Kagura’s delicate dining for the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Kagura is cleaved into what seems like two separate restaurants. At first sight is a sparse space: a modern backlit bar designed around clean lines that practice the best kind of architectural parallelism. Around the corner is something entirely different: a dim corridor where booths are enclosed by walls of semiprivate wooden slats constructed with classical Japanese elegance. The styles are disparate, but they’re connected by Kagura’s cooking, which is defined by small plates that are slightly more upscale than the usual izakaya essentials.
Carved out of a Torrance corner, Kagura is in good culinary company. Surrounded by places like Musha (the godfather of the Southern California izakaya) and Shin Okinawa (a pub-like showcase of Japan’s tropical cuisine), Kagura sits at the heart of what is, by most accounts, LA’s Japanese epicenter. But it can be difficult to forge an identity under such crowded conditions, and so the restaurant distinguishes itself with a little bit of luxury—Kagura is what’s known as a kappo-ya or koryouri-ya, a comfortable neighborhood spot that pairs its refined, contemporary dishes with an ample list of alcohol.
Despite the aforementioned small plates, it’s still best to start with a natural appetizer. The monkfish liver in ponzu sauce and Jidori chicken salad are both admirable beginnings, although the most elegant choice is the house-made tofu. Like all of Kagura’s dishes, the tofu is exceptionally simple, nothing but a few quivering blocks served in the center of a woven bamboo plate. Because it’s homemade, the tofu is powerful—surprisingly silken with a taste closer to edamame than the bland blocks found in the supermarket. Yuzu- and plum-infused salts (ground so fine they feel like powdered sugar) accompany the tofu for extra grains of flavor.
Among the restaurant’s increasingly substantial plates, the hamachi ume-goma is a standout: a tiny tower of sliced, stacked hamachi rubbed down with a sesame and plum paste. The hamachi itself is a nice cut (there are a few sushi options despite the restaurant’s well-cooked focus), but the sesame and plum paste is the well-balanced key to the dish, simultaneously smoky and tart.
A true test of any Japanese kitchen, Kagura’s mackerel marinated in saikyo miso is more than a simple standard-bearer. Here, the dish is as good as you can find: a single filet lacquered with the sweet-and-salty layers of saikyo miso until the fish flakes apart.
Should you want to steer away from seafood (there is admittedly a bit of an oceanic bent within the menu), Kagura also does well on land. Chicken teppanyaki, plain as it may seem, is good enough to command an order from even ardent pescetarians. It’s a straightforward dish: Jidori chicken that arrives sizzling on a little cast-iron skillet, its skin so thoroughly crisped it cracks off like the shell of a crème brûlée. And like the hamachi, the chicken is elevated by a condiment, in this case a yuzu-pepper paste that complements the chicken with a sharpened citrus bite.
The Kurobuta pork katsu is another classic that Kagura ably updates. Plated on a wire rack that allows any excess oil to drip away, the fried pork is a pleasure, sweetened and heated by tonkatsu sauce and wasabi-powered mustard, respectively.
By design, Kagura requires a number of visits to make a dent in the menu. And while you’re there, dining will be a time-consuming experience, stretched out between sips from any number of sakes or maybe an Echigo Koshihikari beer. But you can take the thought out of things, too—Kagura also offers kaiseki meals, preset, multicourse events that let you sit back and simply sup.
KAGURA 1652 CABRILLO AVE | TORRANCE 90501 | 310.787.0227 | OPEN MON-SAT 11AM-2:30PM AND 6-11PM | FOOD FOR TWO $40-80 | BEER, WINE