a reservation, they won’t even let you in the door. So, when Kevin of kevinEats had a reservation opening to come here, I jumped at the chance.

The decor isn’t much; the focus is obviously on the food. Chef Kaz Oyama is quite the wine connoisseur, especially in French wines. He keeps an impressive collection of empty bottles on the ledge separating the kitchen and the dining room.

First up was a tray of bite-sized appetizers. Unfortunately I didn’t catch all of them in time, but it did include: fresh mozzarella, quail egg with caviar, asparagus with sansai and walnuts, steamed abalone, shrimp with zucchini, cantaloupe melon with prosciutto, sockeye salmon, black sesame tofu, and an Alaskan king crab gelee. I was a little surprised by this course, as it showed the chef’s creativity outside of Japanese cuisine, using some European flair (mostly French and Italian) to make some tasty bites.

Next up, let the beef begin!

Short Rib Carpaccio

Extremely tender, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of short rib. The thing you probably notice first is the extreme marbling – really a thing of beauty, and a common characteristic of all of the cuts we would have.

Seared Ribeye and Beef Throat Sashimi

The ribeye was very lightly seared, tender and flavorful – salt and pepper was all that was necessary. This was my first time having beef throat (shown on the right); Kevin pointed out that the portion shown here is made up of two cows. The throat is somewhat chewy (a change of pace from all of the other tender cuts), but exhibits a strong beefy flavor. I definitely enjoyed it.

House Smoked Tongue

This dish also caught me a bit by surprise; definitely something different. The meat was very good – deliciously smoky and extremely tender, without appearing overly fatty.

Steak Tartare topped with Quail Egg

I loved this dish. The beef, along with daikon, pea shoots and a quail egg are mixed up together. There’s a nice accent of sesame oil, which really brought everything together. Sliced apples (or pears?) added some sweetness and crunch. Good stuff.

After this dish, the grills came out and we knew it was time to cook up some beef!

With the grills came out a trio of dipping sauces – soy sauce, lemon juice and a tare sauce.

Beef Tongue

Slightly chewy with very nice marbling, these pieces were delicious. Chef Oyama sprinkled these with a large-crystallized sea salt and pepper.

Filet Mignon

As expected, these were very tender chunks of beef. Careful not to cook it too long, we were able to keep the meat pink in the center, yielding a pretty juicy and flavorful bite. Definitely one of the better pieces of tenderloin I’ve had in a while, as I often find the filets I have tender but lacking in great flavor.

Assorted Raw Vegetables

Zucchini, radish and carrots were cut up and left for the duration of the meal. All of these were fresh, crunchy, and provided a crisp, refreshing bite in between courses of rich meats.

Momotaru Tomatoes

These tomatoes were very ripe – yielding a deliciously sweet and juicy bite every time. This is the first time I’ve ever had these tomatoes to my knowledge – a great varietal. It was a treat to have something sweet to cleanse the palate in between courses.

Outside Ribeye

I love how Chef Oyama split up the outside “lip” of the ribeye and the inside, as they really are two distinctive cuts of meat. The outside, shown below being grilled, is much fattier and more tender.

Inside Ribeye

The inside of the ribeye is typically less marbled than the outside, and this was no exception. However, all of Chef Oyama’s cuts are spectacularly marbled, making this cut another extremely tender and flavorful piece of meat.

Short Rib

Again, some excellent marbling is displayed. At the risk of sounding like a broken record player, the short ribs were very tender with some good beef flavor.

Skirt Steak

The last meat on the menu was this skirt steak. A cheaper cut, I really like skirt steak, as it is typically a more marbled cut with some great flavor. No exception here. The soy marinade provided a nice sweetness to pair with the smokiness of the grill.

As we rounded out the beef dishes, we had the option of having seconds of some of our favorite cuts. These were:

Short Rib #2

We were told these were cut from a different part of the short rib. Look at that marbling! Really superb and noticeably more marbled than the last short rib course.

Inside Ribeye #2

Consistent with the first round of the inside ribeye – another tasty piece of meat.

Skirt Steak #2

This was actually one of my favorite cuts of the night, and the second round did not disappoint.

Short Rib Carpaccio

Like the first round, these melted in your mouth with a touch of scallions and daikon. This would be our final meat course of the night.


This soup was made of bamboo, bean sprouts, egg, shiitake mushrooms and spinach. You have the option of choosing the spiciness level of the soup. Medium was perfect for me. There’s a really deep, soul-satisfying flavor to this soup.

Assorted Ice Creams and Sorbets

The flavors available on this night, clockwise from the top: Blueberry sorbet, Pistachio ice cream (light green towards the back), Lychee sorbet, Espresso ice cream, and White Chocolate with Raspberry ice cream. Great selection here, and none were letdowns. My favorites were probably the refreshing lychee and intense espresso ice creams.

In all, I had a great meal. Having heard a lot about the restaurant, I came in with some pretty high expectations and the beef definitely did not disappoint. At close to $200 before tax and tip to enjoy this experience, it definitely cannot be a regular occurrence. However, it’s a very unique meal in LA, a great experience, and I would encourage all to go if given the chance…especially if you’re a meat lover like I am!


Ad Hoc Fried Chicken – 8/1/10

I purchased the Ad Hoc Fried Chicken kit from Williams-Sonoma a while back. I saw it in the store and immediately had to get it. Nevermind the fact that I had never made fried chicken before, and am slightly averse to frying in a big pot of oil at home – it was Ad Hoc fried chicken, and I had to have it.

The kit comes with enough brine and seasoned batter for two uses, and I first made the chicken pre-blog. Because I would be using so much oil to fry the chicken, I figured I might as well cook as much as I could, and invite some fried chicken-appreciating friends over and turn it into a bit of a potluck.

First, the chicken. I was able to fit 24 pieces of thighs and drumsticks into the brine, which sat overnight. They were dried, and allowed to come to room temperature.

Ad Hoc’s method is to batter the chicken in the seasoned flour, dip in buttermilk, and then dip again in the seasoned flour.

When the chicken was battered, we let it sit for a few minutes to let the batter set.

After that, they went into the oil. I started with oil that was approx. 350 degrees, subsequent batches were frying at around 330 degrees.

After about 12 minutes, the first batch was done!

After about 5 batches, all 24 pieces were fried. I continuously put in sprigs of thyme to flavor the oil, as well as to act as a garnish.

The chicken was pretty damn delicious, if I do say so myself. The exterior was a golden brown; very crispy. But what made the difference was the very flavorful, juicy interior – definitely a result of the brine. Easily some of the best homemade fried chicken I’ve had. While it was a lot of work, and involved a lot of cleanup (all that oil!), it was worth it…though it will probably be a while until I do it again.

Heather baked some jalapeno cornbread as an appetizer/side – luckily, it wasn’t too spicy…but had just the right kick.

Kristen brought some watermelon, which was quite juicy and delicious.

Angelo brought a couple of salads, and James put on his chef’s hat, making baked corn and a homemade crab dip. Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of these. As I wasn’t sure we would have enough food, I had also made a beef stew ahead of time.

I’ve posted enough times about braising dishes at home, so I didn’t do a step-by-step pictorial. I roasted some cauliflower and broccoli as well.

These were cut up, and roasted in my cast-iron skillet with salt, pepper and olive oil.

I also made some mashed potatoes using russet potatoes, butter, beef fat (from the stew) and heavy cream. Unfortunately though, I didn’t get a picture.

Mike and Lilly of LA Beer Hopping were in charge of the beer.

The selection included Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Allagash White, Alesmith X, BridgePort IPA, and a Ninkasi Spring Reign. I threw in a Pliny the Elder for good measure. I thought this was a pretty good selection. The IPAs would satisfy the “hopheads,” and the Allagash White, Alesmith X and Ninkasi beers attracted those that wanted a less bitter, perhaps lighter, craft beer.

For dessert, we had a couple of options. Heather brought a homemade peach/blueberry/raspberry cobbler served warm.

And I made a tiramisu.

This was actually fairly simple. I whipped up some cream, adding vanilla extract, marscapone, and sugar once it reached the ‘soft peaks’ stage. I layered lady fingers (dipped in a mixture of coffee and kahlua) and the cream mixture, with grated chocolate at each layer.

I was pretty pleased with the meal. It was a lot of work cooking so much (especially all that chicken), but it was a good opportunity to get some people together and enjoy some good food and good brews.

Hatchi Series – 7/29/10

Hatchi Series: Makoto Okuwa

10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Century City, CA 90067

Breadbar is probably more famous for LudoBites and its Hatchi series, than for its bread and rather unspectacular food. The Century City location hosts the Hatchi Series, in which chefs around the city will pop-in for one night and prepare a menu of 8 courses for $8 each. On this night, Makoto Okuwa was in the kitchen under the theme The Power of Miso. Okuwa is the chef of Manhattan Beach’s Sashi Restaurant, and recently appeared on Iron Chef America, challenging Michael Symon.

I would say my expectations going into this meal were “cautiously optimistic.” Many of the reviews I’ve heard of Sashi have been mixed, but this meal at Hatchi would be a different type of meal. Our party enjoying this meal consisted of Holly of The Michelin Project, Kevin of kevinEats, and Ila of I Nom Things. Given that the menu consists of only 8 courses, each of us decided to order one of each.

To start with, we had Breadbar’s Epi bread with a trio of miso butters.

This was a pretty good Epi bread, served warm. The butters were made of a white miso, red miso, and a mugi miso (barley-based). Each had its unique characteristics; I enjoyed the mildly sweet white miso most.

Miso Butter Poached Loch Duart Salmon, Feta Cheese, Micro Basil, Tomato Foam, Pesto Powder

The salmon was great – extremely moist, flaky and tender. Just perfectly cooked. The tomato foam added a nice touch, as well as the strong pesto powder.

Asian Donuts Peach “Taco”, Smoked Lobster, Miso Frozen Yogurt, Paddle Fish Caviar

This was a pretty unique dish. The miso added some sweetness to the frozen yogurt; combined with the smokiness of the lobster – I thought this pairing went well.

California Baby Squid and Tuna Sashimi “Nuta” Style, Pickled Scallion, Wakame Seaweed Chips

I enjoyed this dish, even though it had a lot of components. The squid was nicely cooked, with just a little bit of “chew.” It is filled with sweet blue crab – as its consistency is a little mushy, I was looking for something with a crunch. The wakame seaweed chip provided that great crunchy texture. The squid ink miso was not overpowering in any way, and added some depth of flavor.  The tuna, topped with wasabi, was delicious as well.

Sushi Rice Salad “Shikai Maki” Cucumber, Prosciutto, Tuna, Fontina, Miso Emulsion

The “Shikai Maki” is one of Okuwa’s signature dishes – a beautifully-rolled square-shaped roll; in this case filled with tuna, fontina and cucumber. I found the fontina to be a little overpowering, as I did not get a lot of tuna flavor. I loved the slices of prosciutto adding some richness to the dish.

Taiwan Miso Ramen Soup, Ground Steak, Bean Sprouts, Red Hot Chili, Crispy Egg Noodle

This was one of my favorite dishes of the night, and probably most surprising. Reading the description, one would not think this is essentially a “soup and sandwich (burger)” dish. The noodles, instead of being in the soup, were fried and became the “bun” of the burger. The burger, cooked to a medium, was quite good – and the noodle “bun” worked quite well.

The miso soup was delicious with a deep, clean flavor. It was fairly spicy..almost too spicy for me..but I tend to have a low heat tolerance.

Dengaku “Trio” Braised Wagyu with Summer Truffle, Crispy Tofu with Kinome, Polenta with Chorizo

The wagyu beef (I think this was a short rib) was incredibly tender, as expected. It was flavorful, but I was missing some of the truffle flavor. The polenta and tofu additions were nice.

Caramel Miso Cream, Almond Cinnamon Crumble, Apricot Sorbet, Butter Milk Foam

The first of the desserts was an interesting caramel miso cream. I quite enjoyed this – both the caramel and miso were evident in a light pudding-like dessert. I really enjoyed the almond cinnamon crumble in adding some texture, and the buttermilk foam lightened the dish out.

Pliable Yuzu Curd, Candied Raspberry, Chocolate Sponge, Dry Miso Powder, Sweet Miso Chips, Coconut Sorbet

The final dish of the night focused on a yuzu curd. Somewhat tofu-like in texture, it was definitely very tart, a characteristic of the yuzu fruit.  I enjoyed the coconut sorbet to go along with the yuzu, and the chocolate cake added some sweetness.

I was quite pleased with the meal. My expectations were largely based on what I have heard about Sashi, and Chef Okuwa explained that this meal was very different. His Manhattan Beach restaurant has to, in some respect, cater to its clientele; the Breadbar meal gave him free reign to craft a menu that was representative of himself as a chef. I’m glad he was able to show off what he has to offer, and look forward to trying more of his cuisine in the future.