Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CHAYA Venice: Oyster Food Fair

Did you know that the Japanese family who owns Chaya have been restauranteurs for nearly four centuries?  They started with a 'tea house' (apparently that's what Chaya 茶屋 means in Japanese) in Japan under a large shade tree, catering to weary travelers and their horses 390 years ago.  Today, we can experience a version of that hospitality in Venice, CA in a modern setting of a neighborhood hangout that gives off the vibe that it's there to serve the community.  Of traffic-worn commuters like myself and their metal stallions.  And apparently Venice loves Chaya back - the two times I've been there, it's always been packed.

With Chef Shigefumi Tachibe at the helm for the last 22 years, and his blend of "Euro-Asian" or "Franco-Japonais" fare bringing people back week after week to an area that doesn't have many fine dining stakes in the sand - Chaya Venice admirably does not rest on success, but continually tries to put forth new menus.

There is the unusual dual menu that customers have come to expect - sushi and European dishes with Japanese influence, but there's also special menus created around a theme, a main ingredient - rotating each year.

A few months back it was the Venison Fair.  This month brings the Oyster Food Fair - and I was excited to receive an invite to a media tasting kicking off the event on February 16 (the Food Fair runs through March 3rd!)

The idea is there are many dishes created around the featured ingredient - oysters, and you can choose a la carte from the special menu.
We started with a round of Fresh Oyster on the 1/2 Shell ($14 for half dozen) - for the tasting we got both kinds of oysters: Hama Hama from Washington (the bigger ones shown on left in the photo) and Fanny Bay from British Columbia.  These were not the best oysters I've ever had (Monterey fisherman's wharf restaurants win on that one) but they went fast - there was nothing but empty shells left 60 seconds after they hit the table.

Baked Oysters Rockefeller ($19) spinach, bacon, cream, parmesan This one is a classic, well executed.  Even for someone who is really a purist with their oysters, I thought this was nicely done - I've seen so many places overdo it on the cheese so it ends up overwhelming the oyster, and/or overcooking the spinach so that it's a sloppy mess atop the oyster - but Chaya's is just right in terms of balancing all ingredients.

Baked Oysters w/ Nori Lemon Butter ($18) tamari, soy, chives.  I had to look up tamari - it's basically a soy sauce made with more soybeans than regular ones, so that it has a more complex, smooth and balanced flavor.  This was added with a deft hand as it was in perfect balance with the nori (seaweed) lemon butter - again as a purist with oysters, I normally prefer to taste nothing but pure deep ocean around the oyster, but this broth-like sauce was light and clean tasting and very enjoyable.  I did like this one more than the Rockefellers.
Angus Beef Tartare with Fried Oysters ($16) sweet potato chips.  When this dish came out, if you listened to the sounds around the table - you would just hear alternating sounds like this: "crunch", "mmm", "crunch".  The creamy, lush (and pink?) beef tartare paired and contrasted perfectly with crunchy panko-crusted deep fried oysters - and the fresh fried chips made with a Japanese sweet potato were 'favorited' by all around the table.  My only note would be to apply a slightly thinner panko crust so that the ratio of crust to oyster (as the highlighted ingredient) would be in the oyster's favor to allow a more pronounced flavor.
Oyster Citrus Cured Salmon Chowder ($20) Tokyo winter negi, yukon potato.  This one was another favorite for the night - the salmon is cooked sous vide with citrus, and has the lushest, smoothest texture and intense flavor, infused throughout the chowder.  There is also of course oysters in the soup along with a Japanese leek and chunks of potato for added texture and flavor.  Really gorgeous soup.  The portion size shown in the photo was just for the tasting, knowing we would be feasting on almost the entire menu - but the regular dinner size would be much bigger for the $20. How much bigger?  We didn't get to see so judge for yourself if you would spend $20 on soup as your entree.

Kobe Short Rib Pot Pie ($29) baked oyster zucchini champagne cream, caramelized sweet onion sauce.  Loved the description on this one, and it was a cute presentation with a bloated pastry puff topped by an oyster baked with zucchini champagne cream and cheese.  The contents of the pot pie were infused with rich flavor (interesting that the chef used a 'white' sparkling wine versus the expected red wine) with fairly generous large chunks of meat - though it was just a tad chewier than I expected for Kobe.  But overall very nicely done pot pie, and I loved the buttery flakey pastry puff.

Striped Sea Bass & Oyster Papillote ($29) celery root, shitake mushroom, tomato, black truffle vin blanc.  If there were Oscars for food, this dish would probably win for Best Drama - it arrived in a square, puffed up paper bag with rolled edges, and we all found ourselves waiting for the big reveal to see what's inside.  Our server tore into the bag to expose a delicately cooked filet of loup de mer, steamed inside the bag with a slice of lemon, celery, shitake mushroom, and tomato - and of course the pleasant 'surprise', creamy oysters.  The whole thing was then dressed with a black truffle white wine sauce that infused it with fragrant and unmistakeable truffle flavor. 

After the great meal (not sure if it was the aphrodisiac effects of oysters, but felt huge love for oysters!) we were treated to oyster-free desserts from the regular menu.  Chaya's signature dessert is their Milk Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding with Caramel Ice Cream ($9) which was delicious with its buttery, light, layered pastry a departure from the normally dense, heavy bread puddings at other restaurants. 

We also had Lemon Curd Cake ($9) - a light and refreshing finish with a cheesecake-like round topped by a cookie half shell filled with blueberries, and light, subtly tart lemon curd in between.

Oyster lovers can check out Oyster Food Fair at CHAYA Venice through March 3rd.

* Disclaimer: This meal was hosted

CHAYA Venice
110 Navy St., Venice, CA 90291
Ph: 310-396-1179

Parking: Self-park in structure $4 with validation

Website: thechaya.com/venice
OpenTable: opentable.com/chaya-venice


Chaya Venice on Urbanspoon



  1. I love oysters but have never eaten one cooked. Can you really improve on a raw oyster and if so what recipe would you recommend I try?

  2. I agree, oysters are best left pristine and untouched, tasting only of deep ocean water. That said, the cooked ones at Chaya were nice - as noted I'm still partial to raw oysters, but Chef Tachibe managed to make the Nori Lemon Butter one very light and very enjoyable.

    As for recipes - I don't cook very much (99.9% of this blog is restaurant excursions ;)) so sorry to be of no help to you there!



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