Japanese Beer Garden: Where the Party's @! Chaya Downtown. Los Angeles, CA. Summer 2012.
Oh, those summer nights!
For the past couple of summers in Downtown Los Angeles, the beginning of summer meant one thing: A very special Japanese grill would make its long trek across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Los Angeles. Its final destination is Chaya Downtown. There it would spend the summer in the restaurant's Garden Patio searing, grilling and making delicious every edible thing from shiitake mushrooms to beef tongue. Its purpose was a noble one.
Sake and ice, so nice.
If you find yourself in Downtown Los Angeles this Summer of 2012, from Monday to Friday, seeking a hot dining spot for the night but also needing to keep an eye on your budget, Chaya Downtown's Japanese Beer Garden is the place to be.
Come fly with me on a sake flight!
As soon as you step foot off of downtown's harsh pavement and into this sanctuary of Japanese cuisine, you've been transported into a festive, vibrant scene out of a Hayao Miyazaki animated feature where food and drink are bountiful.
On certain Thursday nights, raucous music complements the izakaya grub and colorful summer libations. Who would've imagined Lynyrd Skynyrd and Echigo Beer pair well together.
In fact, with the ideal paper lantern mood lighting combined with a gentle summer breeze and an easy, violet-tinted sunset, everything and anything can get along which is why you won't mind your Grilled White Corn bedazzled with aioli and feta cheese crumbles bumping up against your chilly bowl of "Mozuku" Somen Noodles.
Hot days, cold noodles.
Nothing gets along quite as well as fried chicken and beer. Crunchable and munchable, the Soy Fried Chicken "Karaage" is easily the easiest pub bite to pair with all the Japanese beer at the Japanese Beer Garden. Fried nuggets of chicken and suds, the party starts now!
JFC — Japanese Fried Chicken.
However, the real draw here is the yakitori and kushiyaki and, at a price point of $2 - $3 per skewer, this is what they call, in the marketing world, a "loss leader". Their loss is your gain. Get a pitcher of beer and a quiver full of skewers for a guaranteed good time at the Japanese Beer Garden.
Licensed to grill!
With so many skewers to select from and at such low prices, it's pretty painless just to simply order one of each and then order more of the ones you particularly enjoyed later. The beef tongue skewers licked me in all the right spots, er, I mean, tasted great! Some beef tongue is served thinly sliced like at Korean BBQ restaurants, others are served as a slab Cuban style. The tongue on Chaya's Japanese grill is served in satisfying cubes, bite-sized but significant enough to require a few chomps to get through the flavorful, charred moist meat.
These skewers are the Japanese Beer Garden's main event and the raison d'etre for the specially imported grill. But isn't every summer cookout about the grill? BBQ, beer and summer: it's the new Japanese Triad.
Stick + meat = skewerlicious!
Other options include cold servings of a Tofu "Hiyayakko" Medley which traditionally is eaten in Japan during the summer season and paired with beer. Topping off the tofu cubes are shrimp, thinly sliced pepper or any number of ingredients.
Beer & Tofu, BFFs!
It's a well-known conspiracy among innkeepers and bar managers that if you want your patrons to drink a lot of beer, give them salty fried things to eat. Sell 'em salty and fried and they will drink. At Chaya's Japanese Beer Garden, you won't find onion rings or buffalo wings in the offerings, but you will find Garlic Fried Soft Shell Shrimp with Chipotle Miso. If anything will inspire you to kick in for that pitcher of Kirin, it's the fried shrimp. Salty, garlicky, crispy and spicy, how could you not want anything but a beer to wash it all down?
It's not just about beer at the Chaya's Japanese Beer Garden. Cocktails of all kinds, including sake and soju concoctions, express the summer season's bright and easy going attitude spectacularly. Represented on the Beer Garden Bar menu are Sake Bellinis to Soju Cosmos, even Sake Sangrias. They are colorful and cheery enough to make you happy even before you take the first sip.
Summer in bottles and glasses!
The night's happy juice for me was hands-down the "Cool As A Cucumber" gin cocktail. It was refreshing and easy to drink — a harmonious dance between gin and cucumber. It's one of those summer sippin' on the front porch while you watch the world go by kind of drinks.
Too cool for school!
Along with Disneyland, the Grand Canyon and the beach, Chaya Downtown's Japanese Beer Garden needs to be on everyone's summer to do list. After a skewer and a sake, you may just forget that you are still in Downtown Los Angeles. Now that would be one delicious stay-cation.
525 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017