We receive stuff like the egg beater frequently. And it's interesting to see which of these products ends up being covered by the competition. Someone sent in a sampler of gourmet salsas a while back, and I'm guessing they must've sent them to every rag in Phoenix because they ended up getting covered by one. As a result, I periodically imagine my fellow food writers sitting on their well-fed haunches, waiting for the mail and pouncing on the first new kitchen utensil that comes their way.
On the other hand, I do like getting restaurant recommendations, because you never know where the next great meal will come from. Currently, I'm looking for a restaurant that serves a wide variety of game, not just venison. I'd also like to find a place that prepares baked Alaska. If any readers, eatery owners, or even PR flacks out there have suggestions for me, fire away! But be specific to the request, as there are always people who want to, uh, tell me where to go. Heh-heh.
This week's review was not a suggestion, just a place I'd passed half a dozen times on my treks into west Phoenix. Indeed, Restaurant Takamatsu, which offers both Japanese and Korean comestibles, has been at its current location for nine years, and its sister spot in Chandler has snagged New Times Best of Phoenix awards previously. But the Takamatsu in the avenues has been overlooked. That's odd considering the quality of its food and the fact that Korean athletes such as wunderkind golf pro Michelle Wie eat there when in town.
It's a cool-looking place inside and out, having been renovated a couple of times since it opened. The exterior façade is eye-catching, constructed of blond plank wood. Perhaps this is inspired by the establishment's name, which means "tall pines" in Japanese. Owner James Park is Korean, and he has another restaurant in San Diego. Both the Chandler location and one in Tucson are operated by Park's cousin.
Takamatsu's interior consists of two big rooms. Both are hung with autographed photos and mementos from Korean baseball players, including a jersey from Chan Ho Park, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers and now of the Texas Rangers. About half the tables are outfitted for Korean barbecue, with gleaming steel chimneys overhead. In the first room, to the left of the entrance, is a small sushi bar where sushi chef Paul Kim plies his trade. The second room in the back is the restaurant's smoking section.
The menu is so extensive that I decided to stay away from the Korean barbecue for a change and stick mainly to non-barbecue items. Overall, the sushi was pretty good, especially the nigiri sushi, of which I tried and enjoyed the tuna, salmon, mackerel, shrimp and yellowtail. As for rolls, only the California roll seemed bereft of flavor. The house rolls were tasty enough, though, especially the D-Backs and Dunlap rolls. The D-Backs roll was shaped like a snake, with freshwater eel on top, and crab, avocado and cucumber inside -- all basted in a sweet brown sauce. The Dunlap roll was a colorful arrangement of tuna, salmon, crab, avocado and cucumber, wrapped in rice and sprinkled with bright orange smelt roe.
Three other non-barbecue items I was fond of were the seaweed and squid salads, and the gyoza. The squid salad consisted mostly of marinated squid slices and vinegary, julienned daikon; the seaweed salad was a mixture of seaweed and noodlelike bits of seaweed gelatin. I found both of these pre-meal medleys to be light, cold and refreshing. The gyoza were equally scrumptious, even though they were deep-fried, instead of the light frying they usually receive at full-on Japanese restaurants.
Restaurant Takamatsu offers a wild array of authentic Korean items such as the gop chang jun gol "hot and spicy intestine casserole," which I'm looking forward to attempting on a future visit. For entrees this time around, I went with the kimchee dolsot bibim bap and the kimchee jae yook bokkeum. The first was a classic bibim bap, with rice, veggies, kimchee, and bits of beef, topped by a fried egg. It came in one of those hot, black stone bowls that never seems to cool down, so take care. At the bottom is a crispy layer of rice cooked brown by the bowl. It takes some work to get it off the stone, but it's worth the sweat. Reminds me of the crunchy rice so popular at Persian restaurants.
The second item is a stir-fry of kimchee with fatty pork and scallions. Here the kimchee, warm from the hot oil and the stir-fry, wiggles down the throat like a spicy patty of melting butter. This kimchee jae yook bokkeum (say that three times fast) is actually listed under the side orders, and comes in two sizes, large and small. But along with some rice and the half-dozen panchan (little bowls of pickled veggies) that come with most orders, the small portion is more than enough for one.
I'm guessing the gae jung, or raw blue crab in spicy sauce, is an acquired taste. I liked the actual meat of the crab, but you have to dig your way through too much of that chili paste to get any pleasure out of it. The haemul pa jun (seafood pancake) was surprisingly disheartening, as I've had much better Korean pancakes elsewhere. This one was far too thick with batter, and tasted quite bland.
Still, on the whole, Restaurant Takamatsu has found a new fan in me. Now if only someone will tell me where to slake my craving for game, I'll be one happy restaurant reviewer.