Watch out, Shin Sen Gumi and Kappo Honda! Another Fountain Valley izakaya is opening just down the street at the end of the month. Izakaya Ku takes over the good juju of a space that housed the long-lived Funashin sushi restaurant since 1989; Funashin's owners retired in August.
Construction is still under way, and menus weren't available to look at when I stopped by. I asked one of the Japanese owners what kind of stuff they'll be serving. “Izakaya stuff,” came the deadpan reply, as though a Japanese-speaking person should have to pose the question at all when hello? Clearly, the sign in front of the restaurant says it's an izakaya.
What does that mean for wabs and gabachos que no hablan japonés? The word izakaya literally translates as a house of sake, so these are Japanese pubs with a large assortment of small dishes to accompany your beer, sake and shochu. They come in many different styles of décor and food, from an old-school country inn to a postmodern type with global food influences. Kappo Honda falls into the first category; Shin Sen Gumi, with Western foods such as foie gras, leans toward the latter. Where Ku fits into the spectrum remains to be seen.
Typically, izakaya menus are broken down by the cooking methods employed in the Japanese kitchen, so you'll find dishes that are raw, grilled, stewed, boiled and fried. Grilled stuff on skewers are called kushiyaki, and most places stake their name on these items, using premium ingredients seasoned simply with fancy sea salts and grilled expertly over hot-burning, imported Japanese binchotan charcoal.
When pressed, Ku's owners did reveal there will be a kushiage section of the menu, which are fried, skewered delicacies. In Japan, there are tiny restaurants that narrowly focus on kushiage exclusively, with a menu of things several dozen wide. Will Ku aim to be Orange County's first restaurant where this specialty will take root? Check back here for a review once it has its sea legs.
Izakaya Ku, 18120 Brookhurst St., Ste. 25, Fountain Valley.