Japanese izakayas are great! They combine two elements of eating that I love, Japanese flavors and family style tapas servings. During my last trip to Southern CA, I found another really great izakaya called Musha. We went to the Santa Monica location which is near 3rd St. Promenade, but they also have a location in Torrance.
It was going to be another Sibling Crew outing where mine and Pdho’s siblings get together and do the one thing we have in common…. EAT. Unfortunately, Sdho wasn’t able to join us, but being a frequent diner, she suggested a number of things we should try…. so we did.
The Spicy Tuna Dip was oddly named I thought. I was expecting something related to dipping, but the dish was essentially a spicy tuna roll with crunchier rice and no seaweed. In fact, it was probably a lot like a spicy tuna on sizzling rice cakes, except in these case, there are rice crackers. The finely cut tuna had a nice spicy sauce which went well with the crunchy rice crackers. I really liked this dish.
The chicken on the Crispy Chicken Cracker Salad was some very well-seasoned karaage-style chicken pieces. It was served on a bed of greens and vegetables and mixed with a delicious sesame dressing. It was a very nice start to the meal.
The Special Menu advertised the Tofu Nuggets as “world-famous” which intrigued my brother enough to order it. I expected pieces of fried tofu which would probably need to be dipped in some sort of soy sauce, but surprisingly (although it probably shouldn’t have been) they were literally nugget-shaped pieces of tofu grounded with some mix of vegetables and onions. They were so interesting tasting and extremely flavorful. My brother proclaimed, “Give me a 20 piece order of these!”
The Scallop Shu Mai was a little bit disappointing. I guess I was expecting more because I like the typical shu mai that you get for dim sum. Instead, it was more like a bland fish ball with a small piece of scallop in the middle. Not my favorite dish of the night.
I think the Takotama was a cross between two traditional Japanese dishes, okinomoyaki and takoyama with a little bit more of a twist. The okinomoyaki is a Japanese pancake and takoyama are batter balls filled with pieces of octopus. In this version, there were two omelettes made from egg and mixed with pieces of diced octopus that sandwiched a bunch of ramen-like noodles and was topped with ginger, leeks, bonito flakes and a dark sauce. It was actually kind of interesting. I liked that the octopus pieces were small, so even if they were overcooked (as I often find that octopus in takoyama balls are), you couldn’t really tell so the potential chewiness didn’t detract from the omelette. I thought the noodles were interesting and although I can never quite figure out why I don’t like the sauce on okinomoyaki pancakes, I actually thought the taste of this sauce really complemented the entire dish.
The Kakuni, although pretty good, was probably the most uninteresting dish of the night, mainly because it was almost identical to a Vietnamese-style preparation of pork belly. Come to think of it, I’ve probably had a Japanese and Taiwanese version as well. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the tender pork meat which had been stewed with some hard-boiled eggs and potatoes. Although there was a layer of fat in the pork, it didn’t seem to have the same “melt in your mouth” quality of pork belly. I’m not sure if it was because it wasn’t really pork belly or maybe it wasn’t cooked long enough, because the pork had a stringy texture.
Vongore Udon was fantastic. This dish truly represented a fusion of Japanese and Italian cuisines where udon noodles were sauteed with Asari clams and mushrooms in a light broth of garlic, butter, sake and soy sauce. It was a nice Asian rendition of Linguini with Clam Sauce. I preferred the texture of the udon and the uniqueness of the sauce which even though you could taste the garlic and butter, somehow didn’t have the same heaviness as its typical Italian counterpart.
The Musha Risotto was quite remarkable for its presentation. The waitress came to the table with a big block of cheese wrapped in aluminum foil. She also had a plate of brown grain rice which had already been pan-fried with onions, prosciutto and soy milk, then she proceeded to add the rix mixture into the block of cheese which had essentially been carved into “bowl”. As she mixed the rice, she would scrape the sides of the “bowl” to add a bit of cheese until she eventually poured the resulting risotto onto the plate. The prosciutto added some texture to the rice which I found very tasty.
It may look just like mush (no pun intended), but it tasted really good. What I found really interesting was that in spite of a distinct cheese taste in the risotto, it actually was more creamy than cheesy. I really liked that… and for whatever reason, I think it’s that same style of “light richness” in terms of flavor and consistency that personifies this Japanese Fusion style of cooking.
We were all pretty full by this point in the meal, but given that the food was so good, we figured that we had to at least TRY one dessert. Truthfully, the Maple Creme Brulee wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was good. It was a sweet little way to finish off our meal. I give them some points for flaming up the Creme Brulee at the table, but I was a little nervous when the waitress seemed unsure about how to turn it on.
All in all, it was a very good meal. I really enjoyed it quite a bit. It combined so many of the elements that I tend to gravitate toward in meals, shareable small plates, Asian influences, light flavors, and a very reasonable price tag. What more can you ask for!
424 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
PAFO Ratings for Musha-Los Angeles:
Price 2 stars
Ambiance 2½ stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 4 stars