Although I have yet to experience a proper izakaya in Japan, with my experience at Osen Izakaya, I may not have to travel abroad to do so.
You enter Osen and you are immediately transported out of Silverlake. The space is small and decorated with bamboo beams, Noren (Japanese fabric), Zōri (Japanese flip flops), and mini Polaroids of patrons strung up on light clips. Even though the restaurant is intimate, the place is action packed. The waitstaff flow fast and precise through the aisle ways like a river down a mountainside. Winding between tables while never missing a dish at the pass, drinks being poured, tables needing to be cleaned, or yelling "irasshai-masé" as they welcome more customers into the restaurant.
We were invited to sit at a table, but before our cheeks could press against the seat, we decided to head to the bar. I'm glad we did because this is where all the magic happens. In a kitchen less than 150 sq. ft., the chefs are surgical. Every move strategic. Every move waste-less. The sushi chef slice through the day's catch composing beautiful and equally delicious dishes. The grill chefs are equally masterful. Reading and knowing each others moves as they compose a dish separately-together.
Our waiter Kevin introduced himself and asked if we were very hungry or a little hungry. Obviously we were very hungry. He asked if we would like to order from the menu or just have him bring items out. This night we felt adventurous so we let Kevin drive. All dishes that Kevin chose were from the seasonal menu. Every dish was better than the last.
The first dish that arrived was a small bowl of traditional Japanese fish-stock miso soup. Next, an Uni Bowl ($14). It was exquisitely composed. The layered bowl beginning with what I can only describe as "sushi style" brown rice, accompanied by nori chiffonade, diced sweet egg (I think), roe, and about 6-7 pieces of decadent Uni. The briny salmon roe mixed perfectly with the warmth of the brown rice and seasoned the Uni. Dare I say, I wasn't a fan of Uni until this preparation and execution.
Thirdly was a baby Octopus Kara age ($6). Perfectly fried baby octopus with a dollop of aioli. Shortly followed by stuffed whole crispy Shisamo (smelt ($8)). Yes, I've had head-on shrimp, soft-shell crab, and other whole-served sea dwellers but this was a little daunting. Honestly I didn't know what to think. I took another swig if my Sapporo and chomped down on the fish. It was great and definitely unlike anything I have had previously.
For the following dishes we went away from fried and indulged on a couple of their signature cold plates - Citron Salmon ($17) (Salmon sashimi w/ Japanese ceviche style dressing) and Shiso Dai ($16)(snapper w/homemade shiso dressing and olive oil). These 2 were out of control. For me, I am huge fan of snapper so I really enjoyed the Shiso Dai but the Salmon was just as elegant.
If that wasn't enough already, Kevin prepared us for the next courses by bringing us a small palette cleanser of grilled green onion brushed with a light nigiri shoyu.
For our 8th course, a bowl of Pork Shogayaki-don ($15) (sliced pork, onsen egg, fresh ginger, mayo, garlic, cabbage). Talk about some yolk porn... This bowl alone would've made our night. However the hits kept coming.
6 shareable skewers followed the bowl. Crispy chicken skin, grilled/smoked quail egg, chicken gizzards, cod, scallop, and a 4-bite prawn. All expertly cooked and as delicious as the previous dishes.
Ninth, a lunch portion of miso grilled salmon on a bed of dressed greens ($21). I have never had salmon cooked to absolute perfection like this. Melt in your mouth is an understatement. The greens were phenomenal as well.
10th - a huge bowl of Blue Crab Hot Pot. This was an experience all on its own. When the waitstaff brings you the pot it's directly off the fire. They place it down and begin to mix all the contents together. In doing this, the Soccarat crusts the rice. It forms almost as a paella style crispy rice that can be found at the bottom of the cast iron. This too another expertly executed dish.
Stuffed and ready to roll out onto the streets, we had the pleasure of meeting the chef and owner of Osen Izakaya. We spent sometime thanking him for not only Kevin, but a fantastic experience and informed him that we would return. He thanked us back for coming to his restaurant and in the same breath recommended dessert. If you’re counting along - I think that's 11 courses. But I mean, how could we deny the chef's homemade Black Sesame Ice Cream and Banana bread pudding?! Well we didn't and every bite and guilt shortly after was worth it.
The food, service, and ambience was perfection. Every bite as great as the last and the show in the kitchen is completely worth the price of admission. I HIGHLY recommend Osen Izakaya.