Restaurant Review #102: Yakitoria, West LA

Assorted Japanese Pickles-daikon, carrot, and eggplant

When you walk into Yakitoria, everyone will turn and stare at you for a good, long, fifteen seconds--or at least, that's what happened to me. My friend and I continued to stand awkwardly in the lack of space in front of the door while we waited for what felt like forever, but was probably about two minutes, for someone to seat us. There was no dedicate host, but he or she wouldn't have had any space to set up a stand, anyway. Did we have a reservation? No. I guess it didn't matter though. We got a table for two near the door, and no one who came in after us had a reservation either (we were within earshot), and they all got seated.

The restaurant is very small, even by Sawtelle standards. There are somewhere between five and eight tables (my memory is a bit fuzzy on this) and a small bar that seats maybe eight or ten people. The decor is nice--dark wood tables and yellow ochre walls--but the white tile and black caulk floor detracts from what would otherwise be a very elegant interior.

Chicken wrapped shishito pepper yakitori

Here's the kicker.

At Yakitoria, you can either order a minimum of 5 pieces of yakitori (featured above) at $2.50 each, or you can pay a $2.00 service charge. Period.

None of the yakitori are vegetarian (though they offer an assortment of chicken wrapped vegetables, so you could probably request just vegetables without chicken), and my friend is a vegetarian, so she didn't want any yakitori. I just wanted one skewer, since I've never had this stuff before and didn't know if Idl like it, and because I don't like meat enough to eat several skewers of it, regardless.

So she ordered a $7 bowl of soup, and I ordered a $9.50 plate of ravioli and one yakitori. We also ordered some pickles, which were $5.50.

I assumed that the 5 sticks of yakitori policy was to ensure a minimum order, and I figured that with our food averaging just over $12 a person, there would be no problem, right?

Wrong! $2 service charge unless you order five sticks of yakitori. Period. What??? I would have asked for an explanation for this seemingly ludicrous policy, but our server's English didn't seem great, so I decided not to ask. I must admit that this policy made me pretty mad, and between that and the lack of vegetarian options on the menu, I almost left. But I couldn't do it, because I was really looking forward to my ravioli, and I was really hungry.

Rice and seaweed soup with wasabi

My friend thought her soup was good, and tasted healthy, but wasn't anything exciting. I thought it was pretty bland, and really wished it hadn't been the lone vegetarian option. Most Japanese restaurants have plenty of vegetarian options, so I didn't even think about investigating before we went.

I wouldn't recommend this dish, especially because it's almost guaranteed to give you a seaweed-toothed smile due to the numerous tiny seaweed flakes floating in the broth. Since I have an unnatural fear of having food stuck between my teeth, tasting the soup was a challenge for me!

The pickles were good, though for $5.50 the portion seemed awfully small. The thinly sliced carrots had a slippery smooth texture that I didn't know a carrot could have--kind of like a cucumber, but smoother. The tangy pieces of eggplant were my favorite. The daikon was also good, though it didn't have a particularly pickley flavor (neither did the carrots).

Duck and shiitake ravioli with truffle oil and...celery leaves?

Oh, boy, this ravioli was good! The pasta seemed homemade and you can't go wrong with truffle oil. Interestingly, I couldn't detect the duck at all. The filling was minced, and nothing had a meaty texture to it at all. The leaves made a pretty garnish, but I'm not sure they were meant to be eaten, since they didn't add anything to the flavor of the dish. The ravioli was served only lukewarm though, which made it slightly less tasty. Also, when I got sick later, I wondered if it was because of the temperature of my food. I couldn't tell you if I got some sort of food poisoning, or if some kind of shellfish snuck into my meal somehow. I only mention it because if a bunch of my readers have had the same experience, that will tell us something about the restaurant. Otherwise, please consider it an isolated incident and don't let it deter you.

My one piece of yakitori did nothing to convince me that I should be required to order five of them. You don't get much food for the price, and though I saw the chef dip the skewers in something and sprinkle them with something before grilling them, they tasted like plain grilled chicken and peppers.

I don't get it. Maybe one of you will enlighten me.

Overall, I might have gone back for the yummy ravioli, but since I got sick, I won't. The five stick policy seems bizarre and unaccomodating, the service wasn't amazing, and the restaurant is pretty loud for its size.

And, guess what? I can't find anything about this place online, and I didn't pick up a card, so I can't give you the address or phone number. It's right next to Kiriko on Sawtelle (across the street from Nijaya Market). If someone has the address, please let me know!


Sara said...

Your pictures are amazing in this post. It makes the restaurant look better than it probably is.

Easily Pleased said...

Weird that they don't have at least SOME veggie options. doesn't make much sense these days. I have to be honest, Yakitoria sounds like more trouble than it's worth.

Girl in a Whirl said...

Sounds fab. I'm going to look it up. My partner is a vegetarian too and it's tough to find places to go out with him but we may have to try this place....

Passionate Eater said...

Whoa! I agree with Sara, your pictures look stunning! I am definitely gonna try those photographic tips that you gave me!

Wait a minute... Weird staring problems? Two dollar service charge? Celery leaves?!? Okay, that is the last straw! That place sounds terrible.

I hope you're feeling better soon Foodie Universe. I also hope you won't have to go on the "B.R.A.T" diet (B-ananas, R-ice, A-pplesauce, T-oast), or the diet people are resigned to be on during bouts of food poisoning or the stomach flu.

Get well soon!

Foodie Universe said...

They had one veggie option, which was the seaweed soup I reviewed. However, if I were a vegetarian, I would hate having only one option, and a bland one at that.

Thanks, Passionate Eater. Fortunately, my little bout of food sickness was very short-lived.

Anonymous said...

Very very rude servers. Food is ok but they don't try too hard to impress since there are not a lot of options for Yakitori in town. I would save my money and go elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I eat at Yakitoria quite often. It does have a few downfalls. One being a real lack of options for vegitarians. When I first went there I thought the service was pretty bad, but after a recent trip to Japan I realized they just haven't americanized their wait staff. Which is a great thing! In Japan when you want service you have to ask for it, sometimes even yell! The yakitori is really the way to go when ordering from "Yakitoria"... go figure. Most their hot dishes leave more to be desired, but the Saboro rice and zosoui(rice pouridge) is to DIE for! Trust me.

Ian Lipsky said...

I will agree with one point of this review - the food is pricey compared to how much you get. However, this place is one of my favorite places to go. i don't go too often, because of the price, but the food is really good. And it seems a bit strange to review someplace called yakitoria and not order more then one yakitori.

The yakitori, to me, taste great. I especially like the quail eggs. And the chicken breast by itself or the ones with asparagus are really great. The commenter just above mine also nailed it about the rice pouridge (is that you anna?). My friend, anna, always orders a bowl when we go there and we all devour it. And I'm partial to their stuffed cabbage roll. Also a little pricey but i love the way it tastes. Oddly enough, it reminds me of my jewish grandmother's stuffed cabbage.

I've never had any problems with the service there being rude. Perhaps a bit unattentive - but when i did ask for a refill or anything else, it came in a timely fashion. I would definitely recommend trying the place if you dont mind spending a little more.

Anonymous said...

i love this place...i think the minimum order issue you had is only if you want to sit at the bar (i.e. if you're going to sit next to the yakitori grill, you need to be ordering it)