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Kawaba Rice Ball Falls Short Of Expectations, But Fast-Casual Concept Shows Promise

Madison Poulter |
February 4, 2015 | 2:15 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

The rain and never-ending grey blended into the dark storefronts and dimly lit bars. A hazy cloud engulfed Melrose Avenue. However, not all was dark and dreary on this bustling street in West Hollywood.  

The exterior of Kawaba Rice Ball, a new restaurant serving traditional Japanese snack food. (Kawaba Rice Ball/Facebook)
The exterior of Kawaba Rice Ball, a new restaurant serving traditional Japanese snack food. (Kawaba Rice Ball/Facebook)
With its white façade and pristine black typography, Kawaba Rice Ball, the newest restaurant to open its doors on Melrose, offered a stark contrast to the window displays lined with technicolor bongs and groovy vintage apparel.

Upon entering the restaurant, Greeted eagerly by an enthusiastic wait-staff at the counter ready to offer recommendations, Kawaba excitedly opened its doors on a rainy night offering a dry respite to shoppers and purveyors of funk. Kawaba Rice Ball borrows its name from the Kawaba Village in Japan, from which the owner hails. Kawaba, like other restaurants in its vein, strives to use locally sourced ingredients and GMO-free products. The only aspect of the menu that is not local appears to be the white rice that is used to fill the balls. The rice is flown in from the Kawaba Village in Japan where it is specially grown and cultivated by the owner of Kawaba.  

The opening of Kawaba continues an ongoing trend of fast-casual restaurants emerging throughout Los Angeles. From Sunny Blue, a similar restaurant in Santa Monica, to KazuNori on Main Street in Downtown and Banh Mi on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, the popularity of these restaurants demonstrates the appeal of menus that are curated around one delicious commodity.

Los Angeles is not the only city to embrace the fast-casual concept – New York City and Portland have also welcomed item-specific restaurants. The promise of locally sourced ingredients, fast food from a non-chain establishment and limited menu offerings, appeals to a wide audience. These restaurants offer consumers affordable options that are relatively healthy, proving that eating quickly does not force one to stick with traditional, corporate chains. Clean, stylish, and hip, these hot spots are transforming dining experiences and forcing traditional restaurants to adapt to the current economic and cultural conditions.

Kawaba Rice Ball specializes in onigiri, fluffy rice balls stuffed with various meat and vegetable fillings and wrapped in Nori (dried seaweed). As recommended by the staff, I tried the jalapeño-miso musubi and the teriyaki chicken musubi. With so much promise and potential, these two savory options fell short in flavor and execution. The miso sauce overpowered and undermined the spice of the jalapeño, which took away from the dish as a whole. However, the jalapeños offered a nice crunch, which offset the softness of the nori and the rice. As for the cucumber? The promised, refreshing vegetable was practically missing. This vegetarian musubi became more of a sauce musubi.

Unfortunately, the teriyaki chicken musubi was just as disappointing. The layered white meat coated in sauce offered subtle flavor and only a hint of moisture. While the jalapeño-miso musubi was overwhelmingly moist, the teriyaki chicken took the opposite approach. The miso soup did not fare well either.

Kuwaba is an excellent idea with all of the components –

Teriyaki Chicken Musubi. (Madison Poulter/Neon Tommy)
Teriyaki Chicken Musubi. (Madison Poulter/Neon Tommy)

great location, easy and transportable food and affordability - but, most unfortunately, the parts have not come together in a cohesive fashion.  However, because this was the first weekend Kuwaba has been opened, there is a possibility that the restaurant is still working through the kinks and will improve its execution. With so much potential, it would be a shame to see Kawaba fail in the current trend sea.  

Kawaba Rice Ball

7368 Melrose Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90046

(323) 272 - 4510

Reach Staff Writer Madison Poulter here and follow her on Instagram here



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