Izakaya Zero (Huntington Beach) - LA-OC Foodie's Report
|I've been wanting to try out Izakaya Zero for quite awhile, but finally made a point to go this past Sunday (and take a "mini Easter" break from my Lent-induced vegetarianism) after reading Los Angeles Times' positive review a few weeks back.|
Situated in the downtown Huntington Beach area, a block away from the beach itself, my first thought upon arriving was "Haven't I been here before?" Sure enough, it was in the former Red Pearl Kitchen space, where I had pretty unmemorable meal. Hopefully this building isn't cursed with mediocre, overpriced eats . . .
Thankfully, the interior has been re-vamped. Gone is the dreary & campy red-and-black decor that's neither trendy hip nor authentically Asian. The bar and dining area is minimalistic modern with soft beige lighting and nice Asian-fusion touches -- lots of polished stones and a cute bathroom faucet that resembling a bamboo water pump.
I was debating whether to get their hot house sake (half off from Sun-Thurs) or one of their signature cocktails, and eventually decided on the latter and ordered the "Zen-gria"
Made with green tea liqueur (probably of the same name), sauvignon blanc, lemon and sweet-and-sour. I was afraid that this drink may be too sweet but turned out it's very well balanced and smooth, though I would've liked a little more green tea and fruity aromas to come through.
As I sipped away, I studied the menu - which is pretty much standard izakaya fare, Americanized a bit for the palates of the beach-going crowd (e.g. more deep-fried items than usual, and no hearts/gizzards/organs grilled up). Nonetheless, a lot of the items looked interesting and creative and a little whimsical (like fried crab cigar with scallops, shrimp and spicy mango sauce and sashimi ceviche served with tomatoes, red onions and yuzu dressing). Now I wished I came with others so I could try more stuff. But being a party of one for this foodventure, I ordered three small plates that started off with:
Eggplant with Shrimp and Miso-Aioli Sauce that was very luscious - the aioli, though a bit on the heavy side, had a subtly-sublime combo of flavors: a little sweet, a little tangy and a little garlicky, meshing very well with the grilled, creamy eggplant and the little chunks of shrimp. Would've been nicer if whole shrimps had been used, but overall very well-executed. And this is definitely a dish meant for sharing--The first few bites were divine, but it started weighing my tastebuds & stomach down fast. Nonetheless, my mouth still watered with the next dish's arrival:
Buta Kakuni - pork belly stewed in a soy-mirin broth with assorted veggies. Again, a wonderful dish with sweet and meltingly tender pork that barely needs any chewing. Wished I had some sort of starch to dip in that delicious broth. Mildly confuzzling, however, was the other veggies in the stew. The menu said "japanese mustard and mashed potatoes" (how the latter would fit into a dish like this, I wouldn't know) but instead it came with asparagus, enoki mushrooms and a root vegetable that I couldn't ID because it soaked up all that delicious sweet & greasy broth. Another minor mishap is that the stew served on one of those self-heating claypots, but there was no heat source when it was served. Not that I took long enough with this dish to let it get cold...
And finally, I got the course that I expected to come out first . . .
Mixed Green Salad with Baked Salmon Skin and Sesame-Ponzu Dressing. Timing for whipping this out is off, but at least from the still-warm salmon skin and crisp leaves I am at least relieved that it hadn't been left in the kitchen for half an hour while I was noshing on the other two items. The salad was light and refreshing, well-dressed and pretty generous with the crispy fish skins.
All in all, a nice delightful small-plates meal with a large variety of creative dishes that can please any tastebuds (there are at least another half-dozen things I wanted to try from the menu.) So, this time, I'm in agreement with Ms. Virbila -- and can't wait to come back for another round of delicious izakaya grub.
Zengria - $9
Eggplant w Shrimp - $6.95
Buta Kakumi - $5.95
Salmon Skin Salad - $4.95
Pre-tax/tip total - $26.95
Ambience: 4.5/5 (Comfortable and casual-hip with nice Asian-y accents)
Value: 3.5/5 (Like most other small-plate-oriented places, it's easy to run up the bill on not a whole lot of food; but portions here are deserving of the prices paid and I got quite a satisfying meal on about $20 of food)
Service: 7.5/10 (Nice and friendly without being obtrusive; given its location, the beachy surfer casual attitude is kind of there; service was only iffy from the timing of the dishes and no notice about veggie swaps)
Food: 17/20 (Pretty darn good all around, everything I tried had a tasty je ne sais quoi that made it a little bit unique; flavors could have been a little bolder, but I was pleased overall)
Bonus/Demerit: -.5 (crazy Huntington Beach parking)
412 Walnut Ave.