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Dinner on Sticks – Horon Restaurant

Posted by Shannon on 11/08/2011

Last summer, Steve and I ate dinner at Horon. The restaurant is small, nondescript and trends strongly towards Japanese…in its clientele, menu language, wait staff and even the daily special menu items posted on the wall, written on printer paper in Hiragana and Kanji. Horon is a kushiage-style restaurant. Unlike yakitori-style cuisine, which is skewered and grilled, kushiage is skewered and deep-fried. Each and every meat and vegetable option. Menu time. The first side was the omakase (set menu/chef’s choice).

So let’s try that again, on the other side of the sheet this time. The majority of the items we ordered were from a small paper sheet, pretty similar to the sheets you see at sushi bars. They are $1 to $3.

This particular night was a Friday night. That means two things in the Foodie Photographer’s world. Date night and some type of adult drink to celebrate the work week’s conclusion. Check one and check two! That night’s drink of choice was a Sapporo pitcher for two.

We took a while to order because there was so much visual stimulation to distract us (me). The palpably awkward conversation two seats down from the L-shaped counter, where a couple stumbled through their first date convo. Also, the chefs’ and servers’ banter back and forth in Japanese, first to announce the newest order, then second to confirm the items before almost immediately placing new skewers on the open grill in front of us. Then there were the gaggle of younger Japanese friends ordering round after round of kushiage selections and downing the same Sapporo pitchers as we were. A bit of childish laughter escaped as I read one of the few English signs on the wall, then registered the intent of their word “vegitables”.

My appetizer selection was meibutsu tezukuri nameraka tofu. 

House-made tofu with sea urchin (uni) and green onion on top. The uni was firmer than most nigiri renditions you’d find during a meal of sushi. I enjoyed the contrast it created next to the custard-like third layer of tofu.

The floating uni looked like a little sea bream on top of the ocean water, the tofu like the sand below it.

The layers of this small yet masterfully intricate dish seemed as if its chef created this in jest of the plastic, hermetically-sealed packaging we see in stores for the extra firm, firm and soft tofu. The ones in the refrigerated section with their blue, green and red color-coded labels. The bottom layer of homemade tofu had a Greek yogurt consistency w/ a bit earthier of a flavor than mass-manufactured soft-texture tofu purchased at Marukai or another Asian market.

We’d waited about 15 minutes for our table, and tacking on the wait between ordering and our first dish…it was a good thing my boyfriend ordered a sturdy first course of tonkatsu ramen (above) because while the beer was managing to influence our merriment, it was doing little to alleviate our hunger. The bowls kind of look like Goldilocks and the Three Bears variations.

His soup had a deadly delicious pork broth that had a depth of flavor my eyes went wide for upon my first spoonful taste. I’ve had many a tonkatsu dish, this broth was the richest I’ve had.

Horon’s first bamboo tray presented skewers of whole shrimp, chicken, and bacon wrapped asparagus.

A few things are “obvi” in life. One of which clearly being that the profile of a golden fried asparagus spear, sheathed in bacon, equates to a happy smile. The vegetable was piping hot, blessed in salty bacon flavor, finished off w/ a double crisp that came from the snap of the asparagus and the crunch coating.

Round two was karage, beef intestine, chicken liver, and other meats. As we dug in, we couldn’t help but overhear the discussion two seats down from us had shifted to project schedules, technical specifications and assets. Project management talk… I can’t escape it even in a Japanese restaurant in Torrance. They could file their conversation under “my date is less interesting than yours”😉.

The main entrée we ordered was Pork Three Ways. Ramen had calmed the hunger-fury in my boyfriend’s stomach, but the spacing of a few smaller eats in between gave it time to return. He’s unquestionably carnivorous.

When I said, “Ok, one pic real quick” he said evenly and calmly, “You have seconds to take that picture, 3…2…” I credit my steady hand and responsive iPhone HDR camera for managing the shot above! Sliced pork, pork belly and a rib. Each had a distinct characteristic…dry smoked flavor, a crispy layer of fat that quickly dissolved into a buttery texture, and a patiently executed rib that retained moisture and fall-off-the-bone ability. Shortly after, the Kobe tataki arrived.

Smooth texture and a sauce with strong rice wine vinegar essence. All combined with grated Gobo root, green onion, and silvered red onion. Two rounds of non-fried meats…I needed just one more round, I was so excited by all the good food we’d had that night.

Poor skewered shrimpy-shrimp, know that you were enjoyed thoroughly (and entirely), your life was not sacrificed in vain.

Skewer after skewer, dinner on a stick has seen much shabbier days! If you want to try out Horon for yourself, just do a Yelp.com search. One perk is that they are open until 2am, so no rush getting there afterwork or even after a night out. Plenty of time to start with the fried chicken and then slowly progress to more adventurous options like chicken gizzards (or not😉 ). Let me know if you need a dining buddy!

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