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LA

Review

Jakob Layman

Azay

$$$$
Written by
Jakob Layman

No one knows how, or why, but at some point during the pandemic, the Japanese breakfast vanished from Los Angeles restaurants.

For years, restaurants across the city arrived at the (extremely imaginary) Colosseum of Japanese Breakfasts like iron-clad Roman soldiers, eager to prove themselves in the art. The traditional dish is quite simple – nothing more than an assortment of rice, miso soup, preserved vegetables, and some type of broiled fish. When eaten individually, these dishes may seem insignificant, but together create a powerful combination of flavors; a welcomed escape from a world that increasingly favors dishes that resemble a Daft Punk song (harder, better, saltier, sweeter, etc.).

Jakob Layman

But as things went from bad to worse in 2020, Japanese breakfasts began to drop like flies. When reached for comment, Konbi in Echo Park said that it had become too labor-intensive to make. In an Instagram caption dated March 17, 2020, Japanese breakfast pop-up, Gatsu Gatsu announced that they were ceasing operations to decrease their risk of “spreading COVID-19.” Then, in a blink of an eye, the upscale Orsa and Winston also erased theirs from the menu.

When all of the dust finally settled, only one restaurant’s Japanese breakfast remained: Azay in Little Tokyo. This family-run restaurant doesn’t don’t serve this multi-part dish because it’s convenient or trendy - like the rest of their food, they do it out of respect for tradition.

In other words, just because they passed this entirely made-up litmus test, doesn’t mean a Japanese breakfast is all they have to offer. You should go there when you’re lonely and haven’t eaten a home-cooked meal in forever. Azay is ideal for special occasions, when you want to remind your loved ones that you love them. It’s a place to feel seen, where “hospitality” means more than good customer service – it’s where you’re treated like you’re a part of the family.

Jakob Layman

You’ll find Azay in a tiny storefront on 1st Street, with giant glass windows and a bright-red trim; a building that at first glance, looks like a stationary store or a modern art museum’s gift shop. But instead of overpriced postcards and Keith Haring candles, Azay offers an impressive mastery of both Japanese and French cuisines. Upon entering, you’ll be greeted by Jo Ann or Philip, a mother-and-son duo who quit their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic to run Azay’s front-of-house. Along with head chef Akira (their husband/dad), this family’s been a part of the Little Tokyo community since 1946, when Jo Ann’s father opened Anzen Hardware just blocks away.

The menu is succinct, a mix of both French and Japanese dishes where sukiyaki beef and pork belly omurice live next to boeuf bourguignon, duck confit, and omelette francaise. Does that make Azay a fusion restaurant? Sure. But that’s like calling Julia Louis-Dreyfus that “lawyer from Arrested Development” – technically true, but so uniform it’s almost offensive. Like the 11-time Emmy winner, Azay flawlessly shapeshifts between many roles. You may find yakitori-style tacos, traditional tea ceremonies, fine dining prix-fixe menus, or bentos served with live jazz on any given night.

Of course, you should probably throw in a Japanese breakfast order too, regardless of what time it is. Packed to the brim with flaky fish, bright-yellow eggs, and white rice that’ll stick to your insides (in the best of ways), even if Azay didn’t wind up as the last in town, their version would still be our favorite.

Food Rundown

Jakob Layman
Japanese Breakfast

Azay’s Japanese breakfast is quite understated - nothing but a tray of broiled fish, tamago, tofu, miso soup, a side of rice, plus a few pickles. The broiled fish comes with a flaky top and charred bottom, but is completely moist in the middle. Bright yellow eggs taste slightly sweet and resemble the shape and size of an elementary school kid’s eraser. Plus, the portions are perfect - not too big, not too small, and you can walk away feeling full, without needing to undo a button on your pants.

Jakob Layman
Nagoya Hitsumabushi

A near-perfect dish. It’s grilled eel served three ways – first, enjoyed simply with just a few bites of the unagi and rice. Savor the rice’s fluffiness, contrasted with the eel’s thick and sweetened soy sauce glaze. Then add a few condiments, like crunchy green onions and seaweed, plus a dash of wasabi for spice, transforming the dish into a complex mix of flavors. Last, pour hot tea over the entire bowl to create a delicious soup, filled with eel, softened rice, and a light, neutral-tasting broth. It’s a lot of bang for your buck, plus, with all the pouring and blending, you kind of get to feel like a chemist.

Boeuf Bourguignon

We personally like the Japanese dishes more here, but if you’re looking for something from the French side of the menu, you can’t go wrong with the boeuf bourguignon. It’s just like what you’d find in any Parisian restaurant, huge chunks of red meat and thick stew that tastes of red wine and leeks. If you want to pretend like you’re in a scene from Game of Thrones, that’s up to you.

Zenzai

A cute little dessert from their friends at Fugetsu-Do! The Japanese confectionery provides them with plump mochi rice cakes, a semi-sweet, gelatinous treat that never tastes too sugary, that are paired with a house-made red bean soup and a few strips of kombu.

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