Burning the Midnight Oil

by Zach Mann on September 10, 2010

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Yakitori - Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA
I want to go to Japan to get drunk. You’d think I’d have overcome my immature overseas American mold by now, but that’s reason numero ichi that the far east sits at the top of my To-Go list in recent years. It is not due to my appreciation of Japanese beers, my ambivalence toward sake or my curiosity regarding Japanese scotch. Rather, it’s circumstance: The worthiest drinking partner I’ve ever known lives in J-land.

As seems to often be the case, it goes back to my experiences in Russia, where drinking heavily is not only a requirement of friendship but a foregone conclusion. I can cherish those memories all I want, of standing knee-deep in snow, swigging from a vodka bottle, or sitting at a table on a train for five hours, toasting to the nth degree of humanity, but there will always be the lamentable fact that I’ve never shared any of those experiences with JDC, the one person with whom I would have most liked to. Now that I’m stuck stateside, I suspect I’m the person with whom he’d most like to share a night out in Japan, chasing magic sheep or breaking into kitchens to make omurice or whatever people do over there.

Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA
Now I’m wondering why JDC and I didn’t go to an izakaya joint while we both lived in Los Angeles, instead of wondering why we were at Norm’s at three in the morning or how we got there. Every culture loves combining drinking and eating in some fashion, whether it’s wings and beer or soju and anju, but I think it’s safe to say that Russia prefers to consume its daily bread as a chaser to vodka, and if there is one aspect of Japanese drinking culture that most resembles the eat-plus-drink experience in Russia, it’s izakaya (and not sushi bars, not matter how much central Moscow insists).

Looking back on 2008, JDC and I just weren’t hip enough, and we definitely weren’t rich enough for most of LA’s small plate and big price culture. Sushi and tapas bars were out of our league, Korean and Russian lounges were out of our ethnic jurisdiction and most izakaya places I’d seen were more fancified import culture than dive bar. Too many charge entree costs for appetizer sizes and leave little room for sake-saturated bonding. Where were you, Terried Sake House, when I needed you?

Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA
Terried Sake House wasn’t exactly a dive bar, but it was cheap enough, and it had an absolute casual atmosphere that made you forgot what you were wearing and how you looked. A small TV played the Dodgers game in one corner, and the rest of the walls remained relatively blank aside from the day’s specials or beer ads. The chefs and waitresses never changed, politely and calmly taking order after order into the night, and the well-lit if tiny space was perfect for both early dinners and late night snacks, when West LA’s dining options were rarest and limited to a mere combination of Norm’s, Denny’s, Swingers, Benito’s and fast food.

Terried was best for long evenings. There’s something to sitting at the table for hours, ordering small portions of food as you go, re-upping on booze at a steady pace over the course of an evening, staying at an even, hungry and happy keel for hours. That’s the key behind Eastern European hospitality and that’s when izakaya is at its best, a mutually beneficial relationship between bar and customer. The execution of that ingenious plan is why Terried Sake House was such a perfect place to spend an evening despite it being otherwise unspecial. To put it plainly, Terried Sake House didn’t need no stinking gimmicks. It was just a great place to spend five hours.

Seaweed Salad - Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA Okra Tempura - Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA
Japanese Yam Tempura - Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA Kabocha - Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA
Unfortunately, I never did. I never got drunk at Terried, and now I’ll never get the chance to. Terried Sake House closed shop a couple months ago and the only memories I have to cherish there are markedly sober. Fortunately, they’re also plenty delicious, because even if the cheap beer and sake only served to wash down quick dinners, at least those dinners were also cheap and oh so oishii. At a couple bucks a pop, the extensive menu was a foodie’s playground, whether you wanted sushi, seaweed salad, chicken gizzard or short ribs.

The yakitori cost even less. You needed a few to get your grill fix, but the taste was there no matter which part of the chicken you chose. The same goes for the tempura, where your options went far beyond the usual Japanese restaurant selection at a fraction of the price. I love okra, a love that extends from Indian curry to succotash, but it was only at Terried Sake House that I realized okra’s true potential, because the gooey nature of okra plus the crispy texture of well executed tempura was a match made in deep-fried heaven.

Tofu Steak - Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA
As I continue to live away from my hometown of Los Angeles, I realize which LA dining spots I miss most, and Terried Sake House is one of those places that carved out a home in my heart. In much the same way that Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop became one of my favorite morning known-secrets in La La Land, Terried became the evening equivalent, my Tokyo 5-Midnight, where zen of purpose made up for lack of flare and kitchen shortcomings. Terried didn’t need flare, nor did it share Tokyo 7-7’s lackluster menu, and the kitchen never disappointed.

My years as a vegetarian has endeared me to tofu, but as someone comfortable eating meat, I’d like to propose that Terried’s tofu steak with miso sauce is worth ordering regardless of your gastric orientation. The insubstantiality of soft tofu is a plus when you want to order even more, and the flavor is far bolder than tofu has any right to be. Possibly better might be the gyoza, the quintessential shared Asian appetizer by which most places are judged by the masses. Terried survived the challenge time and again, and the gyoza were are an absolute must-order.

Gyoza - Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA
Terried Sake House was an unknown local eatery in the West L.A. restaurant landscape, too far on the outskirts of Sawtelle to earn a spot in the westside J-town, and too small and quiet to draw attention between insomniac hangouts Cacao and Cafe 50’s. Now that it’s gone, replaced by some place called B.A.D. Sushi, Angelenos should light a candle for their late night options, because they lost a good one.

Even at an American-style izakaya, the real point is the booze. Terried Sake House’s beer and sake selection was cheap enough to keep the carafes pouring, and the comfortable atmosphere was conducive to long stays. I don’t want to suggest that my memory of Terried is tainted by my never taking full advantage of it, but the unpoured sake will always feel incomplete. Neither would an evening there spent with JDC have replaced a night out in Moscow or Japan, but I believe it still would have been a meaningful and memorable experience. If anything, Terried will continue to serve as a reminder to an evening not spent.

Terried Sake House - Los Angeles, CA

Terried Sake House (CLOSED)
11617 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

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