By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Travel & Life Editor
A television ad several years ago asked what you wanted on your pizza, but I venture to guess the options didn’t include mentaiko, mochi, seaweed, and certainly not charcoal.
Those choices and more are available now to L.A.’s pizza-hungry, as the Japanese chain Strawberry Cones opened last month next to the Beard Papa Cream Puffs shop at the Little Tokyo Market Place.
Co-manager Joe Lung said the Little Tokyo stand is the second Strawberry Cones outlet he and his colleagues have established in the L.A. area, the first being their San Gabriel location which opened its doors last December. The franchises, associated with the Beard Papa chain, have also popped up at locations in Canada.
Anyone who has lived in Japan for any length of time over the last few decades may recognize the pizza maker–in part for its odd moniker–which began as a delivery outlet in Sendai and has grown to more than 200 locations across Japan. The founders say the company name arose out of comparing the delicate nature of strawberry fruit to the hearts of their customers, paired with the Japanese word for “cones” which bears a similar pronunciation to “fortune.”
Lung, whose group also operates the adjacent Beard Papa at the Little Tokyo Market Place, said the pizza offers an Asian take on pizza, while keeping in mind domestic expectations.
“We’ve tried to open with the same food ideas as in Japan, but with a wider menu to suit American tastes,” Lung said.
An essential key the Strawberry Cones product begins where all pizza starts: in the crust. It is made with mochiko, or rice flour, which imparts a lighter, chewier texture than traditional dough. It’s also far easier on fat and calories than simply piling on the cheese for the same result.
Speaking of chewy, Lung said their signature item is their Teriyaki Mochi Chicken pizza, a pie topped with roasted chicken, red onions, cheese, teriyaki sauce, mayonnaise, mochi and shredded nori. It is a decidedly Japanese taste; a sampler I brought back to the Rafu office was gobbled up by a couple of visitors who hail from Japan.
“The texture of mochi goes well with pizza,” Lung explained. “It’s chewy, and unlike bread dough, it won’t get dry and hard after a while. It’s still nice and chewy later.”
Another offering that you’ll not likely find anywhere else is the Ninja Pizza, characterized by its blackish-colored crust. The hue is the result of adding chikutan– powdered bamboo charcoal–to the dough, capitalizing on the popularity of the dietary supplement in Japan.
“Many people in Japan and Asia believe that charcoal has detoxification properties, that it removes impurities from the body, so many people there add it to their food or drinks,” Lung said.
Other available toppings include mentaiko (pollack roe), edamame and raisins. For those more accustomed to the corner pizzeria, traditional pies are available, such as a simple Margherita (which I tried and loved, by the way), a Hawaiian and a Meat Paradise with pepperoni, sausage and bacon.
The prices for Strawberry Cones’ pizzas begin at around 7 bucks for a small; for example, a medium Teriyaki Mochi Chicken runs $17, a far cry from five-buck specials offered by Pizza Hut or Domino’s. However, bear in mind that this is not a mass-produced, scarf-it-down pizza. They are baked to order, one at a time and in a truly unique and carefully crafted process.
Pizza is also available by the slice, as is a menu of salads and, at the San Gabriel location, pasta dishes. A selection of appetizers includes Buffalo wings and calamari. And yes, they still deliver locally.
The Little Tokyo Strawberry Cones is in the Little Tokyo Market Place shopping center, at the corner of Third Street and Alameda. Open Sunday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday until 9 p.m.(213) 620-0028. The San Gabriel store is at 227 West Valley Blvd. (626) 293-1852. Visit www.strawberrycones.com for more information.