As I mentioned last week, Saturday was my day to skulk around J-town in search of treasure. Now, don't get me wrong, I've been to J-town before, on a number of occasions, but it was usually to just wander around for the heck of it or for a very specific purpose - I need this item from this place, go there, get it, leave. In this case, it was going to be a mix of the two - I was going to be wandering around, but not just for the heck of it, and I did have very specific purposes, but I wasn't sure those items would be available, and I had no idea where they might even be if they were available.
My friend and I arrived at Weller Court at about 10:30 in the morning. I'm not usually a fan of paying for parking, but in this case, I had remembered that street parking was metered, and I didn't know how long we'd be there, and I didn't want to have to worry about running back to the car to feed the meter, so I decided to lump it and just deal with paying for parking. It turned out that various establishments in Weller Court validate for parking, but it's usually good for no more than two hours, so because we ended up being there longer than that, I paid the Saturday max, which was something like $6.50, so that wasn't too bad. On future visits, I don't think I'm going to end up being there for more than two hours, so the validation should work fine.
Our first stop was the grocery store that I don't remember being there before - it's been a while since my last visit, and I can't remember what used to be there - and when we looked around and found too many good things, we decided to come back when we were all done so we didn't have to make a special trip back to the car to drop stuff off or carry everything around all day.
We then went to the second floor to the Kinokuniya Bookstore. My friend has recently started reading a few manga series, and she found a book that she'd been looking for. At the front of the store, I found a selection of t-shirts and in browsing, found this Domo t-shirt that I really liked. I ended up finding a similar shirt later in another store, but that one actually said "Domo" above the pictures. I like this more subtle version because it doesn't proclaim who he is. It does say "Domo" on the top back of the shirt, but my hair pretty much covers it.
And it's not like I don't already have a billion t-shirts, but I also saw this one. Again, no clue who, how, what or why, but I just thought it was really cute. I especially love the kitties on the fries. So I got this t-shirt as well. I didn't see this shirt there, otherwise, it would have been hard to decide which one to get. And then I found this online listing. Oh my gosh! How incredibly cute are they! But they're a bit too pricey, even for my tastes. These are really cute too.
In the bookstore, I also found this book. I've read some articles and seen lots of pictures of various really interesting and sometimes weird inventions, so this book was right up my alley. I'm wondering if they really meant to use that for the title or if it was a translation mistake that no one caught.
I also took the opportunity to pick up a copy of Sushi&Sake, which is generally available for free outside major retailers.
After our purchases, we wandered around and looked at a couple of the restaurants on that floor. Curry House is a place that my friend's brother had recommended, and I've eaten there once before and thought it was ok. We'll probably go back sometime to try it. I liked looking in the window because it has displays made of plastic food, and I've always liked that. Hmmm, it's too bad they don't make miniature versions of plastic food. I'm sure that would sell really well.
The restaurant next door to that, whose name escapes me, used to be a favorite of mine when I worked within driving distance of J-town. They're open for lunch only on weekdays, so on occasion, I'd make a dash to J-town for lunch there, ordering the bento box with lots of little tastes of different things. Big surprise that it appealed to me, huh? That was the place where I discovered that I liked raw cabbage. They served it with a side of some kind of miso-based dip that was yummy.
We then walked down 2nd Street, heading for the Japanese Village Plaza and stopping in a store or two along the way to take a peek. Just as we got close to the Plaza, I saw this store across 2nd Street near the Pinkberry that caught my attention. On my last visit to J-town, I had been in search of a store that I'd been to years ago with friends who were Japanese. Their mother would make visits to J-town, and I'd be invited along, and I remembered this store because it had a lot of cool stuff in it - collectibles, dishware, all kinds of neat stuff. When I didn't find it on my last visit, I was disappointed that it appeared the store was no more. When I walked into the store, I was so happy to see that it was in fact the elusive store that I hadn't been able to find last time. (The real irony is that the store is next to a celphone accessory store/t-shirt store that I'd gone into last time because the husband needed to pick up something.) It looked exactly as I had remembered, and now I know where to go when I need the kinds of wares they sell.
We then headed into Japanese Village Plaza and wandered into various stores looking around, including the bakery which had a lot of yummy looking desserts. It was getting close to lunchtime, so the smells wafting out of various restaurants and the pictures of food outside the restaurants was making us a little nuts.
After scoping out various places that we wanted to go back to after lunch, we headed for Frying Fish restaurant. Frying Fish is a place that this particular friend and I had discovered years ago. It's a fairly small restaurant with no tables - just a bar. When we entered, we were taken to seats and our drink orders were taken. Seating can be fairly cramped as the high-back bar chairs are right next to each other, so much so that you pretty much have to pull a chair all the way out to be able to get into it and then try to slide the chair closer to the bar.
The sushi chefs generally make the more popular items and then put each order on a different colored plate, based on the price of the order, and then they put it on the metal conveyor belt (this is referred to as a kaiten sushi bar) that runs the perimeter of the bar, so the sushi goes round and round. They will also generally put a plastic cover over the food. Sometimes, you can see really well through the plastic, and other times, you have to lift the plastic up to really see what each dish is. Whatever dish you want, you just take it off the conveyor belt, and then when you're all done, they count the number of plates you have in each color to determine the price of your meal. They have a list of specials posted on the wall and also a paper menu, so if there's something you want that doesn't come around, you ask the sushi chef, and they'll prepare it for you.
Generally, it's not the most spectacular sushi place I've been to. It's not fancy or anything, which is ok, but they don't have any of the more non-common items that I generally like, but in addition to the nostalgia value of going back to a place that we'd discovered so many years ago early in our foray into sushi, the main appeal is that this is the restaurant where we were introduced to Tres Huevos. I have since successfully managed to get other sushi chefs to duplicate it, but that only works if the chef speaks English well enough to understand what I'm describing. Anyone who orders ikura (salmon roe) or masago (smelt roe) knows that they come in a little hand-made container made from taking a small pat of rice and wrapping seaweed around it that's about twice as tall so there's space to spoon the roe into it. Well, Tres Huevos is a like a combination of the two with an addition. Half of the cup contains ikura and the other half of the cup contains masago, and in the middle of the two, you put the egg yolk of a quail egg. Frying Fish actually includes the entire quail egg, but I'm not a fan of the extra gooeyness from the egg white.
Here's a picture of Tres Huevos that I had re-created at another restaurant.
We enjoyed a nice lunch with good sushi (yes, we did order Tres Huevos, and as far as I can tell, another group of people watched as the sushi chef made our order, and the look of it intrigued them enough that they ordered it right afterward) and good conversation.
So when we'd had our fill, we were waiting for the waiter to come around to give us our bill. One peculiarity I've had when at sushi places with colored plates is that after I'm done, I like to stack them so that the same-colored plates are together. I figured that makes it easier for the waiter to count, instead of hunting through the stack for same-colored plates. After we were done doing that, we sat for a little longer, after which my friend said, "Do you want to stack them in order of price?" There was a display on the wall that had the price right on each color of plate. My response was, "Don't think I haven't already thought about that and managed to suppress that urge." Since the waiter hadn't come yet, I finally gave in, and we re-arranged the stack in descending order of price per plate. When the waiter finally came by, he laughed at what we had done and thanked us for making his job easier.
It was now time to go back to two stores to do actual shopping. A store a couple fronts down from Frying Fish had the little boxes of joy I have mentioned previously. I didn't find the set I was really looking for, but then I hadn't really counted on being able to find it. I'm not even sure it's available in the States.
I picked up two boxes in the Bread & Butter collection, and I was really happy that one of them was the one I've wanted the most.
I also bought one box from this sushi collection. I had briefly told my friend about these collections and sent her the link to the main website, but it wasn't until she saw the boxes themselves that she really understood the appeal of them. Being a sushi lover herself and a purveyor of collectibles, she decided she was going to collect this blue box sushi set. She got three boxes of these and one box of a white set that had different Japanese food. Later, we sat down to examine our treasures. With all the boxes I've purchased so far, I have not yet gotten one duplicate, so that's been nice. This time, my blue box yielded this set, which is pretty cool. This was one of the sets that my friend really liked it and had wanted because she is a lover of ikura like me, so I decided to trade it to her for this set that she got from the white box Japanese food collection. I liked that one too, and I figured I'd be buying more blue boxes, so it wasn't a problem.
We did see one item on display that we both just went crazy over. I've seen the various display cases and kitchen sets and a number of other display items for use with these miniatures. But they actually had on display a kaiten sushi bar setup. You could even see the little marks of the conveyor belt bits, and there were pictures up, and they'd put some of the sushi pieces on the belt. Oh my goodness, this was just too cute and amazing. However, while I did see boxes of various other display cases, I didn't see any of those, and I figured if they had any for sale, it would be out. It was a bit crowded in the store, so I didn't want to take up their time by asking about it. I can't even find any reference to it or pictures online, so I'm wondering if it was something that came out a long time ago and is no longer available. I'm figuring that on a future visit to this place when it's not as busy, I'll ask about it. My friend later started to say to me that if I ever found one of those, to which I cut her off with, "then I'm going to buy it, and if they have two, then I'll get one for you too." Yeah, she's my friend and all, but hey, each collector for herself! ;)
There was another little gift shop that we had to go back to because my friend had noticed that they had tofu plush. She had seen them on a trip to Japan last year but had only managed to get a little one, so she was excited to see them here and more of them. They had them in two different sizes, in a couple of different colors, and they were pretty cute.
I didn't end up finding anything of Yesterdeer, and the bookstore had the Tofu Robot t-shirts I'd already seen online, and an anime store had a vinyl toys of Domo, but I didn't find anything else of those I liked.
We then made our way back to the grocery store that we'd browsed earlier. It was fun to look at all the various items, and we even discovered that we used to eat a lot of the same treats as kids that we'd never talked about before. I bought various kinds of groceries, some I'd had before and some because they looked interesting to try. The J-town location of this store is a membership-optional store, which means you don't have to be a member to shop there. They have one for members only that's closer to me, and the $10 per year membership fee doesn't seem bad, so I might check that one out sometime.
My friend isn't particularly interested in sake, but she likes cool bottles, so she mentioned that she really liked this particular bottle. I figured heck, it's a small bottle, and I'm up for trying different kinds of sake now, so I bought one and told her I'd give her the bottle when I was done. We both laughed, though, when the cashier actually carded me for buying the sake. Are you serious?!?!?!?
We sat at a table in the little courtyard to open and examine our little boxes of joy, so it was nice to sit for a bit after walking around so much, but then, it was shortly time to go.
It was a really fun day, partly because I found some good stuff, partly because I had sushi for lunch, and partly, I had someone fun to share the experience with who is excited about the same kinds of things I am and who shares some of the eccentricities I have.
There are a few places that we saw from across the street that I'd like to go back and see, and there are places a few streets down that I'd like to browse at, and of course, I have to go back to some of the same places. I also just found this list, so you can see there are various other places I'm going to be needing to visit in and around Los Angeles and Orange County.
Hmmm, I seem to be breaking my "one box per week" rule.