Sunday, June 8, 2008

Echizen comfort food

At long last ... I went, I enjoyed, I'll return to Echizen.

First, a MAJOR correction from my earlier mention: Echizen is NOT a sushi place; in fact, they don't serve sushi at all, though they serve high-grade fish, both cooked and raw, as you can see in the above photo of the gorgeous sashimi plate we ordered.

Echizen is closer to an izakaya (Japanese pub) in its fare and cozy size of the restaurant, but really, it's simply an excellent homestyle Japanese restaurant - like what Mitsuyoshi in Stanton used to be (before change in ownership about a year or two ago), serving authentic dishes that haven't been Americanized.

Like yamakake, white yam grated into a slippery, poi-like (but lighter) consistency and served with fresh cuts of maguro, garnished with wasabi and nori:
As you can see from the photo, Echizen also added some of my favorite shiso leaf as a garnish on the right, adding another refreshing taste to the dish. (I also like to drizzle a bit of soy sauce over it all.)
Echizen serves yamakake in the typical way, the yam grated completely to slurping consistency; a few months ago, I was delighted by Murasaki's fresh-tasting version with slivers of the starchy-gooey yam intact for a mix of textures:
My lovely new foodie friends - Hector, Erika and Ric - and my ever-so-tasteful friend Susan joined me for this Echizen excursion and left me in charge of ordering from the several-pages-long menu. So I got to order all my favorites - which was actually a difficult task because nearly everything on the menu is a favorite, from the small bites and sides to the udon - all nostalgic foods that my parents cooked for us while growing up, or that I've enjoyed home made by family and friends in Japan.

After a good 20 minutes or so of going back and forth through the menu, I finally bit the bullet and ordered a bunch of different things, all of them "old-school" comfort foods for me, but very new to even my foodie friends because very few of your run-of-the-mill Japanese-American restaurants offer them, stuff like korokke ("croquette"), this one a creamy version inside the crispy panko-fried outer skin because they were out of the more rustic potato-ground-beef version; gomae spinach (spinach tossed in a sesame-sugar-shoyu paste - the only proven way to get even finicky kids to gobble up this nutritious green veggie!); even an unagi bowl, with long strips of perfectly broiled unagi spread over a bowl of rice (one of my favorite "fast food" eats in Japan, where there are small eateries specializing in the freshwater eel).

We also had the aspara beef (asparagus wrapped in marinated beef):
And my must-order at any izakaya or yakitori place - grilled onigiri (rice balls):
Echizen offers the grilled onigiri with your choice of taste treat nestled in the middle: broiled salmon or shake (pronounced "sha-keh" in Japanese); umeboshi (pickled plum); or kobu (salted seaweed). I ordered one of each so we could all nibble off each hockey-puck-sized onigiri and taste the variety.
The pickled plum was too tart for some at the table, but is a personal favorite of mine (perfect with the rice!), and Ric enjoyed it too, likening it to the sour and salted fruits offered in Mexico - a brilliant comparison.

And the yellow pickled radish served on the side is another homestyle favorite, even among kids, because it's sweet - more like sweet pickles than tart.

Speaking of comparisons, if you ever go to Izakaya Zero, an upscale, modernized izakaya opened in Huntington Beach last year by renowned sushi chef Takashi Abe of Abe and Bluefin fame, try the grilled onigiri. Zero's version is definitely more refined, brought to you in smaller, mini sizes and with a more sophisticated flavor (subtle hints of fish stock in the rice) rather than the hearty teriyaki grilling sauce that provides most of the flavor in traditional grilled onigiri.

The total bill for all these dishes at Echizen (including the stellar sashimi plate, beers and a small bottle of premium sake): $170. Which means each of us in our party of five spent $40 total, which included the tip.
While I think that's an incredibly reasonable price for all that perfectly prepared food and drink (compared to the $70 meals I've enjoyed at fine-dining spots), my parents would actually think I'm a bit crazy to spend even $40 on a meal like this, since you can make all these dishes at home - or just go to my parents' to enjoy it for free.

But Echizen will become my nearby home away from home, when I crave those comfort foods that I don't have the time to make myself. And knowing I can get those dishes executed perfectly with high-quality ingredients, and order whatever I want, is all priceless.

Echizen Japanese Restaurant, 9111 Valley View St., Ste 113, Cypress, CA, 90630.
(714) 828-2155


  1. Starting from scratch, but learning a lot.

    This one looks wonderful.

  2. I can honestly say that I had such a good time at Echizen. I've been to Japan but I haven't anything like what we had here. I really enjoyed the selections and now I know what I would order, or at least I think I do... maybe I would just print the blog and point to the pictures... he he he. Anyway, I can't wait to visit Echizen again (hey that rhymed!).


  3. Man-oh-man did my belly leave happy :) I can't wait to take other folks to this wonderful little spot. The sashimi was to die for and that asparagus-beef thang? Killer.

  4. Oh man. Definitely comfort foods for me!

  5. i LOVE echizen! i used to eat here a lot when I worked in Cypress. Their higawari teishoku are huge but always 7.95 =)

  6. This is a nice blog. I am doing a small write up on my blog about this cuisine.