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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Yakitori – Breaking It Down

Before we get to yakitori, a brief etymology lesson, grace of cls:

teppan–iron plate

So we have yakiniku, yakitori, teppanyaki, and so on. But even though yakitori means grilled bird, it’s not just chicken–the term is used in general for charcoal grilling using skewers.

If you’re looking for strict yakitori, Kokekkoko is the place to go. Salted or with a sweet soy sauce, their chicken is fab–meatballs, liver, crispy skin, every last piece of the bird. Don’t miss the seasoned ground chicken appetizer. This place can hang with the best of Tokyo, swears ronnie_gaucho, who recommends calling for a reservation to get the VIP course.

But Torimatsu, a low-profile spot that’s part of a Japanese chain, is better, contends rameniac. It’s certainly a bit more refined. Go for dinner rather than lunch, because then everything is made to order.

Japanese salarymen flock to Shinsengumi, another chain whose branches have various specialties (ramen is also a fave), the Gardena and Fountain Valley branches have kick-ass yakitori.

Yakitori-ya also does justice to its name, with everything chicken and some duck bits, too. It’s not as affordable as it used to be, notes yinyangdi, but it’s worth every penny.

There’s more than yakitori at Sakura House, but you’d do well ordering anything grilled there, says goodetime, who worked there for years and still prefers it to the competition. The bar is a great place to sit and order skewers–it seats about 15, and there are 10 tables. Tomato-maki skewers and enoki-maki skewers are delicious, says Bon Vivant. One order equals one skewer (some restaurants do two), and costs about $2.50-4.25 per skewer.

Nanbankan, too, does more than yakitori–we’re probably talking more like kushiyaki here. You’ll see entire Japanese families here, four generations chowing down happily on their grilled meat. What more can we say?

Kokekokko [Little Toyko]
203 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles

Torimatsu [South Bay]
1425 W. Artesia Blvd. #28, Gardena

Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori Restaurant [South Bay]
18517 S. Western Avenue, Gardena

Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori Restaurant [South OC]
18315 Brookhurst St. #1, Fountain Valley

Yakitori-ya [West LA]
11301 W. Olympic Blvd. Stuite 101, at Sawtelle, Los Angeles

Sakura House [Culver City-ish]
13362 W. Washington Blvd., at Glencoe, Los Angeles

Nanban-Kan Restaurant [West LA]
11330 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

Board Links
Confused about Japanese grilling places… not Benihana
LA Yakitori Recs

Good for Goat

Excellent goat stew can be had at Mi Rak, says badseed, who tried the first item on the menu–there are several other goat dishes, but the menu is only in Korean. Stew is milder than at Chin Ko Gae, another goat-stew specialist. Bibimbap is also good. Goat stew, $13.

Mi Rak [Koreatown]
1134 S. Western Ave. # A2, Los Angeles

Chin Ko Gae [Koreatown]
3063 W. 8th St., Los Angeles

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good goat at Mi Rak in K-town

Rock Shrimp

Rock shrimp are a particularly delectable shellfish, with shells much thicker than ordinary shrimp, but with a delicious lobster flavor and great texture to make up for it. They can be boiled, steamed, or fried, saut

Korean Food Translation Guide

This primer, from our collected wisdom, will get you started:

Bap: cooked rice, the main course.

Panchan: the many tiny pickled dishes that accompany the meal.

Kimchi: the central panchan, fermented napa cabbage.

Guk, tang, jjigae and jjim are all soupy, stewy dishes. Tang and guk are thinner, and jjigae and jjim are thicker: Kalbi tang is beef rib soup, haemul tang is spicy seafood soup; soon dubu jjigae is a very spicy tofu stew, and galbijjim is beef rib stew.

Bibim means mixed, so bibimbap is mixed rice, or rice with various toppings. Bibim baengmyun is cold noodles mixed with toppings.

Japchae is yam noodles, almost always served cold, in a sticky sauce.

Pa Jun is a savory pancake. With seafood mixed in, it’s called haemul pajun. Dduk is a savory or sweet rice cake.

Das Ubergeek says that, unlike in Chinese cuisine, the default meat of Korean cooking is beef. Daeji is pork; dak is chicken; haemul is mixed seafood.

Don’t forget Korean barbecue!

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Korean Food Primer

Where Does the Thermometer Go in My Bird?

When using an instant-read or probe thermometer to check for doneness when you’re roasting a chicken or turkey, it’s important that the thermometer not touch bone. Bone will give you a false reading.

Push the tip of the thermometer deep in the center of the thigh, since dark meat takes longer to cook than white.

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Where do you put the Meat Thermometer?

Jerusalem Artichokes: Not Israeli, Not an Artichoke, but Good Eating

Jerusalem artichokes, also called sunchokes, are the mild-flavored root of a particular type of sunflower. They’re crunchy and good raw in salads, sliced very thin or grated. They’re also good roasted or mashed in combination with other root veggies like potatoes, parsnips, and celery root.

junglekitte peels them and roasts them with whole peeled shallots, tomatoes, olives, and a bit of stock at 500F, stirring often.

Ida Red likes to to slice about them 1/4-inch thick, blanch in salted boiling water for a few minutes, then shock in an ice bath to stop the cooking, and saute them in butter and olive oil, finishing with a sprinkle of Parmesan, a squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper.

Marge bakes them into a gratin: Boil peeled sunchokes until just tender. Drain well, cut into 1/2-inch slices. Layer in a buttered gratin dish, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan, dot with butter, and bake at 400F until the top is crusty.

If any parts have turned pink or red, then the sunchoke has gone bad, notes Robert Lauriston.

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Jerusalem Artichokes

Thanksgiving, Southern Style

Thanksgiving, Southern Style

All the good stuff, plus how to fry a turkey without burning down the house. READ MORE

Just One Instrument in the Orchestra

Tagging in at what may be the tail end of the umami craze—if indeed a basic form of sensory input can be considered a “craze,” as opposed to, say, an unalterable fact of life—The Art of Eating presents “A Taste by Any Other Name.”

An elegantly written exploration of the so-called fifth taste (beyond the more familiar palette of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter), the article delves into the chemistry of amino acids, the culinary history of Japan and ancient Rome, and the much-maligned mysteries of MSG.

It also hooks into the wave of grassroots interest in the taste (as expressed by a number of bloggers) while doing an admirable job of advocating restraint to those who would cook for sheer unrestrained umami impact:

The interplay of taste, aroma, texture, and visual appeal is irreducible. Umami is just one instrument in the orchestra; it sounds lousy in solos but improves the rest of the orchestra. Understanding how an oboe enriches a symphony is important knowledge for any composer, but it would be absurd to choose your music based on minutes of oboe time.

An enjoyable and informative story, to be sure—but it dodges what may be the most important fifth-taste mystery of them all: why umami causes dogs to eat absolutely terrible things.

I Heart Chattanooga

O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
    —William Shakespeare


Energized from yesterday’s change of heart, I kicked into high gear. Today was quite a ride. I can’t believe I did all the following in one day … but I did. It’s a testament to the chowconnaissance strategy of taking only tiny bites, painful though it is when food’s this good.

After yesterday’s hesitant forays, I decided to blast completely out of downtown and just drive and drive, pursuing serendipitous treasure—exactly what I’m always urging everyone else to do! I headed in the opposite direction of yesterday’s trajectory, but only now realize that I actually wound up quite near where I had last night’s dinner. The nabe has a magnetic allure. Sometimes it’s like that.

To get to the magical part of Chattanooga, one must pass through what I’ve dubbed “The Tunnel of Love”—a cleansing, purifying tunnel that strips away all downtown karma and empowers you to find gem after gem. I’m not sure I could find this magical tunnel again, but here is a photo:

I passed Wally’s Restaurant (6521 Ringgold Road, Chattanooga, Tennessee; 423-899-6151), an ancient spot that seemed preserved in amber, and it was love. Wally’s is love.

See photos of my lunch, below. Or perhaps it was supper. Or dinner. Who knows what they call lunch around here—I can’t keep track. Wally’s kitchen is much less weary than Bea’s, though it’s apples and oranges, as this is a restaurant, rather than a lazy-Susan joint.

I asked if the chicken with dressing was roasted or baked, and was told, “Boiled.” That’s apparently a regional style, and it works surprisingly well. There were tons of sage in the dressing, like in TV-dinner stuffing … only it was good. Turnip greens were soft and lovely; peach cobbler had some soul. A Great Chowhounding Moment: The waitress informed me that I could have three vegetables, and PEACH COBBLER COUNTS AS A VEGETABLE!

This muffin had a greater concentration of lard than any single food item I’ve ever come across. Bravo, Wally’s. Bravo!

“Green early peas” (tasted pretty much like peas).

Peach cobbler having counted as a vegetable, I felt justified in ordering dessert. The pecan pie doesn’t look so great—chintzy with the pecans and desperately crying out for some lard in the crust, à la the corn muffins. But the sweet, gooey body was deep and engrossing.

Click along with me, won’t you, every day for the rest of your life, to see what meats and vegetables Wally’s is serving today.

In conclusion, Wally’s isn’t a great place—I could imagine returning to Chattanooga without dining here. But it’s great, in its way, just for being goooood. This is straight-down-the-middle unaffected Southern diner food backed by long tradition. And I needed that.

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Note: If the following bores you, do not by any means fail to scroll down for life-changing barbecue discoveries (complete with leering photos) and an account of dinner at what may be the country’s upscale restaurant most deserving of wider recognition.

The smooth, very sagey dressing at Wally’s reminded me of TV-dinner stuffing. And the slightly bland fried chicken at Bea’s (see installment #24) reminded me of Banquet chicken dinners. And Bea’s coleslaw resembled the slaw at KFC. And this got me thinking.

As I plunge into lesser-known foodways, I often spot signs of the earlier passage of American food executives decades earlier, sort of like Stanley following in the footsteps of Livingston. They’ve trod this trail with very different intent: to shake down cultures for recipes to bland out, adapt, and reformulate into the highly processed junk that’s filled American supermarket shelves for the past few generations.

Yes, iconic mass-market foods have roots. Who knew? Those insipid orange wafer cookies are based on a traditional Bosnian recipe that’s actually full of character. Cheez Doodles have roots in Brazil. Ring Dings are dumbed-down Peruvian alfajores. I never understood the barbecue connection of barbecue-flavored potato chips until I tried Memphis dry-rub barbecue.

Similarly, Banquet fried chicken is a reductio ad blandum of the chicken served at places like Bea’s, and Swanson sagey stuffing rips off places like Wally’s. The food execs covered the world, but they also drew from the American heartland. As a result, things like modest, sincere fried chicken and sagey dressing became caricatured to the point where outsiders tasting the original source materials mentally associate them with the mass-market junk foods they superficially resemble. Come eat down here, and you might assume the local cuisine has gone to hell.

But eat carefully, and you’ll see how the original is classier. The fried chicken at Bea’s may have tasted like Banquet fried chicken, but it wasn’t lifeless. And the coleslaw didn’t flatline like KFC’s. Same for Wally’s stuffing. The difference is soul.

Charlie Parker is considered one of the great geniuses of jazz, a saxophonist who developed an entirely new approach to music out of thin air. When I was young, I heard a profusion of lousy Charlie Parker imitators, and never cared for them. When I finally heard Parker’s recordings, I disliked him, because he sounded so much like the hacks who came after.

I’m not saying this style of cooking is as brilliant as Charlie Parker. But it chronologically predates and spiritually surpasses the dreck that came later. So it’s necessary to dump bad associations to appreciate it properly.

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This was such an intense day that lack of space compels me to give short shrift to some stunning barbecue in places right near each other on a strip I think of as Barbecue Alley.

Forgive me, Bob Garner, but the chopped pork BBQ at Old Plantation Barbecue (1515 Dodson Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee; 423-624-8105) is light years beyond anything served in North Carolina. And the ribs are heavenly. And the guys working there are kindhearted. And you kind of don’t ever need to seek further, because this is the barbecue you’ve always dreamed of, in a small roadside take-out shack. Let’s go directly to the snapshots, which say it all.

But seek further I did, ‘cuz it’s my job. Thus I found Sunset Inn (964 Dodson Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee; 423-629-9240), a cocktail lounge/restaurant that’s got to be wildly fun at night. I arrived in midday, and while the owner was nowhere near as friendly as the guys at Plantation, his barbecuing prowess earns him all the aloof gravitas in the world.

The Sunset Inn guy is a true master, who achieves a textbook rosy glow in the meat via immaculate smoking. Meat is tender but nowhere near overcooked (“falling off the bone” is not the goal of true ‘cue), and the sauce fits like a glove.

Note: I’m raving about Sunset Inn’s ribs. Their chopped barbecue is sort of a mushy mess. But with ribs such as these, nothing else really matters.

Another titan can be found in a parking lot next to the car wash at 2218 McCallie Avenue, operating the massive Ms. Tina’s Hot Meals on Wheels truck and its adjoining blue tent. I found no trace of Ms. Tina, just a shaved-headed guy making superb ribs.

These were great ribs, with all the fatty juicy crunchy meatiness one could ask for. They’re the sort of ribs that make you nod your head in admiration. My only quibble is strictly a matter of personal taste: I found the meat just slightly oversmoked. But the smoke level nonetheless falls easily within the boundaries of great and proper barbecue.

This guy, whom I think of as Mr. Tina, will soon open a late-night full-service barbecue joint and music café just up the block. In the following photo, notice the workmen congregated in front of the brown house on the left. That’s the spot.

Plantation’s barbecue was at the other side of the spectrum, slightly mild in the smoking (though smoke’s definitely in there). In both cases, I’m quite sure the result is exactly what’s being aimed for, but Sunset Inn seems to strike an ideal middle ground. All three are killer, though, and unforgettable ‘cue tourism could be enjoyed by spending a weekend in the neighborhood shuttling between all three venues—and discovering still more outlets, ripe for the picking thereabouts.

In that same nabe, I had charming barbecue from some itinerant ladies cooking in a parking lot at the corner of Dodson Avenue at McCallie Avenue. Their sauce is strictly commercial, and, horrors, they grill hot (with Kingsford charcoal briquets), rather than smoke—a sacrilege that would make some declare this not real barbecue. But the proof’s in the eating, and to sample their work leaves no doubt of its genuineness. These ladies have barbecue so deeply in their bones that they could probably produce something tasty over a couple of cans of Sterno. Score one for transcendence of the material plane.

I took this shot—

—as a self-reminder to follow up on the tip, but I never did make it out there. If you ever try Tony’s Lounge and Blues Spot (I like the sound of it), please report back on the South message board!

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I was hoping for dessert, and the gods of chowhounding yielded forth a sign for Cake Lady (1414 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee; 423-624-0505), a name impossible to resist.

The Cake Lady sells as a concession within a deli, and it’s not a real fancy place. And the cake looks like nothing special, either.

But her baking is first rate. The luscious strawberry cake, with good cream cheese frosting, especially impressed me with its unprepossessing plainness. The frosting wasn’t dyed red to make it look more strawberryish, and the result is as plain and greyish in appearance as it is resplendent in flavor.

This homely looking cake sells purely on its deliciousness. I was so moved by this (and by her stocking of both Miss Vickie’s and Zapp’s potato chips) that I did something I only rarely do cold with strangers: I hit up the Cake Lady for chow tips.

She offered some half-hearted suggestions in the Chattanooga area, so I pushed her for suggestions further afield. Finally, she coughed up the pearl I’d hoped for: Canyon Grill. Up a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Expensive but worth it. All cooking done with incredible care and skill. I booked a reservation for that very night—late, to give me time to try to digest all the barbecue and cake and everything.

Canyon Grill (28 Scenic Highway, Rising Fawn, Georgia; 706-398-9510) is perched atop a mountain in rural Georgia. A generic freeway provides fast access from Chattanooga, but I opted for the scenic route, driving out of town via Broad Street to the base of Lookout Mountain (note: Right there is an interesting-looking Thai restaurant, plus a joint advertising “brownies and barbecue” that I can’t believe I didn’t try). From there, it’s a series of switchbacks and long, slow climbs—a hunger-building drive through fresh air and gorgeous scenery. There doesn’t seem to be much exciting going on on Lookout Mountain (exception: a hang-gliding academy perched on a cliff), but the ride sets you up perfectly for a remarkable dining experience.

Canyon Grill is something of a miracle, seamlessly integrating seemingly contrary factors. Food, service, and décor are the essence of sophistication, yet the result somehow feels perfectly natural atop a mountain in rural Georgia. There’s zero pretension in a place that depends on diners to travel far and pay dearly. This is no capsule of aloof elegance planted rakishly in the middle of nowhere for the gentry to coo over. Rather, it fits in with its surroundings—a tough task for a refined venue atop a mountain in Rising Fawn, Georgia.

Décor is urbane, background music is swanky, service is solicitous, and food is refined, but the result is utterly unself-conscious, as if the operation had just sprung up organically. Make no mistake: This isn’t just a local joint of unusual quality. Canyon Grill is a top-drawer destination restaurant deserving coverage in glossy food magazines.

I suppose the best way to describe the place is “honest”—talented, unprepossessing folks serving food they believe in … and leaving it at that, with none of the self-consciousness or posing that afflicts so many other ambitious eateries. The menu includes ordinary-sounding items, but while nothing’s prissy, this isn’t vernacular cooking. The touches are far too subtle, the ingredients far too carefully chosen (chef Johnny Holland is a sourcing maniac).

It’s like when folks move into some incredibly rural area and build a luxury house, but take great care to ensure that it fits harmoniously into the surroundings. That’s what the food tastes like. Respectful but staunchly personal—and kick-ass delicious.

I wanted to order something grilled (the restaurant’s founder invented the fancy wood-burning Smokey Mountain Grill, which can be bought at the restaurant for several thousand dollars), and they’re equally proud of their fish, so I ordered a seafood platter of intense and pristine hickory-grilled wild Gulf shrimp with lemon butter; rich, luscious fried Gulf oysters; and fried catfish that spoke volumes of poetic subtext without resorting to clever touches. And, at last: great mashed potatoes from what apparently is the last kitchen in the South that hasn’t gone over to the dark side (i.e., instant).

I can now say that at least once in my life I had perfect strawberry shortcake.

The meal was unforgettable; definitely worth the hour ride from Chattanooga, likely worth the two-hour trip from Atlanta, and quite possibly worth a pilgrimmage from NYC. I suppose I’d be rash, after one visit, to suggest that this is one of America’s finest undiscovered (on a national level) restaurants. But I’m tempted. Canyon Grill seems to have received no national press, yet it offers everything one could hope from high-end dining: meticulous care, unfailing deliciousness (maybe I got lucky, but not one bite, including bread, was less than sublime), deft personal touch, impeccable ingredients, beautiful yet comfortable surroundings, and even a BYO wine policy.

While the $40 price tag (before tax and tip) is stratospheric for the area, it was a superb value. I’m smitten, and encourage you to go and get smitten yourself.

After dinner, I slipped into a backwoods benefit for a local fire department, and shot a short, grainy, claustrophobic video attempting to convey my profound disorientation: Movie file

Chattanooga Redux

On my first day in Chattanooga, I noticed that the water in my hotel tasted funny. Three days later, I’ve figured it out: It tastes like catfish. And now I can’t get enough of it.

I clearly ought to quit while I’m ahead, because I’ll never surpass today’s finds. So tomorrow I head west.

Great Moments in Beef

Great Moments in Beef

From cave paintings to burgers, beef has long been a part of human history. READ MORE