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While in LA, I managed to check out both branches of Musha, an excellent izakaya out there. As mentioned earlier, I got recommendations for Musha from two expert sources, Eric and the TOJ. My visits completely reinforced my faith in both of them.

I had the Musha Fried Chicken at both places. It's excellent. A crispy breaded boneless chicken thigh sliced into strips. The presentation reminded me of Tonkatsu, the breaded, fried pork cutlets I had in Japan. The flavor was something else entirely.

According to the Menu, the Musha Fried Chicken is "Marinaded in soy sauce, sake, ginger and garlic served with 2 kinds of grated daikon and a ponzu sauce." The flavor of light citrus permeated, particularly when dipped in the accompanied sauce made up of soy sauce and ponzu. Sweet, salty and tangy all vied for my attention in each bite.

The photo above is Tanshio, salted beef tongue, that I cooked on a Shichirin Griller, yakiniku style. The small charcoal grill was the perfect size to fit on the counter in front of me at the Santa Monica branch.

On my visit to the Torrance branch, I had Unagi, broiled eel sliced into chunks and mixed in with rice in a variation in its typical presentation. There was also Braised Pork Belly, served in a soy sauce based broth and cooked with sweet potatoes. My dining companion had a wonderful Ahi Poke, Hawaiian style tuna tatare.

I was also very interested in Musha's Cheese Risotto, which is served out of a giant block of parmesan cheese. I only skipped it - along with noodles and most rice in order to save room for other dishes.

More after the jump!

As you may gather from the food, the folks at Musha like to experiment. At the Torrance branch, the menu begins with a warning on the front page:

"To call an Izakaya a home away from home hardly does it justice. Home is where the spouse and kids lived [sic]. An Izakaya is your place. And so the quality most prized in these traditional pub-restaurant isn't artistry or creativity or even really good food. It's familiarity. Plain, predictable, even a bit dowdy that's what "REAL" Real Izakaya Lovers love.

No doubt Musha has disappointed sme of the purists. For the message here is that an Izakaya doesn't have to choose between old-fashioned and newfangled. It can be both. Please come to Musha and see traditiona; transforming before your eyes.

Please ask about our foods and drinks and we'll be delighted and be able to tell you all about Musha."

With apologies to purists out of the way, it moves on to offer food with roots reaching as close to Japan as Hawaii and as far as Italy.

The menu is artistically designed and fun to read. Rather than offering two menus, one lists dishes in both English and Japanese. The captions are tongue in cheek, offering insight like, "As you know Japanese people likes noodles [sic]" over the noodle section.

The difference between the two restaurants are obvious upon entering the door. In Torrance, the cry of "Irrashimase!" cascaded throughout the space immediately, echoing from the kitchen before we could even get our bearings. The space is dominated by a single communal table, with only a few private tables and a handful of seats at the counter. This location is in a strip mall surrounded by a Japanese video store, a Yakiniku restaurant and a Japanese mall down the block. The fact that the menu here sported a message to purists seems to be fair warning to a large clientele clearly expecting traditional tastes of home. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed, though.

Santa Monica is an entirely different environment. The vibe is different. As TOJ noted, it's much more trendy and much more central. The welcome greeting was there, but not nearly as dramatic. The seating was arranged much more like an American restaurant, full of private tables. I sat at the counter and watched Taku the preparer, cut fish, greet customers and chat with regulars about his upcoming wedding. The decor was more hip than the sedate Torrance location and on a Monday night, it quickly amassed a crowd requiring a half hour wait. I thoroughly enjoyed both locations although I do tend towards the more relaxed atmosphere in the boondocks of Torrance. I'd happily return to either and find myself trying to figure out where to best get a similar experience here in New York.

Musha (Santa Monica)
424 Wilshire Blvd,
Santa Monica, CA
(310) 576-6330

Musha (Torrance)
1725 W Carson St,
Torrance, CA
(310) 787-7344

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