>> N Cafรฉ | Eat the World Los Angeles

Friday, 4 February 2022

N Cafรฉ

JAPAN ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต
Vermont Avenue facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is open. Orders are made and paid for at the counter prior to eating.

๐Ÿ“ 16814 S. Vermont Avenue, Gardena, South Bay

If you were zipping down this section of Vermont Avenue in Gardena and did not know any better, N Cafรฉ might look like the type of place you would expect to serve boba or cold press juices at first glance. Besides its name, only a simple, colorful leaf is up on the sign. Explore further and a fast casual Japanese American restaurant presents itself, the culmination of the career of its chef, who spent over two decades in the now closed upscale Chaya restaurants in Beverly Hills and Venice.

Settling into one of the tables at the small cafe might also fool you into thinking that N has been around for a long time, it seems very comfortable in its skin and feels very established. But the restaurant came to life at the beginning of summer 2020, a couple months after the restaurant industry was forced into its current life form.

Fish bento with salmon

If you sit here a couple times and watch the comings and goings, you see many Gardena locals coming in to pick up bentos for lunch. This was always going to be the focus of N Cafรฉ, but it seems extra prescient for the times when takeout is so vital. They rotate between a few options and there is always a daily bento offered as well as a fish bento that sometimes changes. If you come here five days straight you could probably pick a new one for each meal.

The fish bento ($14.99, above) during a recent outing was a meaty salmon with teriyaki sauce, the fish is cooked more aggressively than normal and refreshingly tough in a good way. Every great value bento comes with a delicious bowl of miso soup, prime grade rice, and a variety of extras that on this day included a delicious sour pickled plum, a potato croquette with tonkatsu sauce, and some extremely crunchy assorted pickles.

Keema curry

You will soon come to realize that all of the foods here are comfort foods, the bento falls into this category but some of the other options even more so. Four choices for their curry are available and offer the ultimate comfort, obviously homemade and lacking that strong sweetness from typical Japanese curries that are mass-produced.

A good starter option for those that enjoy meat is the ground beef keema curry ($13.99, above), which like the rest is served with sides of fresh and grilled vegetables, a small green salad, potato salad, and their beautiful white rice. A small container of pickles should not be forgotten for its ability to add zip and crunch to any bite.

Mentai butter spaghetti

To further the comfort of any meal here, try some of their wafu (ๅ’Œ้ขจ, Japanese-style) pastas, which may or may not use the Italian pasta they reference in the title. The mentai butter spaghetti ($15.99, above) uses linguini but absolutely no one will care when they take their first bite of this delicious calamari pasta with the namesake spicy cod roe.

The dish is creamy from butter but not too much so, its pasta cooked a while longer than al dente just as most Japanese seem to prefer. Finely chopped up oba leaf and thin slices of nori both blanket the top and round out the dish, which could not really get any better. The garlic bread is photogenic but probably the bites you will not take if finishing everything on the table is going to be a struggle.

Spicy fried chicken burger

The restaurant also serves a very tasty angus cheeseburger and spicy fried chicken sandwich ($11.99, above) which are served with their crisp garlic truffle fries. In the latter, a nicely fried chicken patty is itself sandwiched with both tartar sauce and a slightly spicy sriracha mayonnaise. The mayo was tasty enough to ask for more with the fries instead of the ketchup packets that arrived with the sandwich.

After such a successful first couple meals here, future visits will likely include more curry and bento options, but it is big plates of Japanese mushroom spaghetti, a penne bolognese, and carbonara that are actually looked forward to the most. And definitely more of the mentai butter spaghetti, all served in satisfyingly heaping portions that would be frowned upon in an Italian restaurant.

๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต

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