Restaurants like Aki in West LA are a dying breed. Imagine when Japanese food was something exotic. Teriyaki and sukiyaki are words seldom used these days, but it lives on in classic establishments like this. There’s not many who still have the mid century Japanification by usage of rice paper screens, carved wood signs and wooden tea house stylings. I grew up in my family’s restaurant (Hakata 1970-2002) which began similar complete with the vinyl booth seats and it turns out that the owner of Aki, Mr Hada actually went to the grand opening in 1970. He opened Aki in 1974 which makes the place 38 years old.
Two simple ala carte items. Beef Teriyaki and Chirashi. They can’t be any way similar except there’s rice included. There’s almost nothing to review, both are made with history. They’re both the epitome of what it’s supposed to be, as if they were made to illustrate the entry in Wikipedia. Beef cooked just right, the sauce Americanized, sweeter and thick. Rice is firm. Chirashi. Done fine. It’s all in there. Aside from the actual dish, the miso soup and side sunomono are all what you’d expect and that’s how they’re still around. Prices are in the $15+ range for an entree at dinner. It’s more than the food, it’s the type of place, the history, and the impending doom of places like this. Will anyone open a new one similar? The kids these days will open new establishments. It’s hard to call them restaurants with tasty food, but will they be around for 10 years much less 38? No way.
Sunday Obon. The sun was going down slowly, and walking up La Grange street, you can hear and see people down the street having a good time. It was the last hour of the Obon in West LA. I used to revel in this event. It was one of the greatest moments of the year. I was small and the event was huge. Everywhere I walked felt like something great was happening. These days, it’s just as large, the foods are different and perhaps the changing times are dictating what happens.
No longer can you just buy at the booth. You need to purchase tickets from the specific place. Basically money can’t get messed with by the booth folks. The prizes aren’t the same as they once were. The bake sale area is gone. Goldfish are no longer prizes. Dime pitch into actual glass plates and cups where you keep the item you pitched into, is history.
Yet, the Obon odori (dance) is still festive, the same bonsai look healthy, shave ice (although I didn’t try it this year) looks as great as ever, chicken teriyaki still rules it, chili rice is a solid winner, imagawayaki (pictured below) is something newer and with blueberry and chocolate chip is heroic, bingo remains a favorite, and that’s Obon.