The Nipponfication process, from cassette players, to DVD players, to whiskey, to automobiles, etc. remains one of the highest achievement in mass production and awesomeness. With a few exceptions – think Strawberry Cones Pizza, the Japanese can build more of everything better than any other culture.
After 20 years of culinary espionage, the Japanese have reached a new plateau where French and Japanese cooking techniques interlocks seemlessly. If Jose Andres is Japanese, but didn’t have the multi-million dollar financing, Ikko could be his first LA restaurant.
First: black sesame house-made tofu topped with uni, bathed in dashi.
This is a papillae twister. You’re thinking: what the hell is going on here. You’ve had black sesame congee, perhaps even pudding, but served as dessert, always. You’ve had house-made agedashi from the best izakayas on the West Coast, but this! This looks like dotted poop from an alien, doubled up with sea urchin discharge. It’s akin to tasting Bazaar’s tuna on watermelon the first time. You may hate it, you may love it, but the bites force you towards an unequivocal decision.
Next: wakasagi nanbanzuke (fried smelt in sweet vinegar).
Perfectly delicious, pungent sweet vinegar that did not overwhelm. Fried smelt still retained fried (potato starch?) breading even after being quickly cooked in mirin-dashi broth. This is Japanese escabeche/escovitch for those who like sweet and sour foods. The smelt in vinegar is light, ethereal and just carried a balanced savory on savory profile. Of course the dish is a cheap common small plate, but hardly will one taste real dashi underneaththe vinegar.
The mind blows keep coming.
Beef tongue carpaccio with shaved black truffle
At this point, I’m already thinking: I don’t know. Eat it, don’t think about it. There’s black truffle on top of beef tongue sliced salami-thin, served on top of warm nigiri. What is this? French? Japanese? Italian? Did I really enjoy this? No. Did it make you seek more sophisticated words to describe the sensation? Yes. Good enough!
Then, Ikko went a bit OG for a transformed restaurant in the middle of a Torrance strip mall. The itamae served up cheap shiromi: chicken grunt fish with sea salt, Japanese grome with a dab soy. Nothing here will offend Seafood Watch. Contrary to the typical reactions upon chu-toro being served, no one hums with mouth-gasms after a bite of the cheap chicken grunt (here marked as whopping $7 special). The alone texture forces chewing action, followed by brain activity. In fact, after googling “grome fish” as well as asking 2 Japanese speakers, no one could tell me what species of fish I ate. It’s a bit dry, but not tough, it’s like like red snapper, but offered a different sweetness.
The meal continued with unfamiliarizing the familiar. Miso came with snow crab leg, salmon tartare came with cheese and pine nuts. They can do this all day, and you will want to eat it all day. The price of admission to participate in this Nippon-Franco wizardry is steep. A typical bill at Bazaar won’t be able to satiate a hungry party of 2 at; some simple small plates run as high as $9. Then again, this isn’t your ojiisan’s izakaya, so bring the charge card and order carefully. The fantasmic menu is also available at the Costa Mesa (original) location, but the Torrance branch seems much more tranquil overall, offering a more suitable environ to ponder the proverbial question: what the hell did I just eat. Answers will range from: fried fish bone to scallops topped with kobacha cream, to cuttlefish tempura.
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