Sunday, September 26, 2004

Robata Yakitori in Fountain Valley versus Honda Ya in Tustin

I finally got a chance to try Shinsengumi Saturday night. The place was packed and noisy as heck. The servers and the cooks yell a greeting in sing-song unison as customers come in; as they order; as they ask for the check; as they leave! Since there were a lot of customers there that night, you can imagine how often that happened. It was in a word, quite a shock to us, who are Honda-Ya and Kappo Honda regulars who are used to quiet, demure, and barely there service. The servers at Shinsengumi are in-your-face friendly. We had, as I counted, four separate servers who came by our table every 5 minutes, asking us if everything was to our satisfaction, if we needed more water or a refill of their cabbage salad. The latter was heaped onto our communal cabbage plate using tongs out of a big colander one server carried around. Another server, noticing that we were undoubtedly new to the restaurant, showed us how to use the slightly green relish-like paste and vinegar to create a slurry, with which we were to dip our yakitori. There was also a young waitress there that night whose shrill voice rang through our ears and reverberated on the tile walls. Her energy was infectious, and prompted us to humorously comment to each other "Shoulda brought some ear plugs."

The food was also good, but in my opinion, almost on-par, but not better than Honda Ya. One standout, was the bacon wrapped quail eggs, although they called it PBS (or something like that), which stood for "Pork Belly Slice". The pork belly and quail egg went well together. It was sort of like a bite-sized breakfast on a stick! Asparagus with PBS was also good, but we noticed that it lacked the saltiness we were used to with yakitori. A lot of the flavor came from the vinegar dip we were using. Each stick was between $2.00 to $3.00 each.

Salmon with mushrooms was savory and deep in earthy flavor, but the salmon was a wee bit overcooked. Beef croquettes were crisp. Each order ($5) had two small croquettes served with tonkatsu sauce. Boiled clams came out swimming in a sake infused broth, flecked with green onions. The broth was refreshing, and not overpowered with sake as often is the case with this dish. Korean BBQ Steak was a big plate containing small lettuce leaves, seasoned bean sprouts, and sliced medium rare steak served with a mound of Korean chili/sesame paste. I think the proper way to eat this was to put a slice of steak, some of that chili paste and bean sprouts over a lettuce leaf, and then wrap the whole thing up like a taco and eat. It was delicious, although the steak could have been a little more tender.

Dessert was creme brulee served in a small souffle ramekin with a garnish of fresh fruit. A scoop of green tea ice cream was also ordered. The single scoop came topped with shaved chocolate and a cocktail drink umbrella. The cost of these two small desserts? $5 each. We remarked that they could have saved us a dollar or two by leaving out the cocktail umbrella. I did notice however, that the green tea ice cream had a homemade mouth feel to it. It was most likely made in-house, which would have explained why they charged so much for it.

The verdict from our group was that the service was excellent and the food good, but it was generally overpriced. The total cost for the night was $64 with tip. This came out to about $22 per person. By comparison, at Honda Ya, $13 per person would fill us up to the gills with more of a selection. At Shinsengumi, we had 4 dishes, 2 desserts, 6 sticks of yakitori for $64. At Honda Ya, for the same price, I would estimate, it would be 7 dishes, 4 desserts, 8 sticks of yakitori. Nonetheless, we were glad to have tried Shinsengumi. Next time, we will have to try Hakata Ramen (part of the same restaurant) next door.

Robata Yakitori, Shinsengumi
18315 Brookhurst St., #1
Fountain Valley, CA
Tel: (714)962-8971