Crouching Liger, Hidden Korean – Miyako Japanese Restaurant

Miyako Japanese Restaurant, Culver City, CA
Final Elimination Week, no. 9

It’s been almost a month since I was pulled into the game room to be eliminated. It’s been more than a week since that last friday in the office when I surrendered my laptop with a crumb-filled keyboard to IT. And here I am, still talking about it, still feeling sadly nostalgic over all the little lunches I had in and around Culver City. I must be the clingy type.

On that last Friday, I rummaged through the printer room to find a half-empty box of 20# bright white copy paper. Even to the last moment, I was a conscientious employee, placing the unwrapped reams of paper in their proper place in the cabinet below the printer, instead of dumping them onto the ground so I could have an empty box. I even opened one of those reams and re-filled Tray 2 to save someone the embarassment of clogging up the printer queue by not responding to a blinking orange “PC Load Letter.”

Carefully, I un-push-pinned personal photos from the wall and the envelope in which my E3 tickets arrived in the mail (dork! I know, I know) and placed them in the box on top of reference and text books that I never once opened while working but it’s important to display them for credibility with clients. Into the box went my “stuff” – a red clay heating pad for my lower back since I was not one of “they” who got Herman Millers, a bag of cough drops, a bottle of vitamins, an unopened box of Thin Mints, a travel toiletries bag for those long nights in the office that either turned into morning, or went straight to the club. LOL! A couple of things I pitched – a vase that held flowers from a “secret admirer” that I never bothered to identify and headphones that were now very much wearing their tear as an oft-wielded secret weapon to avoid conversation with chatty co-workers passing by. Yes, when it was all said and done, an entire career of marketing and business development fit neatly into a cardboard box.

And on top of it all, a binder-clipped stack of business cards, menus, and a few matchbooks of all the restaurants I visited during my tour of duty there in Culver City. *sigh* Do I cling? Do I hang on? Yes. Yes, dammit, I do.

But today, I promise, is the last stop on this little guided tour down my memory lane. There are a few other restaurants in Culver City at which I’ve eaten – Santa Maria Barbecue, Bistro de L’Hermitage, and La Dijonaise Cafe – but we’ve got to have to stop the bleeding at some point, right?

Miyako is nothing special. It’s just a neighborhood Japanese restaurant that probably does most of its business like many of the other restaurants in the area by catering to a mostly walking lunch crowd from local CuCi businesses, Sony corporate, and the studio grunts. It’s on the corner of Venice and Clarington in a small plaza that’s painted a very unnatural cotton candy pink that’s muted somewhat by dust and traffic dirt that hasn’t been washed off since 1980 – when it was probably very trendy to paint your plazas pink. I passed Miyako every day on my morning commute to the office, but pretty much ignored it until the eleventh hour.

The smaller sign underneath its name says “Japanese Restaurant,” and if you can’t read, then you’d definitely be able to figure it out from the enormous full-color glossy photo-posters plastered across the windows with extremely personal close-ups of maki sushi, miso soup and other things that absolutely scream “Sushi!!!” As if the Barbie dreamhouse paintjob on the plaza weren’t enough. Most of the menu is basic Japanese foods like tempura, teriyaki, udon, and a few simple maki sushi, just like the photos. Yes, they have California rolls, but I will choose to remain silent about that this time. :) I am guessing that the different permutations of the bento box is the most popular item, since the lacquer is wearing off pretty badly.

Miyako is run by Koreans and hints at this with a few dishes like galbee and bulgogi on the menu. The food is nothing noteworthy, but for a quick Japanese fix during the week, Miyako is fine. For a Korean fix, Miyako works as well, but they don’t have kimchee. *sigh* Oh well, we can’t always have our galbee and eat it, too.

Miyako is a perfect example of “Hidden Korean” – Korean food hidden somewhere, most often underneath Japanese. It seems to occur fairly frequently, in subtly different ways. I am sure there are lots of explanations for all of it, that have to do with geo-political history, but I don’t watch the History Channel. Korean restaurants that serve straight up soon doo-boo won’t call themselves something so Korean. Instead, it’s “International Tofu House.” Incidentally, I just drove by this space in Westwood, and the new sign over the door reads Oyako or somethingquite Japanese like that. Not sure if it was a complete change in ownership and/or cuisine, or if they have just gone from one Hidden Korean to another – Korean hidden behind “International” to Korean hidden underneath Japanese, like Miyako. Perhaps Japanese food is a greater draw than Korean. Or maybe it was “tofu.”

Even all along the Sawtelle Alley that’s colloquially called Little J-town, there are Koreans hidden under the Japanese front. Mizu 212 is a Japanese shabu-shabu place, but I think the owners are Korean. Up until recently, I didn’t know that Asahi Ramen, a decidedly Japanese-looking and –sounding place is also owned by Koreans. The same Koreans opened Tofu-ya just next door, which is basically a soon doo-boo place, but with that “-Ya” attachment, sounds like a Japanese tofu house. There’s also Zip Fusion down the street, but they deserve no other words than that the owners and staff are Korean.

I’m not necessarily complaining about the Hidden Korean, because trust me, I could definitely start ranting with “What?! Isn’t Korean good enough to serve on its own? Are we that fermented and pungent that we have to perfume ourselves with the more refined *ooh la la* Japanese?!? Stand up and be proud of your damned garlic kimchee!” No, no, it’s merely an observation that makes me think about the shape of the dining future. Now that my life in Culver City is over, maybe Miyako is a sign. Maybe I need to explore this as an opportunity to open up a blatantly Korean kitchen on the Westside. Not surreptitiously offering one or two Korean items on a mostly Japanese menu, not calling myself International Tofu House or Tofu-ya, but straight up oh-wee-ent-toe fway-vuh! ;).

Miyako Japanese Restaurant
10020 Venice Boulevard (@ Clarington)
Culver City, CA 90232
310.202.7770

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  • Michael

    Going to E3 doesn’t make you a dork. It just makes you a geek. Yes, I went this year too. :)

    Seriously, the Xbox 360 booth with the huge circular screen was rad…

  • Jennifer

    *laugh* You had me at liger. Thanks for the giggle!

  • Anonymous

    Hilarious. You are hilarious. I can’t believe you mention “20# bright white copy paper.” Who else pays attention to that shit? You have a hilarious case of OCD, my friend.

  • Anonymous

    Hilarious. You are hilarious. I can’t believe you mention “20# bright white copy paper.” Who else pays attention to that shit? You have a hilarious case of OCD, my friend.

  • Anonymous

    You’re not alone…I know that our 24 lb. printer paper is 94 brightness.

  • sarah

    michael: *phew* thank you! i feel so much better being a geek than a dork. ;)

    jennifer: glad you got to *chuckle* :)

    anonymi: yes, ocd. but printer/copy paper…that’s some important stuff. my personal favorite though, is the 67 lb. high bright glossy. *ooooo* LOL!

  • Cecil Suzuki

    Yeah, Sarah, I’ve been talking up the “Hidden Koreans” thing to anybody that’ll listen. I call it “hermit crabbing.”
    Like you wrote, Hankook saram _can do_ Japanese.
    It’s those Chinese that really can really ruin a a bowl of oyako donburi.
    Sarah, there are, let’s see, six Japanese restaurants in the “media district” section of Burbank, only one is actually run by ethnic Japanese.
    The thing is, they’re popular as hell!
    BTW, man, you be writin’ up a storm these past coupla weeks.

  • hermz

    Don’t forget Jose Bernstein’s, that Mexican place in Westwood that
    does breakfast food (like a deli)… it was bought by Koreans, and now they serve bulgogi + kimchi burritos.

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