Cheese figures pretty heavily in Hiro's work. As creative director of Hello Design, he and his team created several sites and campaigns for Tillamook Cheese. A lot of market research went into this, as he and Jolene attended grilled cheese festivals and the phrase, "They serve Tillamook" became the signal for a quality eatery.
So it was no big surprise that he recommended the cheese (yes, cheese!) soon tofu at West L.A. gem, Asian-Ya. Usually, one must move with all possible speed away from places that serve ramen. And soon tofu. And chicken karaage. But Asian-Ya's ambition belies its genius.
I am the Eggplant: Asian-Ya's inventive appetizer.
The grownups started with a sophisticated hors d'oeuvre of eggplant topped with a miso glaze and baked in its rind. Delicately flavorful, without a hint of bitterness, the eggplant was like a veggie souffle. The kids, who are a few years away from thinking any vegetable could be a thing of beauty, had the gyoza, which I have to admit I eyed with longing.
The table also tends to be a pretty colorful display, despite the requisite darkness of the restaurant. Jolene ordered tan tan men ramen, a delightfully spicy rendition of the iconic Japanese comfort food. The broth, reddened with a discreet but intriguing dose of chili, shone like a bright poppy against the dark wood table.
Jolene's tan tan men ramen. Say that five times fast.
Joselyn ordered the classic seafood combo soon tofu, my default order when having soon tofu. But I couldn't resist the promise of cheese. I ordered my broth "regular," which I hoped would mean "medium." It was, and next time, I'll go for "spicy." But the novel soup did not by any means, disappoint. It had the spicy warmth of soon tofu with the blankety, spoon-coating meltiness of French onion soup.
Cheese soon tofu with chicken, who came stag. No egg with this version of soon tofu.
Among the things that whetted my appetite at Asian-Ya were the classic rock/eclectic soundtrack and the blingy maneki neko that watched over us from an alcove above the table.
"Puss in Boots" got nothin' on this cat!
But the best seasoning at Asian-Ya was an evening with family and the discovery of yet another bonus noodle - or wonton, or kreplach, or tortellini - in the ever-simmering soup of casual dining in L.A.
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