The Japanese are famous, some say, for their ability to improve on the work of others. They may not have invented the automobile or the television, but they sure know how to make them now. So what happens when the Japanese take on something as seemingly simple as spaghetti with tomato sauce? For this edition of Squid Ink Food Fight, we face two different versions, with both, amazingly, existing in separate Mitsuwa Marketplace food courts. In one corner, we have the popular Japanese chain restaurant, Italian Tomato, in its Torrance location. The other, Bella Pasta, is a relative newcomer, created by the owner of Sanuki Sandou, the simple Japanese food counter located about thirty feet away in the west side Mitsuwa. Both restaurants offer spaghetti fusion creations, like mentaiko (spicy fish roe) or natto (fermented soy beans), but to get a pure gauge of their qualities, we decided to go the traditional route, and examine their simple tomato sauce.
At Italian Tomato, they offer a spaghetti with mozzarella and tomato sauce, which costs $5.90 by itself, or $6.95 for the combo (small salad, buttered bread and a drink). The pasta is about as close to al dente as you can reasonably expect, though it does have a slightly gummy texture. The sauce is subtly sweet, and the mozzarella, while very salty, makes for a fun, gooey addition. It's exactly the sort of spaghetti you'd be quite happy to find at, say, a sporting event, or a college student's dinner table. You should, however, avoid the combo at all costs. The lettuce wasn't dried properly, so the oddly selected ginger dressing sat at the bottom of the bowl, and gave no flavor whatsoever. The bread is even worse, and tastes like imitation cardboard topped with butter made from a synthetic cow.
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Bella Pasta, meanwhile, does things slightly differently (á la carte: $5.99. Combo: $8.50). The woman behind the counter described their pomodoro by saying, "you know that's just chopped tomatoes, right? They're really salty, so make sure you mix it all together really well." The salt, it turns out, wasn't the problem, as the pasta was a bit overcooked, and heavily buttered. For a "pomodoro", that creates an awful lot of fat, which presents itself by constantly coating the outside of your lips. The salad, however, is quite big, and much nicer, though just like at Italian Tomato, came, rather distractingly, with a ginger dressing.
So what's the final verdict? Japanese-made Italian food, much like Japanese-made Japanese food, is much better in Torrance than it is most everywhere else in L.A. But regardless, you may be better off sticking with their cars and TVs.
Noah can also be followed on Twitter, via @ManBitesWorld.
Italian Tomato 21515 S Western Ave, Torrance, (310) 782-0335., Bella Pasta, 3760 S Centinela Ave, L.A., (310) 398-2113.