A Neighborhood Spark - The Japanese Small Plates of Izakaya Tonchinkan [Thoughts + Pics]

New Izakaya (Japanese Pub) openings happen often enough in L.A. that unless it’s a famous chef or has an established pedigree, there might not be much fanfare. But when the L.A. Times mentioned that the chef-owner of Izakaya Tonchinkan had worked previously at Urasawa, that caught our attention.

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Chef-Owner Yamato Miura, a quiet, charming younger fellow who was more than willing to chat it up with the guests at his new restaurant. He mentions that he did indeed work previously at Urasawa (and prior to that, Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo).

Glancing over the menu, it’s a nice collection of Izakaya small plates, with a surprisingly affordable Sake Menu to boot. Take for example this first bottle of Sake we started with:

Taisetsu - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan):

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Taisetsu’s claim to fame is that it’s brewed in ice igloos in one of the coldest regions of Japan (Hokkaido). Taking a sip, it is crisp, smooth, almost like refreshing icy cool water! :slight_smile: Shockingly, Tonchinkan sells a 720mL bottle for only $35! (The average retail price of Taisetsu was about $30 - $32!) :open_mouth:

I’ll leave it up to @beefnoguy @J_L @BradFord to see if it’s a bargain, but even the baller offering of Dassai Beyond Sake (which most places around L.A. sell for $1,000 - $1,200 per bottle) was only being sold for $720 here.

Kanpachi - Amber Jack Sashimi (Fukuoka, Japan):

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Eating at Tonchinkan really made us realize how spoiled we are by Raku. The Kanpachi tasted fresh and bright, but the slices were too thick and a bit rough in the knifework. In hindsight, it’s much better than Sashimi offerings at average Izakaya like Honda-Ya, etc., but it is so far behind Raku that it’s a bit disappointing.

Shishitou no Sansho Zuke (Shishito Peppers Marinated with Japanese Sansho Zuke):

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Fragrant, peppery, lightly piquant, but smoky & savory with the Katsuoboshi (Shaved Bonito Flakes), this was a nice start.

Kyou no Ohitashi (Today’s Simmered Vegetables):

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The Simmered Spinach is tender, exuding a delicate, pleasing Dashi flavor in each bite.

Ume Kyuu (Cucumber with Japanese Plum Dip):

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The Cucumbers are bright and snappy, and the Ume (Japanese Plum) Sauce is perfectly tart-savory and delicious. :slight_smile:

Tori no Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken):

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Tonchinkan’s Karaage has a subtle crunch, but it could be crunchier or crispier. The dark meat Chicken is moist, juicy and tender.

Toriwasa (Slow Cooked Chicken Marinated with Wasabi):

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Perfectly tender white meat Chicken - so moist, succulent, infused with the spicy, pungent punch from Wasabi. It is one of the best dishes on the menu and simply outstanding! :heart:

I believe @paranoidgarliclover was asking about great white meat Chicken preparations and this one tasted like it was either perfectly slow stewed, or sous vide, but the result was a must order and highlight of the evening! :blush:

Ginpi no Karaage Kare- Fumi (Gizzard Skin Kara Age with Curry Flavor):

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This sounded wild and unusual. It turned out quite crunchy, but sadly, the Gizzard Skin was just really chewy.

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Tonchinkan features a variety of Donabe (Japanese Clay Pot) Rice dishes. Once it’s partially cooked, the waitress brings it out tableside with a little hourglass timer to finish cooking (the final 10 minutes) just by the heat infused into the Donabe itself. :slight_smile:

So as it finished cooking, our next dish arrived…

Su Motsu (Pork Stomach with Housemade Ponzu):

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Tender with a light chew, “spicy” from the Green Onions and Marinated Onions, all balanced by this surprisingly delicate Housemade Ponzu Sauce that adds just the right amount of tart-savory. Delicious! :blush:

Yagen no Karaage (Deep Fried Chicken Cartilage):

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Their Deep Fried Chicken Cartilage was better than their regular Karaage (Fried Chicken (Dark Meat)) on this visit. Perhaps because the Chicken Cartilage itself offered a satisfying crunch, on top of the slightly crunchy batter. Nicely seasoned, not too salty and just tasty in every way. :slight_smile:

Gindara no Saikyo Yaki (Saikyo-Style Grilled Black Cod):

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I couldn’t resist ordering this to see how Miura-san’s preparation might compare with our favorites around town. The Grilled Black Cod marinated in Saikyo Miso Sauce arrived perfectly cooked: Buttery, flaky, moist, with this amazing deep Miso umami + salty-sweet flavor permeating every bite.

Another highlight of the evening! :heart:

Donabe - Toriniku to Gobou Takikomi Gohan (Chicken and Burdock Root Japanese Clay Pot Rice):

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The Donabe had finished cooking at this time (tableside) and was ready to eat: Taking a bite, it is just cooked through, nice plump Rice grains. The Chicken and Gobou Root combination is earthy, meaty, light and just right for my palate. :slight_smile:

It’s not as good as Raku’s Kamameshi (Iron Pot Rice), but still a great way to finish off dinner. (They have 4 other flavors of Donabe you can order on the menu, so we couldn’t wait to try other versions on future visits.)

2nd Visit:

Mizuna to Aburaage no Sarada (Mizuna & Fried Tofu (Aburaage) Salad):

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Sharp, peppery, crisp and bright, with little slightly crunchy yet soft strips of their Aburaage (Fried Tofu), it was an OK Salad and a refreshing way to start the evening.

Shichiken - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Yamanashi, Japan):

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This was fruity, round, yet finished cleanly. It paired nicely with most of the dishes this evening. :slight_smile:

Jikasei Tofu (Housemade Cold Tofu):

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Silky, almost like a thicker Flan in consistency, Miura-san’s Housemade Tofu is light and another nice starter. It doesn’t reach the heights of Raku’s Housemade Tofu though.

Asupara Goma - Asparagus withe Sesame Sauce:

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The Asparagus is just cooked through, tender, but not too soft, and the Housemade Sesame Sauce gives it that nutty aromatic note in every bite.

Torotaku Tsumami - Toro (Fatty Tuna) Chopped with Takuan (Pickled Radish):

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This was delicious! Luscious Fatty Tuna Belly chopped up and mixed with Takuan (Pickled Radish) that gave every bite a lush, crunchy bite with enough salinity and umami coming from the Nori (Seaweed) wrapper. The only improvement would be a slightly crisper Nori. :blush:

Kisetsu no Jikasei Tsukemono - Seasonal Housemade Japanese Pickles:

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There were 4 types of Seasonal Japanese Pickles on this evening, all with a slightly different flavor profile. My favorite was their super crunchy Gobou (and these went well with our Sake). :slight_smile:

Gyutan - Grilled Beef Tongue:

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When this dish arrives, visually it looks like it might suffer from the same issue as their Sashimi (being too thickly cut). However, taking a bite…

There’s a real, deep, genuine beefiness. :heart: Everyone at the table immediately dove in and took seconds. :grin:

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What elevated it even more was judicious use of either their Pickled Lemon (just use a tiny amount as it’s super tart and citrusy), or some of the Jalapeno Shoyuzuke, which added a nice spicy kick to the Beef Tongue. :slight_smile:

Lengua fans, do not miss out on this! (@Dommy @PorkyBelly and others.)

Donabe Hamachi to Arima Sansho Takikomi Gohan - Yellowtail and Japanese Sansho Peppercorn Clay Pot Rice:

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One of the more unusual offerings for their Donabe Japanese Clay Pot Rice dishes, Miura-san was offering Yellowtail with Arima Sansho Peppercorns, which sounded really neat.

The Yellowtail was way overcooked, but perhaps it was a Himono (Sun Dried variety of Fish)? We hadn’t heard of Sun Dried Yellowtail before, but I’ll let @bulavinaka and others chime in about this. The Hamachi was dense, tight and meaty, but still had some tenderness. There was a nice brininess, but the star was the fragrant, tingling, zinging Arima Sansho Peppercorns! A Japanese cousin to the Szechuan Peppercorn, this left you with a nice slightly numbing quality in each bite of the Rice. :grin:

Supearibu no Ga-rikku Miso Yaki - Pork Spare Rib Grilled with Garlic Miso:

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This was a bit disappointing: Too bready on the outer batter (soft), and while the Pork Spare Rib itself was still moist, the weird consistency of the batter made it gummy. :frowning:

3rd Visit:

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Musashino - Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Saitama, Japan):

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A beautiful label to fit with a light, semi-dry, clean finishing Sake. This was a pleasant surprise and made us want to try more Musashino Sake in the future. :slight_smile: (@bulavinaka)

Ankou no Karaage - Deep Fried Monkfish:

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The Monkfish was denser and meatier than what you might expect with a “Fried Fish” dish. Not bad, but probably something we wouldn’t order again.

Tori Motsuni Koshuni - Simmered Chicken Gizzard & Liver, Koshu Style:

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A dish of slowly cooked Chicken Gizzard and Liver, prepared in a style reflective of Koshu City (Yamanashi, Japan) according to our server, this was a rich, decadent dish, with each bite of the Chicken Gizzards and Livers being lacquered in this thick, lightly sweet-savory Shoyu-based Sauce.

Suffice to say this was fantastic with the Sake. :slight_smile:

Aomori Shimesaba - Preserved Japanese Mackerel (Aomori, Japan):

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Deeply pleasingly briny, inherently oily and pungent, the bit of Yuzu Kosho (Chili & Yuzu Citrus Paste) added a much needed citrusy, spicy counterpunch. Tasty. :slight_smile: It would be too salty on its own though, so pair with Steamed Rice or Sake (or Beer).

Mentaiko Udon - Spicy Cod Roe Udon Noodles:

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These Udon Noodles are not Handmade, but when you mix all of the ingredients together and slurp, there’s a beautiful mix of the heat from the Mentaiko (Spicy Cod Roe), the always beautifully fragrant Shiso Leaf, the nuttiness from the Goma (Sesame Seeds) and a bit of umami and salt from the Nori (Seaweed). This was delicious! :heart: (@PorkyBelly @J_L)

Takenoko no Kinome Miso Yaki - Grilled Bamboo with Japanese Pepper Leaf Miso:

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This was fine, and it sounded more interesting than it actually turned out: The Grilled Bamboo was tender and lightly smoky, but we were hoping for more of the Japanese Pepper Leaf Miso to come through.

Jikasei Atsuage no Guriru - Grilled Homemade Thick Fried Tofu (Atsuage):

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I wasn’t sure what to expect until I took a bite: There’s an incredible crispy-crunchy exterior to their Homemade Atsuage (Thick Fried Tofu), yielding a tender, soft interior. The flavors that hit your tongue include this deeply savory, lightly spicy mixture of Marinated Green Onions, Shichimi Togarashi Spice and other additions from Miura-san.

Highlight of the evening! And one of my favorite items on the menu. :heart:

Musashino - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Saitama, Japan):

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We liked the Musashino Junmai Daiginjo so much, that we decided to try their Junmai Ginjo version of the Sake. This was also quite crisp and easy to drink, but less smooth than their Daiginjo.

Donabe Sake to Ikura Takikomi Gohan - Salmon and Salmon Roe Clay Pot Rice:

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The 3rd option from their Donabe (Japanese Clay Pot) Rice section of the menu, this is the classic flavor combination with Salmon and Salmon Roe mixed with a fresh-cooked pot of Rice. The Rice grains themselves are a touch softer (overcooked) than the pristine version found at Aburiya Raku, but this is still quite delicious in and of itself. :slight_smile: A great flavor combination and probably our favorite one from this menu.

Gyusuji Miso Nikomi - Stewed Beef Tongue, Tripe, Tendon and Vegetables in Miso Flavored Soup:

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This was another supremely rich, potent stew of slow-cooked Beef Tripe, Tongue, Tendon and Vegetables. The Miso flavor was powerful and arguably overpowered the Beef parts.

Nihon Sakari - Daiginjo Sake (Hyogo, Japan):

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This was a brewer that we hadn’t tried before. The Daiginjo was fruitier than I would’ve liked, with a slightly longer tail and finish.

Setouchi Namako Ponzu - Sea Cucumber in Ponzu Sauce (Setouchi, Japan):

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When this arrived, I thought this might be something out of Aliens the movie. :sweat_smile: But all of us have liked the Hong Kong / Cantonese style preparations of Sea Cucumber, so we took a bite.

This was quite good! Gelatinous, but still firm enough to have some bite to it, the Ponzu with a bit of the Pickled Cucumber or some of the Momiji Oroshi (Spicy Grated Daikon Radish) made a cool, refreshing bite.

Shime Saba to Kaiware no Sarada - Marinated Japanese Mackerel and Daikon Radish Sprout Salad:

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This was a touch too salty from the Shime Saba (Marinated Japanese Mackerel) and their Ponzu Dressing. The Kaiware (Daikon Radish Sprouts) were refreshing, lightly peppery & spicy, but were overpowered by the rest of the ingredients unfortunately. :frowning:

Banbanji- Sarada - Chicken & Arugula Salad with Sesame Dressing:

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The “Salad” was a diced up combination of Chicken chunks and almost non-existent Arugula with too much Sesame Dressing. Sadly, one of the worst dishes on the menu. :frowning:

(Complimentary) Kanpachi - Amber Jack (Fukuoka, Japan):

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Miura-san was trying out a new dish and sending it out to each table: Kanpachi (Amber Jack) from Fukuoka, Japan, rolled with a mixture of Marinated Onions with a light Ponzu Dashi. This was much better than the standard Kanpachi Sashimi they serve.

Nihon Sakari - Nama Genshu Daiginjo Sake (Hyogo, Japan):

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They were offering this Nihon Sakari Sake (in a Nama Genshu Daiginjo variety) by the “Glass” on the menu, but when it arrived, it was via 200 mL can. Was this like drinking Box Wine perhaps? :sweat_smile: I thought they were parceling it out from a normal 720 mL glass bottle.

This was way to alcoholic and raw burn for me. Disappointing. :frowning:

Kamasu Ichiya Boshi - Overnight Dried and Grilled Wild Barracuda:

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Sadly overcooked, the Barracuda meat was slightly dried out, and mainly one note (salty). :cry:

We took full advantage of when it was our turn to visit our friends in Pasadena and San Gabriel, nudging them to try out Tonchinkan rather than us having to eat somewhere in Old Pasadena or the surrounding restaurants. :wink:

4th Visit:

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Taisetsu - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan):

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This was a cost-effective favorite from our 1st visit, the Taisetsu Junmai Ginjo Sake being as crisp and refreshing as the first time. :slight_smile:

Tori no Karaage - Deep Fried Chicken:

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Tonchinkan’s Karaage was much better on this visit, now exhibiting a slight crunch and a more pleasing exterior before giving way to the juicy dark meat Chicken within. The Matcha Green Tea Salt was a nice touch.

Asupara no Guriru - Grilled Asparagus on Teppan:

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The Grilled Asparagus was smoky and delicious, especially in a little bit of Butter, but that Cheese felt like it was just extraneous.

Toriwasa (Slow Cooked Chicken Marinated with Wasabi):

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As tender, moist, and beautifully Wasabi-spicy as the first time. Love this dish! :blush:

Mentaiko Poteto no Teppan Yaki - Mashed Potato with Spicy Salted Cod Roe:

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When I saw this on the menu, I immediately thought of @bulavinaka’s search for great Potato Salad dishes, so I had to order it in the hopes it might be worth @bulavinaka to try this sometime. :slight_smile: This was rough chopped Potato (more like a “Potato Salad” than “Mashed Potatoes”) slowly searing on a hot iron plate with a large dollop of Mentaiko (Spicy Cod Roe) which sounds amazing.

Except that they oversalted the Potatoes. :sob: The Mentaiko inherently is salty, so if they’re seasoning the Potatoes with Salt and then topping it with a big dollop of salty Spicy Cod Roe, it’s just going to overpower everything. Sorry this wasn’t a Potato dish worth trying @bulavinaka.

Go Shurui no Natsu Yasai no Sarada - Summer Vegetable Medley with Japanese Style Vinaigrette:

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This was a surprisingly tasty new Seasonal Dish: 5 Kinds of Summer Vegetables in a Japanese Vinaigrette. The combination of Summer sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Grilled Corn with the bitterness of the Arugula and crisp, cool Cucumbers in a savory Garlic-Onion Vinaigrette worked.

Jikasei Chi-zu Moriawase - Assorted Housemade Cheeses:

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This just sounded too crazy and interesting not to try it at least once: Chef Miura makes a variety of Housemade Cheeses(!) but with Japanese techniques applied to them.

Mozzarella Kobujime:

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Miura-san makes his Mozzarella in a Kobujime style, which is wrapping the Mozzarella in layers of Konbu (Kelp). In actual taste? It was barely noticeable. The actual Cheese itself was creamy and tender, but a bit more firm than some versions of fresh Mozzarella you might try around town.

Cream Cheese Miso Zuke:

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This didn’t really taste very creamy, nor did we pick up much in terms of Miso infusion.

Brie Cheese Shoyu Zuke:

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The Brie Cheese Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Zuke was softer and creamier than the Housemade Cream Cheese, and there might’ve been a little bit of a Shoyu flavor, but really it tasted like an odd, different version of Brie Cheese.

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The Puffed Rice Crackers were a different twist compared to usual Wheat Crackers, but overall this dish felt like more of a novelty than anything crave-worthy that you’d want to order repeatedly.

Kanpachi - Wild Amber Jack Sashimi:

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Hoping that we’d see an improvement in their Sashimi skills and offering, their Kanpachi on this visit is still fresh and bright, but as before, just too thick a cut, making it feel like you’re biting into something clumsy and ham-fisted in execution.

Ankimo Ponzu - Monkfish Liver with House Ponzu:

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Excellent. Rich, creamy yet firm, almost buttery, and the Housemade Ponzu Sauce gives it just enough tartness to offset the rich fattiness. :slight_smile:

(Special) Sunagimo - Grilled Chicken Gizzards:

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There aren’t any Yakitori (Chicken Skewers) offered normally at Tonchinkan, but on this visit they had a Special of Sunagimo (Grilled Chicken Gizzard Skewers), which arrived with a nice snap and slight grill-smokiness and a good meatiness within. :slight_smile:

Kazunoko no Tsumami - Crunchy Herring Roe:

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I know it’s in the actual menu name, but seriously, the Crunchy Herring Roe was super crunchy! :grin: It was flavored with a light tart-savoriness, but the standout feature was it’s super loud, interesting crunchiness with every bite.

Unagi to Kinshi Tamago no Donabe Gohan - Freshwater Eel and Shredded Egg Clay Pot Rice:

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Lightly sweet, subtly fatty and luscious from the Unagi (Freshwater Eel) with bits of Shredded Egg mixed in with the freshly cooked pot of Rice. Wonderful. :slight_smile:

Sawanoi - Daikarakuchi - Junmai Sake (Tokyo, Japan):

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Fruity, noticeable alcohol upon the palate with a medium-long finish. Not a style I normally like, but we wanted to try something different on the Sake Menu.

Tori Yagen no Shioyaki - Grilled Chicken Cartilage:

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Rather than the usual Deep Fried Chicken Cartilage, we wanted to try their Grilled version. These arrived nicely grilled with some smokiness and crispness. They were finished with some Yuzu Kosho (Chili & Yuzu Citrus Paste) which really complemented each bite and gave it a nice aromatic kick. :slight_smile:

Chawanmushi Uni to Ikura No Se - Japanese Dashi Egg Custard with Uni & Salmon Cod Roe:

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Light, silky Steamed Egg Custard. However the Ikura (Salmon Cod Roe) added a bit too much salinity to each bite, and the Ikura was a touch too briny. :frowning:

Furofuki Daikon Yuzu Miso - Slowly Simmered Daikon Radish with Yuzu Miso:

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This sounded better than the execution: The slow-simmered Daikon Radish was very tender and simply delicious, however the Yuzu Miso was a touch overly sweet and one-note; feeling like it didn’t need to be there.

Donabe Kari Kari Ume to Shirasu Takikomi Gohan - Pickled Crunchy Japanese Plum and Sardine Clay Pot Rice:

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This was fantastic! :blush: This Japanese Clay Pot Rice is the last of the regular Donabe Takikomi Gohan dishes offered on the regular menu. There are Baby Sardines mixed into the Rice with the super crunchy texture and piquant bursts from the chopped up Ume (Japanese Plum); another delightful way to end a meal. :slight_smile:

5th Visit:

Musashino - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Saitama, Japan):

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Easy drinking, crisp and relatively clean finish.

Kyou no Ohitashi (Today’s Simmered Vegetables):

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Today’s Simmered Vegetable Dish featured Spinach with Nameko Mushrooms and a bit of Atsuage Tofu in a light Dashi Broth.

Kamo Ro-suto - Roasted Duck:

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While Miura-san’s Roasted Duck lacked any crispy skin, the actual Duck Skin and Duck Meat was full of flavor. Nuanced and nicely seasoned, it was delicious and a great match with the Sake. :slight_smile:

Ika no Karaage - Deep Fried Squid with Squid Liver Sauce:

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The Deep Fried Squid itself was overcooked. :frowning:

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However the Kimoyaki Sauce (Squid Innards Sauce) was super funky and pungent in a good way, and really made the Fried Squid standout.

Amabuki - Himawari (“Sunflower”) - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Saga, Japan):

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Amabuki is one brewer that @beefnoguy has recommended for its Ichigo (Strawberry) Sake, which was quite unique. So we were excited to try their Himawari (Sunflower) Sake, as we hadn’t seen this one before. It was lightly sweet, so smooth and with a very clean finish. It was delicious. :blush:

Shime Saba - Vinegar and Konbu Cured Japanese Mackerel (Iceland):

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The Shime Saba arrived with a gorgeous crisped skin, which only helped to activate the inherent oiliness in the Japanese Mackerel. Salty, pungent, moist, tender, this was fantastic with the Amabuki Himawari Sake! :blush:

Jikasei Atsuage no Guriru - Grilled Homemade Thick Fried Tofu (Atsuage):

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Miura-san’s Homemade Grilled Atsuage (Thick Fried Tofu) is just that joyful intersection of crispy-crunchy exterior, soft interior with an incredibly balanced, savory, onion-y, umami burst of flavor.

It is a highlight and a must-order! :heart:

Gyutan - Grilled Beef Tongue:

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As amazingly beefy, tender, meaty and moist as before. Another standout item. :blush:

Unagi no Yanagawakaze Tamago Toji - Yanagawa-Style Traditional Burdock, Egg and Eel Hotplate:

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This was a delightful, savory-sweet dish featuring Unagi (Freshwater Eel), Lightly Scrambled Eggs and Gobou (Burdock Root) simmered together; just a great dish. :slight_smile:

Service is a bit haphazard in this small eatery, but you just wave to get the attention of the servers as needed.

Izakaya Tonchinkan turns out to be a surprisingly decent neighborhood Japanese Pub that features some sparks of excellence, like their Grilled Homemade Thick Fried Tofu, Pork Stomach with Housemade Ponzu and Grilled Beef Tongue. Their selection of Japanese Clay Pot Rice dishes is a nice touch, and while they don’t reach the heights of Aburiya Raku’s fantastic Kamameshi, they are very good in their own right.

However, their menu might be more ambitious than the staff can handle at times, with missteps in various dishes like the slightly too thick Housemade Chilled Tofu, gummy Pork Ribs or the too salty Stewed Tripe, Tendon Miso Soup, and other dishes that arrive oversauced.

But while there are hiccups on the menu, an affordable Sake Menu (with prices much lower than many top Izakaya) and the aforementioned standout dishes make this a solid neighborhood Izakaya worth a visit if you’re in the area.

(Reservations Recommended.)

Izakaya Tonchinkan
713 W. Duarte Rd.
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel: (626) 461-5078

Update 1: Another visit. Rarer Sake from Nabeshima.
https://foodtalkcentral.com/t/a-neighborhood-spark-the-japanese-small-plates-of-izakaya-tonchinkan-thoughts-pics/8471/13?u=chowseeker1999

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We had one pretty decent meal here. Glad you found it too. Merrill Shindler found this place before all of us, it seems.

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Thanks for the report @Chowseeker1999. The sashimi being cut so poorly is surprising for somebody who worked at urasawa. I’m guessing he wasn’t one of the sushi chefs?

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Thanks @J_L. Yah there are a few great dishes, some solid dishes and some not so good dishes, but overall with the really affordable Sake Menu and the better dishes, it feels fine for a little neighborhood spot.

Sadly with our loss of Morinoya (and to a much lesser extent Musha), we could use more Izakaya on the Westside these days.

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Thanks @PorkyBelly. We thought that as well! :grin: After the Sashimi plate arrived I thought, “I guess he didn’t work on the Sushi at Urasawa.” And then two of our friends who joined us (who’ve eaten at Urasawa) said out loud, “I don’t think he was in charge of cutting the fish.” :sweat_smile:

But thankfully there were quite a few cooked dishes and flavor combinations that worked pretty well so that you can skip the Sashimi. (We did like the seared Shime Saba though (and it looked much better than the regular Sashimi.)

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Thanks for the report, @Chowseeker1999.

I have had my eye on this place from afar.
They are bringing in some really rare sake.

Esp. Aramasa #6. I didn’t even know this was being imported…

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I wonder if these are hand carried, or one of the SoCal distributors is able to bring in a very small amount to test the market? Either way even the Aramasa, Nabeshima, and Hiroki are ridiculously difficult to find in Tokyo (and believe me I’ve hit up about 12 different sake shops big and small). Only saw Nabeshima once in a shop at Midtown Hibiya, the top of the line Black Label. US$200 ish is expensive by local standards and more than what it costs in Kita Kyushu/Fukuoka area (it’s Tokyo after all), but I guess it’s butt cheap compared to what you pay here for a Dassai Beyond (cough cough) or Hakkaisan Kongoshin…

The Hiroki (which is identical to the one below) is a damn excellent sake featured in one of their IG posts, I had the pleasure of bringing back one (it’s the single pasteurized Junmai Daiginjo) once last year and had to spend a separate minimum of 5000 yen or so to buy it at 2700 yen in Tokyo… it outperforms quite a number of Juyondai I’ve tried, including the one Hayato recently served as a one off, but that’s just my opinion, except for their top of the line which is warranted (except for the black market markup…).

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I was also thinking hand-carry.
Will continue my post on the SakeTalk thread…

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If I lived in the area, I’d pay a visit to Tonchinkan and ask :slight_smile: but with the caveat that their secret is safe with me (and us lol).

Though my hunch tells me the food isn’t matching with these high end sake… Aramasa is fizzy and delicate, a bit more of a drink to enjoy or on the side, a bit challenging to find the absolute right match to elevate the taste of food. I’ve had one of the low end Aramasa’s before, and if you do not consume it within the hour, the quality degrades like mad…some restaurant people in Tokyo who I’ve spoken to interestingly agree too.

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Hi @beefnoguy,

Thank you for the great perspective! :slight_smile: So which of the 3 (Aramasa, Nabeshima, Hiroki) would you recommend that I try on my next visit? The Hiroki Junmai Daiginjo?

You make them all sound rather wonderful! :slight_smile:

Hmmm just do eeeny meeeny miny mo… they are unique and different in their own way. Also since some were posted just a few days ago, check the price (the markup could be pretty serious), availability then decide on your comfort level. You will enjoy them all and exclaim one of the best sake you’ve ever had no matter what you pick…so if you want a taste of high level top quality smaller producer but cult status sake in Japan amongst fairly serious drinkers that’s not exported (to my knowledge at least), you cannot go wrong with any of them.

The problem is…how were these brought over and under what storage conditions during transit and current. That’s only if they are willing to answer that question and maybe not to most consumers…

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In addition:

I am going to assume bottling date is within the year. Sometimes this is tricky because makers will list the Japanese year (2018 = 30 [Heisei]).

Second assumption is that they are offering these rare sake by the glass only. In that case, I would ask when the bottle was opened. As @beefnoguy mentioned in a previous post, these delicate sake would decline after even only a couple days in refrigeration. The Nabeshima is a junmai ginjo and may be ok even after a week.

I would drink the Aramasa and Hiroki from a white wine glass to fully enjoy the aromas.

I would balance these considerations against the asking price.

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Update 1:

While perfectly fine as a neighborhood spot, we weren’t sure when we’d be able to go back to Izakaya Tonchinkan given the distance, but with a strong recommendation for a rare Sake from @beefnoguy, we decided to stop by and see what the fuss was all about. :slight_smile:

Nabeshima - Aiyama - Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Saga, Japan):

This Nabeshima Aiyama Sake uses a very rare Rice varietal (according to Chef-Owner Miura, as well as @beefnoguy). I’ve never seen this offered at any Japanese restaurants here in L.A./O.C. nor in S.F., so we were excited to give this a try.

The first notes are extremely floral, like a bouquet. It’s lightly sweet, very aromatic and surprisingly not as smooth as most Junmai Daiginjo Sake that we’ve tried over the years. It was unique and seemed to open up even more as the night went on. Not as stunning as our favorites (like certain offerings from Tatsuriki, Okunomutsu, or even the special Juyondai that we had last year), but we were glad to have tried it. :slight_smile: (FYI: The Nabeshima was bottled 3 months prior to our tasting.)

Kyo no Ohitashi (Today’s Simmered Vegetable - Spinach):

Nicely cooked through, tender, delicate.

Yagen no Shioyaki (Grilled Chicken Cartilage):

Their Grilled Chicken Cartilage (from the Chicken Breast portion) was well-executed, nice crunch.

Shinjo (Shiitake Mushroom Tempura Stuffed With Shrimp):

The inner stuffed Shrimp and Shiitake Mushroom mixture was moist and springy, but the outer frying technique left a lot to be desired (compared to our best around the city).

Tori Momo Niku no Misoyaki (Miso Marinated Chicken Grill):

Nice Miso marination that permeated the Chicken, but a touch overcooked. Of note, the Nabeshima Aiyama Sake did not hold up very well with this dish.

Pork Stomach with Housemade Ponzu:

Appreciated the slightly crunchy grilled texture

Karikari Ume to Shirasu Donabe Takikomi Gohan (Pickled Crunchy Plum and Baby Sardine):

Definitely one of the better categories of items at Tonchinkan, their Clay Pot Rice dishes always feature 4 - 5 different offerings each night. The crunchy Japanese Plum and Baby Sardine was a nice flavor and texture combo with the freshly steamed Rice. :slight_smile:

Their Pickle selection was also a nice match with the Donabe.

Amabuki - Himawari - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Saga, Japan):

Lightly aromatic, easy to sip, and a nice match with many of our dishes following.

Grilled Beef Tongue:

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A nice beefy flavor, meaty, yet tender with the thin slicing.

Chinese Napa and Crunchy Baby Sardine Salad:

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Loved the crunchiness in every bite, with crisp Napa Cabbage with a noteworthy snap, and the Fried Baby Sardines in a lightly piquant-savory-sweet Ponzu Vinaigrette.

Torotaku (Fatty Tuna Belly Chopped & Mixed with Takuan (Japanese Pickled Radish)):

Delicious. :slight_smile: Fatty, luscious, crunchy.

Jikasei Atsuage no Guriru (Grilled Homemade Thick Fried Tofu):

As fantastic as usual. Definitely one of our favorite things, with their Housemade Tofu being fried and then grilled to give it a crusty, crunchy texture, lightly savory and earthy, adorned with Shichimi Togarashi, Green Onions, and Katsuoboshi (Shaved Bonito Flakes). :slight_smile:

Tatenokawa - 50 Nakadori - Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Yamagata, Japan):

Almost fruity and sweet to the taste, it had a pleasing roundness / balance with a decent finish.

Dashimaki Tamago (Made-to-Order Japanese Egg Omelet):

This was a pleasant surprise: Made fresh to order, Miura-san’s Dashimaki Tamago was piping hot, fluffy, airy and a standout this evening. :heart: We like Wadatsumi’s much more, but this was still great.

Izakaya Tonchinkan is still pretty much a solid neighborhood Japanese Pub. Most of the dishes won’t necessarily wow you, but there are some standouts to try if you’re in the area, from their nice assortment of Donabe (Clay Pot Rice) dishes, to their Grilled Beef Tongue and the Dashimaki Tamago (Japanese Egg Omelet). What might make it more of a detour is the selection of rarer, off-menu Sake that Miura-san seems to be bringing in limited quantities such as the Nabeshima Aiyama Junmai Daiginjo Sake and Juyondai among others.

(Reservations Recommended.)

Izakaya Tonchinkan
713 W. Duarte Rd.
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel: (626) 461-5078

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Thanks for reporting back!

Nabeshima is not exported to the US, although it is one of the cult sake in Japan. However its profile for the higher end is a bit too subtle for me, and same goes for the more affordable lower end options. Generally a bit lighter to medium bodied, and I think those Nabeshima would at the most go with something much lighter flavored like dashi simmered chilled vegetables, fresh yuba, tezukuri tofu, or sunomono…although a friend told me delicate tempura dipped with salt at most (especially with Junmai Daiginjo). Since the last time you asked I wasn’t sure of Nabeshima’s profile then. I’ve concluded it is not my favorite sake despite the raves by sake chasers in Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Amabuki is famous for brewing sake using yeast from various flowers, so Himawari is made from the yeast of the sunflower. Their other Yamahai Junmai is made from the yeast of Marigold, and of course “Ichigo” Junmai Ginjo being strawberry yeast.

Juyondai is not worth the markup being charged unless it’s reasonable (not likely) and properly stored. Food pairing range is also a bit limited depending on the style and type.

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Thanks @beefnoguy. I’m glad to have tried the Nabeshima Aiyama, but like you, I think this is something we’re not a big fan of, so we’d probably explore other brewers next time. And yah, unfortunately most of the menu here doesn’t have really light, subtle flavors that might pair better with it.

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Great report! I haven’t had a chance to eat at Tonchinkan yet.

Re: Amabuki Himawari
What a great sake! Amabuki creates magic with their experimental yeasts.

What impact does yeast have on sake? The yeast is largely responsible for the sake’s aroma.
In this case, the sunflower yeast gives a distinctly nutty aroma to the sake. It is definitely a sake that can be used to drive home the yeast=aroma lesson for sake drinkers. Likewise, the strawberry yeast sake has a distinctly strawberry aroma. Magic!

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