Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yuki Izakaya - New Orleans


For the past few months I’ve been nurturing, what can be kindly referred to as, a serious interest in exploring Japanese cuisine. What exactly does that mean? Well aside from the almost weekly visits to my favorite, local sushi bars, there’s been a bit more exploration at home. It all started out so simply, with a little bit of dashi. Following the always sound advice of Alton Brown, I was soon in possession of nearly two quarts of superb miso soup, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. What followed were first cracks at homemade shabu shabu, sukiyaki, katsudon and even homemade roux for Japanese curry.

Of course this revitalized obsession wasn’t limited to home exploits and a few California rolls for lunch. Okonomiyaki, takoyaki, onigiri, any standout from the average sushi menu, I couldn’t get enough of them. It even turned into a game of how many different ways could I get Sam to join me in another round of natto based treats (For anyone that has read Bourdain’s second book ACook’s Tour, natto is far from universally appealing). Naturally this new found appreciation for the relatively more eccentric Japanese cuisine led to a revitalized interest in the Izakaya. I say revitalized because I’ve been enjoying the food at Shoya Izakaya in Atlanta for a few years now, but it’s reached the point that when I’m on the road, the first thing I search for is a local izakaya. Being in the south, I’m disappointed more often than not, but there was a beacon of hope the last time I was planned a trip to New Orleans.

After schlepping through the dying embers of the quarter fest and making it to Frenchmen Street, I saw a white sign with kanji script and the word YUKI beneath. Stepping inside, I secured a table in the small dining section and, with beer in hand, took in my surroundings.
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Asahi black, not quite as dark as a stout but a fast favorite.

In between watching a Godzilla movie that was projected on the far wall and listening to the offbeat but captivating band, I decided to delve headfirst into the Yuki Izakaya menu. As with so many Japanese meals, this one began with a little tofu.
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Agedashi tofu has quickly become a personal litmus test and Yuki’s version passed with flying colors. Well fried and not at all greasy, this tofu did have a rougher texture than I was expecting, but still satisfying.
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A sweet sauce and green onions rounded out the bowl as each bite of tofu was punctuated by the sweetness of a dashi based sauce and bright green onions.
With the takoyaki and chicken skin kushiyaki unavailable, the next place to turn was to the chicken yakitori.
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Deeply glazed and grilled dark meat chicken with a side of ground sansho pepper, it’s the next best thing to chicken skin kushiyaki.
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That’s not quite true. While this chicken may have been a bit juicy, it was also salty, very salty and overcooked. At least the sansho pepper added a pleasant lip tingling sensation.

From salty yakitori, the next dish out of the Yuki Izakaya was a sweet eel.
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I rarely encounter eel in such large portions and for good reason; this was almost too much eel to handle.
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Juicy and tender, char grilled crispiness on the edge with a creamy interior; the only thing that kept this eel grounded was a seemingly endless amount of tiny bones.

Next was a severely underrated cut of beef, tongue.
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Usually I’ll see beef tongue braised or roasted to the point where it will fall to pieces at the slightest breeze. This tongue was different, thick slices had been seasoned heavily with salt and grilled. What resulted was a fatty and chewy piece of muscle that was also brimming with delectable beef flavor. I would have preferred either thinner slices or a slower cooking time but, even with the chewiness, this beef tongue was superb.

When in doubt, you should look to an order of fried chicken or in this case karaage.
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Flavored with salt, ginger, and green onion, coated in starch and fried to a crisp, even with a taste of raw cornstarch here and there, this was fine fried chicken.
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The dipping sauces, chili garlic sauce and what tasted like lemon juice, seemed like an odd combination but it worked well with this chicken.

Since the meal began with a relatively healthy dose of fried tofu why not end with decidedly unhealthy French fries and mayo?
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A disappointing end to the meal at Yuki Izakaya, these were little more than Ore Ida crinkle cut fries. Granted they were crispy and well fried and the dusting of sichimi togarashi was a nice touch.
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Maybe Ore Ida fries wouldn’t get such a bad rap if they were this well cooked and came with a side of wasabi mayo. That little bit of nasal clearing mayo made these French fries pretty decent.

It’s hard to compare Yuki Izakaya to other Izakayas in the southeast. Stacked up to the gleaming space of Shoya Izakaya in Atlanta and its expansive menu, Yuki Izakaya doesn’t even come close. But that really seems to be missing the point. Yuki Izakaya truly is a place for drinks first and food second and when that atmosphere of Japanese B movies, local bands, and porno wallpaper in the bathroom come together on Frenchmen Street, Yuki makes perfect sense. So while I may miss the fluttering katsuobushi of an okonomiyaki, Yuki still serves up quality snack food and plenty of tasty sake, beer, and shoju, more than enough to warrant a walk to and from Canal.

Yuki Izakaya Address & Information
Yuki Izakaya on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

Jane said...

I don't like Japanese food but you might be interested in a sign I saw in front of the old Copeland's on Ridgewood - Friday Tuna. Supposedly it will offer, among other things, hibachi.

Cynical Cook said...

>Jane

-Thanks for that tip, I'll took a look the next time I pass that way.