First Taste: Izakaya Ku Opens in Fountain Valley

kuroll.jpg
ProfessorSalt.com
Introducing the Ku Roll

After months of anticipation and delays, Fountain Valley's Izakaya Ku held its grand opening on May 1. The new restaurant takes its name from the kanji character for "eat," and sets up shop along a short stretch of Brookhurst Street I'm naming Izakaya-Dōri, the street of Japanese pubs. They're nestling into a neighborhood where Kappo Honda and Shin Sen Gumi Robatayaki already have a strong following.


Typically, izakayas have very expansive menus composed of small dishes prepared with the full range of techniques used in the Japanese kitchen: grilled, fried, raw, stewed, and boiled. Like going to a diner with a 10-page menu, the trick for the izakaya eater is to find the areas where the chefs shine. Ku's opening menu narrows down the selection to a more manageable size than their neighbors', and differs by offering many fried dishes, and several hot pot, or "nabe" dishes on its menu. Ku's sushi selection is intelligently terse, and composed of Americanized rolls. There's enough sushi specialists within a few miles that it'd be foolish to offer a bigger variety here.

Interestingly, they have revived several dishes from Funashin, the Japanese restaurant that previously occupied that space since 1989. If you were a sentimental fan of Funashin's Sesame Chicken, Beef Teriyaki and Chicken Teriyaki know they're still offered, though I'm a bit baffled why they're on the menu of a restaurant trying to forge its own identity.

We tried several dishes during the grand opening, and the standout was the house-made tofu topped with a condiment of yama-imo and natto. Rather than the silken texture of industrial tofu, their roughly-ground soybeans firms into a fantastic texture that's simultaneously smooth and coarse on the tongue. Yama-imo is a root vegetable that has both the fresh crunch of raw jicama and the sliminess of fresh-cut okra, which also makes an appearance in this dish. Natto are the fermented soybeans with its own infamously savory mucilage. This sort of sliminess in food is onomatopoetically called "neba-neba" in Japanese, which is also the name of this texture-fest.

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ProfessorSalt.com
The Neba-Neba

All the food we ate this weekend was solid, nothing was done poorly, yet I left confused about the restaurant's mission. On the one hand, the very traditional ingredients like yama-imo, natto, and motsu say it's there to lure fobby Japanese expats. On the other hand, hyper-Americanized dishes like the sweetly-sauced Ku Roll and the held-over hits from Funashin seem like blatant gaijin-bait. Will offering both sides of that divide on one menu fuse its hardcore-Japanese and hiply-American identities, or split them? Perhaps the ease with which they toggle between both food cultures is the niche they're angling for on Izakaya-Dōri.

Location Info

Izakaya Ku - CLOSED

18120 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, CA

Category: Restaurant

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9 comments
Shuji Sakai
Shuji Sakai

Thanks for the heads-up, Curtis. Hadn't checked the rest of the shopping center when I was at Jinya a couple weeks ago. Will pay attention to that next visit.

Curtis Lam
Curtis Lam

On that topic, I got an e-mail from Kinokuniya Costa Mesa a couple of months ago that they would be moving locations from their BakerXHarbor spot soon. Not sure if this has happened yet.

Joe
Joe

That stretch along Brookhurst has a good concentration of Japanese places (although I am very bummed that the Ebisu market closed down a few months ago.)  Is the only other area in OC with a similarJapanese grouping the Bristol/Baker/Paularino corridor just south of the 405?      

Andrew Lee
Andrew Lee

Nice review of this place Shuji.  As a Japanese food enthusiast your review was very informative.

If you don't mind me asking, what camera do you use for these lovely photos?  I am in the market for a camera and am impressed with what you use.

Christian Z.
Christian Z.

Ate there a couple weeks ago on the first day of their soft opening and noticed a few Funashin offerings on their menu too. I think restaurants do this to please clientele of the old place. There's several examples of this throughout the county.

Shuji Sakai
Shuji Sakai

Didn't know Ebisu closed. Do drop us a note when you spot things, will you?

The intersection of Baker and Harbor is turning into another Japanese enclave. Marukai market's been there forever, but there's also the Kinokuniya bookstore kitty corner from Marukai, and the new Jinya location is opening up in that center. Any time you have that type of flocking, it portends even more flocking in the future.

Also in Irvine: the market on Culver & Walnut attracted the new Mitsuwa last year with its various restaurant tenants inside, and the Daiso store just opened a few weeks ago.

Shuji Sakai
Shuji Sakai

I used a Canon 7D w/ the 18-135mm starter kit lens to take these. Great, great camera body, but not a huge fan of the lens. It's good for tight, macro shots like the ones here, but otherwise, I would have bought a different lens.

Shuji Sakai
Shuji Sakai

 That makes sense, but other than those three Funashin dishes, there's no resemblance to the previous restaurant's bill of fare. Maybe it's enough to convert Funashin fans into Ku fans.

Joe
Joe

Marukai is a good market, actually better than Ebisu was.  Just sort of odd that it is a "membership store", where if you don't have the (very affordable) yearly membership they charge you like $2 for a single day membership to shop there.  Still worth it, though. 

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