By Gretchen Williams, Cuisine Writer
Leonard Kim’s Cherrystone Grill is a gem, a hidden jewel in the shadow of glitzy Hustler Casino. The Cherrystone is just one block south of the intersection of Redondo Beach Blvd. and Vermont, and yet it could be miles away from Larry Flynt’s atrocious attempt to glamorize Gardena.
Kim has brought the cozy feeling of a neighborhood place in Maui or the Big Island to Gardena with Cherrystone. The dining room is comfortable and bright with Japanese accents and art. The casual vibe conveys Island spirit on a swirly blue longboard suspended from the ceiling. Leonard has stocked the karaoke machine with Hawaiian and Polynesian favorites as well as American classics, so the place rocks with singers later in the evenings. Kim is an accomplished Magician and performs at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, so magic tricks could be performed at any time. It is easy to imagine that Cherrystone is someone’s welcoming home, rather than a restaurant.
Leonard Kim is a familiar face in the harbor area. He started with take out teriyaki in the early days of Ports O’ Call village, and owned the Harbor Village Inn at 25th and Western in San Pedro. He has owned and operated a variety of restaurants around the port complex. His family has always been a part of his restaurant life, and his sisters continues to “keep things hopping” he says, at Cherrystone.
The true fusion cuisine of the Islands gets free rein at Cherrystone. Traditional “Poke” is the ceviche of Hawaii, gorgeous raw cubes of Ahi tuna seasoned with toasted sesame seed oil and soy, generous enough for two and a real bargain at $9.50. Fried clam strips bring back summer days at the beach, though the tempura treatment here is far superior, sauced with great cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Do not miss Cherrystone’s award winning chili, made sans frijoles and spectacularly spiced and made with prime rib meat. This is a deal for $5 a cup, satisfying and wonderful with chopped onion and shredded cheese. New England clam chowder is full of clams, packed with clam flavor. Cajun Seafood Gumbo is thick with seafood, vegetables and rice, just a bit spicy and brimming with flavor.
Bento is the traditional box lunch of Japan, brought to Hawaii with great success. The varieties of salads, rice, meat, chicken or fish make every bento box a delicious surprise, like opening a gift. Cherrystone offers a good assortment of entrees for the bento, like teriyaki chicken, juicy kalua pork and cabbage, macadamia nut coated mahi mahi or shrimp with lobster sauce. Each bento includes somen salad, macaroni salad, broccoli medley, steamed rice and fruit. Bento boxes range from $10-$13. Bento is thought to be lunch fare, but makes an excellent choice at dinnertime for the light eater.
Cherrystone seems to know exactly what you would like to eat after a tough day. Homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes is a favorite, made from 100% ground chuck, and braised ribs smothered with brown gravy is tender with long cooking. Kalbi is Korean style BBQ ribs, made with beef ribs well aged and grilled. The rib eye steak is legendary and a steal at $18.50 for an aged 14oz. choice cut, served with baked potato and fresh vegetables. Chilean Sea bass steamed with black bean sauce, fresh ginger and green onions is fantastic, perfectly cooked, suited for white rice to soak up the wonderful sauce. Fish and chips seem un-Hawaiian, but the version served at Cherrystone is enough to make Honolulu feel like Harrods.
Cherrystone roasts prime rib roast very slowly at low temps, seasoned with Hawaiian salt and select spices. The result is meltingly tender, lovely with fresh horseradish and au jus. Available only on the weekends, Cherrystone’s prime rib is priced right, with a petite 8oz. cut for $12.50, the 12 ounce house cut for $16.50 and the huge 16 ounce. Cherrystone cut for $19.50. Succulent and juicy, Cherrystone’s prime rib dinner is so popular that many aficionados order the whole meal to go and enjoy the feast at home.
Underground BBQ legend, Roger Apana, sets up his chicken and ribs operation at the east Cherrystone entrance on Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 5pm. He is well known in the neighborhood and has many regular customers who make the BBQ stop every weekend.
Roger’s Huli Huli style is “The best chicken in town” according to a drive-up customer, direct from the Hustler Casino.” My usual, with an extra leg for the granddaughter.” His fedora had a jaunty angle. “I come from Orange County for this chicken. I’ve even taken this chicken to my girl in Temecula. Every day is a journey, and chicken is my destiny” he said.
Roger’s special chicken and ribs dry rub remains a secret. “I’ll put the recipe in your coffin” he said, chuckling. Diana Salvatierra is the pretty and charming help, making major league BBQ look easy.
Roger’s mesquite charcoal is from Mexico, his chicken and ribs grilled over direct heat for maximum flavor and crispy texture. The BBQ turns out rack after rack of tasty ribs, a good deal for $13 for ½ slabs, $25 for a whole slab. $10 for that fantastic chicken is a steal.
“I get quite a few gamblers from the casino” said Roger. “Mostly the losers buy chicken. The winners go for prime rib.”
Cherrystone Grill and Grotto 15501 S.Vermont Ave. Gardena 90247 (310) 329-8200.