Hot Pot Plain and Sweet at Yojié Downtown

Twelve "sumo" ounces of angus beef
Twelve "sumo" ounces of angus beef
Ben Calderwood

Laker fans nosing about downtown for dinner, a flatscreen TV and a means to circumvent the pulsating cacophony of L.A. LIVE are welcome at Yojié, the hybrid swish-swish house a few blocks off the Figueroa drag at Olympic and Grand. You can sample two kinds of nabemono, Japanese hot pot, side by side in a glossy dual-compartment steel kettle and browse an enlightened premium sake list. Considering the novelty nihonshu concoctions on the menu, among them the Judo Chop and bottomless Sake Sangria on Sunday, you'll probably stymie the barback if you order the good stuff.

Such guileless juxtaposition is everywhere at Yojié Japanese Fondue & Sake Bar. FIDM kids from the campus across the road share the Crown Royal-purple space with happy hour castoffs from ESPN Zone. Service is friendly but inattentive and shabu shabu, the broth little more than boiling water seasoned with a slip of seaweed, sits astride the much sweeter sukiyaki, enriched with mirin, sugar and soy. Ordering both results in a kind of edible yard sale. Your table is soon buried under a chaotic display of platters, sauces and sides and maintaining any degree of culinary rigor--for instance, the beef you swirled in the shabu shabu broth is best dipped in ponzu spiked with daikon, rather than the sukiyaki's fresh beaten egg--becomes impossible. And we haven't even discussed the four flavors of chocolate fondue for dessert.

The customary nabe path from bubbling pot to belly--marbled shavings of raw beef steeped in broth until their color barely shifts and hopscotched from sauce to sauce to rice bowl--is a fun game to play. Yojié's Angus is fine enough for tartare, dewy, mellow and skeined with fat. A 12-ounce platter is a reasonable 22 dollars and sufficient for a light dinner for two (a five-dollar sharing fee applies if you don't order a second entrée). There is little incentive to upgrade to Kobe-style--the nuances of the richer beef will evaporate the moment you drape the meat across the broth. Hot pot sides like Napa cabbage, udon, cold tofu, enoki mushroom and nested squiggles of konnyaku arrive fresh and ready for a vigorous steam, not wilted from a pre-plated stay in the walk-in. Scallops and shrimp do nicely in either broth, but boiling sushi-grade maguro tuna, even the middling strips provided in the Seafood Delight set, seems like effrontery.

Stick with certified Angus and dinner at Yojié remains an engaging proposition, despite the conceptual muddle that waits at the business end of your chopsticks. If you're the sort to sweat the details, you're likely eating nabemono somewhere else.

Yojié: 501 W. Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles; (213) 988-8808.


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