Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Japanese Pastry aka Imagawa-Yaki Tasting at Fulfilled - CATERING ONLY

Late last year, I got invited to a Pre-Grand Opening Party for a new shop in Beverly Hills called Fulfilled, owned and operated by Susumu Tsuchihashi. This was no ordinary shop, but that one that specialized in Japanese pastries called Imagawa-yakis or "Imas" for short. I really had no clue as to what imas were and to go visit their website to find out more. Basically, an ima is a pancake like pastry filled with sweet Azuki bean handcrafted on an aluminum grill. It originated from Tokyo in the 1800's and are sold all over Tokyo's shopping districts as well as during seasonal festivals all over Japan. Apparently, Fulfilled's imas are an updated version of the more traditional Japanese imas.

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I was definitely intrigued, but unfortunately couldn't make it, so the next best thing was to do a "re-do" of this Pre-Grand Opening Party for my dining group. As a part of this tasting event, we sampled 3 savory imas, 4 sweet imas and also had a taste of their iced Azuki Green Tea Honey Latte. Before I talk about the food, let me give you a brief description of how the imas are made.

First, you need a flat, hot surface and on that surface, you lay open a folding "cupcake-like" holder to heat it up.

Than you add the batter and your choice of fillings and let that cook for little bit.

After a little bit of time, you scrape around each of the imas so they aren't sticking to the sides as much.

Finally, you fold the holder in half and again, give it some cooking time before unfolding to see the golden imas ready to be served.

As you can see, making imas can be time consuming work. Before enjoying the imas, we were all served Fulfilled's iced Azuki Green Tea Honey Latte created by an award winning barista, Elton Tsuono. It's an interesting drink that's a little grainy due to the sweet red bean and wasn't to everyone's taste due to that texture, but I loved it. I found it very refreshing and liked how the sweetness of the red bean and honey counterbalanced the green tea, which can be a bit bitter at times. There was also a red chili pepper we could add to the drink to give it a zing, which I did add and enjoyed it even more.

Now we'll talk imas and we started with 3 of their savory options. The first one we sampled was the Green Ninja and its ingredients were comprised of spinach, feta cheese and sun dried tomato. Of all the imas we sampled, this was my least favorite one. It was way too dry. Although I liked how the feta added the right amount of saltiness to the spinach, it doesn't have a very good melting point and I think that's what contributed to this ima not having much moisture.

Next was the Sumo Italiano with prosciutto di Parma, smoked ham, aged Parmesan and fresh basil. This was a vast improvement from the Green Ninja, at least melting cheese-wise. What I thought was missing was the taste of basil. I love basil and it just didn't seem like there was enough. One thing to note though, we were served ima halves as part of this tasting, so it could have been a situation where the person who had the other half of my ima got the bulk of the basil. Also, while I loved the prosciuto and the smoked ham, this particular ima was a bit too salty because of those two ingredients.

Our last savory ima and my favorite of the three was the Spicy Samurai with chicken apple sausage, pepper jack cheese, diced chili and fresh cilantro. I love the spiciness and the bold flavors and I would order this as a snack without a question. The only thing I might change is that the chicken apple sausage is a bit too subtle because its flavor gets lost, especially when eaten with the other spicier ingredients. Personally, I'd go with a chorizo sausage instead because I think it would stand up well next to the pepper jack cheese, chili and cilantro.

With the savory imas behind us, it's time for our sweet tooth to be taken care of. Up first was the Fuji Sunrise which had a custard creme filling. It reminded me of a way better version of a custard donut. The custard filling was absolutely delicious and I liked the lighter pancake texture of the ima as opposed to custard donut, which can be a bit heavy.

Next was the Nutty Buddha with Ghirardelli chocolate, toffee and crunchy peanut butter. Being a peanut butter fan, I was expecting to love the Nutty Buddha, but didn't. I didn't dislike it, but the filling was too much on the drier end. The mixture of the crunchy peanut butter and the chocolate seemed a bit pasty. I also couldn't taste the toffee that much. Maybe, instead of the crunchy peanut butter, a creamy peanut butter could be used instead? But than a situation could come up where the chocolate and peanut butter could err on the other side and be too runny? I liked the overall flavor, but I just feel like this particular ima needs a little more work.

Our third sweet ima was the Sweet Geisha which has a traditional Japanese azuki bean filling. No need to mess with tradition. I'm a big fan of red beans and I was just as much of a fan of the Sweet Geisha.

Fourth on the rotation was the Harajuku Monkey with banana and nutella. It's hard to go wrong with nutella and banana and Fulfilled, but I would have liked more bananas to better balance the sweetness of the nutella.

The last ima of this tasting event was the Karaoke Kitty with strawberry, cream cheese, and Ghirardelli white chocolate. It was the perfect closer. The white chocolate could have made this ima extremely sweet, but paired with the cream cheese and the strawberry preserves, all the flavors were in synch. This was definitely one of my favorites that night.

I've talked primarily about the fillings, but I did want to talk about the ima pastry itself. When comparing the savory imas to the sweet imas, I definitely was more drawn to the sweet imas. The softer pancake texture really lent itself towards Fulfilled's dessert options, but for the savory imas, that wasn't the case. It's probably a preference thing, but I think that the savory fillings go better with more of a flaky pastry crust, almost like an empanada, but then we're talking another kind of food and not imas.

Also, Owner, Susumu, himself has said that his imas are not traditional Japanese imas and in fact, are more Westernized. If that's a sticking point, Fulfilled may not be for you; however, if you can accept the imas at Fulfilled on their own terms, you may find an ima or two that you'll enjoy just as much as their more traditional cousins. I certainly did.

To see pics, go to:

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WeezerMonkey said...

Wow! I loooove imas! I didn't know that they could be filled with non-red-bean stuff!

Thank you so much for this post. I know where I'm going next time I'm in the 90210 area. :)

Eileen said...

I just went there last weekend! Love the spicy chicken one!!

EatTravelEat said...

I love imas :). I haven't visited Fulfilled yet but the Mitsuru cafe in Little Tokyo has the traditional red bean ones which is my current favorite. I also like the ones from mini stalls at the market.

Looking at your photos, it looks like the pancake here is a bit more poufy looking and not as dense.

The Honey Latte sounds like a great drink! And I like the color of the latte too.

pleasurepalate said...

WM: I think Fulfilled is really taking the imas in a different direction.

Eileen: I liked the Spicy Ninja, too, although I still wouldn't mind seeing one with chorizo sausage as a filling.

ETE: I've never had a traditional ima so I can't compare, but yes, the imas at Fulfilled were more of a pancake texture.

H. C. said...

Definitely a nice change of pace from all those supersweet cupcakes that's in and around Beverly Hills, though I tend to be a skeptic of eateries built around a single dish.

But they must be doing something right (or very well-financed), still up and running in a town where rent's definitely not cheap. May give it a try next time I'm in the B. Hills.

pleasurepalate said...

H.C. They apparently seem to have a celebrity clientele which helps. There have been photos of Paris Hilton actually leaving Fulfilled with a box of imas to go. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Abby,

I'm glad you finally made it out to Fulfilled. :) I went last year during their Grand Opening, and enjoyed many of their Imas (and didn't like some others).

Totally agree about the Peanut Butter - Mmm... Pure Peanut Butter Ima. (^_~)

pleasurepalate said...

EK: What about an Elvis Presley Ima? PB, Bananas and Honey? :)

Aji De Mani said...

omg i've been meaning to check this place out. thanks for reminding me!

pleasurepalate said...

Aji: Happy Imagawaa-yak(ing)! :) Hope you like them!