1757 W. Carson Street #S
Torrance, CA 90501
Date of Visit: Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Time: Dinner - 7:30 PM
Servers: Entire Staff
Number of Diners: 1
Food Quality: 9
Ambiance: 8 (with elements of 2)
This is the best Japanese food at a restaurant you never heard of. Difficult to find, it's hidden in a strip mall in Torrance, California. Ostensibly on Carson Street, the center is at the corner of Carson and Western, on the North side of Carson and West of Western. This restaurant is on the far West (left) side, and is really closest to Abalone Avenue, which intersects Carson on the North side, one block West of Western. Confused yet?
What makes this place so great? How about fish flown in daily from Japan into LAX just 10 miles away? Or fresh fish from the Pacific Ocean even closer than that? It's all about the best seafood you can procure, lovingly prepared by craftsmen following centuries of tradition. It's been stellar every time I've been there, and I'm nearly always the only Gaijin there! Generally when you enter there is a brief scramble to get the best English-speaker to greet you, seat you, and take your order. Notwithstanding that the entire staff always pitches in to help serve and bus your area, cheerfully smiling and addressing you in Japanese.
This place has a standard menu, which you never need to open. The question is what's fresh, and the choices are legion - changing daily. Combination dinners are standardized in a separate, laminated menu of "Sets" with pictures - Japanese on one side and English on the other. And there is a separate sushi menu, a separate special dinner menu, and a separate fresh fish menu. Click on the links to see examples. (Apparently their spell checker failed to catch their "per parson" pricing, or there is a special deal for the clergy!) A separate drinks menu with a great variety of sake and standard spirits rounds out the tableau. I am literally showered in menus!
The place is relatively quiet, decorated in traditional and understated Japanese style. There are 15 tables, 12 seats at the sushi bar, and 2-3 Zashiki rooms off to the side where you can take off your shoes, sit on the floor, and dine at low tables family style. Some of the few reviewers on the net (mostly locals) have complained about the prices vs. other places, but those other places do not take the same care to procure and import the top quality seafood that Kappo has. You pay a little more for the best stuff. That said, you can spend a ton here, or get by quite reasonably. For instance the special dinners price out at: $28, $42, $85, $90, and $120 - plus beverages. The "Set" menu offers the most variety and quantity for the lowest price, and I almost always get the "Sashimi Set." Most Sets can be upgraded for a extra charge. The upgrade gets you some rarer and more expensive fish, but most are not to my taste. Being a single diner, I opted to sit at the sushi bar.
What I had with menu descriptions...
Sashimi Set (no upgrade) Sashimi plate, Today's Salad, Today's Appetizer (cold), Today's Appetizer (hot), Red Miso Soup, Chawanmushi, Japanese Pickles, Steamed Rice, Dessert - $38 ($18 more to upgrade)
Toro (fatty tuna) Nigiri Sushi - 2 pc $18
Unagi (fresh water eel) Nigiri Sushi - 2 pc $9
Kirin Ichiban Beer (draft) $4.50 ea (I had two)
We shall take each item in turn. It should be noted that this place use real (inedible) greens to separate the pieces and decorate the dishes (instead of plastic greenery), plus some intricately carved veggies. Every presentation on every plate was a work of Eastern art. And Kirin is a wonderfully light lager that cleanses the palate perfectly and does not overwhelm the delicate fish.
The Toro order came out quickly. Two generous slabs of light pink fish were perched on sushi rice. Each was too big for one bite - even for my big mouth! I opted to use fingers instead of chopsticks to avoid mishaps with the expensive fish. Some say all sushi is meant to be finger food, but I've never observed Japanese in America using anything but chopsticks. The wasabi that came with the sushi was the real deal - grated wasabi horseradish root. The powders and resulting pastes are usually American horseradish and green food coloring. The real wasabi is less hot and more subtly piquant. I like it a lot! The fish melted in my mouth like butter, complemented by the subtle wasabi and soy mixture. Absolutely first rate.
Next came the Unagi. This eel is cooked and wrapped onto the rice, then sprinkled with a Teriyaki sauce. These were done to perfection - warm, moist and not overcooked, and with only a hint of the sweet sauce.
Next came Today's Salad which was plate of mixed greens, soy ginger dressing, and two boiled shrimp. Very nice.
Today's Appetizer (cold) was several thin strips of fresh, uncooked mackerel in a thick, mildly sweet sauce. Also very nice.
Today's Appetizer (hot) was a dumpling soup with pea pods, carrots, and a full diakon radish. The dumpling was a purse, tied at the top, and filled with green stalks I could not identify. All of it was delicious.
Red Miso Soup tastes much like normal Miso Soup, but it is red, and there is an extra kick of flavor to it that makes it better, albeit difficult to capture in words!
Japanese Pickles were cucumbers, red cabbage, and white cabbage. All were sweet/sour, and the white cabbage tasted something like a New York half-sour pickle. Nice contrast to the other foods.
The Sashimi Plate is the chef's choice, and usually has a good mix of what's fresh and what's plentiful. I prefer the sashimi to the sushi, as I can limit the high-calorie rice component - the steamed, seasoned white rice is served on the side in a separate bowl. Tonight's plate had 2 good sized portions of FRESH scallop, salmon, yellowtail, mackerel, and something I could not identify. There were three portions of delectable Tuna (tekka), and one portion of something else I didn't identify topped with salmon roe. The Tekka and the last one were the best, really transcending the others, which were all excellent. The sushi chef noticed my rapturous look when I ate the Tekka and smiled broadly. All of it was truly awesome.
It took me a while to eat it all, and I saved the Chawanmushi for last - it's one of my favorite Japanese foods. Lightly seasoned egg custard, served in a small bowl or teacup, with "treasures" at the bottom. My treasures tonight were a small shrimp, shitake mushroom, and a quail's egg yolk. Wonderfully delicious!
The front-of-house team consisted of 4 giggling waitresses in kimono style uniforms, one waiter (the best English speaker), a Hostess, a Host, and one bus-girl. All of them visited me at least once to bring or clear things, and all spoke to me in Japanese with friendly smiles. They might have been saying, "Have a wonderful meal." Or they might have been saying, "Die Yankee scum!" But I decided that the body language was genuinely friendly. For dessert, they had the standard green tea and red bean ice creams. And the waiter said they also had the traditional red bean with sticky rice dessert. I had tried both ice creams before, so I went with the traditional. This choice captured the attention of all the staff, as Gaijins never order this, or they hate it when they do. They brought out a cup of hot green tea and a small bowl with red beans in a sweet sauce (of red beans) with two mochi cakes in it. It's called Ozenzai and is a winter dessert. The sushi chef was eager to see if I liked it, and said the mochi was sweet rice. He also told me that in Japan all the kids love it, then paused and added, "Everybody loves this!" The host also came over to see if I liked it. When I assured him I did, he beamed and said, "Only Japanese like this - it has a long history." When I suggested I should move to Japan, his smile got even broader!
So how was it? The Japanese compare red beans to chocolate - but it's a stretch. They are about half the size of Mexican black beans, and they have exactly the same texture. They are quite sweet, but not overpowering. The mochi were quite resilient - you could not cut them in half with the tiny spoon. They looked, tasted, and chewed like rubbery marshmallows, and they were quite interesting and tasty with the bean sauce. I would not trade in a nice bowl of chocolate ice cream for Ozenzai, but it was a very tasty change of pace.
When the bill came, it was about $80 with tax. With so much attention from so many servers, I added $20 to round it out to $100. Expensive, and totally blowing two days worth of my meals per diem. I could even it up by eating on the cheap for the rest of the trip. I could have easily eaten for less than half of this amount, but the company was buying, and I learned long ago that eating Mickey D to save a few bucks is a game for the young. So I got all the extras, stuffed myself, and had a grand time.
Kappo Seafood - highly recommended!
Highs: Seafood quality, friendly staff, service, quiet room, unusual choices, daily menus
Lows: Expensive, if you are not careful
Bon Appétit! - W. Ego