Question: I went to art school near the Japanese East Village in Manhattan, that little stretch of Ninth Street brimming with sake bars and noodle shops. The crowning jewel was a narrow takoyaki stand with an okonomiyaki/yakisoba plate ready to be carried into the nearest dive bar. As I opened my parcel, fellow beer swillers would investigate the potent scents arising from my snack — the bonito flakes beckoning like tiny Lorelei atop islands of fried batter, fresh pork and vegetables, the whole thing an excuse for Japanese mayonnaise, pickled ginger and a sweet mystery sauce to commingle. I have had beautiful sushi and really expensive Beacon-type variations on Japanese staples out here. I’ve had barbecue and soba and udon in Little Tokyo. What I would really like to know is where to find okonomiyaki, the savory pancake I am craving with every fiber of my being. The okonomiyaki and I have unfinished business.
—Alpha, Los Angeles
Answer: Okonomiyaki, especially the kind that you cook yourself at a hot griddle set into a dining table, is one of those odd dishes whose whole really does transcend the sum of its rather grisly parts: Japanese mayonnaise. Tonkatsu sauce. Bubbling oceans of gooey batter scorched black around the edges. Crunchy, superheated bean sprouts that emit little puffs of steam when you bite into them. Unnaturally pink nubs of pork that collapse into gristle. Carrots charred into carrot pudding. It’s a stinking, queasy-making mess that you could probably eat every day of the week. If you’re really in a festive mood, you could throw some Spam in too. Raku on the Westside serves the dish, and I think Atch-Kotch in Hollywood does too, but I usually end up at Tombo, a sticky-table okonomiyaki parlor in Torrance, not far from Gardena. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try the monjayaki, beef broth you reduce yourself until it reaches the rubbery consistency of a cat’s chew toy, which is every bit as good – and bad – as it sounds. Tombo, 2106 Artesia Blvd., Torrance; (310) 324-5190.
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