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Where to gather for sakana and sake

November 09, 2005|Linda Burum

Even as we go to press there are more izakaya opening their doors throughout Southern California. Here are the many we love, but this is not an exhaustive list. Kanpai!

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Hollywood/West Hollywood

Geisha House. A fantasyland of classical and illusory Japanese images and forms with mysterious red-lighted alcoves, fireplaces and swaths of kimono provides a backdrop for excellent sashimi plates, robata-style grills, and hot and cold dishes. 6633 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 460-6300; www.geishahousehollywood.com

Ita-Cho. This spartan kappo restaurant introduced ippinmono to Hollywoodites who show up nightly to graze. What's on the menu? Classical Japanese preparations of whatever the chefs decide is right for the moment. 7311 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 938-9009.

Izakaya Yuzu. You will want to stay awhile at this cozy, wood-paneled room with an upstairs conversation area that describes itself as a "Japanese tavern." Sample the yuzu-doused tuna carpaccio, sauteed mild shishito peppers or Chinese leek omelet with your tipple of wheat shochu, premium sake or fruity Japanese Kosyu wine. 8711 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-2067.

Katana. "Our food comes from three kitchens," the waiter will explain to first-timers dining at this trend-setting Hollywood spot ensconced in a stunning '20s-era Mediterranean structure. Nibble on grilled robata foods from the display speared on slender skewers, long-simmered home-style dishes in miniature, sushi -- or a little of each. 8439 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 650-8585; www.katanarobata.com

Sake House Miro. Young women with streaked hair in denim microskirts and bobby socks and their Blackberry-toting dates populate the heavy wooden tables at this hipster spot that reveals the Japanese fascination with late '50s-era Tokyo memorabilia. A faux alley at the rear of the bar is lined with replicas of old storefronts, signage and posters while Asian movie one-sheets grace the dining room walls. Multiple menus offer satay-like skewers of grilled kushiyaki, sushi rolls, fruit juice-laced shochu "martinis" and the kind of quick-bite snack food found everywhere in urban Japan. 809 S. La Brea Blvd., Los Angeles (323) 939-7075; www.sakehousemiro.com.

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Gardena/South Bay

Azuma Izakaya. Three grill chefs send out excellent food until midnight from a menu with at least 100 items. Sake drums and beer kegs stacked in a corner decorate the dining room, which has the feel of a '40s-era coffee shop and is usually packed. Here, mussels come perfectly tender, and the sashimi in the crisp salad is sparkling fresh. 16123 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (310) 532-8623.

Beaux. Corrugated aluminum siding decorates the walls of this South Bay design-forward restaurant serving Japanized Mediterranean cuisine such as flash-fried calamari, spicy cod roe spaghetti, scallop gratin and seafood salad tossed with garlic vinaigrette. 21605 S. Western Ave., Torrance, (310) 320-5820.

Daruma. One of the city's earliest izakaya, it's still a home away from home for many Japanese corporate employees. The menu is organized in the traditional way, according to cooking styles (sashimi, grilled, fried or stewed), and there's karaoke. 15915 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (310) 323-0133.

Iccho. In the shopping-intensive locale of Rolling Hills Plaza, this family-style izakaya comforts everyone with an enormously long menu that seems to offer the entire repertoire of traditional Japanese cuisine as well as novelties such as kimchi fried with pork and caterpillar sushi rolls. 25310 Crenshaw, Torrance, (310) 325-7273.

Japonica. Curtained booths allude to the tatami rooms of the past at this sleek South Bay looker serving great food and an extensive sake list that includes several flights. Every dish, including crunchy fried baby Spanish mackerel, fresh salmon roe omelet and seared albacore with spicy sauce, confirms the kitchen's skill. 1304 1/2 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, (310) 316-9477; www.japonicadining.com.

Kan Izakaya Yuzen. Hidden in a shopping center, this modern izakaya and its beautiful food are worth seeking out. Ultra-fine as well as more modest sakes (ask for the bound notebook that holds the labels) have been smartly selected to pair with the modern Japanese fare here. 2755 Pacific Coast Highway (Torrance Towne Center), Torrance, (310) 530-7888.

Musha. The loud, chaotic (and fun) Torrance branch is a contrast to the more sedate (and fun) Santa Monica location of this anything-goes pub where European ingredients and concepts (roasted garlic, dips and crackers) are incorporated into Japanese pub fare. 1725 Carson St., Torrance, (310) 787-7344.

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