No sooner had I posted on social media that I was headed to California, then my good friend and fellow colleague, Satoshi Ito, sent me a text to see if I was available for some Japanese dining while I was in LA. I promptly replied, "When and where?"
Satoshi recommended Torihei, a lively little joint located in a strip-mall (as all worthy eating establishments that buck the stand-alone restaurants these days tend to be located) serving charcoal-grilled meats on skewers and small plates. Tapas, whether it's Spanish, Chinese (dim-sum) or Japanese (yakitori and/or izakaya style) is probably my favorite way to eat out. It provides the perfect excuse to meet up with friends and enjoy a variety of dishes that are meant to be shared by everyone at the table.
Torihei is warm and inviting, and you're greeted by both a blast of smoky heat and cheerful greetings from the cooks behind the line as you walk in the door. Servers move swiftly throughout the dining room with plates of grilled yakitori and glasses of Japanese beer, but they're not opposed to pausing briefly for a chat with dinners, the majority of whom are clearly locals. This is definitely a neighborhood joint.
My sister and I arrive early and ordered fresh fruit (think yuzu and lychee) and soda cocktails, browsing the seemingly endless list of plates - mostly yakitori (chicken) but with a few oddities we were questionable about. When Satoshi arrived with his girlfriend, Haruko, we promptly slid the menus across the table and requested that they order for the table - always the best choice when you're lucky enough to share dinner with folks who know what they're doing.
We were not disappointed to say the least. The meal started out with marinated cucumbers and tomatoes, served with a dish of chilled chicken skin in soy sauce. Jen and I fought over the last piece of chicken skin.
This was followed by a seemingly endless parade of chicken yakitori: Negima (chicken thigh skewer with leeks), Momo (chicken thigh on it's own), Tsukune (meatballs made of minced chicken, egg, vegetables and spices), Reba (chicken livers), Hato (chicken heart), Karaage (fried chicken) and Nankotsu (chicken cartilage - which we were wary of but turned out to be one of our favorites!). We also enjoyed chicken thigh draped with melted cheese, perhaps a local more than traditional form of yakitori.
As good as the chicken was, it wasn't all chicken, all night long. Two non-chicken plates that featured honey - an ingredient I don't usually identify with Japanese cuisine - turned out to be favorites for us. The first was chicken liver pate served with grilled bread and honey.
Crispy bread topped with deep, minearlly chicken liver and the surprising sweetness of honey simply worked.
The standout dish for me was probably the naughtiest of the evening: fried sweet potato fries served with Kewpie Japanese mayo ... and honey.
Honey and mayonnaise? Yes, especially if it's the already slightly sweeter Kewpie mayonnaise. At that point in the evening I wasn't questioning anything. I remembered that dish days later and as I made the long drive home from LA days after that.
So I gave up and made some when got home, and it's so easy and so yum that I'm passing along my recipe for it here. In an effort to make it slightly less "bad" I opted to bake my fries rather than fry them. But there are no shortcuts for the mayo and the honey. Nor should there be. I tossed my fries in a bit of shichimi spice and sprinkled a bit of it on my mayo as well, but you can forgo the heat if you'd like.
This meal, as most that I share good friends like Satoshi, Haruko and my sister Jen who I do not see often enough, will stay with me.
Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Japanese Mayo and Honey
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon of shichimi togarashi (or spice of your choice, like cayenne pepper)
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 450-degrees. Rinse the potatoes and slice them into evenly sized planks. In a bowl, mix the potato fries with 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil, cornstarh, shichimi (if using) and salt and pepper to season.
Spread the fries in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Flip the fries with a large spatula and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until potatoes are easy to pierce with a fork and starting to get crispy.
To serve, simply squeeze some Kewpie mayo in a bowl and spoon honey over the mayo. If you'd like, sprinkle with shichimi. Enjoy!