20 July 2006

the restaurant at the end of the universe

if i stop to think about it, my obsession with japanese culture pretty much starts and ends with food (well ok, and perhaps shibuya gals and gatcha gatcha toys). but beyond that i don't have much interest in the stuff that most people like about japan - anime, martial arts, zen buddhist rites and flower arrangement... whenever i go there i never ask for directions to the nearest temple. rather, it's always "where's the nearest ramen shop?"

so it's somehow fitting that the restaurant at the end of the universe - my universe - is a yakitori joint. as such, when i fantasize about my old age (not that you could really call it fantasizing, more like, when i consider the grim inevitability of it) i invariably picture myself whiling away the years as "the guy at the end of the izakaya counter with his own personal bottle of sake, somewhere in a rice field in kyushu."

i'll be old and quite possibly irrelevant, but at least there'll be good food and um... young women who'll let me buy them prada.

perhaps then, shinsengumi yakitori in gardena is exactly that. a look into my future. or half of it anyway.

they start you off with raw cabbage. nothing to write home about, but douse it with a bit of the tableside ponzu mixture and it's surprisingly edible.

something i like to call "the four corners of flavor." clockwise from top left - yuzu kosho (spicy citrus paste made from the yuzu fruit), nanami togarashi (a red pepper mixture not unlike that which you can steal from yoshinoya), the aformentioned ponzu (think a citrusy soy sauce, but very watered down), and sansyo (japanese pepper with a musty, acrid kick to it - frickin' awesome!)

chicken gizzard. crunchy and carbonized with just a hint of shio. limit one per customer and they always run out of these. for good reason.

shio negima - a skewer of chicken thigh meat with green onion, seasoned with salt. the bread and butter of yakitori dining; i can eat up to half a dozen of these in one night.

arabiki sausages - made from japanese kurobuta pork, these are extra flavorful and fatty. a friend compared them to jimmy dean's sausages, but i wouldn't know. i don't eat that junk.

gyu-tan. although not traditionally yakitori, which means "grilled chicken," robatayaki restaurants often serve a few other things beside bird. beef tongue may well be one of them. and in this case, it's very delectable beef tongue too.

a big, fat, honkin' shrimp. the single most expensive thing on the grill menu (at like, $4)

chicken hearts. here you can see 4 or 5 of them. mola ram molaa raaam! anyone who gets that reference is probably at the san diego comic-con right about now.

chicken skin. this is a festival favorite in japan. only over there, the skewers are about two feet long and your order of skin has about as much mass as a standard-issue billy club. amazingly delicious, and thankfully they spare your life by giving you a smaller portion.

on the menu this is listed as "beef flap meat." i'm not sure what that means but i don't really care. skirt steak maybe? it's good but not a must-have.

remember what i was saying about negima? here's my second one of the evening.

quail egg wrapped in bacon. i'm not sure what the cholesterol count of this puppy is but every bite is an explosion of goodness in your mouf.

enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon, tebasaki chicken wing, and nankotsu (cartilage). anything "wrapped in bacon" is a must have and unquestionably delicious. the tebasaki i could have done without; same goes for the cartilage which, though good, had a little too much marrow left in it.

grilled shiitake mushroom. i'm a big proponent of a balanced diet and the food pyramid. this was my chosen vegetable for the evening.

there must be some sort of primal satisfaction in counting up all the little skewers one's consumed throughout the night.

i guess grilled ninniku (garlic cloves) counts as vegetables too.

and so does grilled onion.

about two hours later i got ready to wash it all down with a bowl of their special chicken broth. it doesn't look like much but it was very very good, and the perfect way to end the meal.

alas, i still needed an encore. so two more negima sent the audience home on a high note.


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