Ennar Calasian Grill – Fountain Valley, CA

Food Adventures, Orange County

My parents don’t claim to be foodies, but I’m convinced they are because they always seem to catch wind of new restaurants opening up in Orange County. A few months ago, it just so happened that a family friend opened up a Vietnamese-Japanese fusion yakitori place and my parents came to visit within weeks of their opening. Having enjoyed their visit, they invited us to check it out this happenin’ hot spot – Ennar Calasian Grill – for Happy Hour. (Yes, it’s an interesting experience going out for HH with one’s parents, in case anyone was wondering…)

Ennar Calasian Grill – Fountain Valley, CA

To them, Happy Hour isn’t about cheap drinks (although we did start with a round of discounted Sapporo) — it’s about cheap food! The HH menu at Ennar is full of assorted yakitori-style skewers and izakaya-like starters. I’ll be honest, I was caught a little off-guard trying to order yakitori with a menu that only had English and Vietnamese on it (like asking for lưỡi when I would usually order gyutan). We spotted a few items that seemed a little out of place (roma tomato bruschetta?)  so we steered clear of those. Still, we ordered a good variety of what the menu had to offer so without further ado, we present everyone’s favorite part… the food.

I love checklists!

Cabbage Salad

Crispy cabbage and julienne strips of carrot tossed in a sesame vinaigrette, this was a great refreshing starter for a meal of grilled meat and fried foods.

Squid tentacles (râu mực) x 4

Tender and flavorful, the squid tentacles charred nicely on the grill, making these the perfect morsels to accompany a cold glass of beer. A must-have skewer when my dad goes out for yakitori!

Edamame with Garlic Sauce

Edamame appetizers are pretty standard in these types of restaurants, but Ennar makes theirs a little extra special by tossing them in a garlicky sauce and sprinkling with sesame seeds before serving. The sauce was tasty but a bit oily. It reminded me of eating flavored roasted sunflower seeds, where all the flavor is on the shell so you end up sucking on those before extracting the bland seeds in the middle…

Crispy Rice with Pork Belly

This was probably the best example of Japanese & Vietnamese fusion at work – a thin yakionigiri-like patty topped with a saucy pork belly that had the flavor profile of mom’s homemade thit kho.

Okra (not the bacon-wrapped kind)

I know, I know… bacon makes everything better. But I love plain ol’ grilled okra so I couldn’t resist. Grilling is a great way to prepare okra to minimize its sliminess, and this crispy green offers a welcomed break from all of the meats.

Gyutan (beef tongue, or luoi)

Mmm this is my must-have when going out for yakitori, yakiniku, really any place that offers it on the menu (I will also order lengua when given the opportunity). The gyutan here was a great texture – not too tender, not too chewy.

Pork belly, pork cheek, and bacon-wrapped quail eggs

I remember a conversation I once had with foodie friend Irene about food “buzz words” that automatically entice us to order items off any given menu. One of those buzz words is definitely pork belly. Seriously, who could resist that? The pork belly here was not as charred or caramelized as I would like, but each morsel melted like butter. The pork cheek was a bit fatty but a great cut of meat. We did get the uzura (quail eggs, trứng cút), Martin’s favorite, wrapped in bacon… and yes, bacon did make it better although the pork fat was a little too rich when paired with the boiled egg yolk.

Octopus Salad

I saw that the octopus salad got mixed reviews from diners on Yelp, but the owners of Ennar said that this was one of their signature menu items so we had to try it. I enjoyed the octopus, which (I believe) was parboiled and still a bit chewy. The salad had a light vinaigrette that complemented the octopus well.

Chicken Hearts

There is no shortage of offal when it comes to yakitori. The chicken hearts here are tender, perfectly charred, and served hot off the grill. Definitely try this one!

Gizzard

This was actually my first time having gizzard. It’s not that commonly found in the yakitori places in LA (and if you’ve tracked it down, please let me know where I can get me some!), but my dad spotted it on this menu and had to have it. The flavor was similar to the chicken hearts, but the texture is a bit chewier (in a good way).

Fried Tofu

Crispy on the outside, silky on the inside, and dusted with togarashi — this one’s a winner!

Lamb Chops

I enjoyed these chops, which were cooked perfectly to temperature (we ordered 3 rare and 1 medium) and coated in a fragrant herb marinade. They were served with a mustard sauce but I didn’t think the gamey lamb needed any condiments.

Tempura Soft Shell Crab

Martin and I agree that this was our favorite dish of the evening. The crab was succulent and perfectly fried with a light, crispy coating of the tempura batter.

Oyster Mushrooms

Mushrooms are so wonderful when they’re grilled, especially when you have hearty, flavorful ones like these hiratake or even shiitake.

Beef Tenderloin

Can’t go wrong with grilled tender cubes of filet, especially when they’re cooked perfectly to temperature!

Bacon-wrapped Enoki Mushrooms

This too came highly recommended by the owners, and I was very curious to see how such a stringy mushroom could be put on the grill. These smoky, juicy, decadent bacon-wrapped bundles were delicious!

Grilled Shrimp

These were pretty awesome. Salty, succulent prawns served whole.. just twist off the heads, suck out the juices, and peel & eat. So good!

Salt & Pepper Grilled Rice Ball (yakionigiri)

Yakitori isn’t just about meat… Martin and I love our carbs so we always look forward to some crispy charred yakionigiri. The rice at Ennar is seasoned with salt and black pepper, so much so that it has a bit of a spicy kick. Very nicely done.

Grilled Half Quail

Quails are small, bony birds but Ennar serves their quail more or less boneless (of course, they leave the fun parts like the wing and “drumstick”). The only thing that would have made it better is if the skin were crispier but isn’t that golden brown skin just gorgeous?

Baked Mussels topped with Caviar

I’m not the biggest fan of cheesy baked mussels, but these are hot and fresh and when they were placed on our table, the wafting aroma tempted me to dive right in. The green onion garnish (and the cheese) overpowered the caviar, but the overall flavor was good. It was definitely the most attractively plated dish of the evening and a nice way to end the meal.

The chefs at work

I love the open kitchen with the transparent panels to let visitors see the goings-on in the back of the house. The food was prepared well; my only gripe is that everything (and I mean everything!) was covered in togarashi. When I inquired about it, I was told that these “red sprinklers” are their signature touch. I still found it a bit unusual until I revisited another yakitori favorite and realized that they too have togarashi but set out little shakers for patrons to help themselves. Personally, I prefer having the option to take it or leave it. The togarashi was good on the first few skewers but then the flavor just got redundant and overpowered the natural goodness of the grilled meat. That could be just me.

All in all, the meal was very enjoyable as a “California” (and Vietnamese-fusion) rendition of yakitori. They don’t claim to be authentically Japanese and that’s perfectly OK. The staff was friendly and Ennar really seems like an up and coming hangout, especially during their Happy Hour! If you’re in the OC, be sure to stop by, grab an ice cold beer, and check out a skewer or two or three. They are situated in the far corner of a strip mall, so if you blink, you just might miss them. Just look for the bright neon script adjacent to the Saigon Performing Arts Center.

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Check out Ennar Calasian Grill: ennarcg.com

16161 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

See their Yelp reviews here!

PS: They’re closed on Tuesdays.

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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~!

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Check out Nanbankan: www.nanbankan.com

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.