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last update 10/06/2004

MLT's Restaurants in Southern California

A “Soba” Boom at W. Coast - The Nikkei Magazine

Total Pursuit for the Authentic Taste "I-NABA"

A Door To Japan - "I-NABA" (LA Times in March 2002)


A “Soba” Boom at U.S. West Coast - The Nikkei Magazine

Signs of A Real Boom of “Soba” in the American West Coast
(Japanese magazine - The Nikkei Restaurant issued September 2004)

The Japanese restaurant industry in the United States has developed supported by a popularity of the staple dish of each period, i.e. teppan-yaki in the 1970’s, tempura and teriyaki in the 80’s, and sushi since the 90’s. Although the sushi boom is still ongoing, the restaurants that add sushi to their menu is increasing rapidly in big cities such as Los Angeles and New York, and there are many people who express their concerns that the sushi restaurants are in excess.

Consequently, the next ‘hit’ dish is sought in the industry. Among many dishes, the most promising is soba. In the United States, where over 60% of the population is overweight, the improvement of their dietary habit is considered a big issue. Among the Japanese dishes that are considered healthy, soba, low in calorie and high in nutrients compared to other grains, is expected to increase its market share as a diet food taking advantage of the recent fitness fad.

Soba is becoming increasingly popular in California where interest in health and esthetic preferences is high. Recently, in Los Angeles, restaurants that either specialize or serve soba as main dish have increased. Today, there are over 20 such restaurants. Moreover, existing Japanese restaurants and sushi bars have added soba to their menu and the presence of soba has become more prevalent. Recently, a competition on its quality and price has started and each restaurant is trying to compete with their own feature.

The Fukada, in Irvine in the suburb of Los Angeles, is a popular restaurant known for its fresh, hand-kneaded soba. It has pursued making the authentic Japanese soba, using the pure, organic soba flour produced in Shari-cho, Hokkaido and using, for soba sauce, the soup of dried bonito from Yaezu, Shizuoka and premium dried kelp from Hokkaido. Although the restaurant is ordering these ingredients all the way from Japan, it is the idea of Mr. Yasuhiro Fukada, the manager, to “have as many people enjoy the delicious, healthy dish as possible.” He is setting reasonable prices for soba dishes, such as $5.50 (about Yen600 ) for kakesoba and $8.50 (about Yen930) for tenzaru.

Many Japanese companies have opened offices in Irvine and many company representatives live in this area. Nevertheless, surprisingly, the ratio of customers is 6 Americans to 4 Japanese. Because the restaurant is located in the business area, it is crowded with business people and female office workers during the lunch hours and frequented by the residents of Irvine and from its neighboring areas in the evening. “Most of the American customers are those who are either health-conscious or those who prefer organic ingredients. Because they are particular about what they eat, they seem to prefer the authentic Japanese-style even for soba,” says Mr. Fukada.

Can Be Arranged Pasta-Style

In contrast, there are restaurants that serve soba in new way. Shinchi, which opened last year in Santa Monica, is a restaurant serving much talked-about fusion cuisine with Mr. Chris ??? as the head chef. He has become well known while working at the famous “Tetsuya” in Sydney, Australia and its chain. He arranges soba like a pasta dish.

A dish that has been introduced even in the Los Angeles Times is “soba noodle with cooked pork” ($14.50). Half-boiled soba is sautéed together with square-cut steamed pork and vegetables such as lotus root, bok-choy, and shimeji mushroom. It is then seasoned with soup from cooked pork and soy sauce. Because it is a hearty meal, it is preferred as the main dish for dinner by young people.

Ichimi USA, which is based in Torrance, California, operates 5 restaurants in the Los Angeles area, such as Ichimian Honten, specializing in soba dishes, and Inaba, a sushi bar. All of them are serving the house-made soba. This company, which ventured into the United States in 1999 anticipating “after sushi is soba,” has ordered soba flour from Shinshu, and by bringing noodle making machines from Japan, is now producing 400 servings of soba per day. It plans to open self-service style soba specialty restaurants in the future. Mr. Shunichi Hosoi, the executive manager, hopes to “popularize soba as the fast food of Japan.”

Soba is called “buckwheat” in English and is cultivated widely in North America. Because buckwheat is mixed with flour and used to make pancakes and waffles in the United States, people have always been familiar with buckwheat. Therefore, people have grasped the image of Japanese soba as “fresh and healthy pasta made from buckwheat.” To popularize soba in the United States, we need to appeal this aspect more positively.

Restaurants that are putting a great deal of effort in soba dishes tend to insist on soba flour produced in Japan. However, as the demand for soba flour increases, the attention is being placed on the soba flour made locally. Especially, the state of Manitoba in the mid-south Canada is a great source producing over 100 thousand tons of buckwheat annually. There are many farms that cultivate improved breed for export to Japan. There are several noodle companies in the United States and Canada that produce rehydratable noodles and frozen noodles using buckwheat from Manitoba. It seems Ichimi USA is also thinking of producing soba locally using buckwheat from Manitoba in the future.

Because the cost per customer of soba dish is cheap, it is a dish that can target a broad range of customers. Although the purely Japanese style soba such as kake and zaru is the mainstream today, we can expect the spread of soba like that of sushi in the future once other new ways of eating soba are thought up or its topping variation increases.

(Reported in Japanese by Miyuki Sato, Nikkei Correspondent in U.S.)

-An English translation is made by Editor, MLT Website-


Total Pursuit for the Authentic Taste - Restaurant "I-NABA"

Restaurant INABA Torrance is located along Hawthorne Blvd. in the Town Center plaza. This place is always filled with customers for both lunch and dinner. Once you enter the restaurant, the gorgeous tempura bar made of marble and teahouse style sushi bar welcome you. Their paper lanterns with sliding paper doors are also outstanding, making you feel as if you were in Japan.

Torrance INABA
20920 Hawthorne Blvd.
Torrance, CA

Business Hours:
Tuesday - Sunday
Lunch 11:30am ~ 2:00pm
Dinner 6:00pm ~ 10:00pm
Sunday 5:00pm ~ 9:00pm
Monday Closed

Located on the corner of MacArthur and Fairview, Restaurant INABA South Coast stands conveniently close to South Coast Plaza. An authentic sushi menu has been added to the spacious and newly appointed sushi bar at Restaurant INABA South Coast. The restaurant’s modern, yet, traditional Japanese-style interior was designed by Tokuhiro Barada from Tokyo, who is also in charge of interior design for all INABA group restaurants. Both the Restaurant INABA South Coast branch and Torrance branch are dedicated to authentic taste, loyally keeping to the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine. They are serving the same taste of sushi that you can find at Sushiyoshi, the authentic sushi restaurant in Ginza, and tempura with the taste from Tenmaru, the best tempura restaurant in Ginza, Japan. At the newly remodeled South Coast INABA, the popular hand-made soba is being served daily, as well as good old Ginza no Youshoku (Japanese traditional western dish).

South Coast INABA
2901 W. MacArthur Blvd., #108
Santa Ana, CA
Tel: 714-751-6201

Business Hours:
Tuesday - Saturday
Lunch 11:30am ~ 2:00pm
Dinner 5:30pm ~ 10:00pm
Sunday 5:00 ~ 9:00pm
Monday Closed

INABA’s specialties are tempura, sushi, and soba. The ingredients they use are thoroughly organic and fresh, meeting today’s demand for healthy food.

Crispy tempura items are very popular, especially at both Torrance and South Coast locations, attracting many selective tempura fans. The perfect amount of deep-fried, INABA tempura quickens your appetite with its look and fragrant smell. Tempura at INABA is made before you as you sit at their grass-covered tempura bar. That is what makes INABA unique - you can enjoy the view and sound of tempura neatly being made while enjoying your meal. INABA offers various tempura set menus, and one of their popular tempura items is Tempura-Gozen ($19.00~30.00), which comes with fresh and vivid colored sashimi of tuna, yellowtail, white fish, geoduck, and octopus, and a bowl of miso soup and a dish of chawan-mushi (steamed egg custard.)

INABA’s soba is cordially made by professionals trained in Japan. It is served using flour freshly ground in the morning everyday. “We use coarsely-grounded buckwheat as a main ingredient so that the flavor of our soba is totally different from others,” says Mr. Goshi, the manager of the INABA Torrance. The organic-made soup base enhances the flavor of the hand-made soba and sets you on a Japanese gourmet adventure. The stock is made of dried bonito, mackerel, anchovy, and kombu sea vegetable aged for several days.

A popular soba item is Ten-Seiro ($9.50), in which noodles are served cold on a wicker bamboo plate alongside a bowl of hot broth crowned with kaki-age, a deep-fried patty of chopped seafood and vegetable in tempura batter. INABA carries various kinds of sake as well as wine in 30 varieties. You will surely find your favorites that go well with your meal.

INABA has been awarded the grand prix for tempura for two consecutive years, as well as for soba overwhelmingly. INABA keeps authentic Japanese tastes while pursuing each customer’s satisfaction. All the professional chefs at INABA have more than 30 years experience in Japanese food. The Executive Chief Chef Mr. Maezawa says, “Enjoy our sensational show while listening to the subtle sound of fresh shrimp tempura being made before you.

A Door To Japan
(from Los Angeles Times on March 27, 2002)

  The minute I cross the threshold at I-naba, I'm overcome by déjà vu. In a Torrance mini-mall, I feel as if I've walked into a restaurant in a small Japanese town. It's a stylish place of dainty flower arrangements, slanted mirrors and mustard-yellow tablecloths. Delicate bamboo shades shield the windows. All you hear is hushed conversation and faint music—at least when the sizzling deep fryer momentarily falls silent.

   This spare dining room is not the only place to eat here, though. Hidden by curtains is a private tempura bar for customers who advance-order lavish yorokobi-an dinners. Slightly worn blue curtains hang above the main kitchen, but not so low as to hide what the chefs are doing. Mostly, they are frying. I-naba serves a wide range of hot and cold Japanese dishes as well as the obligatory sashimi first course for those with more to spend. But crisp, clean-tasting tempura is the main event here. It comes in elegant, complex set menus; you're supposed to work your way into tempura gradually (rarely, if ever, will you see a Japanese diner plunging directly into a fried food course).

    Tempura gozen ($30) starts with perfectly cut sashimi of tuna, yellowtail, white fish, geoduck and octopus, followed by a green salad tossed with a ginger vinaigrette. You also get a bowl of miso soup and a dish of chawan-mushi (a custard stocked with ginkgo nuts, shiitake, shrimp and fish). Then, and only then, comes some of the best tempura anywhere outside Japan. First, three long shrimp, tails pointing skyward, flanked by two pieces of boned sole. These are followed by a plate of batter-fried green beans, eggplant, onion, pumpkin and a hot pepper stuffed with a little ground beef. On the side, there is a dipping sauce laced with grated white radish. Steamed short-grain Japanese rice is served in a covered bowl. There are also salty homemade pickles (tsukemono) cured in rice wine with rock salt and basil. Expect to find tiny slices of cucumber, yellow radish and, if you're lucky, purple basil.
     There are options. Shrimp tempura gozen ($22) gets you some of the sashimi, no custard and fewer pieces of tempura. An assorted tempura course ($40), the largest of the tempura set menus, adds a second wave of tempura, cold soba noodles and an unexpected dessert, such as New York cheesecake. Still, tempura isn't all I-naba serves. One entire page of the menu is devoted to fried buckwheat noodles (soba) with toppings, cold with dipping sauce or hot in dashi, the familiar Japanese broth of dried bonito. There are bento dinner boxes, pressed sushi dinners and a variety of wonderful appetizers, a few of which have surprising touches. I-naba is proud that it makes its soba by hand. My favorite way to eat it here is ten-seiro ($9.50), for which the noodles are served cold on a wickerwork bamboo plate alongside a bowl of hot broth crowned with kaki-age, a deep-fried patty of chopped seafood and vegetables in tempura batter.

    The appetizer menu deserves notice. Washu-gyu is a clone of the incomparably tender Kobe beef raised in Oregon. It's cut into bite-sized chunks, broiled and served with dipping sauce. Oddly, it comes with a big scoop of American tuna salad, made with plenty of mayo. Perhaps the chef is attempting a Japanese take on vitello tonnato. Another appetizer is saikyoyaki, miso-marinated sea bass broiled in the oven. This is one of the best fish ideas anywhere, buttery and sweet with notes of caramel and smoke in every bite. If you feel adventurous, call a day in advance and order one of those yorokobi-an dinners (basically, Japanese tea ceremony food plus tempura dishes), which range in price from $40 to $70. As in any Japanese restaurant that serves tea ceremony food, it's impossible to predict what ingredients will appear in the meal, only that you can expect everything to be extremely fresh. And that tempura, in all its deep fried glory, will be the featured player in your dinner.

--MAX JACOBSON, Special to The Times


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