I am a big fan of izakaya-style eating for its emphasis on small plates which allow diners to try a variety of different dishes… One of my favorite izakaya places in recent memory is Musha. We actually went to the one in Santa Monica where I remember enjoying a number of creatively delicious dishes off their fairly extensive menu. Smooth Obturator and Triple T know how I like to roll when I dine, so since moving to Manhattan Beach, they have mentioned Izakaya by Katsuya a fair number of times. Considering the general dining scene in the neighborhood is supposedly just ho hum, I was a little surprised that there would be a good izakaya place, but I was ready to check it out.
We started with the Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeño which came served with a side of seaweed salad. The slices of sashimi were rolled up, topped with a jalapeño, and served in a pool of what I think might be a sweet miso-based sauce. The yellowtail was good, and in spite of the sauce which may have been used to disguise some of the natural taste of the fish, I think it still tasted relatively fresh.
Next up was the Toro Tasting which was 2 pieces of toro and 3 pieces of medium toro served sushi style. I was completely taken aback by how amazingly delicious the sushi tasted. Granted, it tends to be difficult to have a bad piece of toro, because the inherent fattiness just puts this cut of fish at such a huge advantage on the taste buds. However, this was even better than THAT. Both the medium and regular toro were so soft and delicate in texture that it literally melted in your mouth. Probably one of the better toro’s I’ve ever had, surprisingly enough.
Creamy Popcorn Shrimp Tempura was another solid-tasting dish although not as good as some other similar preparations I have tried. I found “popcorn” to be a bit of a misnomer, because the shrimps were no where near popcorn size especially with the slightly heavy tempura batter coating. However, the serving was still a little on the small side for the price ($9) coming with maybe 8 pieces of shrimp… at the most. On taste though, I liked the creamy sauce, a little sweet and not too heavy.
My favorite non-sushi dish of the night was the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna. The spicy tuna mix was pretty typical tasting, nothing extremely special, but I like how well it goes with the fried rice cakes upon which the spicy tuna sits. The cakes are rectangle pieces of sushi rice that have been pan-friend on both sides. I think it would have been even better if the cakes were crispier, almost crunchy, which is how I’ve had it before, but I was okay with this version.
The Seafood Soba Pasta was a little bit plain in spite of the mix of squid and clams. The squid was a little bit overcooked, but I have to say the clams were probably the most flavorful part of the dish. Again, it wasn’t a bad dish, but it just needed a little bit something else to elevate the taste of the pasta.
The eggplant piece was packed with a punch of flavor. I wasn’t a fan of the bonito flakes on top, but the eggplant had some richly flavored sauce and its characteristic soft and creamy texture.
The misoyaki was a sadly-sized piece of fish, but portion aside, it was very nicely marinaded resulting in a distinct yet subtle sweet miso-flavor perfectly combined with moist, fatty texture of the cod. I just really wish there was more fish!
The Yellowtail Collar was okay. It wasn’t too dried out considering the preparation, but I think who ever grilled the fish kind of lost track of time. Some parts of the yellowtail were blackened a little too much for my taste buds.
The Yellowtail Tasting included 4 different kinds of yellowtail (1 piece each). I’m not completely sure, but I think from left to right, there was regular yellow tail, shima aji, hiramasa, and yellow tail belly. The hiramasa sushi was interesting, because it was topped with a yuzu pepper-based mixture. Shima aji is one of my favorite pieces of sushi, but this cut was probably not as good as what I’ve had at other places. In the end, it was the yellowtail belly which stole the show in this tasting platter.
I wasn’t sure if I should be ordering rolls at this place, but Smooth Obturator said they were pretty good and he seemed to emphasize that I “couldn’t NOT order too much” since all the dishes were pretty small and relatively light. I decided on the Izakaya roll which had crispy crab, lettuce, asparagus, and avocado on the inside, and albacore with crispy onions on top. I figured this would be similar to a soft-shell crab roll with the “crispy crab”. It tasted fine, but it wasn’t really too memorable. I was surprised that the fried onions on top didn’t overpower the overall taste of the roll too much, but I was even more surprised that my brother actually ate 2 pieces in spite of it being all covered in onions.
The Tatsuta Age was definitely the most disappointing dish of the night. It was essentially deep-fried chicken a la “chicken tenders/nuggets”, but in this case, it was so dry and flavorless. It was disappointingly awful!
Overall, the meal was pretty good. It ended up being a little more Japanese than I originally thought it would be, but I am not sure I could say it was a truly authentic izakaya. The sushi was also surprisingly tasty. Interestingly enough, they used warm rice for the sushi which is pretty rare but I really liked it. I think the only other place I’ve been to that does this warm rice preparation is Sushi Yasuda in NYC, and I believe this is considered a pretty authentic sushi restaurant. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the food and I think it’s a great place for a solid dinner albeit a little bit on the pricey side for the amount of food you get.
The Izakaya by Katsuya
1133 Highland Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
PAFO Ratings for The Izakaya by Katsuya:
Price 2½ stars
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 3½ stars
Overall rating 3½ stars