Sadly, on December 18, those that frequented Tokyo 7-7 would remember this quaint business as real soul food. The food is nothing to write about, but sometimes it doesn't have to be good to have an impact on you. Everyone out there has his or her favorite restaurant, but at the end of the day, I'm sure most will take a home-cooked meal with the family over any Michelin-star restaurant.
The same thing happened to a neighborhood izakaya in West Los Angeles called Terried Sake House. A place where you could find some of the lowest priced yakitori skewers, sushi and other Japanese-y food. It was a place my friends and I would meet up to feed on various chicken parts and drink atrocious sake. But it was fun and our. And after 25+ years of working the kitchen, I could see that the owner was tired. During its last week of business, we found ourselves waiting nearly 30 minutes for a table in a full house, with a good 15-20 people waiting outside. We did the same thing, got our gizzards and hearts, ordered cheap sake and even stole one of the menus which was taped to the sake box cardboard. When we were done, we all went to shake the owners hand and thanked him for his 25+ years of service. I asked him what his plans were in which he replied with a weary smile, "travel. I'm done here."
As with Terried Sake House, it was now time for the sweet ladies of Tokyo 7-7 to move on. I drove down to Culver City on a weekday morning and found a line out the door. Because I was alone I was able to pull up on a 2-top easily. It was packed here at 8 am. I came here for my last Japanese American-style breakfast and to say goodbye to a great coffee shop.
When you walk in you really get the feeling of being in someone's house with autographed photos of the forgotten – Pat Morita of Karate Kid, random Japanese MLB players and a signed photo of Bob Sagat and The Full House cast. This was Napoleon Dynamite's house.
The signs of this establishment being Japanese run are subtle at first, but one look at the condiments supplied and you can sense the Japanese influence. They've got the usual suspects, but there's also soy sauce and Japanese seven-spice pepper called shichimi togorashi.
And then you see this sweet lady, Kazuko Ozawa from Shizuoka, Japan, who has owned this place for 30 years with the first 3 years at a different location. Even after so many years, she still buzzes around the restaurant with a warm smile. In one of the photos framed, you can see a younger Ozawa-san serving customers. It was definitely photographed in the 1980's. Crazy to think I was just a baby when she was setting up shop in Culver City.
And then there's her counterpart, Chizuru Okumura of Kumamoto, Japan who has worked there for 20 years. She's like an Aunt to me and always knows that I like to add the shichimi togorashi and seaweed condiment to my food – scratching her head as I add seaweed on top of my fried eggs.
When you order items like miso soup, which was at one time $0.80, you're given a pair of wooden chopsticks. Miso soup is good for washing down syrupy pancakes.
Certainly an average bowl of miso soup that is missing a key ingredient like dashi no moto fish stock powder, but who's complaining at $1 a bowl.
Tokyo 7-7 Hawaiian Royal
Anyone but Sandra Lee can make this, but why not let Tokyo 7-7 do it for you for a mere $4.50. Plus you don't have the essence from a 30-year old seasoned grill. It's something a college kid would make... unevenly scrambled eggs, your choice of meat, onions and scallions and served over warm Japanese rice. A little dash of soy sauce, shichimi togorashi and seaweed flakes and you're good to go. My friend who ate here 3 times during their last week of business ordered this every time.
Portuguese Sausage with Two Fried Eggs & Rice
Hawaiians eat this sausage like it grows off trees. It's slightly smokey and sweet and even served at the McDonald's in Hawaii. I love this stuff. Even more with nicely fried eggs and Japanese rice. Again, anyone can make this but there's something comforting about the way they do it.
After I took a photo of Ozawa and Ozumura, I asked Ozumura what she planned to do after this. She said, "I don't know but I am happy. 20 years is a long time!"
Send any of your photos to the Tokyo 7-7 website which plays a solemn instrumental song or "Like" them on Facebook. They've got a photo of the coffee shop completely gutted out. Thanks for reading.