Friday, November 30, 2007

"South Bay's Taste of Japan" - Lunch at Spoon House

When on the lookout for Japanese dining, usually Little Tokyo comes to mind, but unbeknownst to many, the South Bay, primarily the city of Gardena is also home to one of LA's oldest Japanese communities. Presently, it's a city where the population is about one quarter Japanese-American.

What differentiates Gardena from Little Tokyo is that it's still a thriving community where Japanese-Americans work, live, play and eat. For example, Gardena has a Japanese cable station, numerous Japanese churches, stores and newspapers. It's really because of the high concentration of Japanese-Americans still living in cities like Gardena that they are able to maintain strong ties to tradition, especially to authentic Japanese cuisine.

As a part of a dining series that I called "South Bay's Taste of Japan", I set up outings for my dining group to explore some of the tastiest offerings to be found in cities like Gardena and Torrance. First on the list was the Spoon House, known for a style of Japanese cuisine called Yoshoku.

So what exactly is Yoshoku? Yoshoku refers to Western food, but with a Japanese twist. Over the centuries, a large number of Western dishes have been introduced to Japan. Many of them; however, became adapted to use more Japanese ingredients and these dishes are now called Yoshoku dishes. Check out a couple of examples below:

Korokke ("croquette") - breaded mashed potato and minced meat patties. When white source is added, it is called cream korokke. Other ingredients such as crab meat, shrimp, or mushrooms are also used instead of minced meat which are called kani-, ebi-, or kinoko-cream korokke, respectively.

Hamburg Steak - a ground beef patty, usually mixed with breadcrumbs and fried chopped onions, served with a side of white rice and vegetables. Popular post-war food item served at homes. Eaten with a fork.

So what does Spoon House have to do with Yoshoku cooking? Simply, Spoon House is a Japanese-Italian spaghetti house and believe me, you'll see spaghetti dishes there that you'd never expect to see coming out of any Italian Mama's kitchen. While you will see some standards like spaghetti Bolognese or spaghetti with clam sauce, there are definitely other menu items that may just surprise you. So with an adventurous palate, off we went.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, I liked the fact that there was an open kitchen. It was easy to see all the action. In a corner of the kitchen there was even an appliance that cooked the spaghetti in perfectly sized portions. Once you sat down, opening the menu was enough to set you in a tizzy of indecision.

There were 36 different types of spaghetti dishes to choose from. Our choices included spaghetti with tuna, daikon and lemon soy sauce and California style salad spaghetti which included ingredients like mayonnaise sauce, crab meat and avocado. Also available were spaghetti with sea urchin & seaweed and spaghetti that comes with natto & shiso leaf. Mama Mia!

It definitely took awhile for everyone to choose their entrée. I finally settled on the spaghetti with hot garlic, seasoned mushroom, grated daikon and dried fish flakes. As a starter, I also ordered the one dollar salad and yes, it did cost only $1.00.

Soon my spaghetti arrived and I must admit to being a bit disconcerted by its appearance. Red tomato sauce was replaced by a pile of fish flakes, dried seaweed and the rest of the ingredients, but hey, my taste buds were ready for action. So after mixing all the ingredients and noodles together, I took my first forkful.

Simply, I loved it. The sweet-hot-pungency of the garlic added a nice kick to the dish. Then you have the taste of the salty sea coming from the seaweed and fish flakes combined with the subtle earthiness from the mushrooms. As for the daikon, I honestly don't even remember tasting it, but it wasn't missed.

This was definitely a spaghetti dish unlike anything I've ever tried before. Most of my dining partners gave their spaghetti dishes thumbs up with a couple of exceptions. There's one thing to note. When you order spaghetti with sea urchin, don't expect your spaghetti to be topped with the uni. Instead, it's mixed into the sauce. The strong flavors that make uni so popular may be too subdued for your liking.

Also, someone in else in our party ordered the spaghetti with tomato sauce, eggplant and bacon and found it less than satisfactory. Perhaps, the Italian-style spaghetti dishes are still better left for your Italian Mama or a good Italian restaurant.

The real fun in eating at a restaurant like Spoon House is in introducing your palate to true fusion food. In this case, you get an Italian staple like spaghetti melded with Japanese ingredients like uni, fish flakes and even natto. Now that's something you definitely won't find at your local Olive Garden. So when you're in Gardena, stop by for a taste of Yoshoku cooking at the Spoon House. You may just find your new favorite cuisine!

To see pics, go to:

Spoon House
1601 W Redondo Beach Blvd

Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 538-037

Spoon House Bakery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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