Umamimart Writers' Dinner: Robata Jinya (LA)
On a particularly temperate Los Angeles evening, three Umamimart writers (one a founding member), and an Umamimart photographer, joined three Umamimart supporters and friends for a lovely dinner at Robata Jinya in West Hollywood, CA. Of the diners, two were strict vegetarians, one a somewhat new carnivore and the rest more of the “don’t knock it until you try it” stock.
West Hollywood seems to be a curious place for a Japanese restaurant, renowned for their delicious, traditional preparations, praised by food enthusiasts and critics alike. But Jinya in no way feels out of place. The menu expertly serves options of sushi, ramen, various small plates and robata-yaki (a Japanese grilling technique) in no particular order.
We started with a few beers and a glasses of sake. The sake was served traditionally in a narrow glass which sat in a wooden box to catch the overflow. The taste was light, floral and refreshing.
A few “must order” recommendations included the shrimp toasts, the homemade organic tofu and the ramen.
The tofu is made to order and prepared table side, so when the waiter poured hot soy milk into the bowl of milky white paste, we were curious how things would turn out.
Then we were instructed to wait 10 minutes while the tofu solidified. Once it did, we added the perfectly proportioned accoutrements of grated ginger, dried bonito and ponzu sauce. The taste was like nothing we’d had before. Everyone was impressed by the creamy, delicate flavor of what looked like homemade cream of wheat.
Tofu still firming up
Once it's ready, add toppings and eat!
As we finished the tofu, more small plates, and the grilled items arrived.
Spicy tuna roll on crispy rice, topped with jalapeño
The reviews were right! The shrimp toasts, made of a sweet bean curd and creamy shrimp mixture, were similar to a seafood pannini and arrived stacked in slices like a game of Jenga.
The okra was skewered and grilled to perfection as was the sweet, but substantial, Japanese pumpkin.
Shishitou and maitake mushrooms
From left: Sunagimo (gizzard); breast with wasabi; tsukune (chicken meatball)
A call back to European influence was the sukiyakai croquette, which takes the sukiyaki mixture of sliced meat, soy sauce, sugar, eggs, and mirin (Japanese cooking wine), rolled into a ball and fried like a croquette.
The miso black cod was served on a crisp butter lettuce leaf and could easily be mistaken for butter, both in taste and presentation.
We held a beat then moved onto the ramen and the sushi.
The simple ramen menu is designed in a minimalist style similar to that of In-N -Out burger--you have a few good choices, which you can tweak to your liking if you know what to ask for. We ordered the Miso Tonkotsu Ramen with Sapporo braised pork. This place gets a big “W” for offering up half portions of ramen, which allow diners the option to try a variety of things and not fill up on this satisfying incarnation pork, noodles and salt.
Nicely cooked side of egg for ramen
Simultaneously the sushi arrived, a beautiful selection of uni and, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, the most impressive dish of the night, the vegetable sushi roll. Sarah Fatemi aka Jerkey, Umamimart writer and fellow diner describes the incredible dish below.
JERKEY: Listen up vegetarians: this dish is the closest thing to fish nigiri you can eat without actually eating fish. The chefs clearly went through painstaking measures to adapt these simple and ordinarily subtle ingredients into wonderfully surprising emulations.
The 7-piece consists of (arranged in order by picture above):
- Roasted red bell pepper, skin removed, with a delicate jalapeno slice and wasabi underneath;
- Eggplant, skin removed, with ginger;
- A thick mushroom slice with a shaving of black truffle. Make sure your tongue touches the truffle first to pick up the flavor;
- Eringi mushrooms in a delicate ponzu;
- Okra with an intensely flavorful red puree of citrus and spice;
- Pickled lotus root thinly sliced, wrapped around shiso leaf for a hint of aromatic;
- Sliced avocado with yuzu kosho.
All of the vegetables are then laid on top of perfectly made sushi rice. This unique dish is unlike any other typical "veggie roll" and outshines even the best futomaki you can imagine.
Robata Jinya is a great place to take a group, the ambiance and menu allow for a casual, languorous dining experience and a menu that truly offers something for everyone.
We punctuated our evening by asking the waiter to take a group picture. After some technical problems and about five false starts, we took a picture to commemorate the very special venue that tied everything wonderful about Umamimart together.
From left: Tomo, Megan, Jerkey, Kayoko, Thomas, Sarah, Caroline
Thanks to Kayoko and to the extended Umamimart family of contributors, readers and supporters. I look forward to meeting you on the next adventure. Until then, Kanpai!
*Photos by Thomas Young and Kayoko Akabori