Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Open Door: New Izakaya in Monterey Park

The Open Door
122 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 282-9829‎

At C's behest, we drove out to Monterey Park late Sunday afternoon for a wonderful meal at the close to brand new Open Door izakaya. We got lost twice on the way there. We have navigation in our car. Just saying.

C found the Open Door for us on Yelp. It garnered rave reviews, and she managed to persuade us all to rally on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Props, C. Because she's sassy and spicy, we started with the shishito peppers. Delicious and standard, just the way I like them. Some mild and some ouch.

The Open Door offers a pretty lengthy menu and this special board. There were so many things to choose from on the special board I don't think I ever delved into the menu.

They have a lovely beer & sake selection. They offer Sho Chiku Bai hot sake, and my favorite Sayuri unfiltered sake, best served cold IMO. There were several others I don't remember experiencing and I plan to return many times to sample them all.

From inside the restaurant in any one of the few small tables, you can look northward toward the San Gabriel mountains. Even on a late March day you can see the snow at the peaks of one of my favorite California mountain ranges.

The walls inside are decorated with murals of Japanese party scenes. Geisha and their clients and friends drinking, eating and debauching.

Above is a little video clip of the main mural across the eastern wall of the restaurant. Stills would not do it justice.

My good friend K once mentioned something about the mystique of the Korean/Japanese potato & macaroni salad fetish. I had no clue what she meant. She informed me that at many Korean restaurants they bring you one of these American salads, but with Korean flavorings. She said they can be delicious, above and beyond what one is served at a U.S. deli. Please see the above potato salad we ordered at The Open Door. It was indescribably good, surrounded by housemade potato chips. What have I been missing?

Next out were the sauteed mushrooms and zucchini. They tasted sauteed in a little butter with sesame seeds and just a touch of garlic. A good Japanese chef knows how not to overdo the garlic. This was perfect. The mix of mushrooms was delightful. Digging through the mixture I saw shimejii, shiitake and enoki mushrooms, and obviously some zucchini.

The lovely chef/owner came out to say hello, and also sent out some lovely truffled (with truffle oil or butter presumably) eda mame. They were delicious.

For proteins we started with albacore sashimi and the requisite ponzu. Very fresh.

Next out was a small plate of lightly seared ahi with what I think was mustard seeds tossed across the top in a light shoyu sauce.

Beautifully fresh and photogenic.

Being a huge fan of hamachi, I or someone else, requested the hamachi carpa. One of our beautiful and friendly servers told me that carpa just means "in sauce". I will take her word for it.

The cut of this hamachi was wonderful, It was cut perfectly so that the fish broke apart gently in your mouth. Nothing worse than having to tug at a piece of fish in your mouth, tearing at the tendons or what have you. This was wonderful and next time I go I am having a plate to myself. Not sharing.

We all shared a crispy onigiri topped with salmon. I have never had one cooked this way, sprinkled with black sesame seeds, a little scorched on the top and the rice served slightly crispy. I eat these whenever I come across them.

When in Oahu visiting family, there are a couple Japanese delis we frequent, and I always pick up a few onigiri for my hotel room. The more traditional version has the meat/veg/fruit on the inside and the rice is like nigiri rice, sticky and slightly sweet. This was fun and the nori was lovely and not too dry.

D had to have his shrimp tempura roll. The Open Door's came with rice crispies on top, a delightful accessory. He said it was great, but there were so many new things at the table to try I didn't bother with something I eat often at Noshi Sushi on Beverly.

The above was the most disappointing dish of the evening. Kurobuta sausages with Japanese mustard. I have always wondered what the deal is with the kurobuta pork. Apparently, it was previously popularized and highly prized in Japan. Kurobuta pork is pork from a breed of pig called a Berkshire. Most U.S. restaurants selling it call it kurobuta anyway. PR is powerful, maing, and this type of pork must be riding the wave of our fascination with Japanese kobe beef. Read up on it here:

Honestly, these sausages were nothing special. They tasted good, but a flavor that was not particularly Japanese in any way. They taste like minis of the sausages I get in the beer garden at the Red Lion in Silverlake/ Echo Park on a summer afternoon. Good, yes. But not really worthy of being in the company of the rest of the food at this meal.

Above is the beautiful short rib in Japanese gravy with roasted potatoes. This was luxuriously fatty, and I was damn glad the three of us were sharing. C doesn't eat red meat, so K, D & I dug in. It was falling tenderly from the bone in beautiful beefy shreds. The accompanying roasted potatoes should not go unremarked. They could outshine the bestest of the best pomme frites in Belgium, Paris or the universe.

Onto dessert. What C lacks in love for beef, she makes up for in love of dessert. In the back of her mind throughout dinner I knew she was planning her attack on the kinako churros. The churros were hot, fresh and delicioso. Instead of being sprinkled with brown sugar and/or cinnamon, these were sprinkled with kinako which is a soy bean flour. I think it slightly lessened the sweetness of the churro and added an interesting nutty flavor without sacrificing the warm crispness. They came with two dipping sauce. The light one was a caramel and the dark one simply Nutella. You know I don't love dessert, and you know this had to be good because I was nomming.

More to my personal taste was the almond egg custard with lychee. Being a lychee maniac, I could eat this custard everyday. This was just beautiful. Silky and smooth, with a few of my favorite plump fruit just waiting to be plucked from the center. A sweet and fresh end to a wonderful meal.

The price of our meal (there were two veggie courses I missed photographing during my gluttonous frenzy) for four with tea, three large bottles of hot house sake and a diet coke? $120 before tax.

Now, I love to do some research and upon googling I find some controversy on Chowhound about the quality and authenticity of the izakaya served at The Open Door. During our meal we discussed authenticity and the fact that I felt their food was a little white washed. C asked me if that had to be such a bad thing. I answered to her this way: "I have never been hungrier on a vacation than I was in Tokyo."

Hanging out for a week in Tokyo with D was one of the most interesting experiences in my life. We simply put on comfy shoes and hit the roads. We did not seek out any tours, museums or tourist experiences. We just walked through neighborhoods and did whatever met our fancy. This included many eating establishments not equipped or prepared for U.S. travelers not speaking Japanese. We smiled, we pointed, we nodded and we ate whatever appeared in front of us. Some of the time. There was that giant clam incident. Much of the time we left a dining experience not quite full because we just didn't know how to articulate what we needed or find something we were familiar with. And I am certainly not unexposed to Japanese food. I have been eating it regularly since I was a kid.

The Open Door. It's a small chef/owner run izakaya in Monterey Park with delicious food, friendly and efficient service and a soft and pleasant atmosphere. It does not pretend to be ground breaking or a religious experience. The food may not be the most authentically Japanese in L.A. county, but it tastes good and I loved it. Absolutely loved. I will be frequenting The Open Door. I cannot wait to go back.


Kristine G. said...

beautiful review. :)

sygyzy said...

Thanks for this. It looks like it's time to go home ...

Food, she thought. said...

There always comes a time to go home.