As we reported last week, West L.A. hole-in-the-wall izakaya Terried Sake House, after 25 years of service, is closing its doors for good this Friday. Last night we decided to get in one last supper, ordering all the hits we knew we'd never get the chance to eat again. Two of their most popular dishes are their two different versions of tofu steak, listed on the tattered, food-and-drink-stained menus as “Tofu Steak” and “Tofu Steak II.” So for this week's food fight, we're going to decide, once and for all, which one is better.
The Tofu Steak (I) is actually a collection of small steaks, sizzling on a hot metal platter, surrounded by egg and topped with chopped green onions and a decently sized pile of gently dancing bonito flakes. It is a dish with pronounced though not overwhelming flavor, the double protein combination mixing its mellowness with the smokey, dried fish flavor from the bonito. One diner compared it to a Japanese version of bacon and eggs. The gradually crisping bottom brings a welcome development to the hot, silken tofu, and it all works together to create a hearty and deceptively balanced plate of food. For those interested in accenting those flavors a bit further, a small drizzle of soy sauce is not without merit.
Tofu Steak II also comes on a sizzling platter, with that same enjoyable textural contrast. It is a smaller plate of food (particularly without the egg), and comes sprinkled with sesame seeds and a healthy drizzle of their sweet, thick miso sauce. From what I can tell, this is usually the preferred of the two tofu steaks by the general population, though the masses do tend to prefer food with more pronounced flavors, particularly when there is sweetness involved. Bonito flakes are, unfortunately, not everyone's favorite.
Ultimately our table resorted to analyzing the two steaks by finding their comparable movie/sequel counterpart. Is Tofu Steak the subtle and reserved Terminator to Tofu Steak II's glossier, shinier, Terminator 2: Judgment Day? Or are they perhaps the first two Godfather movies? They are neither. In the end, we decided on Back to the Future, and Back to the Future Part II. While the second is a bit more sleek, colorful, and filled with crowd pleasing ideas (like traveling to a somewhat distant future of hoverboards, Pepsi Perfect, and instant, dehydrated pizza), the original is, and always will be–well, until Friday–the best. It has the lion's share of character, substance and subtext, without the need to hide under the broad swipe of an aggressive sauce (or plot device).
Terried Sake House: 11617 Santa Monica Blvd, West L.A.; (310) 477-9423.
Noah Galuten can be followed on Twitter via @ManBitesWorld.