Friday, October 14, 2011

Where to Eat: Peruvian-Japanese Cuisine @ Osaka

Have you ever felt a connection to a restaurant (or bar or lounge or club) simply for all of the amazing times you had there?

When I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, my friends and I (pictured above) would constantly frequent this fabulous restaurant Osaka. We had started going because it had amazing dishes and cocktails. Yet what comes to mind now, is not any specific wine or appetizer; it’s only the memories; the feelings of drunken pleasure that would wash over us after a couple of hours of sitting in Osaka’s upstairs dining room, our stomachs filled with really good food and our minds inspired from our boisterous conversations.

So when I recently found out that this Peruvian-Japanese restaurant had arrived in Los Angeles after several years in the making, my heart leaped for joy. I’ll admit that it leaped more so from all of the fond college recollections that suddenly washed over me, but I eagerly attended a media dinner this past week at the restaurant with the hopes to find out if I could see myself making some new memories at this Hollywood location.

Once I finally found Osaka after driving up and down Hollywood Blvd. a few times (the entrance is set further back from the street in an all black building, with “Osaka” spelled out in black letters lit by a neon red glow), I did a double take. I sort of stopped in my tracks and then paused to take it all in.

To my left and right, water cascaded down two rock walls, surging into a small pond where several large smooth stones jutted out to form a pathway leading to Osaka’s entrance. Talk about a grand statement. And that was just the entrance. From there I walked into the front bar area, which was dark and refreshingly cool, with tea candles impishly twinkling amidst shadows. It reminded me of a cave, and I immediately made a mental note to grab drinks there with a hot, hot date in the future.

I wandered into the Pisco Garden (pictured below), an airy section that deceivingly seems to be outdoors, although it’s actually all enclosed. The garden felt like a place that would stimulate hearty conversation and good laughs, with its red accents and Japanese elms, scattered amongst tan wooden fixtures.

I eventually settled down into the main dining area, doused in warm, earthy tones. With its minimal sleek design and straight lines embedded its design, this room reminded me the most of the Buenos Aires Osaka.

In the main dining area, about two dozen of us experienced quite a few items off the menu through a four-course tasting: Osaka’s legendary ceviche and tiraditos, a few sushi rolls, appetizers, a handful of miniature entrees and dessert. Out of all of the courses, I was most impressed with the “Tiraditos and Ceviche” (pictured below) and the appetizers. With their own unique personalities and visually engaging presentations, they were fun (yes fun) to eat, beckoning us to examine them, talk about them, touch them.

The tiraditos, which is the Peruvian version of Japanese sashimi, included thin slices of raw fish topped with tangy spices and sauces. In the Halibut Nikkei Tiradito, the Halibut literally melted in my mouth and the spices didn’t overpower the flavor of the fish. The Tuna Nitai Tiradito had this amazing coconut milk sauce and Osaka’s special secret Chinese seven spices. Smack in the middle of our tiraditos was the Aji Amarillo Ceviche (pictured above, in the middle), which wasn’t your typical blend of raw fish, citrus juices and onions; there were these crunchy Peruvian corn nuts and crispy wontons, adding an unexpected yet pleasant texture.

I had a blast with the bite-sized samples of Osaka’s appetizers (pictured above). The Evil Scallops came doused in a secret sweet sauce, pompously resting in an oyster shell (if you order the regular small plate, there are six of them, with a flame in the middle of the plate.) They’re considered “evil” because they’re more on the fiery side, but if you’re used to spicy foods like me, they’re nothing that you can’t handle. I was a little too excited to try the Crab Causita, a twist on the traditional “Causa” Peruvian coastal dish, which has a potato and aji amarillo base, and a seafood topping. In Osaka’s case, the seafood was this delicious stone crab meat mixed with avocado and rocoto cream. The Tori Anticucho, or skewers of tender grilled chicken with ginger and a Japanese cream cheese sauce, was substantially filling, and the Kanitan, is similar to a square wonton filled with crab meat.

The two miniature entrĂ©es I tried were the Pulpo Panka Miso and the Shiromi Wrap, pictured above left to right, respectively (because I don’t eat beef, I didn’t take a bite out of the Truffle Kobe Skirt Steak that was also offered). A rich, flavorful miso paste that reminded me of tangy BBQ sauce covered the octopus in the Pulpo Panka Miso dish. A fellow writer Han, who has eaten octopus frequently, felt that Osaka had prepared the octopus more like meat than seafood. It was my first time eating octopus, so I had no idea what was going on, but I thought the Pulpo tasted quite lovely. The Shiromi Wrap came in a small bowl and reminded me of a hearty stew, with Halibut and a few asparagus stalks encased in banana leaves.

The TNT roll and Carpassion Salmon Sushi that I ate didn’t blow me away. But the way one of the servers ranted and raved about the Spicy Crunchy roll with quinoa-crusted shrimp and the Terimaki roll with salmon, lime and teriyaki sauce, I’m down to give Osaka’s sushi another shot one of these days for sure.

My night ended with Banana Spring Rolls accompanied by a fabulous ice cream made right on the premises.

I left Osaka pleasantly content. I liked the food and I loved the ambiance. It felt like a sophisticatedly urbane hideaway to have the perfect introduction to Peruvian-Japanese cuisine. It’s a classy place – for business, for pleasure – for cocktails, for dinner – as a destination for the evening, or as a precursor to an adventurous night in Hollywood.Would I go there again – and as much as I went to the Buenos Aires location? I can confidently say that I would. I mean, I’ve seriously already started recommending it to a ton of people in the past 50 hours since I’ve left it.

And there you have it. May we all make pleasant memories at the Los Angeles Osaka. See you there soon!

Miss Wilson’s Tips (So you know “What’s Up” When You Go): 

- Forget about gin and vodka; go for pisco! Pisco is the Peruvian version of brandy, and there’s a whole list of cocktails made with it. There’s also a wide variety of sake, wines and other drinks to choose.

- The insider’s tip: There’s a secret menu. Although one of the servers teasingly insisted that the ingredients of the delicious oyster sauce in the "Evil Scallop" appetizer was confidential information, she did offer that you can also order Parmesan scallops, which are not listed on the regular menu. She recommended ordering half of the original scallops and half of the Parmesan scallops.

- I have to give big props to the servers. They were incredible. They knew so much about each dish and were so friendly.

- Fun fact: Although the Osaka restaurant group hails from South America, Hollywood’s Osaka owner Adolfo Suaya isn’t new to the Los Angeles restaurant scene at all. He’s opened a ton of restaurants, including Gaucho Grill, Sushi Roku, Dolce and the former BoHo, to name a few.

For more information:
6327 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

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