Check out Cuba Central

There’s this nice little Cuban place in Little Tokyo called Cuba Central. I don’t know if it’s just the times I’m going there, but every time I grab dinner I’m amazed the place isn’t packed. The ropa vieja — holy crap, it looks so deceptively simple but whatever they throw in to make that sauce is incredible. Give them some business, grab some good food!

Kendo and Ramen

Cherry Blossom Festival

Today I went down to Little Tokyo to grab some ramen for lunch, and happened upon the Cherry Blossom Festival. I only stayed a little while, to see some sumo and kendo performances.

I got there late for the sumo unfortunately, but I did get to see a few matches where Dan Kalbfleisch wiped the floor with some other guys.

The kendo demonstration started with sensei Cary Yoshio Mizobe performing tameshigiri—cutting a tatami omote with a katana. His students went on from there to show off their moves with shinai. Sensei Mizobe was explaining one of the moves: tsuki, a stab to the throat apparently difficult enough that he only lets his black belt students perform it, to lessen the risk of not having enough precision and injuring the opponents. He said he was hired to train Brittany Murphy to perform it for her new movie, The Ramen Girl. The only problem is, they wanted him to train her on this advanced move in eight hours. His only advice was to totally fake it out with camera tricks, or risk injury. Thought that was funny :)

Nabe shuts down, in comes Shabu Shabuyo

Nabe entered Little Tokyo about a year ago, bringing with it a new choice for shabu shabu. I often went there instead of Shabu Shabu House simply because I didn’t want to brave the perpetual 45-60min lines. The food was good, and they had lots of decent appetizers. Despite having great food, Nabe was void of customers every time I ate there. Alas, nobody can compete with Shabu Shabu House: they where the first shabu shabu restaurant in the USA and have had a lot of time to grow buzz and perfect their flavor. It was only a matter of time. The monster has killed yet another competitor.

I went downtown last night and was woefully disappointed to discover someone in their place: Shabu Shabuyo. A small menu, split ceramic pots, electric heaters that don’t bring the water to a boil, crappy cheap chopsticks, and really really bad music playing. This place better find something good to provide quick or they’ll be going out of business in record time.

Odd new ramen place in Little Tokyo

Just tried this new ramen place inside Weller Court called Chin-Ma-Ya of Tokyo, right below the infamous Orochon Ramen. Their specialty is tan tan men, a fusion of ramen with Chinese dan dan mian. They serve it with three levels of spice, and I ordered the spiciest “original”. The broth was good – very thick and murky, lots of good flavor, and adequately spicy. It lost a bit in the toppings, coming with ground beef, ground pork, and only a few stray bits of spinach. I got a side of gyoza, which while not the worst I’ve had where definitely far from the best.

But where it really failed was the noodles. The first bite immediately made me think of something I never thought would come to mind in a ramen place: my mom baking cookies. Curiously taking another bite, I tasted it again. The flavor was almost like unsweetened cookie dough. I’m usually down for trying new things, some flavors need to just grow on you. But after eating half the bowl I couldn’t take any more – the heaviness of the noodles combined with such a strange flavor was too much for me.

Looks like Daikokuya gets to keep their crown, with San Sui Tei coming in second if the Daikokuya line is unbearably long. Last time I went to San Sui Tei, they cooked up some fresh chocolate-filled mochi balls for me. Not sure if they will be the norm or if they where testing them on me as a recurring customer, but they where good!