Saturday, February 04, 2006

Genki Living - Irvine



With a name more appropriate for either a health insurance policy or a lifestyle magazine, "Genki Living" wouldn't be a place you'd expect to find food. This begs the question, "So what does 'genki' mean anyway?"

Yet after looking it up and finding out that 'genki' is the Japanese word for "energetic," I'm still not any closer to explaining what it has to do with crepes, which is the specialty of this newly-opened Irvine franchise.

But the name isn't the most beguiling thing about the restaurant. A bigger head-scratcher is the place's most striking feature; a life-sized mock-up of a Japanese subway train which dominates an entire wall. It looks so real that you can almost imagine the Japanese salary-men in business suits going to work, being stuffed into this diorama's sliding doors like sardines, their faces smooshed up against the glass.



The rest of the store looks like a pre-teen girl's bedroom. Mismatched "Easter" pastel colors, faux picket fences, posters of cherubic Asian teen idols, and pink flower patterns gives the room a distinct "Sanrio-ness". The vibe is a little kooky, but still oddly charming.

The menu board, however, is hung so high up that I had to crane my neck like I was watching a movie from the first row. It also doesn't help matters that the list of items they offer is encyclopedic and the font size is two sizes too small. But how else are they to fit all their choices on it? With so many crepe permutations, both savory and sweet, they'd give Baskin-Robbin's 31 flavors a run for their money. If this weren't enough, they also have boba drinks and tea.

I opted for the classic crepe filling of Nutella, sliced banana, and ice cream topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Each crepe is prepared to order, with the batter poured fresh onto a round steel griddle and cooked until leathery brown and crisp. The pliable disk is then folded into a conical shape and the toppings are piled inside the well. This gigantic mass is meant to be eaten like an ice cream cone, although it's definitely a more awkward experience, since you need to grip it firmly with both hands, lest you want the whole mess to come tumbling down onto your lap.



But as I nibbled around the edges, working my way to the goopy, chocolatey, and Chiquita center, I found that the crepe skin withstood the onslaught of the moisture working against it. Instead of tearing, the slowy melting contents made it supple and chewy, because unlike its more delicate French cousin, this Japanese crepe is of a thicker and sturdier stock -- the lovechild of a pancake and a tortilla.



Genki Living's friendly Taiwanese proprietor, William, also cooks up a decent okonomiyaki. His rendition employs stir fried noodles and wilted cabbage, set atop a thin crepe membrane. It comes with the traditional topping of katsuo-bushi, thin shavings of dried bonito fish flakes, which have the uncanny ability to writhe and billow from the emanating heat of the noodles like disembodied worms. Japanese mayo and a tart okonomiyaki sauce is sluiced on top for a finishing touch.

Good crepes and okonomiyaki served in a place with an inexplicable name and fake subway train. Yup...sounds like just the type of thing boring Irvine needs!

Genki Living
(949) 857-3683
15435 Jeffrey Rd. #110
Irvine, CA 92618

50 Comments:

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Professor Salt said...

I'm gonna try the okonomiyaki. I'm showing that address as being across from IVC. Is it in the strip mall where Pho Irvine and India Cook House are located?

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Prof. Salt,

It's actually right behind Thai Spice, next to the Irvine Dance Academy.

BTW, the okonomiyaki, as I mentioned is noodle-based rather than batter-based.

 
At 10:31 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

I just realized you said Pho Irvine...yes, it's right behind it. And Clay Oven Indian food is there too.

 
At 10:37 PM, Blogger Alex said...

That crepe looks spectacular! I don't think I know of any places which serve them like that in Sydney. Our ones just plainly lay there, flat, in front of you. *yawn*

 
At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went there last week. The crepes are quite a bit thicker and harder than what I'm used to. Nice to know there's another okonomiyaki place around here though.

 
At 8:37 AM, Anonymous jaia said...

mmmmm...sounds tasty!
Do you mean that the okonomiyaki isn't made from the shredded root vegetable? is it made from flour?
thx.

 
At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Kirk said...

Hi Elmo - That doesn't look like any okonomiyake I've ever seen - looks like a cross between yakisoba-okomiyake. I guess maybe a Yaki-yaki !!! LOL! Main thing is that it sounds delicious.

 
At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Migo said...

I am surprised. How do you get to know this new restaurant? I thought it's only been known among Taiwanese.

 
At 10:24 PM, Blogger Seth Chadwick said...

LOL!

elmo, I truly adore your writing. You always make me laugh because of the words you choose.

As for Genki Living, I need to send J. there. That would be a perfect fit.

Great review as always!

 
At 11:21 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

I love your descriptions Elmo! They literally transport me to Irvine because your writing stimulates and caters to all of my senses. You have a dangerous skill--to make be obese!

I've never made Japanese-style crepes, but I'm wondering what they put in the ingredients to give it elements of a French crepe, an American pancake, and a Mexican tortilla.

 
At 9:08 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Alex and Anon,

This crepe definitely isn't your stereotypical crepe...so much so that I wonder if people expecting to taste the thinner and more subtle French variety will be surprised at how thick and toothsome this one is. Of course, it's structural rigidity is the only way that the crepe can be folded the way you see it.

Jaia and Kirk,

Actually Kirk is right. This one is actually more a yaki-soba (it's made with noodles)...but it's advertised as okonomiyaki on the menu...I'm as confused as you are now.

Migo,

LOL! Did I uncover a secret Taiwanese place? You're right though, no one would ever walk in there expecting to find a restaurant, with a name like Genki Living -- unless you already knew about it.

Seth and PE,

Thanks so much for the vote of confidence! About these crepes; they were definitely not like the typical variety that I've had or made myself before -- I think they use a flour that has a higher gluten content to get it to this thicker, leathery consistency. It actually functions more as a delivery device for the filling than being the star attraction itself.

 
At 9:12 AM, Blogger torta basilica said...

Their mango corn soup at the Indian counter is really good too - I sprinkle some Maldon salt on, swirl some lebni Kefir cheese in & top with their fried onions... and am in heaven!

 
At 10:47 AM, Anonymous c.g. said...

genki does mean enery/energetic, but like many japanese words, it has a different connotation when used in context. "o-genki desu ka?" has the same function as how are you. so you're basically asking the other person "how well/energetic are you?" then if you are well, you'd say, "genki desu!"

so GENKI LIVING can mean "healthy living a la japanese", which also means when you see the name "genki living", you can pretty much tell that it's not owned by native japanese. but it's all good. i've been to the genki living in rowland heights (fullerton and colima, in diamond plaza) and the crepes are delish, but the "taiwanized" okonomiyaki is not always available there.

(disclaimer: don't trust me 100%...i only took japanese 101 and 102 in college...years ago!!)

here's to "genki living"!

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger MEalCentric said...

Didnt even know this place existed. That shopping center really isnt on my radar but good to know you got an eye on the goings on in there.

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

torta,

I think you meant to comment about Wholesome Choice...but it's good to hear that the Indian counter is good...I haven't tried it because I keep getting side tracked by the koobideh...

c.g.,

Thanks for the explanation. Genki Living might have Japanese food, but it's definitely got a Taiwanese flavor...the soundtrack I heard playing over the speakers was in Mandarin.

Mealcentric,

I'm always on the lookout! Probably not going to try Pho Irvine anytime soon though.

 
At 5:07 PM, Blogger Ben Calvin said...

Thanks for making my annual visits to Irvine (family & Disneyland) a lot more fun. I'll have to go there with my 5-year old when I'm there in July.....

 
At 7:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks for reading Ben!

 
At 8:16 AM, Anonymous Julian Hsu said...

My daughter's preschool is on campus at IVC, so my wife and daughter tried this place yesterday on your recommendation. My daughter just wanted the ice cream, but my wife says it's better than the crepes at Boba Joe in Anaheim Hills. So, closer, better, always a good thing.

My admittedly minor quibble is that I've never quite seen a train like that in all of my travails in Japan. ;)

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Julian,

Glad you guys liked it.

The fake train is pretty fun to look at. At least the doors are kinda similar to a photo I saw of a Japanese subway platform.

I might have to go to the Genki Living in Rowland Heights to see what they got going on.

 
At 11:01 AM, Blogger oyshii ! said...

i went to the genki living in rowland heights before this one opened.. and the design of the other store is cute, too! i'm a total sucker for cutesy shit like this.. cool review.. i had no idea they had okonomiyaki. i usually just get a crepe & takoyaki.

 
At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you so much for this blog. Everytime I come home to OC from Norcal, I always felt like OC had a dearth of culinary novelty. Now I know I was mistaken. It's about time someone started a blog like this.

 
At 3:13 PM, Blogger 冬冬 said...

Elmo,
I had no idea this place existed!
Thanks for introducing it to us! :)

 
At 8:10 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

oyshii!

Gotta try the takoyaki. Love that stuff. Especially if it's got a big honking octopus tentacle in the center.

Anon,

Thanks for visiting! Read on. I plan on covering more about OC food that should dispell the myth that there aren't good eats here.

冬冬,

Hey no problem! I think you'd like this place.

 
At 11:29 PM, Anonymous miam miam said...

Got a chance to try this with the hubby. The okonomiyaki was tasty - I had the kimchi version and hubby had the osaka version. He was a bit unnerved by the writhing bonito flakes. :)

We also tried the crepes, of course. All I can say is YUMMY! A nice change from the usual types of desserts.

Thanks for another great entry and find in Orange County.

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

miam miam,

Hey thanks for reporting back! Good to know you liked it!

 
At 4:25 PM, Anonymous wendy said...

Hi Elmo! I love your blog! My husband and I decided to try this place out a few days ago and it was pretty good. I love crepes, but truth be told, I prefer the french kind over these.

Anyway, have you ever been to Ono Ono in RSM? We went there yesterday and WOW! Best food we had in a long time. We highly recommend the Asian coleslaw and Wasabi mashed potatoes.

 
At 2:02 AM, Blogger dave said...

Hi. I just want to say I love your blog. You are gifted in your writing skills.

A request... as someone who now considers Irvine home, it's been depressing to realize that there are few if any options for "late night" food. I mean, there is Denny's.. but I don't know of any more besides... Lee's Sandwhiches (fast food doesn't count). Maybe you can highlight some 24 hour joints within a 10 mile driving distance? A new category perhaps?

Cheers!

 
At 8:09 PM, Anonymous whowantscandy said...

As a previous commenter said, there's another Genki Living over in Rowland Heights. The Rowland Heights location has the same subway theme but also there's a clash of a sidewalk vendor shop inside as well.

What I like about the crepes at Genki's is they're cheap yet they also didn't skimp on the ingredients you ordered to go inside your crepe. The crispiness of the crepe fills that crunchy mood but then you get to the end and it's soft (and gooey if you get a crepe with nutella). I'm mostly a fan of crepes with Grand Marnier in the batter but since it's hard to find a place that does it in Orange County, Taiwanese style crepes are the next best thing.

And this is also speculation on my part, but I find it a bit ironic that while the name of the shop is Japanese, it's Taiwanese owned. It probably is some kind of current culture trend going on among Taiwanese youth where Japanese culture is now the 'in' thing; I remember a conversation partner of mine from Taiwan telling me that her sister is really into Japanese anything.

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Wendy,

You're right...I still prefer the French crepe as well. But I guess there's room in my stomach for both kinds! Haven't been to Ono Ono, but I'll have to look it up...sounds like my cup of tea.

Dave,

Hey thanks for visiting and leaving a comment! Late night? That's easy. Honda-Ya opens till 2 am I believe. The beer flows and the food is great! But a place open 24-hours? Hmm...not so easy.

Whowantscandy,

This trend is amusing to me. I guess whatever amalgamation yields good food is fine me.

 
At 6:24 PM, Anonymous whowantscandy said...

whatever amalgamation yields good food is fine me

I second this!

Btw, love your blog.

 
At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Joy said...

Elmo - LOVE your blog, keep it coming! FYI on the 24 hour restaurant thing, the only other one I know besides Denny's is Norm's. Sort of a Southern California version of Denny's, might be at least a good change of pace. Hey, at 3:00 am, what are you expecting? I think the hotcakes are fluffier, but it's been so long since I've had Denny's, I could be wrong...

Norm's, 2150 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa
www.normsrestaurants.com

 
At 4:50 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

whowantscandy and Joy,

Welcome to my little site. I'll be sure to keep writing if you guys keep reading.

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous ramen said...

awesome page, elmo. been there a few times and the dessert is pretty good.

genki means "good" by the way, not "energetic".

 
At 1:11 PM, Blogger ChristianZ said...

Just tried going for lunch at noon on a break from work and there was a handwritten note on their door saying they would not open until 3pm today. A coupon for them came in the mail yesterday along with good coupons for a bunch of other Irvine restaurants.

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

ChristianZ,

Thanks for the update. I wonder what was up? Are they not doing well? I will have to look for that coupon in my mail.

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

ramen,

Hey thanks for dropping by and for the clarification on the word "genki".

 
At 3:46 PM, Anonymous A. said...

But genki does mean energetic. It has many meanings!

Also, I know I'm late to this discussion, but just for the sake of posterity, the soba-based okonomiyaki served at Genki Living is traditional Hiroshima style. Very authentic! It's more common to see the batter-based Osaka style over here, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the Hiroshima style. :)

Thanks for this review- I never would have found this restaurant otherwise!

 
At 8:21 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

A,

No problem! I tried their takoyaki recently...MAN were they good. A little expensive, but GOOOOD!

 
At 11:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that train looks more like a MRT train from Taipei than that of Japan. Tried the place, pretty good, a new nice place to hang out.

 
At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went...it was pretty gud...nd not as expensive as some other places~

 
At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Singamama said...

Checked out Genki Living today. The Okonomiyaki, good. My son loves the croquettes. Another good trip Elmo. Well done. P.S: Cute young girls hang out there. Guys, watcha waiting for?

 
At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have an awesome blog going on! it's very helpful!

i just wanted to say (regarding this article) the REAL japanese version of a crepe isn't anything like the genki living version!

BUT it's the closest thing in irvine, so i shouldn't complain too much =)

 
At 4:49 PM, Anonymous gina said...

a location's opening in Garden Grove! :)

 
At 12:03 AM, Blogger simpleehmeeh said...

by the way, there is also a crepe place in westminster that is fairly new, called Heaven's Delight. on another note, i really like your reviews elmo! they are so entertaining & well written! i never even knew these food blogs existed! ahha i'll be sure to check out some of the places you've reviewed!

 
At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmomonster - you need to get another dictionary or at least ask anybody who grew up speaking even a little Japanese before posting. Genki in this context does not mean energetic, it's a very appropriate good health, good feeling, or good spirits like the common question of "o genki desu ka?"

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

So you're telling me English speakers (like myself) are apt to mangle the Japanese language just as badly as the Japanese do to English. Say it ain't so!! ;-)

Engrish.com anyone?

 
At 9:09 AM, Blogger Kerou said...

oh no! I think genki living shut down!

 
At 8:15 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kerou,

Thanks for the tip. I'll update this blog to note that they are now closed.

 
At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Jules said...

This place is already closed =(

We used to go there every weekend just to eat crepes *sad*

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger Michael said...

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