Wednesday, July 22, 2009

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

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Nutella Fingerchips

This reminds me of what I used to do with those fabulous Bugle chips. Remember those? Anyway, I'd imagine that this genius idea would set off a new trend amongst bakeries/dessert shops. Macaroon fingerchips from Jin Patisserie?

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Portland, Oregon - A Humble Point on the Culinary Map - PSU Farmers Market, Bunk Sandwiches, Pinestate Biscuits, Pok Pok, Tanuki & Ten 01

Portland, Oregon

Saturday morning, I woke up with a complete food hangover from yesterday.  For those that have never participated in a food hop or food marathon, it is quite a caloric feat.  It's what a foodie would do given a short amount of time in a new destination.  We had only been  in Portland for less than 24 hours and probably did 2-3 days worth of eating/drinking – yet it was the only beginning.  We got up and Jeni immediately blurted out, "Stumptown Coffee" with a Tourette-like excitement.  Again, as we waited in the elevator to slowly take us down to coffee heaven, I saw this sign again.

Ace Hotel Stairs

I thought about all the food we ate and we had to do something about it.  We had recently purchased some bikes and took them with us to Los Olivos.  The next best thing we could do in the U.S.'s most bike-friendly city is to go rent one.  That way, we wouldn't feel so bad about inflating ourselves with delicious food for the remaining three days we had here in PDX.  

Portland, Oregon

We found a bike shop near the Burnside Bridge, which takes you over to the North East and South East side of Portland. It wasn't cheap but a lot more fun than riding a cab.

Portland, Oregon

After grabbing some coffee, we took Ron's advice on visiting the Saturday farmer's market held at Portland State University.  And I'm glad we did.  The trek from the Ace Hotel to the farmer's market took 15-20 minutes, but went by quickly with the site of super green trees and cool weather.   For a minute we didn't know if we had passed the market but the sound of street musicians and indistinct chatter suggested otherwise.

Portland, Oregon

The farmer's market was filled with vendors selling the usual stuff and things I really wished we had down in Los Angeles.  Like...

Portland State University Farmers Market, Portland

This gentleman representing the pickle company, Picklopolis.  They offered interesting stuff like pickled fiddleheads, ramps and beets.  Love the white suit.

Portland State University Farmers Market, Portland

And here was this young man selling eggs.  Freshly laid eggs from his chicken farm about 45 mins outside of Portland.   He was stoked to show us photos of his chickens/roosters in his album.  Jeni really loved his hillbilly-suspender look.  

Portland State University Farmers Market, Portland

Portland State University Farmers Market, Portland

Besides the usual farmer's market fare, there are quite a few hot food vendors serving breakfast, Mexican food and sandwiches. By far, the booth drawing the most attention was Pinestate Biscuits.  Ron did not warn us on what we were about to experience.  Jeni waited at the back of the line as I walked down the line towards the booth to investigate.  I walked up to this guy and just watched in sheer disbelief.  

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

In one hand, he held a plate with a fried chicken on a biscuit.  He then placed two pieces of bacon and a slice of cheddar cheese on top of the fried chicken.   Wait, I'm not done.  He then tops everything with a big sloppy spoonful of sausage gravy.  And finally, placing the other biscuit on top.  He saw me shooting photos and smiled for me – knowing how unhealthy and decadent this creation was.  It was almost like having a meal served to you by the Devil.  Topped with butter, cheese, fat – all things that are delightfully bad for you.  I was waiting for him to ask me if I wanted this super-sized.

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

It was time for the Devil to take our order and we went for the Gold Medal trophy of fatty food. We got the works which also included a fried egg!

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

And here it is, the Pinestate Biscuit with the works.  Look at the stopping power.  Even the people at McDonald's are running for the hills.  If you want a diet version, you can just have the fried chicken topped with gravy and cheese. 
 
Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

Now it was time to taste it.  With something as big as this you really don't know where to start.  I gripped the beast with two hands, and gravy started to drip all over my plate.  Nice.  Where was a bib when I actually needed one?  Jeni and I looked at each other with the "what are we doing?" look.  I even saw another couple staring at me in bewilderment – getting ready to eat the biscuit vicariously.   At that moment, my name wasn't Dylan anymore.  It was Gus, the tow truck driver wearing a blue collared shirt and navy blue Dickies with full butt-crack showing. Tow truck drivers don't eat tofu crepes with strawberry parfait for lunch.  They eat food with bold flavors and size.  With my hairy arms and blackened finger nails from car grease, I picked up that thing like it was my bitch and bit into it – my protective eyelids rolling up like a Great White shark's.  

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

And it was... seriously tasty.  It didn't seem to make sense at first but when put together it was a delicious ode to what every Maxim-reading, college boy enjoyed eating.  There was something grisly and barbaric about it; it was in fact, a man's meal.  There was no herbal garnish to 'fancy' it up or a nice plate for presentation points.  It was exactly what it was... a biscuitsandwichwithfriedchickenfriedeggcheddarcheesewithsausagegravy.  I don't know when I would eat this again but it's one of those things that you can definitely say you've eaten.  The guys at Pinestate Biscuits have seriously found an area right between pain and pleasure and slapped it in between two delicious biscuits.   Note: can easily feed a small village in China or one hungry tow truck driver.

Portland, Oregon

It was a good thing that Jeni and I shared that beastly biscuit, and rode our bikes to work that off.  We cut through the suburban area and admired the beautiful houses on the tree-lined streets.  We didn't bring any water with us but thanks to a kind young man named Riley, we were rejuvenated for a mere 50 cents.  Notice how Riley has a hesitant look on his face.  I think we were the first Asian people he's laid eyes on haha.  Riley, I can assure you we are nice people – now give me that lemonade.

Portland, Oregon

Again, I know it may seem ridiculous to readers on here, just how much we eat.  You see, most people on vacation will engage in activities like shopping, site-seeing and amusement parks.  We don't do any of that.  We simply eat and drink all throughout town.  After an hour of riding, the consensus (based on two voters) was that we needed to eat some more food.  Ron, where do we go?  

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

We rode our bikes down to a quaint Southeast sandwich shop called Bunk Sandwiches.  According to Ron, sandwich shops are creeping on the town of Portland in a good way.  In addition to Kenny & Zuke's, which is right next door to the Ace, Bunk Sandwiches draws a steady crowd during the 6 hours it is open.  I remembered Bunk Sandwiches being mentioned in a magazine for its creative creations, such as the pork belly banh mi, but it wasn't on the menu the time we were here.  "Get the pork belly and pulled pork," says the Ron located within my head.  

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

Sandwiches are served with Dirty Potato Chips and Picklopolis pickles on a clean sheet of paper.  All for only $8.  NO TAX.

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

By far the best pork belly sandwich I've eaten.  The cuts of pork belly were so damn moist and tender.  The small amount of crisp lettuce and aioli really made this a perfect sandwich.  To wash this down, may I suggest a "bunkmosa" for the extremely hip, skinny-jean wearing hipsters?  An innocent cocktail made of Miller High Life and orange juice.  

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

The pulled pork sandwich was served with a type of slaw on a poppy seed roll.  Good, but I enjoyed the pork belly more.

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

Chef Tommy Habetz is pictured in the lower corner and is super cool.  On my next trip here, I'll definitely be stopping by to see what other creations he has in store.

Portland, Oregon

During the millions of emails sent by Ron and Kevin of Guilty Carnivore, we had thrown in the idea of possibly seeing a show.  M83 sounds great, but we really didn't know how full/tired we'd be.  We continued riding throughout the suburbs to kill time.  We were about to meet Ron for the first time in two hours for a snack, followed by a formal dinner with some more foodies.

Portland, Oregon  

Guess we'll eat again.  Unfortunately, this popular food cart called Potato Champion wasn't open.  They serve french fries and a Canadian treat called poutine, which entails the dumping of gravy and cheese curds on top of your fries.  I think I've had enough gravy-as-a-topping for a few years.  Sorry Potato Champion.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

We rode around longer to kill time and came across my favorite barber shop, Rudy's.  Jeni and I looked at each other and simultaneously yelled, "haircut!"  In addition to riding bikes/scooters on vacation, we like getting our hair cut by whoever because each city has its own hairstlye.  I was convinced that I would be getting a 'normal' haircut compared to barbers I've had in Taiwan, Guilin and Buenos Aires. Heck, Rudy's is only FROM the Pacific Northwest so I'm in good hands.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

We decided to meet up with Ron and his friend at Pok Pok, a popular Thai restaurant.  But why eat Thai in Portland when we have Thai Town in Los Angeles?  It wasn't until I saw Pok Pok featured in the May '09 issue of Food & Wine that I became interested in eating here.  And to top it off, Pok Pok is run by an American by the name of Chef Andy Ricker, who goes to Thailand 2-3 times a year to learn/acquire recipes to bring back to PDX.  To me, that sort of effort deserves a fair review.

Pok Pok, Portland

We were surprised to see that Pok Pok was really not a restaurant, but more so, a house with outdoor/patio seating.  It was 5 pm, the time of opening, and there were already a good 25 people waiting outside (im)patiently.  The rest of the house had already been filled up – crazy.  And the next door take-out order area, known as Pok Pok Whiskey Soda Lounge, was packed with PDXers.  
Pok Pok, Portland
There was something really cool about eating Thai food in a cabin-like house.  I could smell chicken being roasted on a special type of grill that Chef Ricker could only have devised through the influence of visits to Thailand street vendors.  It was so dainty, yet functional like any one of McGuyver's gadgets.  The foil above the grill gave me a feel of being along the street in some Asian country.   Yet we were brought back to Portland reality with the mostly-male waiters wearing baby blue t-shirts and various arm tattoos.  

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

There's peace of mind when you can trust the host to order delicious food for you and not have to look at the menu once.  Ron highly recommended the Fish Sauce-flavored Chicken Wings.  And they were super tasty – spicy, good amount of fish sauce and a nice crisp skin.  I could have easily eaten a dozen of these with ice cold Thai beer.

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

I didn't catch the name of this dish but it involved a duck egg, warm noodles and herbs in a coconut milk broth.  I was expecting a sour/sharp taste to the soup but was mildly reminded of the some of the delicate, well-balanced dishes I had tried at Los Angeles's Jitlada restaurant.  Most mediocre Thai restaurants will offer dishes on extreme ends.  Your food is either really strong on fish sauce, sour, spicy or sweet.  Compromising taste to appeal to newer, less-adventurous diners only leads to bastardization.  I can't remember the last time my parents ordered Sweet & Sour chicken or egg rolls in starchy red sauce.  Anyway, all I could remember about Chef Ricker's food was how well balanced his tastes were.  Not to mention the fact that his menu highlighted regional dishes I had never even heard of, more so than common dishes like Pad Thai or Tom Yum Soup.  I have never been to Thailand but I got a good feeling when tasted the food here at Pok Pok.  

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

We were in a hurry to meet for the formal dinner and only got to try three different things.  I was quite bummed but this only makes Pok Pok an even bigger priority on my next trip.  I highly recommend this place if you have the sudden urge to eat something non-Portlandish.  Everyone we had talked to in Portland asked where we were going to eat, and we would tell them Pok Pok.  We would get a nice, "Ah!" response.  Apparently, a very good thing.

Note: Chef Ricker also has a skewer joint called Ping in the Northwest side of town.  

We rode our bikes back towards the Northwast area, near the Pearl District, and Ron and a group of foodies for an izakaya meal at Tanuki.  We walked into a small room lit with red lights and a TV playing some strange Japanese drama.  Here we met Kevin of Guilty Carnivore, a wonderful couple that really enjoyed food as well and Nick, who joined us earlier at Pok Pok.  

Before we could even start ordering food, we were poured sake as part of a welcome toast.  

Tanuki, Portland

Tanuki, Portland

Again we let Ron, Kevin, Matt and Nick do the ordering.  Tanuki is considered an izakaya for its smallish plates.  But not everything was Japanese.  There were hints of Chinese, Thai, Korean and even Pacific Islanderish in some of the dishes we ordered.  All were done really well.  

Tanuki, Portland

Tanuki, Portland
My favorites were the skewered duck hearts, skewered bay scallops, ahi tuna, fried egg udon and braised pork with fresh mango over rice.

Like Ricker's Pok Pok, I was very surprised to see that the food was prepared by this young lady – Chef Janis Martin.  According to Ron, she studied in Japan (I believe Okinawa) for quite a few years, before coming back to Portland to run Tanuki.

Tanuki, Portland

Now it was time for dessert in a cocktail glass.  The night before, we had awesome cocktails at Clyde Common.  None were priced more than $8.  But here at Ten 01, drinks are up to $10 and with good reason – it's purportedly one of Portland's best cocktail lounges.  Ron mentioned that the owner sent all the stellar bartenders down to Tennessee for a lesson in Whiskey.  Don't pull my arm, boss.  

Ten 01, Portland

Ten 01, Portland

And this concludes another exhausting yet wonderful day of eating and drinking.  Again, tomorrow will be a groundhog day for my wife and I.  Again, we looked at the elevator sign, but smiled at each other.  Hey, at least we rode off a ton of calories today.  Thanks for reading.  


Portland State University Farmer's Market
Saturdays,  8:30 am - 2:00 pm
www.portlandfarmersmarket.org

Pinestate Biscuits 
(at PSU Farmer's Market)

Pinestate Biscuits (Restaurant Location)
3640 SE Belmont Street
Portland, OR  97214
(503) 236-3346
www.pinestatebiscuits.com

Bunk Sandwiches
621 SE Morrison Street
Portland, OR  97214
(503) 477-9515
www.bunksandwiches.com

Pok Pok
3226 SE Division Street
Portland, OR  97255
(503) 232-1387
www.pokpokpdx.com

Tanuki
413 NW 21st Street
Portland, OR  97209
(503) 241-7667
www.tanukipdx.com

Ten01
1001 NW Couch Street
Portland, OR  97209
(503) 226-3463
www.ten-01.com

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