1757 W Carson Street, Ste A. Torrance, CA 90501. (310) 781-9407.
When I look back on my early twenties, I remember the late nights at local watering holes like Benny's, Zebra and Pine Cove. My liver can't take the onslaught of beer, Patron shots and countless glasses of Jack on the rocks anymore. These days it's more like a glass or two of wine or maybe a glass of Chimay. Anyhow, the one gripe I repeatedly had with the bar hopping back in the day was that there wasn't really any places to grab a bite afterwards besides joints like Lyon's or Del Taco. I always thought Sacramento could use a late night yakitori/ kushiyaki stand. Yep, that's my brilliant idea. In Japan, these stands blaze their lights well into the night feeding the masses of bar revelers. For a few hundred yen, you can buy yourself a couple of skewers of grilled chicken thighs, livers or hearts to placate your drunken munchie cravings. It's so delicious...seriously, there's something about food on a stick at 2:30 in the morning that rivals sheer nirvana.
Anyhow, while I was in LA recently my friend Mayumi and I decided to hit up the popular Torihei in Torrance before going to spend a relaxing evening at a newly opened onsen (bath house). Torihei only seats about 30 patrons and upon our arrival was packed (which is the norm from what I hear), but luckily my dining companion had had the foresight to call ahead and make a reservation. Within minutes, we got to bypass the long line snaking out the door and take a seat at the busy counter where we were front and center to all the grilling action. Deciding what to order was a bit more difficult...there were several yakitori and kushiyaki choices, some sashimi, oden and izakaya fare. Dishes are prepared in a tapa-esque manner so Mayumi and I decided to order several and share. Since we would be hitting the hot baths at the onsen post-dinner we decided to forget the alcohol, but Torihei does carry a nice selection of sake, beer, wine and shoju. The service was a bit erratic (this may or may not have had to do with the fact that the staff was dealing with a dine and dash situation while we were there). The first two dishes were brought out quickly but the others seemed to come after what felt like an eternity. In fact, our waitress completely forgot to bring out the last two dishes and after an awkward amount of time had passed, we inquired about the MIA dishes. The situation was quickly righted. The pate was smooth and the honey, which I wasn't sure would pair well, actually complemented it nicely. The oden egg was creamy without being slimy and the roe added a wonderful contrast as it burst on my tongue. The tin foil squid was tender and buttery. The much lauded jidori chicken was perfectly grilled. We alternated between seasoning the skewers of chicken parts with sansho, shichimi togarashi and Yuzu-It sauce. In fact, I got a bit addicted to the Yuzu-It sauce and bought some when I got back to Sac (if you haven't had it, you can pick some up at Oto's). The liver was absolutely divine...dense with just a hint of metallic taste. I could have eaten a dozen skewers of the liver alone, I love the stuff. We also ordered one of my favorite Japanese dishes- shishamo (grilled smelt). The fish was nice and crispy with the charred edges that I like. In fact almost every dish was delish...the only dish I didn't care for much was the Torihei meatballs (tsukune), I'm a texture person and the tiny bits of cartilage mixed in with the ground chicken turned me off. Regardless, we were stuffed to the gills at the end of our meal and to my surprise our bill was quite reasonable. If I lived in the area, I'm sure I'd be a frequent customer. So Sacramento, how about it? We need another sushi bar or burrito shack like we need a hole in our head; how about opening up a nice yakitori joint for some late night grinds?