For dinner on the first day of our trip, we had been really excited to try Iroriya - a small, charming little Izakaya (or Japanese Pub) - also known as @beefnoguy’s favorite Izakaya in the area.
Seeing @PorkyBelly’s great, positive report made it even more of a must-visit for us.
Walking in, we’re greeted by the manager and the wonderful lightly smoky charcoal and various meats and veggies cooking on their Robata grill.
They had a solid Sake Menu, although we had never seen a Dassai 39 before (@beefnoguy how does that compare with Dassai 23 and 50?).
We wanted to order something dry to start, and the manager recommended we start with…
Eiko Fuji - Honjozo Sake (Yamagata, Japan):
This Honjozo was actually quite easy on the palate, light, soft, not as nuanced or aromatic as some of the Junmai Ginjos, but for the QPR (it was only $47 / bottle) this was excellent, and paired nicely with many of the dishes this evening.
Umesuisho (Japanese Plum Flavored Shark Cartilage):
This was a nice surprise and not that commonly found around L.A. The Shark Cartilage was crunchy, the Ume flavor was quite pronounced, causing one of our friends to pucker up (from just how tart it was). I thought this was really nice, especially with some Sake.
Ume Q (Japanese Cucumber with Japanese Plum):
The Ume Kyuuri - cutely translated as “Ume Q” (because it sounds like “Kyuu(ri)”) - is perfectly seasoned. Cool, crisp, but permeating with just enough of the Japanese Plum and the smokiness of the Shaved Bonito Flakes. Delicious.
Karaage (Japanese-style Fried Chicken):
Perfect. Slightly crunchy, moist, juicy dark meat Chicken. For a traditional type of Karaage, this is something L.A.'s Izakaya scene is missing (a great version).
Shishamo (Smelt Fish):
From the Robata grill section of the menu, the Shishamo are fantastic! Just cooked through, smoky, crisped on the outside, tender on the inside.
Agedashi Tofu (Deep Fried Tofu in Crab Meat Broth):
We saw that they had Homemade Tofu on the menu, so we figured both of their Tofu dishes would be using it. It turns out that the Agedashi Tofu doesn’t use their Homemade Tofu. This was… OK. It arrived soggy, and the commercially bought Tofu tasted pretty average. The actual Crab Meat Broth was tasty, but the Agedashi Tofu fell short. Compared to the version using Handmade Tofu at Aburiya Raku, Iroriya’s version falls short.
Hamo Tempura (Fried Conger Eel) (Kyushu, Japan):
We were happy to see Hamo Tempura on the menu. Iroriya sourced the Hamo from Kyushu, Japan. The Conger Eel was tender, moist, and slightly crisped on the outside. The actual breading lacks the finesse of a Tempura specialist like @bulavinaka’s favorite Inaba, but this is very good nonetheless.
Sashimi Moriawase (Salmon, Tai, Hamachi):
This was solid, clean, fresh Sashimi. For an Izakaya (Pub), delivering solid Sashimi is nice. However, thinking about the level of freshness, taste and presentation, it falls short of the greatness at Aburiya Raku (but that is really an aberration on how great it is).
Yaki Unagi - Grilled Fresh-Water Eel (Shizuoka, Japan):
This was a surprise, considering how Japanese Unagi is quickly disappearing and harder and harder to find. Iroriya featured a special, having imported Unagi from Shizuoka, Japan! It was moist, tender, with an almost creamy quality to it. Outstanding!
Gyutan (Beef Tongue):
There was a nice sear and char on the outside, lending a bit of smokiness to each bite, the Beef Tongue itself was tender and delicious.
Tori Momo Saikyo-Yaki (Miso Marinated Chicken Thigh):
This was OK. The Chicken Thigh itself - grilled on the Robata - was a bit tough, and tasted kind of straightforward.
Grilled Asparagus, Okra, Eringi Mushrooms:
Nicely grilled, slightly smoky. All 3 veggies were spot-on, with my favorite being the Asparagus.
Shichida - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Saga, Japan):
One slight shortcoming on this visit was that there wasn’t anyone on staff able to speak in depth about the Sake on the menu. I wish we had @beefnoguy with us! So for our 3rd bottle, we decided to go with a tried-and-true option: The Shichida Junmai Ginjo Sake was excellent. I love the sweetness, which is pleasing at first taste, but it quickly balances out, nice and round with a great aroma.
Seasonal Kamameshi: Tomato & Baby Sardine Iron Pot Rice:
This was OK. While the ingredients were different, we had the same experience that @PorkyBelly had: The Kamameshi was a bit too moist (not bad), but lacking that final edge to push it to “outstanding.” Also for QPR, it was a touch pricey ($30) for a very small Kamameshi portion. For comparison, the outstanding Kamameshi at Aburiya Raku is about 200% the size of Iroriya’s, is better executed, nicer flavors, and is the same price.
Uni Sashimi (AAA Grade Sea Urchin from Santa Barbara, CA):
With how random Uni has been this season, we were adopting @J_L’s thought about skipping most Uni dishes this year, but one of our friends really wanted to have some Uni, and then I noticed the menu boldly listing their Uni as “AAA Grade” which sounded intriguing.
This was… pretty tasty: Sweet, creamy, lightly briny, this was surprising how good it was considering how bad Uni has been in so many places this year. It was also $50 for this dish(!). With a large portion going for $90! But regardless, this was excellent.
Butabara Kakuni (Simmered Pork Belly):
We were super excited to try this dish, hoping to find another great version of Buta Kakuni, as suddenly, there seems to be a shortage of great versions around So Cal (besides Raku’s). Iroriya’s had the flavor: A nice balance of Shoyu, Mirin, just enough sweetness, but still very savory and long simmered in taste.
But the Pork Belly was slightly dried out on the edges (the middle was moist). It was a competent version, but the dried out edges took away from the potential greatness. I’ll be glad to try it again on another visit, hoping this is just a fluke.
Soba Tea Pudding:
Creamy, delicate, there was a nice trailing hint of Tea in each bite. Delicious.
Service was fine, being more informal, casual than the higher end versions like Kinjiro and Raku. It turned out to be about $140 per person (including tax & tip).
In the end, Iroriya is an excellent Izakaya, and one of our friends traveling with us smiled, mentioning this reminded her of a little family-owned Japanese Pub in her neighborhood growing up in Japan. It’s casual, relaxed and homely, but manages to deliver some outstanding dishes: I loved the Cucumbers with Japanese Plum, the Karaage Fried Chicken, the wonderful Unagi from Shizuoka.
For reference and comparison, we thought Aburiya Raku was better in many regards, but both menus offer unique dishes that make both places worth visiting. I wish we had Iroriya in L.A., we’d be glad to go back the next time we’re in the area.
3548 Homestead Rd.
Santa Clara, CA 95051
Tel: (408) 246-5511