Friday, August 5, 2011

Where to Eat: The 2nd Annual Japanese Beer Garden @ CHAYA Downtown

LA livin' has sooo many lovely perks: the beaches, the celeb sightings, the beautiful people. Yet two of my all-time favorite aspects of living here are:

#1) the blending of cultures to bring about incredible
new creations (think Thai tacos, Spanglish phrases, kosher sushi, etc., etc.)


#2) the never-ending California sunshine (this one's a given,  especially since it keeps so many people here, year after year).

Lucky for me – and for you too if you appreciate cultural fusions and temperate weather  – I found a place to get plenty of these LA staples: at CHAYA Downtown’s Japanese Beer Garden. For the second year in a row, this upscale French-Japanese restaurant has transformed its outdoor patio into a lively, festive Japanese garden, complete with colorful floating lanterns, an al fresco bar, an authentic Yakitori grill flown straight in from Japan and special happy hour items until close.

What’s marvelous about this summer series is that it’s super relaxing and chill. It truly feels as if you’re lounging in an immensely lush, green oasis that just happens to be in the midst of the rugged, concrete jungle of downtown Los Angeles. Not to mention, there’s nothing like being able to snag delectable drinks and appetizers from one of the top international restaurants at prices so reasonable, it's almost shocking.

Let’s check out some of the items featured in the Japanese Garden:
The Grilled White Corn with Feta Cheese ($5). This appetizer puts a Japanese twist on the widely popular Mexican corn snack. Grilled corn is smothered with a mayonnaise sauce, crumbly feta cheese and Japanese chili spices. Although it looks like it would be messy to eat, it’s actually not; it’s cut into small pieces so you can easily pick it up with your fingers and savor each bite.

The Yakitori Skewers ($2). These tender, mouth-watering skewers are grilled right in front of you on the patio’s Yakitori grill. Choose from chicken, beef tongue, beef, shrimp, shiitake mushroom…and my favorite…the bacon wrapped date. I say grab one of each to share with friends, or to eat all by yourself.

The Kimchi Flatbread ($7). A doughy flatbread is topped with cheese, cilantro and tangy kimchi. It’s an interesting combination of flavors…challenging to describe, because I’ve never tasted anything like it! I say try it once for the experience!

The Soy Braised Short Rib Sukiyaki Style ($9). Our waitress said that this appetizer is one of the most popular ones and she highly recommended it to me. After a few bites, I could see why: the pork of these bite-sized short ribs literally falls right off the bone and instantly melts in your mouth... A winner indeed!

 The Sake Sangria ($6 per glass; $14 per pitcher). This is the drink of the summer. It’s a twist on the classic Spanish beverage, with sake instead of wine and a vibrant orange  instead of the normal light red. A large jug of it sits on the al fresco bar and goes quickly, so make sure to order a pitcher so that you have enough throughout the evening.

Rock Sake Cloud Saketini ($6). Vibrant, colors are boldly stacked on one another, and as you sip it, subtly blend together. It’s sweeter and smoother than a regular vodka-based martini.

Russian Blues ($6). OK, so one isn’t on the Japanese Garden menu. It’s actually on the regular happy hour menu. But I just had to throw it in here because it’s such a spectacular summer cocktail! It incorporates loads of blueberries – both fresh and pureed – along with vodka and sweet 'n' sour.
And although it technically is a beer garden, I’m not that into beer, so I didn’t order any, and consequently have no pictures of any of the beers (sorry!). I can tell you, though, that there is a variety of premium Japanese beer available by the pint or by the pitcher, including: Kirin, Sapporo Light, Orion, Asahi Dry and Echigo. Also available are two whiskeys: the Hibiki 12 Year Blended Whiskey and the Yamazaki 18 Year Single Malt Whiskey.

So what are you waiting for? The next time you find yourself stuck in traffic going up Fig or turned around by downtown's random one-way streets, take a breather and escape to this wonderful happy hour series.

See you there soon!
Miss Wilson’s Tips (So you know “what’s up” when you go):-While I personally support sitting on one of the booths on the decorative outdoor patio, you technically can order items off the Japanese Garden menu inside the restaurant.
- Fun fact: CHAYA Downtown is a part of the larger CHAYA Restaurant Group, which has been in operation for 390 years. The group has two restaurants in Japan and four in California (also in Beverly Hills, Venice and San Francisco).
- The Japanese Garden is held on weekdays, from 5 p.m. until close (10 p.m.). Hurry and head there – it’s going only until September 2nd!

For more information:
CHAYA Downtown

525 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90071

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