Showing posts with label izakaya. Show all posts
Showing posts with label izakaya. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach Pier - Agedashi Tofu & the Japanese Fried Food Diet

IB Redondo Beach

Jeni and I have been eating more in the South Bay area since we started taking some classes over at Otis. She enrolled in a aluminum-foil-based class, Fashion with Foil, and I finally realized my dream in basketweaving, under water. All the blood, sweat, and tears from these extracurricular activities, as usual, leads to a loud, bellowing stomach that can only be shut up by savory food. So on this night, we found ourselves heading to the Redondo Beach pier to eat. Most people come here to taste the abundant offerings at places like Quality Seafood, an L-shaped market that is the modern age smorgasbord for Gods of the sea. You've got steamed dungeness crab, large conchs, about 36 types of oysters (30 which I've eaten in one sitting), shrimp, lobster, etc. While expensive, there's enough to leave any epicurean hot & bothered. And there's the highly-mentioned, Korean-owned Pacific Fish Center & Restaurant, with their admired crab soup. I've yet to try that. Thoughts on the soup?

When Jeni told me that we'd be eating at an izakaya at the Redondo Beach Pier, it took me a few seconds to register that – for it seemed a little non sequitur. Like finding a coupon for Osteria Mozza in the Penny Saver. Eating foie gras from a little ice cream store. And your first time seeing a Vietnamese pho restaurant in the middle of Koreatown. None of these make any sense.

For those too lazy to type up izakaya in wikipedia, I'll save you the trouble. Basically, it's a Japanese pub with all the shenanigans of drinking included. A place where sarariman, or in real English, "salary man" go to discuss charts and graphs over ice cold draft beer and savory skewered-meat and various small plates. Tough life! I remembered my trip to Osaka a few years back. We walked into a shopping center and found at least 3-4 izakayas that were packed to the brim. Almost all of the male clientele were still in their business suits chatting away. Keep in mind, that this was around 11:30 pm. These guys either got off just now or have been there since happy hour started.

But it's important to remember that the concept of an izakaya, with its mostly-male clientele and delicious food, really wouldn't exist if these had not been invented. Beer... and sake...

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

... two things that seem to be the common denominator for much of Japanese dining. I couldn't imagine eating sushi, yakitori and shabu shabu sans beer and sake. It's like driving a car with no wheels – you're ready for the ride, but you're not going anywhere.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

We walked into the tiny izakaya with no more than a 24 person capacity, and we were greeted by a smiley young chef that seemed to be the only employee in the restaurant. He walked out from the kitchen and quickly switched to server mode, passing out menus. He then walked back to the kitchen and proceeded to cook. I love double-duty people at restaurants – so hard-working. My friends and I once frequented this dive bar that deserved a shittier title than,
dive bar. The old, cigarette-wielding woman in the bar was not only making drinks and serving them. She was also the server and the chef. She probably had to clean up and close down the place too. Poor lady.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho is owned by Tomo Ueno from Tokyo. It used to be called Yakitori Bincho until the Health Taliban slapped Ueno's wrists for lack of ventilation. What a pity. Seems like one of the better places to get yakitori in LA is at Shin Sen Gumi. But not without walking away with bleeding ears. If you search for Yakitori Bincho on Yelp, you'll see that it is closed – so the review is completely useless because there is no more yakitori being offered. We were bummed to see on the menu, that there was really nothing skewered over hot charcoal. Oh, the pain...

But there was something else here in store for us that Jeni and the
Serial Ramen Killer had mentioned: the agedashi tofu, a dish that consists of fried potato starch-battered tofu cubes wading in a pool of soy sauce/mirin/dashi broth, topped with green onions and grated daikon.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Amuse Bouche from Tomo
Tomo started us out with a small Sanrio gift from the sea. A little package that included sliced octopus, pickles and seaweed.

Because there was an absence of yakitori, which is usually a major part of the izakaya experience, it seems Chef Tomo filled in the voids with quite a bit of fried appetizers. Usually I can only eat 2 types of fried dishes, as it gets too greasy, but I don't think we had much of an option besides ordering soups. So here begins the Japanese Fried Food Diet.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Potato Croquette (Korokke)
I like it when the sauce is nice and tangy. This was fried beautifully, but not really an appetizer I'm into. It reminds me of crabcakes – which I am quite sick of from my catering days.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune)
This is a popular yakitori dish – ground chicken mixed with soy sauce, mirin, ginger and green onions. Because Tomo is banned from grilling, he simply dunked these into the Fry-o-lator. And this is what emerges. Very good.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Chicken Wings
This was one of two highly recommended dishes by the chef. These were fried beautifully and glazed with the perfect amount of sauce. Nice job! Reminds of tasty Korean fried chicken.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Deep Fried Chicken Thigh
Hey, that rhymes. +10 points. This was the other dish Chef Tomo highly recommended. As you can see, it is fried beautifully and served upon a 'salad', which makes it look less unhealthy. I really enjoyed the flavoring and tenderness of this but I wish it wasn't fried as long. Good nonetheless.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Sea Spiders (Soft-Shell Crab)
What's not to like about Soft-Shell crabs, the ocean's most sensitive/tender/wimpy insects. If they stopped writing sappy poems, laid off the RomComs and Cheesy & Sleazy compilations, they'd increase their testosterone levels. These weren't bad.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Tofu Cubes in Dashi Broth (Agedashi Tofu)
I have to admit that when I saw Chef Tomo take out the same brand of tofu I buy at the market, I didn't think it would taste too good. For some reason, I always think great chefs out there make their own haha. But when Chef Tomo served us the tofu, I knew I was wrong. The cubes were fried beautifully. It had a crisp texture, yet it was plump and bouncey once I pressed it with my chopsticks. The glistening broth had a delicate aroma of grated daikon and dashi. I watched Tomo, just before serving, boil the broth in a small pot – bringing it to a rigorous boil. I can't tell you how many times I've eaten 'flat' dashi at room temperature. It's terrible. This wasn't.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

We halved the tofu cubes with our chopsticks and watched as the starchy batter slowly ripped apart – in my opinion, a sign of nicely textured stuff. And man, this was so good. Every bite, piping hot with gooey, toothsome flavor. Outside of Japan, this is my favorite agedashi tofu.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Next time you're at the Redondo Beach pier and DON'T feel like dropping $40 for a dungeness crab served merely with butter and lemon, say hi to this kind gentleman. I give him respect for continuing to offer tasty
izakaya dishes even when the yakitori menu was stripped from him. Along with Asa Ramen and Ramen California, Yakitori Bincho is a nice addition to a South Bay Japanese-food crawl. Thanks to Tomo for facking derishus agedashi tofu and to you for reading.

Izakaya Bincho
112 N. International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 376-3887

Eat Drink Style Gonpachi, Beverly Hills - Soba & Anime Food in A Lavish Place

Gonpachi Main Entrance

What would you do with $18 million dollars?

Would you retire and travel the world? Would you help out a village in an underdeveloped country? Would you buy a ticket on Virgin Galactic? No, these are all a waste of time and money. Instead, let's build a Japanese mega-restaurant over the old Ed Debevic's Diner and name it Gonpachi. That's exactly how much it cost to build Global Dining's third location in Beverly Hills. According to articles, it's a true import, meaning they shipped out the same exact building materials out to LA. Let's see what $18 million dollars buys you.

This week, I drove down to Beverly Hills for a company function at Gonpachi. I couldn't be more excited. My foodie friends, Tokyoastrogirl, Rameniac and Pirikara, had written/told me about this super-sized izakaya. An izakaya is a Japanese-style pub serving various foods. To me, it's like a tapas bar. You can get your sushi. You can get delicious chicken, beef & pork skewers cooked over charcoal. And the best part, wash the former down with thirst-quenching Kirin & Sapporo on draft or fine, silky sake. All of this, while being as loud as you can be. When I was in Japan, I remember one night when we went to THREE izakayas in the span of about 4 hours and managing to squeeze in a little bit of karaoke. Izakayas are a way of life for many Japanese businessmen. After a long duel with work, nothing is more satisfying than hot food and cold beer... for 4 hours straight.

I parked on the street and immediately raised my head to follow the outlines of the tall structure against the sky. Big. I approached the main entrance and came upon a quaint outdoor garden with trees I couldn't identify. Beautiful. Of course, there were the ubiquitous koi ponds to my side... with koi about 14" in length. Nothing as big as the ones I've seen in Asia. I followed the pathway lined with lanterns you'd never see at Pier 1, which lead to the building and a man awaiting me at the door. Manager. I walked in and followed the waft of alcohol being drunk by my coworkers. I thought to myself, I probably just walked by $250,000 worth of landscaping. Where's the other $17,750,000?

Gonpachi Outdoor Lanterns

Gonpachi Leaves


After about an hour of having drinks, the foreplay was over. It was time to get down to it. We walked together down to the main dining room and everyone just gazed around like it was the Sistine Chapel. Only two stories high, yet breath-taking. I thought to myself, any second now, a ninja is going to jump out and mince us. It felt VERY Kill Bill-ish.

Gonpachi Robata Station (Yakitori)

The main area had about 12 tables and 8 booths. The private rooms upstairs required a minimum of $350 on the check and just seemed too tame for our group of 10. To my right, were four cooks hustling and bustling behind the large charcoal grill station (robata grill). I give those guys props for manning that grill with 30 skewers at a time, inhaling all of that smoke. Almost as amusing as the TSA staff sitting behind those x-ray machines for 8 hours. Or Sandra Lee standing in front of her four microwave ovens, cooking thanksgiving dinner. BBQ smoke, x-ray radiation and Sandra Lee – all are detrimental to your health.

Straight ahead, was the sushi bar and it was simply handsome. The lighting, the length and overall design of the sushi bar made Sushi Gen's bar look tame. I couldn't imagine how much the omakase sushi dinner would cost.

Gonpachi Dining Room

For some reason, the second you're seated at a table in an izakaya, you must order beer and sake. It's like an appetizer that really gets the party flowing. We must've had 7-8 beers each.

Gonpachi Second Floor "Sake Room"

A view of the $350-minimum private rooms. Looking at it, we really felt like WE were outside of the building.

After we were served our drinks, the servers immediately pointed out dishes we should try. I must've heard the word 'soba' 100 times that night. Apparently, it's one of Gonpachi's pride and joy... fresh, hand-made soba. To further dazzle you, they specifically built a windowed noodle room for you to watch as the chef mak soba noodles from square one. I took so many photos that I had to put them into an animated GIF file for everyone to see. The whole process took nearly twenty minutes and it was obvious that the cook was winded. These guys make the pizza makers at Mozza look baaaaaad.

I must apologize for not having any photos of the food. The lighting was horrible and the pictures were beyond salvageable. So, to tie in with the Japanese theme, I decided to anime-ize my food. I tried my best to model the food and am aware that some things are ambiguous. Plus, last week's grand opening of Takashi Murakami's exhibit at the MOCA in Little Tokyo had its influences on me.

Gonpachi Anime Food

The heart and soul of an izakaya is the yakitori dishes. It means "grilled bird" in Japanese and the Japanese aren't kidding when it comes to grilling chicken. Drumsticks...NO! BBQ chicken breast... NO! Chicken McNuggets... HELL NO! How about the gizzards (stomach), heart, butt and in some izakayas, the testicles. Oh man, my favorite parts. I was very sad to see that Gonpachi had all the 'safe' parts. No offals, skin or butt... only thigh and wings. Boo. Here's what we had.

Usually, this is ground chicken meat with ginger and garlic. Gonpachi went a step above and threw duck in the mix. This was absolutely delicious. For $4.50, it better be. I could taste the ginger and garlic, and the basting sauce was awesome. As a group, we probably ordered 30 of these. This is my 2nd best tsukunu skewer I've had, with a place in Japan being #1. Theirs was served with a raw egg yolk mixed into the soy/sake dipping sauce. Amazing.

'Negi' means green onion/leek. This is a standard skewer and quite boring to me. Shin Sen Gumi makes a great version of this. I actually like the green onion/leeks the most on this skewer.

Chicken wings. Very good, but again, I'm going to give the points to Shin Sen Gumi.

These are not the pork blood cubes you see in soup noodles. These are 'beef tongue'. One of my most favorite parts of the cow. I don't know if I'll have anything better than this. I've had chinese, japanese and korean-style... and most places will only serve this sliced thinly. At Gonpachi, you get a CUBE, no... NUGGET.. of goodness. For me, this was better than the Wagyu skewers we had. Juicy, with good bite to it. Man. They're not messing around.

Gonpachi Anime Food

Sushi & Tapas
In addition to the skewers, the Japanese also serve small plates we know as tapas.

Really, have you ever had a bad piece of o-toro? The 'o' in otoro means 'big'. The 'chu' in chutoro means 'middle', implying a less fatty piece of tuna. I watched as two of our female coworkers rolled their eyes in ecstasy as they devoured the pink fat.

Tuna Tartare
Didn't try it.

A perfectly-cooked piece of salmon. Moist and flavorful... how all fish should be cooked. Those are not popcorn kernels, they are supposed to be salmon roe!!!

Miso black cod, a japanese classic. A paste made out of miso paste, sugar, sake & mirin is used to marinate the black cod over night... and the result is a fish you really can't turn away from.

Gonpachi Anime Food

Agedashi Tofu
I always have to order this simple, yet satisfying dish. Soft tofu cubes are dipped into a batter made with ice cold water and potato starch and then deep fried. It's served slightly submerged in a bath of soy sauce, dashi, sugar and sake. Not the best I've had, but not the worst.

Wagyu Steak
Uh oh, wagyu time. The most spoiled cows in the world. This wagyu was simply pan fried with salt, pepper and butter as it should be. For meat this expensive, it's a waste to mask it with razzle-dazzle sauces. I think this was sitting out too long and the meat had cooked itself - so so. I've had better wagyu. The kind that makes you shake because it's so goddamn fatty. You feel SO guilty when you eat that because it's not far from being beef-flavored butter. Those things that look like the clippings of someone's fingernails are actually garlic chips.

Tempura is tempura. But not here, I could not identify the fish that was included in this dish... it was so good. The only evidence I had was the blue tail. Scallops were also tempura'd - I love anything scallops.

And now, for the most talked-about dish of the night. The one that gave a man carpal tunnel syndrome! Hot soba noodles in soy/sake broth. The soba was good, but I was expecting a little more chew/bite to it... like in udon or ramen. This was even more chalky than the packaged version. I don't want to discredit the hard work that young man put into the noodles, but they were only so so.

The gluttony did not end for another 2 hours as the beer, wine and sake continued to pour. Even when people were eating dessert, I was eating sushi, toro and more skewers. Who needs dessert here when anything could be 'dessert'. For many of my coworkers, this was a great experience. There aren't too many places out there where you have so many things to try. Gonpachi isn't that expensive... the problem lies in the fact that the menu is quite extensive. It all adds up.

So what do I think of the $18 million dollar Gonpachi experience? If you take away the beautiful garden, the second story private rooms, the poor carpal-tunneled soba noodle man, Japanese wood and lavish cook stations... you're still left with food that is a little above average. The sushi I had does not compare to Sushi Zo, as it shouldn't, because it's not solely a sushi bar. The yakitori selection is slim and not as 'authentic' as the izakayas I've eaten at. The tapas served were cooked well but very expensive compared to places like Honda Ya/Kappo Honda. And not to mention the fact that because this is a more expensive place, you're more inclined to act more formally in public. There was no loud cheering, drunk people singing as I've seen in Japan... just the quiet hissing sound of chicken parts being grilled over charcoal. Hey, if this place doesn't do well, there's a new Asian-film studio out for rent. Kill Bill 6 ? Crouching Tiger 4? Sandra Lee Does Japan?

But I certainly had a great time and I must say that Gonpachi is one of the most beautiful restaurants I've seen. I can't dismiss that. Beverly Hill's Restaurant Row is geared towards a certain class of people with certain tastes and the new addition of Gonpachi is more than right for it. Look at the Woo Lae Oak korean restaurant next door... a place I've tried and will never go back to because of the ridiculous prices. You've got Fogo de Chao, the $60 per person dinner which serves the same style of meat any other churrascaria will serve for less than 1/2 of that. If you have the money for Gonpachi, go for it. If not, try any of the fore-mentioned places and you'll have yourself a good, gastronomic experience.

Thanks for reading.

134 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA, 90211
(310) 659-8887