Following the success of Inko Nito’s first location in downtown’s Arts District, the Zuma group-owned eatery has opened its second location in Los Angeles in the former Bianconi space on Third Street.
What makes eating at this modern robatayaki restaurant particularly fun is the open robata grill kitchen in the middle of the eatery. Diners have front row seats as seven chefs artfully maneuver around each other and the Japanese grill, tossing and roasting proteins and vegetables over hot charcoals.
For the best view of the chefs at work, sit at the large horseshoe-style bar that wraps around the kitchen. Inko Nito’s modern industrial décor, which mixes concrete, natural wood and exposed beams, offers a pleasant and understated backdrop that lets the food take center stage. For those wanting more fresh air, Inko Nito also features an inviting covered front patio, ideal for al fresco dining.
During our visit, my husband and I started with edamame. Ginger soy and sea salt enhanced these glistening green bean pods and gave the dish a nice kick of flavor. For drinks, the menu, inspired by Japanese bar culture, offers cocktails, Japanese beers, five sakes, seven different California wines and five different nonalcoholic beverages.
I ordered the Inko spritz, made with watermelon, Aperol, yuzu and a splash of sparkling wine, and my husband tried the Japanese-style margarita, made with sakura tequila, agave, a squeeze of lime and pink grapefruit. Both paired nicely with the sushi and nigiri fusion dishes of the “nigaki” section of the menu. We tried the Cali roll, which arrived on a pinewood serving tray with a generous scoop of Dungeness crab on five pieces of dark green seaweed. Wasabi tobiko and a citrusy yuzu mayo topped off this dish and brought more gourmet flavors than a traditional California roll.
Eyeing the grill as the spicy beef, yellowtail collar with brown butter and ponzu sauce, and the thick-cut salmon filet cooked alongside each other, my husband and I finally decided on the salmon. It was deliciously glazed with a grapefruit miso and sansho salt, which offered hints of basil and spearmint flavors.
The entertainment continued at the grill as another chef painted a corn on the cob with smoked chili butter and shichimi – a spice mixture that combines red chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, ginger, pepper and nori. This dish was a fan favorite.
Our next dish, the tender beef cheeks, arrived on a thick wood board with two crisp butter lettuce leaves and a sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds. Spicy Korean miso sauce to glaze the beef came on the side. For more toppings, try the pickled, flower-shaped daikon with sesame seeds. The tangy flavors paired perfectly with the juicy beef.
Other highlights of the evening included the prawn skewers glistening with garlic and lemon sansho, which added a peppery citrus essence tingling with heat, and the fire-roasted cauliflower bathed in garlic-soy aioli, Parmesan and panko crumbs.
We also enjoyed the grilled Brussels sprouts topped with sesame furikake, a dry seasoning made of nori and sesame seeds, and served with a spicy wasabi mayo for dipping.
For those who like kimchi rice, Inko Nito has quite an entertaining presentation for the dish, which arrives in a large silver container. Servers do the “kimchi dance,” shaking the container at the table to perfectly mix the hot rice, Korean miso, spring onions, sesame and cracked egg. The dish was spicy, savory and plentiful – enough to feed up to four people.
To wrap up our meal, we tried the charred coconut soft serve ice cream, topped with a drizzle of sweet soy and crunchy Japanese granola on top. Bright green Pocky sticks decorated this cool and light dessert.
As we left the restaurant, I noticed all the servers and chefs working together like a big family. They seem to have each others back, which I believe is instrumental in making dining at Inko Nito so interactive, lively and enjoyable.
$$ Inko Nito is open from on Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. On Friday and Saturday the restaurant stays open until 11:30 p.m. 8338 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (310)439-3076. The downtown location is at 225 S. Garey St., (310)999-0476.
This review was also featured in the Sept. 20, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press – Beverly Press