After a review of my first visit to Nanbankan went up, David sent me an email telling me that though Nanbankan is good, there is a place that he prefers, slightly west on the same stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard. He only goes to Nanbankan if this other place is closed. Well, that got certainly got me intrigued and I put Terried Sake House on my list.
It’s sort of hard to find because the sign, with a strange abstract black and white drawing of a squid (or imayeb it’s a octopus?) is not well-lit, and is in a block that has much brighter signs for Mexican, other Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants. I’ve seen all these restaurants, and drive by them, like I did Nanbankan, countless times in a week, but never stop to eat. But Terried Sake House was actually not one of the “I should try that sometime” places until the email.
I started to pay a lot of attention to Terried Sake House each time I drove by. It is always busy, though I rarely hear any buzz about this restaurant. Like many restaurants in this area, it’s been around for a long time and doesn’t need more publicity – it already has a loyal local following.
Like Hide Sushi on Sawtelle, there is a small white board up front to sign in. Faded red and green markings are encouraging signs of popularity. We are coming in fairly late on a Sunday night, so we don’t have to wait long at all. A crazy Japanime looking server with Dragonball Z hair seats us at a long high bar. This, along with an equally long, but lower table, are communal. There are only three or four other individual tables, and seating at another bar that faces a sushi/robata bar of sorts. Terried Sake House is casual enough that two diners are each comfortable sitting solo here. We’re sharing our high communal table with two guys at the other end. Their faces red and shiny from sake and beer, and they’re showing each other advanced functions on their watches. These guys are speaking English, but almost ¾ of the guests are Japanese. That’s a fairly good sign that it’s going to be good. Or maybe, at least it’ll be authentic.
The menu has a little bit of everything. There’s sushi and sashimi, traditional teriyaki entrees, different kinds of yakitori, soups and noodles, and other small plates, both hot and cold. It’s all printed on half sheets of paper, the long way. To make them more permanent, the sheets have been scotch-taped to cut-outs of cardboard from sake boxes. Very creative, and Terried Sake House gets extra points for being budget- and environment-conscious.
As we step through the menu, we sip on ice cold Asahi. Water is served in tall plastic cups with the restaurant’s name and logo printed on it, but now partially scratched off after many years of zealous dishwashing.
The high bar is a good vantage point, and I’m looking for some ordering clues around the restaurant. Sizzling hot plates, the kind that Korean restaurants use to serve galbee, or Mexican restaurants use to serve fajitas, seem to be popular. I spy what I think is the tofu steak. That’s the first thing we order, and per David’s email recommendation, we order Tofu Steak no. 2 – with miso. It’s the beginning, so we want to ease into it gently, and get two orders of okra and a chicken skewer.
The tofu steak is delicious. Nothing fancy, nothing earth-shatteringly unique and creative, just sizzling sliced tofu, drizzled with a dark sweet miso that tastes faintly like the sauce for unagi. I love okra, but now that I think about it, have never had it other than deep fried, or in gumbo. Grilled on skewers, it was great to taste just okra. The chicken was tender and the green peppers tender crisp, but nothing tongue-boggling. We put those away pretty fast, and even after just one dish, I’m anxious to get a little more adventurous.
Smelt. What a horrible name, and when they come to the table, I almost regret that I ordered it. Rigor mortis death curl, with sickeningly blackened mouths hanging open as if caught mid-scream. Eating whole fish is not unusual for me, but Korean myul-chee (dried, seasoned and sautéed anchovies), are never larger than my thumb. I also love Mediterranean style anchovies and sardines, but they don’t have their heads still attached. I beckoned, and Dragonball Z shuffled over. Do we eat these whole? He could have rolled his eyes and treated me like an ign’ant fool, but just smiled with understanding and nodded. *gulp* I was hoping for a different answer. I popped the head off and recoiled with a *double gulp* These were Mrs. Smelts, full of roe. I thought I was going to gag. Roe does nothing but gross me out. For some reason, when it’s raw, I can tolerate fish eggs, but when it’s cooked, it makes my scalp crawl. It doesn’t taste bad; it just looks absolutely repulsive.
After getting over my initial disgust, ha! the smelt were good. The skin was ever so slightly crispy charred, and the roe wasn’t as horrible as I thought. A good swish with the Asahi dislodged any of the tiny eggs that got caught between my teeth. Nothing worse than flashing a great big, toothy grin filled with fish eggs.
Maybe the smelt were a little too adventurous for me, so we ordered teba wings and sautéed mushrooms. Sautéed mushrooms were a nice, tame dish. The wings were skewered and char-grilled, and with a little dip
in the miso sauce leftover from the tofu steak, they were great. I’ll be honest though, nothing beats the deep-fried tebasaki wings at Furaibo.
Two more types of yakitori, one made of ground chicken and the other dark meat with scallions. I was expecting what I’ve had in the past called tsukune, but this ground chicken was wrapped like a sausage all the way around the skewer – just ever so slightly pornographic. It was salty and delicious. *chuckle* The chicken with scallions tasted the same as the chicken with green peppers. Nothing remarkable.
Chicken and mushrooms done, so time to get adventurous again, this time from the list of cold dishes which all had Japanese names and no English translations. We asked Dragonball Z what he recommends. Fish! After the smelt, I was nervous, especially since these would be cold fish, but we said okay. They were curled up just like the smelt, but had been decapitated before their mortal dip in a light batter and quick deep fry. With the coating, they had been marinated in a faintly tangy, sweet sauce, and chilled. I loved them in all their chilly chewiness.
It didn’t seem like we had ordered much, but we were full. Wait! David said try the baby squid steak! I couldn’t figure out how they would get an entire steak out of a tiny baby squid, but then I got it. On a sizzling plate, they aren’t cut like steak, they are cooked like steak. But really, they aren’t quite cooked like steak either. It tastes like they have a light coating of cornstarch or flour before a flash sauté. Steak or not, it was excellent. Tender partly because they’re babies; tender partly because they were cooked well; subtly salted, and with the shower of chopped scallions and seaweed powder, perfectly seasoned. Truly, even before the babies came to the table, I was so full I couldn’t move, and yet I ate every last one.
I can’t really compare Nanbankan with Terried Sake House. The food is similar, but the vibes are very different. Nanbankan is a restaurant. It’s dark and mellow inside, and slightly more refined. Terried Sake House is more of a joint. It’s brighter, more casual, and the food is a lot cheaper. When it’s a lovely weekend dinner with family, I’ll go to Nanbankan. When it’s weeknight Asahi and wings with friends, I’ll go to Terried Sake House (and a plus that it's open just past midnight!)
Sorry David, I had to let your secret out...
Terried Sake House
11617 Santa Monica Blvd. (bewteen Barry and Federal)
Los Angeles, CA 90025