Saturday, September 4, 2010

Takoyaki Ichiban!

Lovin' the food truck craze lately - they were a brilliant way to get reliably good gourmet food at reasonable prices at street fests / outdoor events throughout LA all summer - though all were not created equal (in originality, quality, taste etc.).

While it seems like you can get any type of gourmet cuisine from Brazilian to creative (though by now somewhat mainstay) fusion like asian-mexican, and everyone and their mother are jumping on the bandwagon, there are a few that still manage to break new ground and offer tasty surprises.

One of these - my new addiction (and addition to my Twitter follow list) - is Takoyaki Tanota.  I don't know if you can really even call it a food 'truck', per se - it's more of a food trailer.  My first encounter with this unique concept was last night at Abbot Kinney First Friday - and guesswhat?  I'm going to tell you all about it ;).

Takoyaki Tanota is not your typical food truck - it's more of a rolling counter on wheels, towed by a truck.  Unlike some of its brightly colored cousins (the better to attract attention) - Tanota chose to paint its trailer black, with its branding / decorative graphics in white.  The chefs stand outside on the sidewalk with the customers, cooking on a grill clearly displayed for all to see and experience - this breaks the mold of usual food truck m.o. - with a kitchen and order takers high up and removed from the fray behind a plastic wall - and allows for a more intimate and interactive experience.  This fits in perfectly with Tanota's mission statement to spread the word to the world outside Japan - starting with Los Angelenos - about the awesomeness that are takoyaki. 

So you have probably gathered from its name, that the food served is Japanese.  But what exactly is a "Takoyaki”?  What you see are golden brown balls, with various toppings including a brown sticky sauce and scallions.  According to the one-sheet posted next to the menu, and info on their website, takoyaki is synonymous with Osaka, where it first made its appearance as street food.  The outside shell of the orbs are made from eggs and flour, which are then filled with pieces of octopus and veggies.  These balls are then cooked on a special grill called "Takoyako"

I found the anecdote posted at the end of the one-sheet fairly amusing:  "In the old school days in Osaka they use to say if you are a newly wedded wife to a family, better bring your Takoyaki grill." 

Tanota smartly starts their mission to introduce takoyaki by keeping it simple - their menu basically consists of "5 pieces", "8 pieces", and with or without various toppings.  Let's not confuse the masses with variations before they even discover the core of what a takoyaki is.

Tanota makes their takoyaki shell with a traditional egg and flour (tempura) base, with a twist - they add a secret chicken base soup, so that the resulting takoyaki will have a puffy shell but a melty, soft inside. 

As my friend had tried these previously and highly recommends it, we got the 8 piece plate to share as a snack, going light on the mayo.  I truly love the attention to every detail - the balls were served on a tray printed to look like a wooden boat.  You can eat them with the toothpicks that are already stuck into the balls, or use a fork that you can pick up on the drinks/tips table. 

I found the takoyaki to be a great experience of slightly crisp, creamy (reminds me a little of whipped mashed potatoes, but not quite as dense), then crunchy with the octopus and green onion inside - in that order. The balls are topped with an original brown sticky sauce that seemed to be salty, sweet and slightly spicy all at once, mayo, dried seaweed, and green onion.

The only drawback of takoyaki as L.A. street food - without the counter / stalls to perch on - is that it's a little difficult to cut the balls into pieces while standing in the street holding the tray in your hand.  Why not just stuff the orb whole into your mouth without cutting it up?  The stuffing is VERY hot - and you will likely burn your mouth if you just stick the whole thing in - the minute you bite into the takoyaki, the melty hot contents will burst out and likely burn your mouth.  This is just a minor note though - we managed fine, standing on the street, using a fork to cut up the pieces. 

All in all, Takoyaki Tanota is now one of my new favorites for street food - will definitely keep a lookout for that little black trailer next time I'm at an event - and might even have to chase it down via Twitter when I get a craving!
There were two other trucks at First Friday that scored points with me for creativity - we  didn't get to sample the food as we were filled from the takoyaki, and were going to dinner shortly after.  But, will highight them here and hopefully get to review the food in the near future!

The first of these is a truck called "Shrimp Pimp" - enough said.  Intoxicating aromas emanated from this truck that you could smell down the block - and I won't try food trucks that don't first lure me in through my nose. 

The second one is "World Fare" - innovative in its vehicle design, use of space, and presentation of food.  The vehicle is a double-decker 'tourist' bus with a roofless upper deck, that they have converted into a cool dining space by ripping all the seats out, and lining three walls with marble countertops for diners to perch on, and installing two giant patio umbrellas for ambience as well as serve as cover in case of inclement weather (rare in L.A., but very thoughtful of them!).  The food as their name may imply is 'world fare' - the display under the order window shows various meats stuffed into baby bread bowls shaped more like 'Simple Human' brand trash cans. Interesting.  I couldn't smell anything though, and we didn't try the food - so suffice it only to say for now that they have me intrigued intellectually at least - until next time for the food review on this one!
So, back to the summary of ratings for Takoyaki Tanota - give it a shot next time you see that little trailer in your area!

On a 7 point scale:

Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%


Takoyaki Tanota

All over L.A. - track them on Twitter!
Ph: 310.497.2829


Takoyaki Tanota on Urbanspoon

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