YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

EATS: in and around the Valley | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Hot Off the Hibachi

Yakitori bar pairs skewered, grilled chicken and beer.


A good part of my youth was misspent in a famous Tokyo yakitori pub named Torigin, which specialized in draft beer and assorted chicken parts charbroiled on wooden sticks. I have no regrets.

Now the Valley has a true yakitori bar, the newly opened Sumiya. The name could be loosely translated as House of Carbon, and Sumiya brags that its hibachis are fueled with imported Japanese charcoal. Personally, I wouldn't know, not having cultivated a palate for charcoal.

Sumiya is a brightly lit room full of coffee shop-style vinyl booths and office lobby-type poster art. A red lantern, signifying a drinking establishment, hangs from the front door. The windows are plastered with handwritten signs in Japanese and fractured English. The most important of the latter reads "natural raise chicken."

Although a booth may be more comfortable, I recommend sitting at the counter, to watch the food prepared by three grill men, and they're a serious bunch. They deftly manage all the skewers of eggplant, chicken skin, chile peppers, gizzards and other dishes their predominantly Japanese-born clientele orders.

Service is performed by youthful waitresses clad in traditional Japanese happi coats. A happi coat is not to be confused with a happy meal, which here, according to a poster on the wall, is your choice of three yakitori sticks and a draft Bud for $3.95.

Wherever you sit, you'll be handed three menus: a paper sushi checklist, a paper yakitori checklist and a menu for ordering combination dinners with salad, miso soup and rice. (The first thing to do is politely hand the sushi list back to the waitress. In Japan, no self-respecting yakitori bar would think of selling sushi.)

There is also a blackboard menu that features some good dishes. Shishiamo is a plate of smoky grilled smelts which have been spared the skewer treatment. (By the way, it's customary to eat these fish head and all.) Satsuma age are homemade fish and potato cakes fried to a crisp, served with salty Japanese pickles. There is also a stew called niku jaga, usually made with pork but here in a surprisingly health-conscious version: ground free-range chicken, carrots and potatoes, with a rich chicken broth.

I advise saving the main part of your appetite for dishes from the yakitori list. It's perfect for chasing with cold bottles of Ichiban Shibori, Kirin's premier bottled beer. Drinking beer or sake is precisely the point at a yakitori bar.

Chicken's the thing here--soy-glazed chicken grilled crisp and brown. Some of the best skewers to order are ground chicken and tsukune (char-grilled leeks and sweet soy-glazed ground chicken meatballs).

Of course, kawa, or chicken skin, is a bit daunting for most Westerners, but I rather like it when cooked extremely well done; it reminds me of the Jewish dish of chicken cracklings, gribenes. Practically in the chicken category is uzura, tiny boiled quail eggs (no kidding) which have been skewered and grilled.

There are also vegetable skewers, the best probably being okra. It's appealingly crunchy; grilling seems to reduce the vegetable's slimy texture. Another good vegetable is asparagus wrapped bacon.

Ground (or "grounded," as the menu has it) pork and onion is a delicious combination. One of the menu's most unusual dishes is pork with shiso leaf. The oddly medicinal flavors of shiso, a relative to basil, dominate the mild, sweet flavors of the lean, chunk pork.

A great way to sample the menu--and a bargain--is the Sumiya full course: seven yakitori plus ground chicken and rice, salad and ice cream.


Sumiya, 4517 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Lunch Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner daily 5:30-10:30 p.m. Dinner for two, $23-$35. Beer and wine only. Street parking. All major cards. (818) 995-8580. Suggested dishes: satsuma age, $3.75; niku jaga, $3.75; skewered okra, $3; tsukune, $3; Sumiya full course, $16.

Los Angeles Times Articles