This week, Besha Rodell reviews Tsubaki, the humble Japanese eatery in Echo Park by talented restaurant vets chef Charles Namba and sommelier Courtney Kaplan that opened in February of this year. The Weekly critic begins her review by reminiscing on a rather
memorable experience at a New York izakaya where she was “drunk enough to actually clamber up onto a table. It's a story someone else will have to tell you because I have zero recollection of the event.”
That’s because true izakayas are a place where drinking is more important than eating. Tsubaki does its best to channel that experience given the confines of its small space that doesn’t promote lingering. However, the restaurant’s sake list is a triumph thanks to Kakpan’s “clear, conversational tasting notes and her delight in talking to customers about what's on the list.”
Kaplan’s selections go particularly well with Namba’s cooking that reflects both his Japanese heritage and French technique:
A couple of dishes might serve as an entire meal, such as a hearty bowl of curry soba noodles, or a simmered New York strip steak with mushrooms, but almost everything is best suited to sharing and nibbling. When Namba's creativity shows up, it does so in the details, like the honeyed vinegar that comes alongside the karaage, which hints at a Southern twist, or the moromi miso that comes nestled in endive leaves on a dish of quail. The little birds are cooked perfectly, with crisp skin and a lovely rosy center, but the dish's thrill is in those fermented soybeans that practically explode with umami. [LAW]
While B. Rod has qualms with the “skull-numbingly loud” surrounds, she concludes with some heartfelt words for the restaurant:
But those are often the kinds of concessions that need to be made at a restaurant this personal. Kaplan and Namba have a vision that is wholly their own, that is ambitious in ways no set of investors might understand. There's a lot of love in this little box of a restaurant, a lot of knowledge, a lot of generosity. It may not channel the function exactly, but Tsubaki does channel the spirit of a Japanese izakaya beautifully. [LAW]
Tsubaki earns three glowing stars.