One of the best things about working in advertising, besides spending hours on AIM, Youtube, MySpace, expensing crap and taking 2.5 hour lunches on a regular basis, is the freedom to consume alcohol in the workplace. One agency I worked at believed in boosting employee morale not with fat paychecks, but with aluminum kegs almost every two weeks. I'd be working from 10-11, then take a 2-hour lunch, and come back by 3 pm to start drinking with my coworkers. I mean, everyone participated. We'd drink till 5 pm and sometimes start Round 2 at a local dive bar. To me, that is a good work environment - one that lets you work the least amount of hours possible.
Those days are long gone, but I was happy to see that the Japanese folks over at Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori restaurant still practice the ancient "Art of Not-Working". Shin Sen Gumi is the name of a Samurai group in Japan, purportedly, one of the last Samurai clans. They, along with Tom Cruise's help, were dedicated to providing security for whomever with the utmost commitment to excellence. In layman terms, they were thugs with swords. In remembrance of the samurai group, the same work ethic is now passed down to us, only in a skewered-chicken form. Pictured above is Ayumu, probably the manager of Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori. He's a fun, LOUD and energetic man with a bottomless stomach, who obviously loves what he does. He is doing anything but working - hilarious. If OSHA members ever eat here, they'd have a heart attack watching customers drink with Ayumu. Why? Because Shin Sen Gumi loves to participate in the Japanese tradition of binge drinking with customers. It is a show of respect for the chef/food when a patron pours one for the homie.
My friends and I headed over to Shin Sen Gumi on a Friday night for some grilled/skewered chicken parts. Absolutely one of my favorite Japanese foods. I spoiled myself with yakitori when I was in Japan in May and was bummed that I may never find a comprable yakitori joint in California. Enter: Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori. You may have heard of them before because they also produce delicious, Hakata-style ramen. Chinese noodles, Berkshire pork and green onions swim in a beautiful, cloudy broth of pork bones that takes over 15 hours to make. After a 45-minute wait (no reservations taken), we walked into a packed restaurant occupied by red-faced patrons, sounds of clanking beers, Ayumu's loud screaming and the heavenly scent of chicken parts grilled over a robata. The place is small and holds about 40 people.
Warning: be prepared for high-decibel sounds. Here's Pam's review on Shin Sen Gumi's high-decibel ramen shop. Restaurants have funny policies when it comes to greeting. At TGIF, they make the employees wear stupid flair like buttons and pins. At Chuck E. Cheese, you're greeted by a giant rodent wearing a stupid vest and ugly hat. Clothes only magicians like Siegfried and Roy could pull off. But here at Shin Sen Gumi, you're greeted by employees screaming at the top of their lungs, wearing traditional Japanese uniforms. Anything you say, order, question comes back to you at about 300 decibels - 5 times louder than the normal conversation level. I had to drink as fast as I could to get a buzz and only then was I able to tolerate the noise level.
Here's what we had:
A. Cabbage With Vinegar/Sesame Oil - We started off with rabbit food, "on-the-house". For a few minutes, I was eating this dry cabbage, thinking... the fuck am i eating? I then looked over at the next table and saw that people were adding a mixture of vinegar/sesame oil over the rabbit food. A-ha, ok, tastes better. But again I thought... the fuck am i eating? $Free.99
B. Chikuwa Cheese - I call these Ameri-pan snacks. These are deep-fried cylindrical fishcakes stuffed with monterey jack and cheddar cheese. Gross? No way. With a squeeze of lemon, these are quite tasty. Pretty soon, there will be deep-fried tater tots stuffed with cod roe. $4
C. Suigyoza - Literal translation, boiled dumplings, or as in Chinese, sway-gao (sway-jiao). These were overcooked and very boring. Save your $3 and try something else. $2.75
D. Arabiki Sausage - A friend text messaged me to try this while I was there. Tasty, but quite similar to Jimmy Dean. Or as the Japanese would say, Jimi Dee-nu! $4
E. Agedashi Tofu - This is basically fried tofu served with a warm soy sauce/sake mixture and is topped with fresh daikon, seaweed and green onions. Tasty. $3.75
F. Braised Pork Belly - Another one of my favorites. The pork belly is braised in a soy sauce/sake/ginger/sake broth. Super moist and tender, served with fresh mustard. I prefer Musha's over this. $6
G. Orion Beer - This is my first time trying this beer. A fellow reader suggested that I try it after spotting it over at Sushi Karen in Culver City. Not bad at all, but I still prefer Sapporo. $5
H. Cold Sake - This was the cheapest one on the menu. I really can't taste the difference between sake so it really doesn't matter if I'm drinking the Charles Shaw of sake. It got me buzzed and did its job. $6
Now for the Main Event:
G. Chicken Wings - A favorite of any yakitori-enthusiast. These were nicely coated with SSG's house sauce and sesame seeds. $5.75
H. Chicken Karage - Always available at any izakaya-style restaurant. These were a little bit dry inside, but the batter was nice and slim on the oil. $5
I. Chicken Hearts - I heart these. These were the best hearts I've ever tasted - even better than the ones I had in Japan. SSG really knows how to make a good yakitori sauce. These were cooked a little bit rare and oozed out a little blood every time I bit into one. Yum. I had about 5 skewers. $1.75
J. Chicken Thigh and Negi - This was by far my favorite of the night. Moists pieces of chicken thigh were tightly packed with Japanese leeks (negi). Again, the same sauce was applied to it, making me order about 4 of these. $1.95
K. Chicken Skin - Oooh, another one of my favorites. I love that the Japanese spare no parts. Skin from the thigh and breast are neatly skewered like an accordion and are grilled till they are crispy. Chicken skin for President! $1.75
L. Chicken Butt - These are moister than the chicken thigh. It didn't come with any house sauce, so I simply dipped it into the finished plates. I can do without this one. $2.50
M. Chicken Wing - These looked like Chicken lollipops. I didn't get to try this but my friends seemed to be smiling with content. Or maybe they were just drunk. $2 each.
N. Chicken Gizzards - These are like cornnut snacks. I can eat a popcorn-sized bucket of these. These came out dryer than what I'm used to and a bit salty. I didn't care much for these.
We all had a great time. We happened to know a group of people there that gladly offered us and Ayumu some sake bombs. All of a sudden, we didn't mind the high-decibel chatter and drunkenness. I think we ate enough chicken parts to construct our own chicken. It wouldn't look too good though. Yakitori is definitely a different culinary experience. If you're sick of fake japanese food like teriyaki beef and ninja rolls, give the chicken a chance. And don't forget to bring the ear-plugs. Talk to Ayumu and offer him a drink - he's cool.
Thanks for reading.
Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori
18617 S. Western
Gardena, CA 90248
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Posted by e d b m at 11:32 AM