Thursday, December 6, 2012

Yakitori Jinbei - Atlanta


Monday evening in Atlanta and I was craving kushiyaki, more specifically chicken skin kushiyaki. Ah, chicken skin, the oh so maligned part of the chicken anatomy that ranks near the oyster as my favorite. To think of the countess Americans that buy boneless skinless chicken breast and deprive themselves of that hard earned flavor, but I digress. Unfortunately, both Jennifer and I’s favorite Atlanta kushiyaki vendor, Shoya Izakaya, is closed on Mondays and with our last visit to Miso Izakaya ending lukewarm at best, we were at a loss about where to go. Through either a stroke of fortuitous googling or a sudden jolt of memory, Jennifer told me to look up Yakitori Jinbei. Quickly concurring, we were soon on our way to Smyrna and the little strip mall that Yakitori Jinbei calls home.


As is the case with Jennifer and I at nearly any Asian meal, this one began with a few dumplings.
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Served five to an order, these were sizeable albeit pricy gyoza.
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A delightful starchy char on the bottom is always a welcome sight.
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With a big, juicy pork, scallion, and ginger filling, the gyoza were simple yet satisfying.

Before the first dumpling was finished, the first round of kushiyaki arrived.
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Coated in sweet and smoky tare, this yakitori and negima looked the part.
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By itself, the chicken yakitori was little more than juicy thigh meat with a lacquered layer of tare. Surprisingly closer to underdone than over, this yakitori ticked the right boxes.
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This was the first time I had seen chicken and green onion labeled as negima kushiyaki,
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but even with a deeply charred onion, there was a welcome green punch to the sweetness and char of the chicken.

Following the lead of the myriad Atlanta food bloggers before me, I made sure to order the tonkotsu ramen.
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I may have read recipes and descriptions, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what was brought to me. Topped with sesame seeds, roasted pork, bamboo shoots, and seaweed, this pork bone ramen was a fat speckled, silky epiphany.
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I may be treading dangerously close (or jumping headfirst) to hyperbole, but this was a new benchmark in soup.  The noodles were just the right amount of chewy, the broth was fatty and creamy, so very creamy, and the texture was nigh impossible to resist. In fact the only oddity to the dish was the roasted pork.
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While the pork was undeniably sweet and nutty, I couldn’t figure out why it was served cold on top of a piping hot bowl of ramen broth.

As sinful as the tonkotsu ramen may have been, kushiyaki waits for no man.
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Featuring of a fair chunk of Yakitori Jinbei’s yakitori menu, this plate was loaded with all manner of binchotan grilled and tare glazed treats.

Though I’ll sometimes see beef tongue on a yakitori menu, this was my first time seeing gyukushi.
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Which cut of beef is gyukushi? I’m still not quite sure.
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However, after one bite, the cut was inconsequential. These were thick slabs of mercilessly overcooked beef that were frankly a waste of good meat regardless of how much tare was applied.

Next in line was a chicken meatball or tsukune.
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Much like the yakitori and negima, this chicken skewer was well seared and quite juicy with a meaty texture.

In contrast to the chicken meatball was the shiitake awaseyaki or chicken stuffed shiitake.
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The meat had a more uneven and handmade look to it, but I couldn’t help but wonder were the mushroom was.
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Comically small, the flavor of the mushroom in the skewer was subtle at best especially when compared to the dense flavor and texture of the chicken stuffing.

Always on the hunt for well cooked liver, I had high hopes for the chicken liver or tori liver.
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Sadly, like the gyukushi beef, no amount of tare could mask the horrendous taste and texture of this liver. As best I can describe, this liver tasted like the cardboard textured gum you would get in baseball cards in the early 90s but dipped in tare.

Grasping for fatty salvation, I moved on to the chicken skin or torikawa.
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Lacking the sublime crunch of the Shoya Izakaya version, this chicken skin kushiyaki wasn’t quite up to par.
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That being said, there was still an ample amount of that crunchy, crispy edge and fatty interior that has made this one of my favorite kushiyaki skewers. If only every skewer could balance crisp edges, rich chicken flavor, and a heavy tare sweetness this well.

Standing on its own as the lone cephalopod, the squid or ikakushi was an interesting choice.
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Large, chewy, and meaty, this squid wasn’t too shabby.

Nearing the end, the butabara pork was one of two skewers that I ordered salt only.
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Was skipping the tare a good choice with the butabara? If you don’t enjoy the simple flavor of pork then no tare was a poor choice, but for me, I was delighted by the lightly charred pork as it was porky, moist, and packed just the right level of salinity.

To wrap things up, the final skewer out of the Yakitori Jinbei kitchen was a grilled shrimp or ebikushi.
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Sticking to the salt only ending, this shrimp had a well charred and very salty shell. As for the inside, it may have had a decent flavor but there was no denying it was completely overcooked.

If there was anything I could take away from the first meal at Yakitori Jinbei, it’s that the title of 2010 best ramen in Atlanta from Creative Loafing was more than deserved. For this to be my first proper bowl of tonkotsu ramen, I fear that I may have started down a long path of obsession and my bite of shoyu ramen was no slouch either. Sadly, as I could gush for paragraph after paragraph about the tonkotsu ramen, it was more of a mixed bag with the kushiyaki. While every skewer involving chicken, save the liver, was exemplary, the poor textures of the liver, beef, and shrimp squandered nearly every bit of goodwill the chicken had earned. What it comes down to is that I would, without hesitation, drive across town and maybe even across a state or two for more of that tonkotsu ramen, but the kushiyaki is a different story.

Yakitori Jinbei Address & Information
Yakitori Jinbei on Urbanspoon

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