Monday, August 23, 2010

Izakaya Meijiya - Costa Mesa

A guy walked into the new Izakaya Meijiya one quiet Sunday night. "Take-out?", he asked. Since the waitress didn't show up for work, it was up to the chef, a 30-ish guy with an affable face, to oblige him with a bow and the menu. But then, as if by telepathy or maybe intuition, the chef said "We don't have sushi or rolls" even before the customer had a chance to read a single word on their three-page menu.

"Oh," the gent said disappointed, "then nevermind."

The chef smiled and bowed again as the man left, presumably to get a Double Stack from the Wendy's drive-thru across the street. Pity he didn't stay, because if he had, he would've discovered the youngest and most charming izakayas in OC.

As you may already know, izakayas are, for lack of a better term, the Japanese version of a gastropub. The impossibly busy Honda-Ya in Tustin, for example, is an izakaya; and so is Kappo Sui in Costa Mesa, which also happens to be where Meijiya's cook defected from.

Here in this new and undiscovered place, he produces the same kinds of food typically consumed with chilled glasses of Sapporo, Kirin, or Asahi--items that run the gamut of cooking preparations: fried, steamed, stir fried, stewed, grilled and raw.

You'll see examples of the latter on their whiteboard, where a list of sashimi is constantly rotated. Thick slices of seared hamachi steaks rest on onion, ponzu and topped with a crispy fried slice of garlic. Ahi is presented plain to show off its vibrant maraschino-cherry red. Skin-on mackerel eats as tangy as yogurt; but skip their pasty and slightly bitter uni. For now, since the restaurant is still lacking in foot traffic, the raw sea urchin roe is too rarely ordered and thus, does not benefit from turnover.

I was suprised and delighted to find that their kani cream croquette isn't in the usual croquette form. Instead it's stuffed into a hollowed-out crab shell I assume previously held the meat. After extraction, the crab is mixed with a bechamel-based sauce, breaded, deep-fried and served aside lemon. You scoop out the blubbery-creaminess with a spoon as if it were crème brulée.

A runt-sized deep fried soft shell crab is done sans batter, its leathery carapace rendered crisp. Salmon is broiled simply, basted with a shimmer of sauce, and slightly overcooked. Looking like Pac Man ghosts, homemade shrimp shumai arrives fat and plump. We used ponzu sauce to dip and eat them emulating our favorite yellow video-game icon, though it's customary to use hot mustard.

In a small bowl, nostril-clearing wasabi and diced-up raw squid squiggled in a playfully chewy dish called shiokara--a term that encompasses a whole class of fermented seafood the Japanese usually chase down with alcohol.

Simply stir-fried spinach with garlic will be familiar to those who have dined at Honda Ya. Here it's not as oily and probably a few degrees healthier because of it. As a consequence, it's not as decadent. But decadent is the word I'm saving for the buta kakuni.

How else to describe the massive hunk of fatty pork belly simmered in broth flavored with sake, soy, and mirin. Meijiya serves it traditionally, with hard boiled eggs. The dish is one of my perennial izakaya favorites and here it melts even before you pick it up with chopsticks.

The yin to the pork belly's yang is a simply named seafood salad--a brisk, crisp, and well-constructed plate of iceberg lettuce and cuts of sashimi draped with ponzu perfect for cooling you off when the weather is hot and balmy.

No, they don't serve California rolls here, but who needs it? I hope that man who left enjoyed his Wendy's.

Izakaya Meijiya
1113 Baker St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 545-5175

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Beachwood BBQ - Seal Beach

17 Comments:

At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I particularly enjoyed the condescension in this review. Way to make an assumption about a guy based on pure speculation, then insult him based on your assumption. God forbid we enjoy sushi or even - gasp - Wendy's burgers.

 
At 9:37 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Hey fella! Was that you? Because it sounds like you're taking what was a throwaway line quite personally. Obviously you didn't get the tongue-in-cheekiness of what I said, because I, too, enjoy sushi (even from Sushi Boy sometimes) and Wendy's (for the spicy nuggets and baked potato). Take it easy dude, it's all good.

 
At 10:18 AM, Blogger mark said...

elmomonster, you forget the internet is serious business, haha.

Awesome review. I will check it out. And thanks for posting pictures of the menu as they help me budget my food outings.

 
At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Karrie said...

Great review.
I'm always looking for a new japanese place to take the bf's parents.
They've eaten at almost all of the japanese places, so it's hard to suggest a restaurant.

Very helpful.

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

This is so very much my kind of menu. I think I'm going to grab my favorite local foodie friend and go after vacation. Thanks for the review and the info!

 
At 2:55 PM, Anonymous JB said...

Looks great...awesome photography of the food, as usual. It's also a true diamond-in-the-rough...the location in that strip mall is one of the grittiest in the 92626 part of Costa Mesa.


BTW...the Wendy's you apparently referred to closed about 5 years ago. It was demolished and replaced by a Sav-On (now CVS) pharmacy. I'm disappointed, Elmo...only the OC Register usually makes such egregious journalistic flubs.....

 
At 5:23 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Ha, the last two posts on my blog are on Japanese restaurants and you come along with another Japanese restaurant review! What a coincidence. :)

Wonder how the guy would have felt if he actually ordered! And I agree, that uni doesn't look very delicious.

 
At 5:52 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

mark,

...you forget the internet is serious business, haha.

Yeah, apparently! Especially for guys who like Wendy's.

BTW, the meal you see in this post cost about $100 for my party of three. But we did get to try 12 items in all!

Karrie,

If your BF's parents are familiar with Kappo Sui, they'll like this place: very similar!

Melissa,

Can't wait to hear what you think. I prefer it over Honda Ya right now, because, well Honda Ya is too much of a hassle to get into these days.

JB,

Well shucks! I try to make a flippant reference to a Wendy's that ended up pissing off a particularly sensitive reader, and what do you know: the Wendy's isn't even there anymore! Figures.

Now that I think about, I should've known that Wendy's is gone. After you mentioned it, I now recall that one of the workers of the defunct Costa Mesa Wendy's was transferred to the Wendy's on Culver in Irvine (my usual haunt for baked potatoes and nuggets) and when I ate there, she recognized me! She probably even said that the Costa Mesa one was shuttered.

Anyway, I wasn't kidding when I say I frequent Wendy's. The cashier at the Culver store knows me well. His name is Russell.

EatTravelEat,

If the guy stayed, he would've been very happy. But an izakaya is best when you dine with a lot of people with a lot of beer! So it's probably better if he came back next time with at least one friend.

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger digkv said...

You know what else is good at Wendy's? Their bbq bacon chicken deluxe sandwich, it's eerily good. I think anon thought you were some sort of food snob when you are probably the least snobbiest food blogger out there! Anyways, how late does izakaya open til? Hard to find a restaurant open as late as Honda-ya and kappa without the long wait.

 
At 7:01 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Hey!!! I like Wendy's and I like sushi... la la la... la la la laaaa...

 
At 6:50 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Ooh! I adore soft shelll crab! I've only ever had it fried. Would love to try it unfried.

It's a shame about the uni. Uni is usually a favorite of mine.

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger Exile Kiss said...

Hi elmomonster,

Nice review. :) Thanks for the 411 on this new place. I'll have to try it the next time I visit my friends in the area. Did you end up liking this more or less than Kappo Honda (or Honda Ya)?

 
At 6:46 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

digkv,

HEH HEH! Thanks for the compliment. And how late does Meijiya open? That's a good question. I tried to call just now, but then of course, they're not open at 6:43 in the morning (nor do they have a recording). If I can recall correctly, we were there past 9 pm. One thing's for sure: there will be no wait.

Bill,

HA!

Juliet,

Mine too! Oh well, there's plenty of sea urchin gonads in the sea!

Exile Kiss,

I was hoping you'd pick up on this. I would say, quite honestly, I much prefer this over Honda Ya now (just for the wait). Though I must say that Meijiya's portions are a little smaller.

 
At 12:39 AM, Anonymous polar said...

Hey MM,

i love izakayas~ I have to try this one out. Looks very promising.

On the flip note: there's an izakaya opening up in the same plaza as Panera and Lucille's, across the street from the cerritos mall, on the South Street side. Also, a new sushi joint popped up as well. i know you're in that neck of the woods so.. heh

 
At 5:59 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

polar,

Interesting! I hadn't expected an a sushi joint, let alone an izakaya to open up in that area of Cerritos. That's awesome!

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger Lauren said...

went here this past friday and we loved it. :) thanks for the recommendation.

 
At 3:49 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Lauren,

Thanks for the feedback! So glad you liked it!

 

Post a Comment

<< Home