I was in Little Tokyo last weekend. It felt a bit weird being back after so many years. Anyway I had parked in the basement of Weller Court and it was noon-ish so I simply headed upstairs for some Japanese B-Kyuu Gurume options. Like when am I ever not in the mood for it.. ;) (An awkward Google translated Wiki page of Japanese B-Kyuu Gurume here. Update: An excellent PDF article I found that explains B-Class Gourmet much better here.)
This day some Japanese influenced Chinese Chuka peaked my interest so decided to check out Chin-Ma-Ya of (Little) Tokyo. To be more specific, I was in the mood for some savory Mabo Tofu to induce me into that out of body trance of hakumai white rice craving euphoria.
I had come across adverts of CMY in free Japanese publications in the past and was curious for a while. A more extensive post on dishes of Chin-Ma-Ya can be read here on Exile Kiss while my original old nerd rambling on different Mapo Dofu can be found here. A more recent article of a Szechuan and Japanese Mabo comparison on LA Weekly's Squid Ink here.
So I'll be jumping to the conclusion but my expectations were probably too high. The good was that not surprising the CMY Chin-Ma Han's Mabo flavors were balanced delicately to Japanese taste buds. It had a good amount of ground pork and was not swimming in raayu hot oil.
The foundation of umami rich spicy Ten-Men Jan and beany Tochi fermented beans I thought had a fair amount of complexity but not out of the ordinary. The highest 'Spicy' level I ordered was more of a medium for me. Also the Szechuan Peppercorns explained in the written description could've easily been Japanese Sansho (the stuff you sprinkle on Unagi) where the woodsy aroma was pleasant but the numbing heat effect was almost non existent. The key so-so factor though was that it had a pre-made batch quality.
But having said all this Japanese Mabo to me is one of those pizza like food creations where although you know there are better it's kinda hard to encounter one that is completely unsatisfying (the exception being an extremely sweet version at Chopstix that for me is off-putting).
So the Mabo didn't make me sing and dance out in the courtyard but I still managed to polish the bowl fairly well. ;) The pork gyoza unfortunately though was a plain and simple let down. Many had torn skins and the flavor of the filling not unlike the frozen stuff you can get.
I guess I was expecting much more from CMY because they have a fairly specialized and limited menu. Chin-Ma-Ya to my Mabo was like Curry House is to me for Japanese Curry. A fair mainstream translation that doesn't quite try to go above and beyond. I must say that the workers this day were all super duper nice, professional and just plain cool.
I got the gyoza combo deal for $8.95. The rice and mabo Chin-Ma Han by itself is $6.30 and that's like what I'd be charged for a fat burrito, so price is reasonable. I may be back for the Tan-Tan Men some day (too bad no Kuro Goma black sesame seed version here).
But if I told you my biggest disappoint this day you'd probably think I'm being silly. Well the Chin-Ma-Ya type and logo print was nowhere to be seen on the bowls! While that may sound insignificant to some I'm a huge sucker for details like it, haha, and I would've even paid for a set if they were available to be purchased (like the coffee mugs at Mister Donut). If I'm going to have a so-so meal from a famous chain I guess I wished I could've at least experienced it in full glory with the original dishware.. The extreme B-Kyuu Gurume fan I could be at times can make me a weirdo like that. :P
Chin-Ma-Ya of Tokyo (Weller Court 2F), 123 Astronaut Ellison S Onizuka St., Los Angeles, CA 90012