Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (due out Oct. 4), we'll be counting down, in no particular order, 100 of our favorite dishes.
77: Agedashi Tofu at Izakaya Bincho.
At Izakaya Bincho, a cubbyhole of a restaurant hidden along the boardwalk Redondo Beach Pie, chef Tomo Ueno might have been best known for his skewers of charcoal-grilled chicken yakitori: plump meatballs bursting with schmaltz, slices of heart glazed with sauce, cubes of breast dotted with plum paste and shiso. At some point though, the plumes of smoke wafting from his grill upset a next door neighbor and Tomo-san's epic grilling was struck down by the iron fist of the county heath board. The restaurant's regulars shed tears as brackish as the Japanese rock salt used to season the meat.
There was a silver lining though: Tomo-san could whip up an impeccable agedashi tofu, a delicate dish often overlooked at Japanese izakayas, which are often known better for smoky skewers of meat, fried snacks, and pitchers of beer rimmed with ice.
Every batch is made to order: a few pale cubes of silken tofu lightly dusted with batter and fried until they're surrounded by crisp golden shells. A ladle of slighty-sweet dashi broth, complex in flavor and intensely comforting, is poured over the top. There is a handful of snowy shaved mountain yam, dried seaweed and diced green onion sprinkled on top. The tofu spills out like boiling hot custard. The outer edges have the oily crunch of the best tempura you've ever had.
For the past three years during the great yakitori drought, Izakaya Bincho seemed to survive on the glory of its agedashi. Now, with a new ventilation system in place, the yakitori has returned and all is well with the world. You can have your tofu — and eat it too.
Check out the rest of our 100 of our favorite dishes. Suggestion? Write us a comment.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @searchanddevour.