North Asia, meet up with South Bay [restaurant review]

Versie Dortch

I took my wife, who does not love highly spicy food stuff, to a Korean restaurant. It was not with the expectation that she would abruptly adjust the choices of a lifetime, or that she dropped a wager. We experienced spouse and children in town for the holiday seasons, and one of them craved the famously flavorful delicacies that they experienced figured out to enjoy right here in LA. My heat-averse spouse came alongside for the reason that she did not want to skip a minute with relatives, and after I confident her that she could obtain factors she’d like on the menu.

Gaya Korean Tofu & Grill, which not too long ago opened on Torrance Boulevard west of Anza, has turn out to be my favorite traditional Korean restaurant. It is named just after a medieval confederacy of metropolis-states in the significantly south of the Korean peninsula, but the menu does not reflect southern specialties. It’s a deep dive into Seoul-model favorites, with specialties of tofu soup, noodles, and grilled proteins, all served with the standard sides.

The cafe occupies the place that was Moo’s Chinese Restaurant for quite a few many years, and that previously dim and worn inside has been remodeled into a sparkling and colorful position. Never expect the tabletop grills that are created in at most area Korean dining places, simply because all grilling right here is carried out in the kitchen area. I like tabletop cooking, but really do not overlook the greasy miasma that is usually a aspect influence. You will be made available menus that are vibrant but not remarkably insightful, which may be perplexing to diners who aren’t acquainted with this delicacies. Thankfully the servers are fluent in English ,and patient with describing things, and you can constantly consult the world-wide-web on your telephone if you want to know a lot more. The key point to bear in mind is that you are only ordering the most important program, because everything will come with an array of side dishes, named banchan.

On a person stop by we ordered an item outlined as an appetizer anyway just mainly because we appreciate it so a great deal. This is the seafood pancake recognised as pa-jun, a batter packed with minced fish and shellfish together with scallions that is griddled to crispness. The part is big so I’d only endorse this as an appetizer for a few or additional people, except you approach to consider leftovers property. It has no peppery seasoning but is incredibly complete-flavored, and Gaya’s variation is as good as any I’ve experienced in K-Town.

The seafood pancake at Gaya. Picture by Richard Foss

The banchan that arrived was composed of 6 tiny bowls that contains two kinds of marinated tofu, cucumber and cabbage kimchi, delightful pickled bean sprouts, and a fluffy potato salad. The measurement of the parts was misleading, simply because the bowls will be refilled as typically as you like. The choice adjustments often, but is normally a blend of things that enrich pure flavors with some others that consist of peppery kimchi.

On the go to with my spice-averse spouse, we ordered a bibimbap rice dish, Japanese-style pork katsu, and bossam, steamed pork tummy that arrived with napa cabbage leaves for wrapping. Bibimbap is a single of the far more preferred Korean dishes, a combine of rice and vegetables served in a warm stone bowl with toppings of a fried egg, toasted seaweed, and a sprinkling of scallions and sesame seeds. The stone bowl can continue to keep your rice sizzling if you stir it all around or toast the rice so the edges develop into crispy if you never, and most Koreans appreciate the blend of textures, and extra rigorous flavor of the toasted rice. We had purchased the variation with kimchi and pork extra in, and the warmth mellowed and sweetened the kimchi a bit so that even the spice wimp at the table appreciated it.

She was not a big enthusiast of the a great deal much more mildly flavored bossam simply because the extra fat in the thickly sliced pork tummy was not rendered or crisped. It’s not supposed to be – the attraction is the contrast between the silky-textured fatty meat and the crisp cabbage and spicy pickled radish served with it. Two sauces are presented to increase that contrast even further, a mildly spicy bean paste, and a pungently spicy fish sauce. I employed both and uncovered that they made factors a great deal extra intriguing.

The rooster katsu is in all probability on the menu mostly for buyers like my spouse who locate Korean food items overpowering, but it was pretty properly completed, a huge portion of breaded and fried pork with a gentle curry gravy. It came with rice and a salad with miso dressing, and whilst it appeared out of area on our table it was enjoyable on its own merits.

Meal at Gaya Korean Tofu & Grill: a yellow croaker fish that has been air-healed and fried, tofu soup with dumplings and beef, galbi shorter ribs, and some aspect objects in the history. Photo by Richard Foss

I reveled in the spicier and additional strange items from Korean cuisine on other visits, and was tempted by the black goat stew, in which the strongly flavorful meat is well balanced by vinegar and sizzling spices, but haven’t tried out that merchandise below but. Instead we tried a tofu soup and grilled fish combo, spicy beef noodle soup, and the preferred favorite, LA Kalbi short ribs.

I had been leaning toward the goat but made a decision on fish soon after the operator of the cafe, who had stopped by our desk when we were being determining, stated that it is not a fresh new fish or a pickled fish, but a “half-dried” fish. This is a full medium size fish that has been salted and air-dried for a few days so that the taste is intensified. This is nearly the same approach utilised in Britain to make kippers, and if you’ve ever had those people as aspect of your English breakfast the outcome is similar. It is a bit salty, the meat really flaky, and the flavors are milder than you may well expect. Two kinds of mackerel and yellow croaker are made available, and we picked the croaker which we suspected would be minimum oily. The crispy pores and skin and fragrant meat was satisfying, and I’d have it once again.

The fish is obtainable as a main training course by itself, in which situation you get two of them, or as part of a combo with tofu soup, in which situation you get just one. I recommend the combo, simply because the flavors are much much more attention-grabbing collectively. The tofu soup is in a spicy but not volcanically very hot broth, and is accessible with a selection of insert-ins like distinctive forms of meat, greens, or stuffed dumplings. We obtained the beef with vegetarian dumplings and a uncooked egg in it, poached at the desk. Alternating bites of the salty fish with the spicy soup was an enjoyable encounter. On another visit we tried out a spicier broth with beef, seasoned bracken fern, inexperienced onion, and noodles to appreciate major warmth. It was not as bracingly warm as we’ve had at some other Korean restaurants, but our cheeks have been flushed and I was perspiring a bit by the time we finished it.

Lastly there was the kalbi small rib, which arrived at our desk on a warm but not scorching platter. The marinade was produced with a base of apple juice that caramelizes on the grill for a considerably sweet taste, and the meat had been cooked to medium rare. Men and women utilizing tabletop grills in Korean eating places usually scorch their meat to the stage that it preferences like sweetened charcoal, but this is the way it is meant to be.

We paired out foods with scorching sake on one chilly evening and cold soju on a further, and cups of scorching roasted barley tea, which I recommend you attempt. This has a thing of the character of coffee without the need of the caffeine, and it is good when you want a warm consume that will not continue to keep you awake.

Gaya Korean Tofu & Grill is the closest common Korean cafe to the Beach Cities, but that isn’t the only explanation to go there. The welcome is hotter than in most equivalent locations, and the rates are modest – absolutely nothing on the menu is much more than 20 bucks for a entire food. It is a deal for fantastic top quality food, and even a particular person who doesn’t like to scorch their tongues will come across a little something to love listed here.

Gaya Korean Tofu & Grill is at 4817 Torrance Boulevard in Torrance. Open up every day besides Tuesday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Parking ton, some vegetarian objects, beer and Korean alcohols accessible. No web page. (310) 921-8599 ER 

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