Lomita’s house of Japanese pancakes for the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
There’s no easy American analog for okonomiyaki, an amorphous Japanese dish defined by an infinitely variable cast of ingredients. All meals considered, it’s most like a pancake: a thick, savory batter is plopped onto a griddle, cooked to a golden brown, then flipped and lacquered with sauce. Okonomiyaki, however, needs no comparison—it’s a dish fully aware of its role as a homely stomach-stretcher best divided between three or four sets of chopsticks and equal amounts of alcohol.
The finest local repository for all things okonomiyaki is Gaja Moc. Stationed in a corner strip mall among a number of Lomita’s great Japanese restaurants, Gaja Moc is a bright, modern place completely devoid of the greasy film that sometimes plagues okonomiyaki houses. And even though the restaurant allows diners to cook for themselves via tabletop griddles, the place is virtually odorless, a trait owed to a powerful ventilation system that’s just as intimidating as those installed in serious Korean barbecue joints.
Yet even though Gaja Moc has an obvious focus, it’s far from a singular specialist. The menu, a hardcover catalog as fat as a coffee-table book, is proof. Each page is littered with pictures and dozens of items, an overwhelming collection of dishes that seems to be growing with each additional year the restaurant is in business. The menu is so large that there are even colored tabs for quick access to its major sections. Still, however tempting a meal of izakaya-style small plates might be, there’s no sense in ordering anything but okonomiyaki.
Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the dominant style of the dish and the derivation you’re most likely to find sizzling away at Gaja Moc. It’s born from a batter of shredded cabbage, grated mountain yam, onion, pickled ginger, egg and a bit of flour, which is ultimately paired with everything from mochi and cheese and beef and miso to plum and seaweed and cheese and bacon. The Osaka-style process is fairly simple: cook your chosen meat on the grill, dump the batter over the meat, cook and then give it a pancake-like flip to finish. When it crisps up with a brown skin, paint on a heavy layer of okonomiyaki sauce (like a thick, sweetened Worcestershire), squeeze on a few stripes of mayonnaise, sprinkle with seaweed flakes and drop on a few squirmy handfuls of bonito flakes. The pork and kimchi filling is a popular one (and for good reason), but the various seafood variations have finer flavors (spicy cod roe, octopus, squid, eel and more) that better match the cabbage-and-yam base.
As educational as cooking your own okonomiyaki may be, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is best left to the kitchen. The disparate components are essentially the same as its Osaka-style counterpart, but Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki differs in preparation. Whereas Osaka-style versions are held together by that pancake-like batter, the ingredients in the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki are cooked separately. Then, at the last minute, it’s all formed into a single mountainous pile, blanketed with a thin sheet of egg and, eventually, a slathering of that same sweet sauce.
There’s an ample beer, wine and sake selection here, a list that includes both the hard-to-find red rice and classic white Hitachino ales. Alcohol is okonomiyaki’s natural chaser, so don’t skimp.
Dessert isn’t forgotten in all of this: there’s a separate four-page menu stuffed with parfaits, imagawayaki pastries and all kinds of concoctions competing for attention. More important than that barrage of sweets, however, is the restaurant’s lucky geography: if nothing at Gaja Moc wins you over, the unerringly excellent Patisserie Chantilly is right next door.
GAJA MOC 2383 LOMITA BLVD | STE 102 | LOMITA 90717 | 310.534.0153 | GAJAMOC.COM | OPEN FOR LUNCH TUES-SAT 11:30AM-2:30PM | DINNER TUES-THURS 6-11PM | FRI-SAT 5:30PM-MIDNIGHT | SUN 5-10PM | FOOD FOR TWO $15-30 | BEER, WINE, SAKE