By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
Rarely has there been as much anticipation for a new restaurant as for Chef Akira Hirose’s Azay in Little Tokyo. Downtowners, rejoice! The wait is finally over, and Azay doesn’t disappoint.
Poised to elevate L.A. palates with refined Japanese and French cuisine in a casual setting, Chef Akira is quick to point out that Azay’s fare may represent two different countries, but it is certainly not fusion. He proves his point with each seating.
The breakfast/lunch menu tells a story of two cultures co-existing. On the left side, the diner will find selections listed for asa gohan and hiru gohan (Japanese for “breakfast” and “lunch”) alongside traditional French petite dejeuner (breakfast) dejeuner (lunch) on the right. Customers may be tempted to reach for a Rosetta Stone, but relax, there’s also English.
Closer examination of the tri-lingual menu reveals offerings not often found in L.A.’s Japanese eateries. Chawanmushi, a savory egg custard, is as close to Japanese comfort food as it gets. It’s one of Akira’s signature dishes and is offered for breakfast. There’s also a traditional Japanese breakfast featuring broiled fish of the day and tamago flavored with dashimaki.
The French side of the menu tempts with Omelette Francaise enhanced with fine herbs and served with potato galette. Francophiles, whose image of breakfast is the more traditional croissant, fruit, and coffee, will find this French staple at Azay as well.
Diners will likely be torn when it comes to lunch at Azay. The chef’s bento featuring the protein of the day, crab-flavored kani tamago, and green tea-based cha soba noodles is tempting, but adventurous foodies should consider ordering the Nagoya Hitsumabushi — barbecued unagi (fresh-water eel) served atop rice and accompanied by dashi hochija.
Anyone in the mood for French favorites may want to try the Beef Bourguinon, angus short rib served with pasta, veggies, and crusty bread. There’s also Akira’s nod to Croque Monsieur, which he fashions with ham and gruyere cheese on sourdough bread.
The food scene in Little Tokyo, with its nearly 100 eateries offering everything from sushi to gourmet ice cream, is a big part of the area’s burgeoning popularity. An experienced restaurateur with a reputation for fine cuisine built over more than 20 years, most recently at Maison Akira in Pasadena, Hirose is raising the bar in Downtown L.A. and banking on his Japanese upbringing and French training.
The arrival of Azay is destined to bring new diners to Little Tokyo and, in the process, could energize its economy. In the words of President John F. Kennedy: “A rising tide raises all boats.”
Azay, 226 E. First St. (between San Pedro and Los Angeles streets) in Little Tokyo, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. More information at azaylittletokyo.com.