Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gardena Ramen, Giant Robot And Nijiya (Again)

I had the idea to title the post GR Squared And 2G-Ya... But that was way too dorky, even for me.

So a favor from a close friend in Japan led me to an errand to the Giant Robot Store in West L.A. this weekend. Of course the nerdy bloggerister that I am I used the opportunity to visit Ramen Mottainai in Gardena for a second time on the way up. While it was another great hit, I'm waiting until I finish all three of their offerings until I post on the place. A hasty one or two meal I guess I felt was a little too もったいない。。(?) ;)

Backtracking a little to yesterday morning, me in my comfy bed, I was re-googling Mottainai's address and a Rameniac's review of Gardena Ramen popped up. Reading I was immediately intrigued and felt I really wanted to check out the place my appetite post RM permitting.

Well I did. :) Rameniac's review was back in February 2007 and especially these days a lot can happen in +3 years time but I was super happy to see Gardena Ramen operating as the usual self in this rather desolate strip mall.

Menu seems to not have changed as well. As I've read your only choices are of Shoyu or Miso ($6.50). For Oomori large add a dollar. The only side option seems to be Gyoza ($3.50). Hiyashi Chuka is in season if you're into that. Beer. Needless to say I've had more trouble ordering at In-N-Out. A bowl of Shoyu please... and a side of Gyoza. I wasn't sure I could finish but what the heck.

I'm not a seasoned South Bay Ramen noodler, far from it in fact, but man Gardena Ramen had my next to favorite spartan but seriously adorable atmosphere. A latticed white wall with a nice patina and all that wonderful natural light coming in through the large windows. The chairs at first glance looked as though there were bowls of steamy ramen routered into them. 「この店気合い入ってんな〜」I thought immediately but on second glance they turned out to be chairs for a cafe. ;) In any case as South Bay hometown ramen-ya vibes go (and strictly speaking vibe here) Eboshi is still my favorite feel good joint but Gardena Ramen is now my close second.

The Shoyu Ramen looked beautiful. The light soup was at least for me this day a few notches richer than Eboshi's (which isn't hard to be) and wasn't the tad too salty and slightly opaque as described but something I can definitely appreciate.

After these years maybe some things have changed after all but either way again the lightly sweet Shoyu soup which I detected mostly chicken with a hint of pork and ever so small hint of dried fish was something I could appreciate even after Mottainai's hefty bowl prior.

Noodles were very good with a nice eggy flavor and a consistent chewy bounce. And Whoo Weee there sure were a whole lot of it! The photo below was me about half way through and I only imagined what the Oomori large would be like. About the same moment a regular seeming young gentlemen (since the lady knew what the man wanted) ordered up a large miso.

The menma was very lightly marinated with the more crisp bamboo shoot texture and flavor being predominant. The egg is hard boiled but timed just so for a surprising soft doneness and also tasted very fresh. In fact the older lady up front was gently peeling them as I walked in. The chasu pork is your leaner cut but still very tender.

The gyoza actually came out first.

Visually these were the fairly standard with light fillings but fit the theme of the day also being quite fresh. The skin very translucent and bouncy and the ground pork/minced cabbage mixture with a pleasant ginger taste and (at least to me seemed to have) a light spice that I couldn't put a finger on. But I could be imagining things.

While I personally prefer gyozas fried crisper and with a little more filling it's refreshing to see ones that don't tear and fall apart when you eat them.

The shoyu ramen wasn't exactly as described at least in the 2007 rendition on Rameniac's blog but still very good IMHO. For now I'll be stopping by Gardena Ramen if I happen to be in the area again (hopefully less filled as well). And at least to me the atmosphere has a magic that gives me that good warm fuzzies. And if a person knows me at all they won't be surprised to see me warrant a revisit just to experience that once again. ;)

Gardena Ramen, 1840 West 182nd Street, Torrance, CA 90504

Random shots of a few places I passed by..
Meiji Tofu! Definitely dropping in next time.

Okinawa Association of America.. Hmm could use a fresh coat of paint but the building is actually kinda neat.

Looks like Super Udon has seen better days.

Too bad because I actually wouldn't have mind checking the place out the pop food culture curious I am. This place below I couldn't find any info on the net. It'd be nice to find a Spike's replacement someday but I don't know...

So anyhow off to the Giant Robot Store. West L.A. was only 15~20-minutes away. This part of Sawtelle Blvd I call the other Little Tokyo.. I used to come all the way here to have my hair cut by a Japanese stylist when I lived in Pasadena (and I didn't know any better, haha).

Got lucky with parking and the credit card accepting meter had a good forty-minutes left in it. Sweet.

It's been forever since I visited the GR Store with everything available online these days. But like visiting a good bookstore it's nice to step out the virtual and actually look at real stuff on display. The workers were super cool too.

I picked up a T-shirt for myself and this GR issue No. 64 for my friend. Not sure what's so special about it but he couldn't find it anywhere he said, even on ebay Japan (or I guess Yahoo Auction or ヤフオク is the more popular auction site over there).

He's responsible for these great images at the 1:1 Gundam statue unveiling btw. Yes you can say he is a bona fide Otaku.

Since gr/eats was only a half block away I thought I'd check the place out. If anything I thought meemalee would appreciate the photos.

A nice welcoming atmosphere. The food offerings are much more than listed on the main menu. There was a specials board that was as long as the main.

The artwork is by Ai Yamaguchi.

Was the perfect place to rest for a few minutes. I was still so stuffed and couldn't think of even ordering that nice sounding green tea cake. The chilled green tea was good, dark and rich.

Back in SD the evening I dropped by Nijiya for a quick dinner (again). I usually know the deli/bento offerings by heart but they've really been going out of their way trying out new stuff, not to mention the quality has really come together impressively over the last couple years.

But what do we have here.. My god have they finally listened to my onigiri request!? ;)

So many varieties of fun fillings. Yukari, BBQ Beef, Teriyaki Chicken, Unagi, Mentai (cod roe) Mayo, Nozawana, Chicken Karaage Mayo, Buta (pork) Kimchee, and even a Bakudan ("bomb" filling).

You can still get the usuals. And although I always thought Spam and Organic Rice was a quirky combo you can get that here too. :)

I picked up a Buta Kimchee and Karaage Mayo onigiri. Hand formed, the rice was loosely packed (appetite stimulating) and great. Could've had a little more filling in each but not less than usual. The nori wrapper wouldn't be crispy here but all in all it had great flavor and I'm a fan of these new omusubis. Good job Nijiya-SD!

I also picked up a bottle of this Nijiya Tokusei Ra-yu. I'm not sure if it's as good as the Ishigaki stuff but I'll report in due time. BTW this seems to be the extremely chunky 食べれるラー油 or edible ra-yu that has quickly become very popular. A youtube clip of one being made at home.

Dang, get me a bowl of rice quick! :)


Sawyer said...

that giant robot store looks interesting, i've never heard of it before actually. you're right though about online doesn't beat actually holding the product in your hand and seeing it for yourself. sounds like a fun trip!

caninecologne said...

hi dennis - loooove the gr store in l.a.! haven't been there in a few years. we also ate at gr eats - i remember being bummed out because their fried chicken had no skin! too healthy! and yes,the artwork in gr eats is so cool!

the gr in nyc is so tiny!

love the gr mags - we went to the gr retrospective back in january when it was at the JANM in Little Tokyo. very cool!

great pix of the sign and of the ramen you ate at the other places! i look to your blog for ramen recommendations you know!

KirkK said...

Hey Dennis - Meiji Tofu is quite good. They sometimes sell it at Marukai, though we used to pick it up from the factory on occasion.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, diff onigiri fillings! I was just there a few weeks ago and buying bentos and didn't see those yet. Now I know what I'm eating for my airplane trip to Seattle. I agree though that the bentos have improved.
Never been to the actual B&M Giant Robot Store, looks interesting.

Dennis K. said...

Hi Sawyer! It was a rather quick trip but a good one. The GR Store is pretty cool. It's like a tiny comicon all by itself (but without marvel or dc stuff).. :)

Hi CC! I can imagine the NYC GR Store. I've been in some random toy figure shops in tokyo that were like a few phone booths big the crazy expensive rent it is there as well.
Anyhow ramen can be hard to recommend as it can range from thick rich greasy fatty porky to super subtle and thin and a bit fishy (and everything in between), but thanks. :) Just don't ever trust my breakfast diner recs cause I'm way too sappy sentimental about them even more so, haha.

Hi Kirk! You can get Meiji Tofu at Nijiya too. They have a much shorter shelf life so my kinugoshi comes and goes. They carry the sukui dofu in the basket here too.

Hi Kirbie! I wished they had a little more filling in them and although super crispy nori is nice I'm used to it already on.
This GR Store as for toy knick knacks doesn't carry much the latest and greatest but instead more the classics which may be a few years old. I like that I can still get my sony toro cat here. :)

Wandering Chopsticks said...

We switched, sort of. I was in SD this past weekend. :P

I can't believe you had two lunches and stopped off at a third place. But that iced green tea does look good.

You have to do an SGV trip to revisit Duck's so I can finally go, then Sapporo ramen at Aji Man, then Kang Kang for some shen jian bao to-go. See? I planned out your whole trip. ;)


"I love Ramen

because i haven't made myself lunch not yet
but no reason to fret
i know what I will make
it will be great
o how I love this food
sometimes I eat and say: o dude
it's even better then cake
this food is no fake
it is the food that I like to eat
but it needs to cooked
under much heat
this food is something you might not expect I dont know
but I think it is time to show
the great food I love RAMEN!"

David Knox

Dennis K. said...

Hi WC, sounds like a super plan! You know I'd get close to Alhmbra and San Gabriel and call it quits cause of traffic exhaustion every time!

Hi MK! Nice! Can't wait to see your ramen creation!