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.
1113 Baker St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
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