Restaurant Horikawa is hardly a new place to eat. It's been in the same location in Little Tokyo for 14 years. What is new is the revised lunch menu in the main dining room, an area that doesn't draw quite the crowd of the neighboring teppan room, where chefs briskly slash and grill the food in front of their customers.
Scanning the menu, one finds the tempura combinations, sukiyaki and teriyaki typical of most Japanese restaurants. But there are differences. Aside from the more common types of tempura, there is lobster tempura for a luxury lunch. And the sukiyaki not only tastes good, it looks wonderful the way it is served in a heavy metal pan set on a wooden frame.
One of the most interesting dishes, beef tataki, is buried in a list of appetizers. The beef--filet mignon--is seared on the top, but raw underneath. After searing, the meat is sliced, placed in a bowl and topped with a mixture of grated daikon and an incendiary Japanese red pepper paste called momiji oroshi. Over this go sliced green onions and sesame seeds. Except for the sesame seeds, it's like eating blood-rare carne asada with hot salsa. Even more layers of flavor are provided by a side dish of sliced raw garlic and a citrus-flavored soy sauce dip. When made with totally raw beef, the dish is called beef sashimi.
More Charm Than Flavor?
An appetizer with charm--perhaps more charm than flavor--is dobin-mushi, a miniature earthenware teapot that is brought to the table with a wedge of lime on top. The lime is meant to be squeezed into the contents, a light broth that contains bits of chicken, fish, shrimp and mushrooms. A tiny cup that appears at first to be part of the pot is removed and used for sipping the broth.
Another uncommon appetizer, deep-fried soft shell crab, seemed rather expensive at $5.25 for a single crab. Sushi and sashimi can be ordered either as appetizers or entrees. The first-course sushi sampler is a pretty presentation of several types, including the popular California roll, two pieces of each. If there is difficulty deciding among the three sushi plates offered as entrees, the waitress brings a book with photographs that show the selections.
Horikawa offers a variety of drinks to accompany the appetizers. One of the nicest for summer is plum wine, served over ice and garnished with a peeled fresh plum.
If lunching with a group that includes a few who would rather eat in the teppan room, there is a solution other than splitting up. The teppan people can simply order the teppan combination from the dining room menu. Like other entrees, it is accompanied by a choice of miso soup or mixed salad, a bowl of steamed rice and tea.
For the Non-Adventurous
The range of food permits the non-adventurous to have steak, broiled fish or chicken, while the exploratory can try the Horikawa bento (lunch box) or higawari ozen, a traditional Japanese lunch served in a collection of bowls and dishes grouped on a tray.
When I had it, the bento compartments contained tempura, sashimi, morsels of broiled salmon and fish cake and a little group of vegetables and tofu. Instead of the customary bowl of steamed rice, the rice was formed into small rolls that were sprinkled with some sort of green herb.
The composition of higawari ozen changes daily. Mine included an earthen bowl of oden, a soup of fish cake and assorted vegetables in a clear broth. Chinese mustard, the kind that ignites your nasal passages, is provided for dipping the oden ingredients. Another dish held blocks of cold tofu garnished with shredded bonito, grated ginger and sliced green onions. Broiled Spanish mackerel, Japanese-style omelet and shredded radish were in a third dish, while a tiny saucer held pickled cabbage and cucumber.
Cool and shadowy, the Horikawa dining room is a nice place to lunch during a heat wave, especially if you reserve one of the booths. Prices for lunch entrees range from $6.50 for vegetable tempura to a high of $11.50 for the lobster tempura.
Restaurant Horikawa, 111 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles, (213) 680-9355. Open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; to 11 p.m. Friday; 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday; 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Reservations recommended. Accepts major credit cards.