Say “Japanese beef bowl,” and the first restaurant that probably comes to mind is Yoshinoya. The 118-year-old Japanese fast food chain invokes images of thinly sliced beef served over a bed of rice, served with a side of those julienned beni shoga (pickled ginger). The novelty of the dish caught on in the 70s and 80s in the States, but the restaurant’s popularity waned — as of this year all US locations outside of California have closed.
Red Rock, a Japanese chain specializing in bowls with “American-cut” beef opened last month in a low-key Torrance strip mall with one mission: Change the way Americans think about the humble beef bowl, forever.
It’s important to consider Japan’s view of American culture when taking in the experience at Red Rock. Servers dressed in dark button-up shirts and fedoras slip between dimly lit tables, the dark, narrow space recalling a jazz kissaten (or jazz club) in Tokyo.
A mustachioed barman stands behind a high wall of bottles, his head and eyes peering out like he’s checking the entrance at a speakeasy. Herbie Hancock pours in from a red designer Bang & Olufsen speaker mounted at the top of a wall. This is the American aesthetic, as imagined by the culture that gave the world $2,000 Momotaro jeans and Kamakura dress shirts that put Brooks Brothers to shame.
A server at Red Rock describes the food as “Yoshinoya on steroids,” and though the menu sports some interesting side items (including steaks priced by the ounce and smoked salmon sashimi salad), the “American-cut beef” bowl is the dish of choice at practically every table and bar seat.
Each bowl comes with a small garden salad topped with a very acidic (and altogether refreshing) tomato dressing and a cup of soup. The soup, a beef broth, is salty and savory with a strong presence of onion. It’s served in a large mug with a handle, and sipping it like tea isn’t an altogether bad idea.
Finally, the “American-cut” beef bowl arrives. What’s the “American-cut” beef? To someone born in the States, all that’s meant to convey is sliced roast beef. But of course, in true Japanese fashion, the beef at Red Rock is “just sliced roast beef” in the same way a bottle of Yamazaki 18 is “just whiskey.”
Here are blushing slivers of rare black angus beef, served atop rice that’s got just a little more bite than one might be accustomed to. Red Rock crowns this all with a raw egg yolk, sweet soy sauce and peppered yogurt sauce. The sauces all cooperate to coat each grain of rice and create a rich — even unctuous — beef bowl experience. The small bowl costs $11.95 and the larger plate, with almost twice the beef portion, is just $14.95.
All considered, Red Rock’s beef bowl is a smooth, intriguing take on a dish that hasn’t gotten too much rotation, especially in a market as welcoming to Japanese cuisine as Los Angeles. Even if Red Rock doesn’t become the 21st century Yoshinoya in the US, Torrance is lucky to have it.
Red Rock. 2141 W. 182nd St. Torrance, CA 90504.
Open Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., then 5 to 10 p.m.