Food & Drink

Tsubaki: A Refined Izakaya Experience

TSUBAKI

1356 Allison Avenue | Echo Park

Kampai! One of my favorite words, often being a precursor to a night with more rounds of sake and beer than there are plates of food. If you've been following a few of my posts, you may have probably noticed by now that alcohol is heavily (and heavenly) involved with my food venturing. This leads me to my recent food adventure at Tsubaki, a modern izakaya and newest addition to Echo Park's growing food scene.

"Izakaya" in essence is a place to relax and linger with good company over drinks and small plates for snacking. For Izakayas, drinks are as much of a course as is the food, which I support 100%.  What better way to make good company even greater than a few rounds of beer and sake!

First thing to note is that I highly recommend a reservation.  In the spirit of indulging in "spirits," Tsubaki welcomes its guests to linger and order food and drinks as they please as a true izakaya experience should be.   Tsubaki's space is very small and limited as well, so if you're planning to walk-in then be prepared to wait.  Also, rumor has it that the best seats in the restaurant are at the bar, where the bartenders behind the counter may extend a favor and fill your spirits up (wink wink) throughout your courses.

Now, onto the menu! Tsubaki offers a multiple page menu of drinks accompanied by a single page menu of food (that's right, don't get it twisted).  For sake lovers, the drink menu has an extensive collection of small, craft sake breweries.  Don't worry about feeling overwhelmed, as the staff will happily help you out in deciding on a drink, especially ones that pair well with certain dishes (more on that soon). For our group, we chose a neutral, easy going and session-able sake that we could enjoy with every round of food to come. 

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Now, onto the food! The food menu is broken down into 7 categories: Reisai (Cold), Mushimono (Steamed), Agemono (Fried), Yakimono (Grilled & Pan-Fried), Nimono (Simmered), Shime (Rice & Noodles), and Kanmi (Sweets).  We ordered from 4 of the 7 categories, which I will walk you through!


REISAI

- COLD -

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We ordered a couple of Reisai dishes to start us off: Goma-Ae and Hamachi Sashimi. 

Goma-Ae is a mix of charred broccolini and long beans that gave a mild yet sweet earthy taste as the base of the dish.  These charred veggies are tossed in a sesame dressing, providing an even earthier and nutty taste.  The crispy shallots gave a tasteful crunch to round out the overall texture of the dish.  Served cold, the flavors were subtle and light, with an earthiness that set the ground for the dishes to come. 

Next up, the Hamachi Sashimi.  The sashimi is lightly brushed with soy, complimented with a touch of wasabi to portion to your liking.  This dish is simple and light, making it a perfect starter for the bolder and flavorful dishes ahead.  


MUSHIMONO

- STEAMED - 

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Sake is a delight to drink, and it is even more of a delight to cook.   As many clam dishes I'm familiar with are simmered in white wine and butter, this dish is elevated in flavor as these clams are cooked in a blend of sake and seaweed butter.  This resulting green savory broth is so flavorful, that you'll be filling every clam shell like a soup spoon and taking in a slurp of full-on umami.  These are also not your typical manila clams.  These are baja clams.  These huge clams will definitely stir up some clamor, as they are bold and meaty with a hint of sweetness. 


YAKIMONO

- GRILLED & PAN FRIED - 

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Now onto my favorite type of food, grilled!  We ordered two from this category: The Tako and the Buta-Shoga Yaki. 

Tsubaki really nailed the Tako - a skewer of octopus and scallions, paired with shishito peppers and aioli. The octopus was grilled with just the perfect charred exterior with a tender and soft interior.  A bite of the shishito pepper to get a kick, followed by a bite of the skewer with a dip of the cooling garlic aioli makes this dish the perfect two-bite combo.  Tako' bout a perfect pairing!

Let's not forget the Buta-Shoga Yaki, a ginger glazed pork belly tossed in a slaw and flavored in garlic oil.  For those looking for a heavier option, you'll surely get your protein for a great value.  


NIMONO

- SIMMERED - 

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The last course, but certainly not least (in portions), was the Sukiyaki.  The thin slices of strip steak blanket over forest mushrooms that are nestled and simmered in a savory and subtly sweet soy broth. Chrysanthemum leaves gave a floral yet honey-like aroma as it simmered in the sauce, which helped fully bring out sweet but fragrant notes of the sukiyaki.  This was the perfect dish to round out the whole dinner. 


Tsubaki offers a pleasurable environment to relax with fun company and simply be at ease.  Dishes and drinks can be ordered as you please, with absolutely no rush.  So bring your closest friends, catch up on life and welcome good vibes, and eat and drink the night away as if there is no limit. 

Cheers! Or shall I say, Kampai!

Patrick

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Lola Gaspar: Santa Ana's Hidden Happy Hour Heaven

LOLA GASPAR

211 W. 2nd Street - Santa Ana, CA
 

As much as I'd like to eat and play around my first and dearest home of Los Angeles, I reside in Orange County (well... at least from Monday-Friday, as I confess that I find any way or excuse to go back to LA almost every weekend).  However, I must admit that hidden among the comfortable, somewhat cookie-cutter suburbs of the OC are a few neighborhoods that have a strong and culturally driven restaurant scene, which I love deeply about LA.  Downtown Santa Ana definitely meets this criteria. 

From the few (drinking age) years that I have had living in the OC, Santa Ana is continually growing to become my favorite neighborhood for great food and drinks within a casual yet trendy atmosphere.  With that said, there is no better time to enjoy the beauty of downtown Santa Ana than Happy Hour

 

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Lola Gaspar is a modern and cozy restaurant serving Latin & Spanish inspired small plates and craft cocktails and located in the heart of the Artists Village , Lola Gaspar's outside space welcomes its guests to a large and inviting patio with communal tables and lush living green walls that are illuminated by hanging string lights, making it the perfect area to catch up with groups of friends.  The indoor space sets the mood with high ceilings, brick walls, and gothic-like decor, which can please those looking for a more intimate atmosphere.

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Now, onto the Good Times. Lola's Happy Hour runs on every weekday from 5pm-7pm, which gives plenty of time to hop out of the office, claim a bench on the patio, and order rounds and rounds of Lola's $3 Happy Hour Sangrias, Well-Spirits, and Draft Pints (yes, these are all $3 each).   Lola's dinner menu is very focused with a few selections of simple, yet elevated Spanish and Latin inspired small plates that are perfect for everyone to share.  To keep the good times rolling, Lola's Happy Hour features all of the tacos on their dinner menu as well as a couple of their small plates for only $5! 

My after work happy hour crew took no hesitation in ordering these delicious dishes off of the happy hour menu, some we even ordered double: 

  • Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with blue cheese atop a sherry mustard sauce
  • Barbacoa Beef Short Rib Taquitos with beer cheese queso, guacamole, and hot sauce
  • Gulf Prawn & Spanish Chorizo Tacos with potato hash
  • Maitake Mushroom & Brussels Sprouts with dill yogurt creme fraiche

Alongside our happy hour dishes and drinks, we also ordered off the dinner menu the following dishes to cure our drunchies:

  • Grilled Spanish Octopus with sausage, avocado, and citrus aioli
  • Crispy Jerk Chicken Relleno with cheese and habanero
  • Steamed Pei Mussels with tomatillo-lemongrass broth
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I can confidently suggest Lola Gaspar as the perfect weekday spot to catch great happy hour bites and sips, while enjoying the unique and cultural atmosphere of downtown Santa Ana.  Establishments like Lola Gaspar in Santa Ana have truly made their mark in the Orange County culinary scene, and I sure do hope that the growth continues. 

Happy happy happy hour!

Cheers,

Patrick

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