Sherman's Food Adventures: Honda-Ya


Trying to keep away from the heavier foods as much as we could, we hit up a Japanese Izakaya in Tustin.  Honda-Ya actually has a few locations, but this one happened to be the closest to us.  It was only a 20-minute drive in rush hour traffic.  We had to get on our horses because the place gets busy and you will be stuck in a lineup as a result.  We were lucky to make it there when seats were still available.  Hence, we could get to our eating right way.  We were planning on heading back to California Adventure afterwards!

Generally, ordering a plate of Gyoza doesn't really seem all that interesting.  However, it serves a purpose and when prepared properly, is rather tasty.  For me at least, the qualities of a good gyoza include a thin dumpling wrapper, elasticity in the dough, tender pork and cabbage filling and a crispy seared bottom.  As evidenced in the picture, all of those characteristics were present.  You'll just have to trust me on the filling part, as you can't see it.

One of my favourite dishes when it comes to Japanese restaurants is Ankimo, or monkfish liver.  This isn't a very complex dish, but for me, it has all the complexities when it comes to flavor.  There is a natural sweetness that definitely exudes the essence of the sea.  Of course, when we are dealing with any type of liver, there is that aftertaste, but for me at least, this one is much more pleasant than land animals.

One of more popular items here is the Sauteed Clams with garlic butter.  Don't let the this dish fool you with its basic preparation.  Consisting of whole live clams, the fresh sweetness and brininess of the clam juice combined with the garlic butter created a delicious broth.  They provided a spoon for a purpose because you should just eat it all!  As for the clams, they were buttery and cooked just enough.

My daughter loves black cod, so there was no doubt we'd order the Gindara marinated in sweet miso.  This was a fairly large piece which was grilled nicely with charring on the outside.  Hence, it was smoky with caramelization.  The fish itself was buttery and flaky just like how black cod should be.  The marinade was sufficient to provide enough fermented salty sweetness without doing overboard.

Tempura isn't the most sexiest item you can order at an Izakaya, but we happen to love it, so we ended up with the Mixed Tempura sporting ebi, sweet potato, zucchini and carrot.  I thought this was pretty good even though the batter appeared to be thick on the ebi.  In fact, it was quite light and crispy.  Vegetables were not overdone, even the zucchini still had a bite.  The batter on those was thin and crunchy. 


Even though you can barely see it, rest assured, this was the Salmon Carpaccio with olive oil and yuzu sauce.  On the menu, the onions were on the bottom, but for our plate, they were on the top.  So in addition to the tanginess of the yuzu, there was definitely some influence from the plethora of onions in the form of sharpness.  The salmon itself was not sliced particularly thin, so there was a the slightest of chew beyond the butteriness of the fish.

Plated with the onions on the bottom (so much easier to take a picture of it), the Albacore Tataki was lightly dressed in ponzu sesame soy.  The fish itself was barely seared on the outside, letting the soft freshness of the tuna speak for itself.  It was lightly sweet with hints of the sea.  The pieces were actually rather thick, but that really didn't change things.  Tuna was buttery and the dressing added aromatics and brightness. 

We ordered the obligatory maki sushi with the Rock 'n Roll that sported shrimp, unagi and avocado then deep-fried.  Since this was featured fully-cooked elements, the roll in general was warm throughout.  This consistency in temperature and texture meant this was overall soft, with only some bite from the shrimp.  The warm rice was able to retain some chewiness.  Unlike some fried rolls, the layer of tempura was barely there, so it didn't eat too heavy nor greasy.

Onto another fried item, we had the Hokkaido Potato Croquette.  I'm used to the ones with ground beef and these ones didn't appear to have any (at least the one I ate).  No matter, because it was still delicious.  Soft and creamy, the potatoes were smooth and lightly seasoned.  On the outside, the panko coating was golden brown and crunchy.  It wasn't greasy and ate rather light.  On the side, we found some tonkatsu sauce for dipping.

On the menu, there is a large portion devoted to Yakitori and since we had ordered quite a few dishes already, we only had the appetite for 2 - Bacon Scallop and Pork Belly.  Although cooked right, I found that there could've been a bit more charring.  As a result, the flavors weren't as caramelized as it could've been.  Bacon was a bit flabby but the scallop was buttery.  Pork belly was tender and fatty, yet could've had a better exterior crunch.

We ended off with an order of Atlantic Salmon Sashimi.  Presented in medium-sized slices, the salmon had a nice sheen and appearance.  Unlike the carpaccio we had, we could taste the salmon on its own more.  It was moderately sweet and was soft with a bite.  We actually added this after our original order and it was a nice light way to finish our meal.  Honda-Ya was exactly what we needed since we had some heavier meals upcoming.  Food was good, service was attentive and the prices were reasonable.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Inexpensive
- Wide variety

The Bad:

- Can get busy, lineups are common
- Chabudai seating is cool, but hard on the legs


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