“I”- A place to chill or sit
“zaka”- Sake aka booze. Sake is not just rice wine, it’s the general term for booze, any booze. What we call “sake” is specifically called Nihonshu.
“ya”- The “place” to get whatever word comes before it. Like Sushi-ya, the place to get sushi.
So Izakaya is a place to chill and get booze. But all Izakayas have something else in common too – pub grub.
I stumbled into Shin, on S. Decatur Blvd at Hacienda Ave., the other night to check it out. Consider this a first look at somewhere that could take off.
Shin’s only been around for about two months, and the place is already being frequented by those in the know. The night I rolled in, Masa Ichizawa (Okada exec chef) had just left and his sous chef, Kenzo, was coming in. A good sign, though the restaurant is still very new.
The first months are always an interesting time for those who are really true to food to just evaluate and feel the chi of a place. What’s tough about Shin and any Izakaya that opens in Las Vegas is that it will always be held to the Raku standard, which is totally unfair. It’s like comparing a Toyota to a Mercedes! Both have their purpose and are great depending on what you are looking for.
I’m certainly not saying Shin is a Toyota, but you can’t judge a restaurant by its first six months. I can’t stress this enough to new reviewers. A new restaurant takes time to realize itself. As much as an owner can conceptualize and plan, each space has its own Feng Shui, and it takes a few months to have it all dialed in. Many things need to converge, FOH and BOH staff needs to sync with the food, and the kitchen needs to figure out its moves.
So, what’s cool about Shin? The owner is from Okinawa and proud of making Shin the only Okinawan restaurant/Izakaya in town. He had one version of this restaurant in Torrance, California, which for those not from LA, is the unofficial little Japan in a suburb of the city, chock full of true Japanese markets, restaurants and shops. Anyone who knows Okinawan people are aware of the pride they have in their cuisine and culture, not to mention Karate! Karate was born in Okinawa; remember Mr. Miyagi?
Some Okinowans would say their food is a marriage of Chinese and Japanese, highlighting indigenous ingredients from the islands. Hallmarks of the cuisine are the nose-to-tail appreciation of the almighty pig. This is a culture that knows the pig! Also, the influence of China and some of Thailand has brought stir-fry and big bold flavors to the cuisine. Don’t approach this place trying to order apples to apples what you get at Raku. Endo of Raku is a refined culinary craftsman. Approach Raku with the fine dining mindset, because that is precisely the level that he executes. Think about Shin as the neighborhood pub with quality grub, because that is precisely what it is. And what does that mean? A no wait, no pressure place you can get some great booze and fun Okinawan food! The kinda place you can be loud and buy beers and shots for the sushi and robata-yaki chefs at the counter.
Here’s what to try:
1) ANYTHING WITH PORK! Homeys really know their pig and you can feel it at Shin. Try the stir-fries and taste the influence of Hawaii.
2) Robatayaki - Japanese charcoal fried skewers. The big boss himself mans this station and takes pride in his work. Try the black cod (not drowned in sweet miso sauce), chicken wing, rice ball and spare rib!
3) Soki Soba - Handmade wheat and egg noodles in pork broth. These are super comforting with the al dente brilliance of the handmade noodles.
4) Mimiga - Pig ears in garlic soy sauce. Crunchy cartilage strips with salt and acidity!
5) Goya Chanpuru - Stir-fry of bittermelon, pork and vegetables.
6) Spam Chanpuru - Stir-fry of, yes, Spam and vegetables.
All in all, Shin is a fun destination to eat, drink and hang. This is not the place to order sushi or compare to some local institutions, but think of it as a trip to Okinawa and you’ll come out fine, full and happy.