The Warm Tofu at Robata Jinya

If we were playing a game called “Would That Be Delicious?” and you just started to name things–“chocolate dipped beets” (no), “lemon Parmesan chicken wings” (yes)–I have a feeling, for many, the response to “warm tofu” might be a resounding “blech.”

Warm tofu; may as well say “warm pudding” or “warm Jell-O.” All of those things sound terrible because all of those things are gelatinous; and we don’t like eating warm, gelatinous things, do we? And yet, last week, I returned to Robata Jinya (where I had my first L.A. ramen and loved it) and found myself eating the most alluring, most decadent dish I’ve had in a while–a dish of warm tofu.

First thing to know is that Robata Jinya has a pretty incredible deal: a tasting menu for $25 that includes a piece of sashimi (crowned with fried shallots);


Yakitori of chicken oysters (that most delectable part from the back of the chicken), chicken meatballs, and Shishito peppers:


With three dipping sauces:


Orange, green, and brownish red. I’d elaborate further, but that’d be too professional of me.

You get shrimp rolls:


And, at the end, a generous bowl of ramen:


At $25, it’s the Japanese deal of a lifetime. And the highlight comes between the sashimi and yakitori; it arrives like so:


The ceremony of it is part of what makes it so special: there’s the red pitcher filled with burbling liquid, the ceramic bowl, the wooden ladle. As you see in the lead photo of this post, the liquid gets poured into the bowl and then it’s stirred around:


The waitress leans the ladle on the bowl and instructs you not to eat it for five minutes:


During these five minutes, the warm tofu congeals. At last it’s time to serve it up:


As you can see, beneath the bowl of warm tofu there’s an array of toppings: I’ll do better here. I remember bonito flakes. Something yuzu-related. Green stuff. And in the cup on the lower right, Ponzu sauce.

You lift portions of warm tofu into your bowl and top with the fixings:


One bite and the entire concept of “warm tofu” makes instant sense. Don’t think gelatinous, think creamy; think warm mozzarella, for example. It’s just like that, only less firm–your spoon slides right through it, almost like a panna cotta. And the remarkable thing is that it’s so creamy without containing any dairy. The ponzu adds sweetness and acidity, the other fixings add complexity.

So next time you play a game of “Would That Be Delicious?” and someone calls out “warm tofu,” silence the chorus of boos and hisses by showing them this post. And if that doesn’t work, take them to Robata Jinya. They’ll be converts at first bite.

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