written with Bob Lee
Tucked into a little corner in the shadow of Sugarfish lies Daichan, a hidden gem along sushi row. Touted as “Japanese Soul Food” the menu is awash with bowls of hot, steaming comfort foods as well as the usual sashimi and sushi. In a slight twist, Daichan serves sushi bowls, sushi ingredients over rice. The chef spent 25 years in Hawaii, and it is reflected on the menu with lots of poki and a noodle dish, but he stops short before any Spam can hit the table.
Bob: The teriyaki beef bowl was a revelation. I’ve been a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl fan ever since I moved to LA in 1988, and was surprised to find Daichan’s version is essentially the same preparation: beef and teriyaki sauce over rice with a topping of cabbage in white sauce and a garnish of pickled ginger. But it was an entirely different experience – much better meat, better cooked, the cabbage was delicious rather than insipid, and the ginger was an explosion of freshness, so tender and intensely flavored that the word “Wow” came out of my mouth.
With the cut sushi rolls, don’t expect elegance or fancy preparation. The yellowtail roll is simple and classic, quality fish wrapped in nori and rice with a sprinkling of green onion. There are more thoughtfully prepared plates of sushi in town – Sugarfish is just a few paces away in the same mini-mall – but Daichan’s is acceptable for its price range. The sashimi experience is about the same, cut perhaps a little thick, unadorned, but from good quality fish in generous quantities.
But Daichan’s strong suit is still its take on Japanese comfort food – giant bowls of warm, comforting broth surrounding all kinds of good things. The broth in our chicken dish was dark and salted, vaguely sea-like but not quite, a perfect complement to the chicken and Japanese vegetables at the bottom of the pot. The curries are sweet and hot and authentic, with the texture of a gravy.
Japanese-Style Fried Chicken turns out to be popcorn-sized nuggets of white meat deep-fried in a fritter-like batter, denser and toothier than tempura, its richness offset by the salty acidity of the dipping sauce. The cutlets are fried in a similar way with a Panko crust, not greasy at all. Cooked fish – especially the catfish, are perfection and I am so relieved this post is written so I can just go back to ordering only catfish from now on.
So what makes this soul food? It is a bit more rustic and simple, with dishes often fried or served with sauces. But what really makes it soul food is the heart you can feel coming out of the kitchen. It is Japanese home cooking, and I can imagine it is exactly what you would want to eat after a long day working at the Hello Kitty factory.