Sunday, July 22, 2012

ROC - Takaya Yakitori Izakaya

After an amazing trip in Japan, I went back to the home base of Orange County. I first came down here from up in the SF Bay Area in order to study at UCI. Good thing Yelp had existed, otherwise I would have not known where to eat in Orange County as all I knew at the time was the restaurants from OpenTable.com. One might think how Orange Country is with its sugar-coated, police-state suburbs and how it's a cultural wasteland; it can be like that. However, there is diversity, primarily cities with different ethnic groups that makes Orange County deserve more credit as it does have some amazing restaurants, especially in terms of international cuisine. Of course there are American/European establishments that are great too. However, comparing from where I grew up to here in Southern California in general, I think it's safe to say that Norcal has better New American/ French restaurants due to the wineries in Sonoma/Napa, San Francisco's food scene, and organic, local produce as highlighted and made famous by Alice Waters and her famed restaurant in Berkeley, Chez Panisse. Be that as it may, Southern California remains king when it comes to international cuisine, primarily in Mexican and Asian. As mentioned earlier that Orange County deserves a better culinary reputation especially in international cuisine, I will be making posts under the category: "The Redemption of Orange County" (ROC) in order to highlight and blog about amazing restaurants in Orange County.

For my first ROC post, I would love to talk about the amazing yakitori (grilled chicken pieces on a bamboo skewer, but also refers to other meats or vegetables on a skewer) that I've had at Takaya Yakitori Izakaya (http://www.yelp.com/biz/takaya-yakitori-izakaya-costa-mesa). My friend and I stumbled upon this place when we were about to go to the ramen place next door. It turned out that it was their first day for the restaurant. They were having their soft opening in order to work out the kinks of the restaurant such as having the waiters to be accustomed with what the store sold. Although some of orders were either forgotten or was something different instead, they did offer 30% for the bill. Therefore, I didn't really complain plus I understood that it was some of these peoples' first day of working.

When we walked in, the restaurant gave us complementary "otoshi" (very small dish at the beginning) of bean sprouts seasoned in sesame oil. In Japan, an otoshi is given for paying the table/seating fee at an izakaya which is for service instead of a tip at these sort of places. I also ordered shochu on the rocks and some beer on the tap.

For ordering the yakitori, you would just write what quantity for which meat you would like along with if you want it salted or with yakitori sauce. There are dishes from the menu that you can order as well. The following pics of yakitori are salted chicken thigh, sauced chicken thigh, sauced fatty pork, and sauced chicken skin. What's different from this places versus the other places is that instead of the fermented yuzu condiment, they have spicy miso instead for the yakitori. They were all very flavorful plus they were juicy as well.


The sauced pork belly was their most amazing thing they had on the list of yakitori. It was so moist!

Next came the salted quail eggs and meatballs. They were then followed by the shrimp with the shell on. You would peel them off and enjoy.


The next were some of the main sharing dishes from their menu. We got the chicken cartilage by mistake but just ended up eating it anyways. It was actually not bad, but the only thing that didn't fit was that they used American mayonnaise instead of the Japanese one which is smoother and sweeter.
We also ordered their scallop carpaccio as it was one of their few raw items. It was alright. I wish they had more raw items such as a red snapper carpaccio or maguro (tuna) sashimi. I apologize that I took the pics after they were mostly eaten. I've also ordered a double white peach chuhai since my friend was driving and that the bill was 30% off in which any sane human being would just go for it.


Our last dish was Agedashi Tofu which is a fried tofu in a soy mixed with dashi seasoning topped with daikon radish and green onion. This dish was really good but do note that it's not vegetarian as the dashi seasoning/stock uses fish as its ingredient.

For just stumbling on to this place, it was a great find! Their yakitori is so delicious and was the most juciest out of all the places I've tried in the US. The owners do have another location in Tokyo so you know that the food they're serving is very authentic. I would definitely go back and recommend others to visit especially if you're going to Kitsch Bar next door.

Update: They're having their 20% off until the end of July. I went back for another try and they've worked out all the glitches, especially with the dining service as the waiters are now more comfortable with the restaurant. Hands down, this is the best yakitori place in Orange County. Prior to going, I've had ramen next door at a restaurant called Kohryu. I love their Spicy Shoyu (soy sauce) broth versus the other places. In addition, I prefer their chewier egg noodles as well. However, I prefer their wontons more than their pork slices so I usually get the Wonton Ramen with spicy shoyu. Unlike some of their other ramen, this doesn't include a runny egg soft boiled in soy. Therefore, I ordered an additional topping of the egg for an extra $1.50. Here's their Yelp link: http://www.yelp.com/biz/kohryu-costa-mesa

Back to Takaya - When I came in around 7, they were packed as they've recently had their grand opening. I had to wait a bit but the servers were really polite and thankful for me waiting. I had Kurokirishima shochu on the rocks (http://sake-guide.com/shochu_detail.php?shochu=15) while waiting for the yakitori. In the meantime, I ordered Ankimo - monkfish liver. At first for $5.50, it's a bit of a small dish plus it only was in a seasoned soy sauce with shaved daikon radish on top. I thought this dish was going to not taste right but it was one of the best Ankimo I've ever tasted. If you've had Ankimo, it's definitely an acquired taste. With the simplicity of only a few addons of the radish and soy, you can definitely taste its butteriness and the flavor of the Ankimo.





After the Ankimo, the first order of yakitori came: salted pork belly and salted chicken thigh and green onion. Wow, when I used my chopsticks to get the meat off the skewers, I can see the juices flow out from the meat. Both sticks, especially the pork belly, are extremely succulent and delicious.

The next yakitori stick was the sauced chicken skin. My god, this was the best chicken skin I've had in Orange County, flowing with juices and oils. Here's the pieces off from the stick.



My last sticks came out as I've just had a bowl of ramen as I didn't order as much for a full meal. It was a salted shrimp with the shell on and salted asparagus and bacon with green onion. They were both really good although the bacon was tad bit overdone with salt.

Oh yeah, I'll definitely be coming back. Be sure to try this place as they're very authentic from Tokyo!

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