I was terrified of doing somersaults for fear of cracking my neck. I refused to go on Splash Mountain or Space Mountain at Disneyland because of the warning signs about the “high speeds and sudden drops.” I was afraid of getting sick on airplanes, afraid the dolls in my bedroom would try to kill me in the middle of the night if I didn’t tell them I loved them before I went to sleep, and, at one point, was even afraid to eat rice because I had eaten it before getting the stomach flu and in my illogical mind that was the reason I’d been sick.
I was kind of a hypochondriac.
Scratch that, I am a hypochondriac.
Even today, I am overly cautious and paranoid about getting sick -- especially from food poisoning. I use special designated cutting boards and utensils when working with raw poultry or eggs and wash them with a separate dish scrubber afterward. I boil water to pour over said utensils and boards, and I refuse to touch a carton of milk or carton of eggs past the sell-by date.
Given my extreme paranoia about salmonella, e-coli and other food borne illnesses, it’s always been a little hard for me to swallow raw fish without pause. Even though I generally legitimately enjoy tuna tartare, yellowtail carpaccio and ceviche, every time I eat it, a little voice in the back of my head starts shrieking out a warning call.
“Ingesting raw or undercooked fish can lead to food borne illness caused by bacteria, parasites, and toxins! Eat at your own risk!”
Usually I kindly tell the voice to quiet down unless the item in question looks or smells off, but the paranoia does tend to rob me of some of the enjoyment of slurping down raw fish. Or at least it does at most establishments.
When I dine at Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya, an off-shoot of the original Katsu-ya in the Valley, that little shrieking voice is more of a dull whisper. I’ve dined at the West 3rd Street restaurant at least a half dozen times over the course of my LA residency, and have never felt concerned or anxious about any of the dishes I’ve encountered in the perpetually chaotic, yet always friendly space.
While sushi purists might raise eyebrows over some of the accompaniments and preparations of the somewhat Americanized offerings, it’s the perfect place for a phob like me to break out the chopsticks and wasabi. Not only can I get fresh slivers of silky seared albacore topped with crispy onions (think of it as a Japanese green bean casserole) ($12.50) and the now ubiquitous crispy rice with spicy tuna ($9.50), but I can drown them in as much soy sauce and wasabi as I like without raising the ire of the sushi chef. With a crisp glass (or bottle) of Gainey Sauvignon Blanc on the side, if I close my eyes really tight (just like I did when Maleficient came on the screen in Sleeping Beauty), it’s almost as though I’m not eating raw or undercooked fish at all.
In addition to the fresh cuts of seafood that decorate the roster of sushi rolls and special sashimi plates, as an Izaka-ya, the restaurant also offers diners a comprehensive menu of cooked options as well. Katsu-ya’s epic baked crab hand roll ($6.00) litters almost every table in the space at some point during a diner’s meal. In my mind, it’s a lighter, less-carby version of a lobster roll, and lives up to its fame and popularity.
Other noteworthy hot dishes include the sodium-rich sautéed green beans ($5.50), a miso cod ($11) that doesn’t immediately conjure up a comparison to Nobu’s version, and, for more indulgent evenings, creamy rock shrimp tempura ($9.00) that burst in the mouth. Tatsuta Age, seasoned deep-fried chicken, ($7.00) also offers another compelling reason to limit the amount of sashimi and sushi dishes ordered. The thin disks of white meat are fried to a lusty golden brown, and while slightly bland on their own, soar when smeared with wasabi-rich soy sauce. Paired with the light greens on the side that are dressed with a sweet rice vinegar and sesame dressing, it almost tastes like a Chinese Chicken Salad.
The best part about dining at Izaka-ya – other than the warm toilettes proffered upon arrival (yay for clean hands!) – is that it allows me to scratch my sushi cravings without having to stray into uncomfortable territory. Given my propensity toward paranoia, I appreciate going to a Japanese restaurant where I can have well-executed raw and cooked dishes, and I don’t have to worry about everything I put in my mouth. Lord knows I already do plenty of that when I’m preparing chicken or eggs for myself at home.
Izaka-ya by Katsuya
8420 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA