Recently Regina and I had a fun and tasty meal at Furaibo Restaurant on Sawtelle in West Los Angeles. We’d had our first date there and it seemed only fitting that we’d return exactly one year later for another sojourn to the Japanese bar-restaurant. Perhaps we’ll make it an annual thing, although I’m not sure if we can wait another 365 days to eat some of their homey, delicious, and surprising Japanese pub grub.
I’ve never eaten at Furaibo when it wasn’t packed, with eager diners waiting in the cramped entryway for a table. Their no reservations policy makes getting a table a bit of a crap-shoot, but we lucked out this time and were ushered to their bar seating within a few minutes. Go early to avoid a long wait, definitely.
The interior is worn and homey, with dark brown beams lending a rustic, distinctly country-Japan vibe. Table seating is tight, bar seating is snug, and the tatami room with floor seating only can be rough on the knees. Personally I like the bar seating, allowing a view of the frenetic cooks (the rough mix of Japanese and central American cooks seems so distinctly LA to me) scrambling to knock out Furaibo specialties in the large fry woks and over the smoking grill. The atmosphere is super-casual, a bit noisy but not clamorous, comfortable if you don’t mind knocking elbows with your neighbors a bit.
The menu is huge, with a vast array of seafood and meats and chicken and veggies and snacks. All dishes are small and meant to be shared. All go well with a chilled Kirin beer or a cold dry sake. Menu items like chicken wings, fried fish cakes, bits of meat stir-fried, tender eggplant, simple salads, etc. are all served completely without frills and yet are lovely in their simplicity. You can get as adventurous as you want (crispy fried chicken cartilage may not be to everyone’s taste) or as basic (those chicken wings will satisfy all but the most fearful eaters).
At this meal we had some yummy little baby shrimp still in their shells, dusted lightly with corn or potato starch and fried until crisp, served only with a lemon wedge. Simple and delicious. Beef moyashi is bits of sirloin quickly stir-fried with bean sprouts, chili paste, and a dash of soy – very nice over steamed rice, which you must order separately.
The nasu soboro is absolutely delicious, tender and mild eggplant in a soy-based sauce with ground pork and ginger. Very good, a bit sweet, and additive.
For the slightly more adventurous, the chicken liver yakitori is excellent. Charred, chewy, slightly funky in a minerally, meaty, and well…livery sort of way it’s irresistible for those in know. Glazed with a slightly sweet tare sauce it’s very satisfying.
The spinach ohitashi is standard, wilted big-leaf spinach pressed and topped with bonito flakes and sesame seeds. It really doesn’t come alive without a drizzle of soy sauce. Likewise the kimchi is unsurprising but nice and crunchy with a medium-grade heat.
Although somewhat pedestrian, I think you’ll find some vegetables necessary to counter-balance the rest of the offerings, which don’t even offer a nod in the direction of health. It is, after all, pretty much bar food.
One of Regina’s favorites is the ika butter, large tender squid rings and tenticles stir-fried quickly in a sauce of soy and butter. Very yummy. Our ultimate favorite is probably the fried chicken wings. Marinated in a savory sauce, fried until crisp and then tossed quickly in a light, simple glaze with soy and a generous dose of white pepper, the wings are crunchy, chewy, and very enjoyable. Everyone else seems to feel the same as at least eighty percent of the diners were also gnawing on chicken wings. My only reservation about the chicken wings is that I didn’t order more!
We stopped there, but so many interesting dishes flew by that we decided we needed a follow-up trip to sample more. The crispy-fried fish cake stuffed with American cheese seemed so bizarre that I need to try it. The aforementioned chicken cartilage is definitely on the list, considering the brave, omnivorous fella that I am.
It’s hard to give a real overview of the menu since it’s so varied and I’m certain not everything is top-notch. Execution can be inconsistent. Service can be harried and absent or extremely attentive. But all that is beside the point. Go, explore, order some stuff you’ve never even heard of before. Try it and I’ll bet you’ll find some gems, some dishes that will stick in your mind and call you back, siren-like to Furaibo.
For me it’s those chicken wings calling to me, an insistent whisper…Furaibo, Furaibo.
Located at 2068 Sawtelle Blvd, West LA.
Dinner for the two of us was about $60 including sake and tip. Not bad!