Harajuku Taproom Brings Japanese Pub Culture to Culver City

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Whenever anyone says they’re traveling to Vancouver, I whip out a very old entry on my phone — Zakkushi, and wax rhapsodic about the “sizzling skewers of Kushiyaki.” Zakkushi has two locations and on one trip, we ate at the one on Denman every single night we were there. While I’ve never been to Japan, those who have been, claim it’s the closet thing to authentic Japanese food, a combo of the eats and service.

Meanwhile, long ago, we tried the Sakura House in Marina del Rey, and sadly found it inferior to Zakkushi and reconciled ourselves to the fact we’d have to go back to Vancouver for some delicious Kushiyaki (for the record, Kushiyaki and Yakitori are interchangeable names for grilled skewers).

When the Harajuku Taproom opened up at the former Grey Block/Abbots/Dolce Vita location, it joined the list of CC restaurants we wanted to try (but parse out dining experience due to budget). Some restaurants even closed before we could try them. Off the top of my head, I think of the open-for-a-minute Ramen Roll (at the now seemingly cursed location of Washington Blvd. and Duquesne) and the heralded “butchery & gastropub” The Cannibal (which didn’t quite make the two-year mark).

At any rate (yes, I’m finally getting to it), we decided to try Harajuku. Eventually, I hope to be able to post a more extensive review, but for now, I can give it two snaps (out of two).  I went to their online reservation site, super easy to use, booked a table for three scheduled in 45 minutes. When we got there, the host immediately greeted me by name, and sat us immediately. We were adjacent to the outdoor patio, which has been given a considerable upgrade since the Dolce Vita days, of almost a decade ago. The cutest short-legged dog (who-is-no-one-of-ours) was on the patio with his family. The ambiance is convivial, and decor is modern Asian, with wood benches and chairs. A communal table sits in the center of the restaurant.

My two companions each had a beer (half-pint, think of the kind of glass they use to serve beer in France) both from the tap, and both enjoyed the brews. One had Three Weavers, the other a trendy Modelo-ish. I would give you the exact name but the Harajuku’s website links to the menu and beer list isn’t currently working.

It wasn’t my intent to write about it, so our sampling was limited (I like to say well-curated for the budget). We had two different kinds of chicken skewers, Japanese sausages (salty and rich, with a crisp casing and tender filling), Shinto Peppers (Smoky and quite complimentary to the beer, apparently), an albacore starter with small, crisp, fried onions that was our best selection of the evening, a large order of the Karage chicken (it comes with a Sirracha mayo, but I got some extra Ponzu on the side, yum!) and Gyoza, which, while good, lacked the layered flavors of most Gyoza — Harujuku’s was filled with finely ground meat, which was a tad dry. The wrapper of the Gyoza was cooked perfectly, with one side grilled brown and crispy; it scored on texture.

Families, couples and other groups were casually dressed and comfortable and a couple with two young (albeit very well behaved) children blended nicely. Because there’s little to cushion the room, it’s loud — which gives you an excuse to sit closer to your companion(s) or to daydream if you just can’t hear them.

Happy Hour features a dollar-off beer and dollar-off skewers and runs from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Harajuku Taproom

4410 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

Phone: (310) 398-9000

hjtaproom.com

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N.F. Mendoza is a Culver City resident, who has worked at the Los Angeles Times (staff writer), People Magazine (staff correspondent) and TV Guide (West Coast News Editor), among other publications. For several years, she was a regular reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter, an entertainment-industry trade publication. She has freelanced for Daily Variety, Readers Digest, USA Today, Emmy Magazine, Animation Magazine, The Seattle Times, Inside Television. Two columns she wrote weekly for the TV Times section of the Los Angeles Times were syndicated nationally. She is the author of four chapters of the book I (Heart) TV by the editors of TV guide. She currently teaches college-level composition and continues to work as a freelance writer and editor.

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