Kappo Honda is primarily an izakaya restaurant, but it does have a sushi bar in a separate room. Izakaya traditionally is a very casual drinking establishment that also serves small plates. In the U.S., it has morphed into an actual style of restaurant.
At Kappo Honda there is a huge menu with a half-dozen different categories, but we think the best thing here is the grilled food, which has its own extensive "yakitori" menu. (Yakitori is technically only grilled chicken; yakimono is the usual term for grilled food.)
The interior space is reminiscent of a classic Japanese inn with woodwork enclosing each booth so that you feel as if you are in your own little room. The restaurant is festooned with lanterns and paper banners. There is one very large communal table with a place for a hibachi in the center and a second long table with benches. There is also a tatami room in the back, where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor. The atmosphere is cozy and warm.
There are lots of different menus: the regular, the special, the daily special, the yakitori and the sushi. So plan to spend some time perusing all this material and then get some advice from your server.
We plunged in with grilled chicken wings, which came two to a skewer. They were simply seasoned, moist and juicy with a little grill flavor — definitely a winner! Even better were the shiitake mushrooms stuffed with a ground chicken meatball. Again, the seasoning was not assertive but delicately flavorful. The delectable succulent mushrooms made the perfect partner for the chicken.
Staying with the yakitori menu, we next had scallops with their roe. Scallop roe is a wonderful treat in itself that you rarely see in contemporary Western cuisine. The beautiful coral color is beguiling, and it has a creamy smooth texture and a subtle flavor of the sea. We love scallops and these were sweet and tender with a nice sear.
On the same menu we were surprised to see a half quail for only $2.50! We couldn't resist that. Although quail is not particularly meaty, the meat you do get is very sweet and it's fun to chew on the bones. You have to work for your pleasure with this tiny bird.
A generous portion of thinly sliced, bone-in short ribs were nicely grilled and were lightly napped with a pleasant, mild sweet sauce.
Disappointing were our two tempura dishes. A selection of bland vegetables was mundane — their batter was greasy, a little thick and in need of a bit of salt. The other tempura dish was shishamo, a small whole fish (smelt) wrapped in a shiso leaf. It was dry, and frying had destroyed the lovely minty flavor of the leaf. The sauce was particularly lackluster. (Maybe we should have tried the intriguing weiner tempura instead.)
From the specials menu we finished up with yellow tail collar and yakisoba noodles. The collar, which is the fattiest and generally tastiest part of the fish, is a large meaty bone. Unfortunately, this one was not the freshest and had a strong fishy taste.
Yakisoba are fried noodles. These were mixed with cabbage, onions and thin slices of pork (though not stated on the menu). The dish was a little oily and needed a bit more seasoning.
We delighted in the house-made flan. It was a perfect flan, as good as any we've had. It was silky in texture and had a delicious dark caramel top and a reasonable amount of burnt sugar sauce (so desperately needed and so rarely found). The presentation included a selection of honeydew, cantaloupe, strawberries and orange segments with dollops of whipped cream separating the fruits.
Kappo Honda is friendly, fun and casual — just what izakaya is supposed to be.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 18450 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley
When: 5:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily
Small Plates: $2.95- $20.95
By the glass: $3.50-$9
Information: (714) 964-4629