Nanbankan: Yakitori and Other Good Things

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

By no means has yesterday been our first visit to Nanbankan, more like our 8th or 9th. Alice definitely has sizable number of check-ins on Yelp! and Foursquare. It’s one of those places we love to go to after a long day or week of work, a Japanese version of a gastropub if you will. Although given the option, I would much prefer Nanbankan.

Nestled on the first floor of an office building on Santa Monica Blvd but far enough away from traffic-ridden Sawtelle, Nanbankan is a hidden gem, especially during the seemingly endless construction to that building in the previous year or so. We usually sit at the bar whenever we can so we can watch our food being cooked. If you plan to go during dinner hours, especially on the weekend, plan ahead and get a reservation, you’ll thank yourself later.

The ambiance is inviting and warm, literally speaking if you’re sitting at the bar and can feel the heat of the grill; this is why we particularly like to dine at Nanbankan during the winter. The wooden panels on the walls marked with Japanese characters is not just for decor, it’s the menu! The oddly placed whiteboard toward the back stands out, which is really a good thing because it has items not on the menu. Many people overlook this obvious menu until they see someone else order something that looks like it’s not on the menu, the Australian lamb for example.

Love these panels – they’re decorative and functional!

There’s a few things we usually order:

Grilled Rice Balls (yaki-onigiri 焼きおにぎり): Plain and plum (ume  うめ):
Golden brown. The chefs put a light soy sauce glaze on top to get this nice golden color. I like it extra burnt and crispy. Dip this into the miso sauce and you’ve got one of many “good things”.

Yakionigiri – roasty toasty the way we like it!

Gingko Nuts (ginnan 銀杏):
From the gingko trees of course, who would’ve thought, right? We were actually introduced to these in another yakitori place but find that Nanbankan does it better. The nuts are toasted skin-on then peeled before serving, leaving a nice smokey flavor with the texture similar to a chewy bean.

Chicken Hearts (hatsu ハツ):
Perhaps the best of the organ meats on the menu. Nice and chewy, sometimes nice and bloody, just the way we like it. My only complaint is there’s only 3 per skewer, 2 skewers per order. So delicious.

Chilean Sea Bass (shiromi しろみ):
I wouldn’t think they would have this on their menu but they do it surprisingly well. Two filets per skewer topped with green onions and what we believe to be a radish paste. We always have an order of this. It’s flaky and tender with a sweetness that perfectly complements the charred flavor.

Chilean sea bass fresh from the grill

Australian Lamb (ラムチョップ):
Remember how we said there’s a menu on a whiteboard in the back of the restaurant? Well if you see people ordering lamb chops, this is where they’re ordering from. They will ask you if you want garlic on it – the answer has to be a resounding yes! We always finish our meal with an order of lamb, cooked rare enough where we could taste the blood in the middle. That’s how meat is supposed to be. Last night’s visit we forgot to note that we wanted it rare and it was cooked through, but regardless, it was still nice and juicy.

Must-have! It’s juicy and rare and absolutely delicious.

Quail Eggs (uzura うずら):
We both really like the quail eggs. It’s cooked to the outside of the egg darkens, giving the egg as a whole two different textures: a chewy outside and soft inside.

Adorable and delectable little quail eggs!

Beef Tongue (gyutan 牛タン):
Alice had to weigh in with her yakitori-ya favorite, gyutan. There’s nothing quite like the chewy texture flavored simply with salt, lemon juice, and of course the grill. The skewers here have thicker slices of gyutan than other places, which helps to keep the meat tender rather than crunchy as it cooks.

Tongue tongue tongue!

Among other things to try:

Chicken kidneys (motsu yaki もつ焼き):
Nice and darkened with a grainy texture, giving it a consistently crunchy and toasty flavor. One might need to acquire a taste for this one. We much prefer the chicken hearts over the kidneys.

Squid Legs (geso げそ):
These are delicious little squid “legs” (tentacles) grilled sideways on a skewer so that the tips get extra crispy and charred. It’s served with a glaze of that amazing post-grilling sauce that they drizzle on some of the other dishes. Super flavorful.

Top Sirloin (nanbanyaki 南蛮焼き):
The flavoring on the meat is good but it’s a little dry. Definitely should ask for this to be cooked rare, would turn out softer if less cooked.

Salmon Ochazuke (お茶ずけ):
One of the “other good things”, ochazuke is a bowl of rice in a tea-based soup topped with, in this case, flaked salmon. The broth is delicious and flavorful, and it’s a great way to round out the meal.

Ochazuke – what a great treat on a cold night.

Regardless of what you order, you must wash it down with a bottle of Asahi Black (Kuronama 黒生), a premium version of Asahi beer that’s as dark as a stout, pairs perfectly with grilled meats (and other good things) and is difficult to find in many restaurants in Los Angeles. Kudos Kuronama!

Also worth noting is that we have never been there and not seen the owner Tony graciously welcoming patrons and lending a hand to his staff, be it checking up on customers or even bringing out dishes to the tables. He truly seems to enjoy what he does, and he’s always smiling especially when a group of regulars walks in. A visit to Nanbankan would not be complete without a bit of small talk with Tony (sometimes he’ll even humor Alice with some Japanese language practice!). We’re always in for a fantastic date night whenever we come by, thanks to the delicious noms and wonderful service. Nanbankan, domo arigatou~!


Check out Nanbankan:

11330 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90189

See their Yelp reviews here.

We highly recommend making reservations and grabbing counter (bar) seats if you can. There is plenty of metered street parking on Corinth Ave, but if you have difficulty, there is also a free one-way parking lot immediately behind the office building.

C is for Charcuterie – Waterloo & City, Culver City

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Date night – charcuterie at Waterloo & City, our favorite local gastropub! So what is charcuterie? Well the first thing I did was look up how to pronounce this fancy French word before I went to the restaurant and made a fool of myself (although Martin was quick to point out that I pronounced basil the American way (BAY-sil), thus losing the punny rhyme in the name of my drink – the BAH-sil DAZzle). But I digress. shar-KU-te-ree is all about meats. Cured meats, pates, terrines, sausages… I prefer the salty, smoky flavors while Martin is partial to the buttery richness of a good liver pate. Sharing the “prince” charcuterie platter made for a super filling dinner between the two of us.

We almost went for the “king” platter, which features all of the many, many varieties of terrines and pates Waterloo has to offer, but the prince was more than enough for us! It arrived like royalty on a beautiful wood plank. We selected three: the duck & walnut, rabbit & pistachio, and pork & truffle. The prince also comes with the chicken liver mousse and a small pile of cured meats. We couldn’t wait to dig in!

Prince Charcuterie – selection of 4 pates/terrines/mousses

The prosciutto was my favorite of the cured meats – it was deliciously salty and fatty. It also reminded me that I would love to one day try iberico ham in Spain. They’re so big on charcuterie, they take iberico ham breaks in the middle of the afternoon rather than coffee breaks!

Cured meats – the prosciutto was awesome

I was apprehensive about trying one of Thumper’s brethren, but this terrine was not as gamey as I expected. The pistachio flavor went really well with the rabbit.

Rabbit and pistachio terrine

This chicken liver mousse was too buttery and rich for my taste, but Martin’s eyes lit up as he slathered the pate on the toast slices.

Chicken liver mousse

The duck and walnut terrine was one of my favorites; even though I’m mildly allergic to walnuts, I took a chance on this terrine and was very pleasantly pleased! It went really well with the chutney.

Duck and walnut terrine

The most amazing part was the cute little mason jar filled with pork and truffle goodness. We were confused by the clear layer on top, but a quick consult with the menu reminded us that it was a madeira jelly. Yum! It was meaty and creamy without being too rich.

Pork and truffle pate

After such an indulgent dinner, we still had to make room for what may be our favorite dessert in Los Angeles: Waterloo’s bourbon glazed doughnuts! The little balls of dough are fried fresh to order, perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The glaze is just sweet enough to stand on its own, but definitely try the raspberry jam or housemade custard that accompany them for some interesting flavor profiles.

Sinfully delicious bourbon glazed doughnuts

Nothing like enjoying a summer date night out on the patio with good food, good company, and excellent service.


Check out Waterloo & City:

12517 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here.

Follow them on Twitter @WaterlooandCity!

There is onsite valet parking for a few dollars but generally plenty of free street parking as well. Happy Hour is from 5-7pm but we prefer dining out on the patio for dinner.

Happy National Cheesecake Day!

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Did you know July 30th is national cheesecake day in the US? We didn’t, and we certainly didn’t expect an estimated one hour wait for dinner today at our local Cheesecake Factory in Marina del Rey. Apparently every slice of cheesecake is 1/2 off today for the occasion! Luckily, the hostess clued us in to the adjoining beachfront bistro with the ambiance of private cabanas. We were seated immediately in a lovely corner cabana not 10 feet from the sand. A pleasant surprise and a tremendous improvement over the expected standardized decor. (Fun fact: did you know that every Cheesecake Factory location looks exactly the same decor-wise in order to give travelers a sense of familiarity?)

View from our little cabana

We decided to go for shared small plates and ordered the fried calamari, crab & artichoke dip, crispy crab bites, and margherita pizzette. The crab dip was our least favorite, as it was too creamy and not artichoke-y enough. It reminded us of a less salty version of the crab dip at Palomino’s in Westwood. The fried calamari was not particularly special, but it wasn’t too greasy and it went well with the garlic aioli (not so much with the cocktail sauce). It could really benefit from a good marinara sauce. The crispy crab bites and the pizzette were tied for our favs. For whatever reason, ever since I was 12 or so I have always remembered that Cheesecake Factory makes some pretty bomb crab cakes. These were mini-cakes that were wonderfully crispy-crunchy on the outside and flaky and flavorful on the inside. The pizzette was a nice little flatbread pizza topped with a bit of marinara sauce, generous helping of mozzarella, and lots of chopped basil. It turned out really well, especially considering they don’t have a woodfired oven.

"Tapas"-style dinner

“Tapas”-style dinner

Flatbread margherita pizza

Of course, we had to save room for dessert. I was very sad to discover that they sold out of the Oreo cheesecake, but the banana creme cheesecake was a delicious substitute. The bavarian banana creme layer was fluffy and light, a great complement to the rich original cheesecake underneath. It was almost too sweet for me, but the slices of fresh banana helped cut the sugary-ness. Martin went the traditional route with the fresh strawberry cheesecake, topped with three beautifully glazed, bright red berries.

Sweet, sweet indulgence

Classic goodness

We reveled in our luxurious-feeling cabana, engaging in deep conversation over a cappuccino and latte. Instead of traditional heat lamps, a few feet away from our table was an adorable little fire pit. What a fantastic way to spend a warm summer night!


Check out The Cheesecake Factory:

4142 Via Marina
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

See their Yelp reviews here.

The main building looks like any other Cheesecake Factory. Walk downward toward the beach to the separate hostess podium at the bistro side.