Wednesday, May 28, 2008
112 N. International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Adequately Fed: $25
(Out of Five Stars)
Considering the full name of this place is Japanese Grill Yakitori Bincho, the restaurant is much less casual and unassuming. Only open since March, they husband and wife team have completely underestimated the popularity of their yakitori-ya. Especially after the review by Rameniac hyping their little restaurant, the wife tells me that they are packed usually from the 6:00 opening to midnight. The tiny place had counter seating for six or so and another four tables for a total of probably no more than thirty. But the limiting factor is the husband, working the grill and preparing nearly every menu item. He does the cooking, she waits tables and washes dishes. When the restaurant was half-full, almost every seat was reserved, he told her to turn away all other customers. I'm sure neither one expected the monumental success of their humble eatery.
I reserved two seats at the counter to watch the chef at work. The way he juggled orders was impressive, although he could work on his organization. Another few months and he'll probably have it down to a science. The kitchenette was just a deep-fryer, wok, range, counter, sink, reach-in fridges and a small but effective grill. The charcoal used for the grill is the "binchon" according to the waitress. We ordered a few dishes and some tea. I would've enjoyed a bottle of sake, especially to support a fledgling business, but I had to meet the girlfriend's mother afterwards and figured it best to stay sober. At least I paid in cash. Always pay in cash for small places; credit cards eat up too much of their profits.
Cabbage and Edamame 2/5
Our meal started with a simple appetizer of cabbage served with a dab of miso. I've never seen this before; as far as I know, it isn't any sort of traditional appetizer. It seemed more like a sloppy salad. Either way, it was exactly as it sounds, cabbage and miso. The edamame was too salty. I appreciate complimentary edamame though, and in fact, refuse to pay $3 or so for soybeans.
Agedashi Tofu (Deep-fried tofu) 5/5
By far the best tofu I've ever had, the agedashi tofu was silky smooth and crunchy at the same time. The green onions and grated daikon topping gave a cool freshness to contrast the hot tofu and warm broth. The broth, a combination of dashi (kelp and fish stock), soy sauce, ginger and mirin (sweet rice wine) was good enough to drink on its own. I was also quite impressed with the quantity of tofu served. The picture may not be too clear, but it was a large bowl as opposed to the usual tiny serving of tofu at most other restaurants.
Tsukune (Chicken Meatballs) 5/5
I must apologize for the low quality of some of these pictures. The dishes came out fast and I could hardly keep up between my camera, Moleskine and chopsticks. Most of their yakitori plates came as either shio (salt) or teriyaki flavored. For some of the yakitori, we got two, one of each flavor. The tsukune convinced me that chicken has been underestimated by me way too many times. I muttered an "oh my god" under my breath so as not to give away my instant infatuation with this guy's chicken balls. The shio with lemon juice was satisfying, but not as delicious as the teriyaki with a touch of hot mustard. Please order this if you ever go to Yakitori Bincho. It's only $3 and could not be better spent.
Negima (Chicken Thigh with Leeks) 3/5
While this negima was better than the one at Nanban-kan, I didn't find it particularly special. Although the menu said leeks, they look and tasted more like scallions to me. With this dish, I preferred the shio to the teriyaki. Don't want to burn out on the sauce.
Tebasaki (Chicken Wings) 3.5/5
The shio tebasaki deserved a 4 while the teriyaki was an average 3, hence the 3.5 rating. As I mentioned in my Nanban-kan post, I still prefer the fried chicken wings at Fu Rai Bo to the yakitori grilled chicken wings. Although this chef made the wings incredibly satisfying, that's all they were--satisfactory.
Shiso Chicken Thigh 2/5
Shiso, as I mentioned in my Sawtelle Kitchen post, is the perilla leaf. It has an interesting flavor, somewhat like a delicate fennel. It is commonly paired with ume (dried plum) in the form of a sauce in this instance. I thought the shiso flavor didn't show through at all in this dish. Such a shame too, because when shiso shines, it blinds.
Listed as cartilage on the menu, I wasn't exactly sure what part of the chicken this came from. Because of the uncertainty, I ate it with a little unease. Still, the crunchy texture worked so well to contrast with the tender meat. I love the feeling of crunching into cartilage in my mouth. When I eat a drumstick, I always savor that part the most. In this dish though, it wasn't shaped like any easily recognizable part of the chicken. If someone knows where it's from, please let me know.
Lotus Root with Meat 2/5
I haven't seen lotus root used in Japanese cuisine as commonly as Chinese, but this was a creative way to combine textures as with the previous dish. The meat didn't strike me as particularly compelling, and the lotus lacked depth. I was hoping it would be crunchier, but the grilling process had softened it. Lotus itself is not strongly flavored, so it was too easily overcome by the meat.
Bacon-wrapped Tomato 5/5
Eureka, I have rediscovered bacon! Oh for so long I have delegated you to the list of foods I bid good riddance to because you were not delicious enough for the negative healthy effects. Yakitori Bincho has rekindled our relationship. The cherry tomato gave a juicy acidity that worked so well in conjunction with the pig fat that my tastebuds were in harmony.
Shiitake Mushrooms with Meat 3/5
This skewer really demonstrates how the meaty flavor of shiitake mushrooms work well in conjunction with meat. I'm assuming this was the same ground chicken used to make the tsukune, but whatever it was, the star was really the mushroom.
Ochazuke (Rice Porridge) 3/5
Though I ranked this bowl of rice soup an average 3, it was actually a great way to round off the meal. I didn't feel quite full until I had the starch of the rice mixed with a dash of wasabi, nori and ume. The subtle flavors cleansed the palette that had been too heavily inundated with the grilled items.
Yakitori Bincho is great for the simple chicken items, but hits roadblocks beyond the grilled chicken. I prefer them for their chicken dishes to Nanban-kan, but I like the specialty items such as beef tongue and seabass at Nanban-kan. It wouldn't make sense to sell that kind of food at this location though. They're good at sticking to what they do best.
I loved the vibe of Yakitori Bincho. If only this place were close enough for me to become a regular like Rameniac. The phenomenal success in just two months makes me happy for the couple though. I look forward to seeing their expansion, perhaps at least with the obligatory Mexican dishwasher (I mean no ill-will, that's just how the restaurant industry in California works).
Recommendation: Order some sake, shoju, Sapporo or wine. Anything alcoholic to support the restaurant would be great. Also make reservations.
Update: Last I heard, this place got shut down by the Fire Marshal.