Tokyo Takeover: Bird Land

Bird Land is a Michelin starred yakitori joint that only serves chicken skewers.

Yes, you read that correctly.

It seems impossible that eight courses of chicken could be delicious and not intensely boring but I'm not one to argue (much) with the Guide Michelin and I was looking for a tasting menu that wouldn't be too seafood heavy which can be pretty tricky in Japan. Lara looked at me a bit incredulously when I told her I had made reservations somewhere focused entirely on chicken but even without seafood there were still parts of the menu to push her (and me) slightly out of the comfort zones.

Chicken Skewer Birdland, Tokyo, Japan

I'll admit, even though I like the idea of nose to tail dining, our first course was a little hard. Gizzard in gelee and skin that was more chewy than crispy wasn't quite what I was immediately prepared for. Lara had agreed to trying liver courses before the meal started but after the server noticed she hadn't finished her gizzard, he checked in again and she changed her mind. I imagine this happens often with foreigners less accustomed to eating innards than is the norm in this part of the world.

The next course for me was an extremely buttery small block of chicken liver pate and toast. I love chicken liver mousse and this was probably one of the richest I've ever tasted without being overwhelming, I even convinced Lara to eat some and while I still haven't quite won her over to pate, even she had to admit it was exceptionally creamy.

Our first skewer came with, still a bit pink in the middle with dabs of a basil heavy herb mix. As simple as it seemed, the flavors were complex and the chicken was excellent. Later in the evening we saw an American couple across the kitchen sending back their skewers because they weren't cooked enough. Just eat them slightly pink in the middle, it's delicious and I think if a Michelin starred restaurant were giving people salmonella, we'd hear about it.

Chicken Skewer with Fresh Wasabi. Birdland, Tokyo, Japan

"Are they making real wasabi?!" Lara asked me, watching the cooks grate and pinch.

"It looks like it"

Our skewer is once again deceptively simple in appearance.

"I thought I didn't like wasabi but it turns out I don't like American dyed horseradish, this is delicious!"

I nod my head in agreement. Fresh wasabi on everything please.

At the beginning of the evening, I certainly could not have predicted that possibly my favorite course would be a silky smooth house made tofu drizzled with a grassy olive oil and garnished with cracked black pepper and the world's smallest yet most flavorful tomato. I have no idea how so much flavor was packed into a tomato smaller than a penny but what initially seemed like a ludicrously small fruit for this play on caprese turned out to be just enough.

After this I get a whole skewer of livers and even though I love chicken liver mousse and the livers on this skewer are, like the mousse earlier, quite mild and buttery, by the time I'm finished I've reached my limit on liver for the evening.

For Lara, the liver courses are replaced with other chicken pieces you can order from the a la carte menu that aren't on the tasting menu. Some of them are bigger hits than others which is also true of our other skewers at this point in the meal. We have chicken oysters (a cut often abandoned with the spine), mushrooms, sansho sprinkled thighs and even cheese grilled right on the skewer that leaves us trying not to make a gigantic stretchy cheese covered mess as we bite it off. The chicken is always delicious and medium rare but some dishes have us reaching for the togarashi more than others (which maybe is the point). It seems like it will never end but eventually there's a break.

Before dessert our server asks if we'd like to order anything else and we briefly debate ordering another round of wasabi skewers but eight skewers and a few other courses later, we're actually pretty full. For desserts we order one each of the two puddings. Lara's flan is slightly overcooked but otherwise enjoyable. My rose and pistachio rice pudding is completely different than I expected, having a more western rice pudding or sweet porridge in mind. Instead it's completely smooth and firmer than the tofu we had had earlier. I assume it was made of rice starch and was almost like eating a mochi custard or a room temperature version of Turkish dondurma. It is fantastic.

There are of course plenty of cheaper places to get mountains of (much weirder) skewers in Tokyo but if you're looking for grilled meat somewhere that can be a little more accessible to foreigners than your typical smoke filled yakitori joint, I think Bird Land is a great option. The longer tasting menu costs 8,400JPY (approx US$75) and you will leave more full of chicken than you ever thought possible.

Bird Land Ginza is located at Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo, Ginza, 4 Chome, 2−15 塚本 素 山 ビル B1F‎ (inside Ginza Station next to Sukiyabashi Jiro). You can find out more information and make reservations through their website.


Parc Hannam-dong Seoul

Parc in Hannam-dong describes itself as "Korean Mother's Recipes and More". I tend to describe park as "modern Korean". But I think maybe the better way to describe Parc would be "Korean slow food". With it's adorably illustrated "know your namul" place mats, changing menu and focus on quality of ingredients it definitely has a Korean meets California Cuisine vibe.

Parc has a set menu that seems to usually have one seafood and one meat option which comes with rice, banchon and the soup of the day. The current menu is often posted on their Facebook page but only sometimes in English (don't worry, there are English language menus available when you get there). You can also add on sides, but the sides are almost as big as the main dishes so I would recommend splitting one between two or more people since the set menu itself is quite filling (in the above picture we did not follow this advice and ordered one side each which was way too much food but delicious).

When I went there was an option described as "chicken braised in soy sauce" and a squid option. I went with the chicken option and added a side of japchae (glass noodles and stir fried vegetables) and Ashley got the squid and a side of the jellyfish salad. I chose black rice for my dish and was surprised when my tray came with a pat of butter which the waitress instructed me to place on my rice and let melt a bit before mixing my rice into my bowl with the chicken, sweet potato, soft egg and greens. My unconventional bibimbap was nothing like I expected my dish to be. To be honest, I was really happy because soy sauce braised chicken sounds kind of boring and one note and this dish was anything but. The chicken dish had a mildy sweet soy based sauce with a hint of cinnamon. The addition of fresh greens to the bowl kept it from feeling too wintery and we all know I'm a sucker for anything with an egg on it. Each banchon (small side dish) had a unique taste and overall I would say it was much fresher and much subtler in flavor that most of the Korean cuisine I've had (with the exception of Sanchon).

My japchae had a lot of vegetable mixed in and was delicious but I barely put a dent in it because the chicken bowl, rice and soup were already a pretty solid amount of food. However, the jellyfish salad was the true star of the sides. Cool jellyfish mixed with cucumber, red peppers and just a touch of wasabi was the Summer salad I didn't know I had been looking for.

Located next to Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Parc is a great choice for a lunch or dinner to add on to a modern art excursion. Or, if like me, you live a seven minute walk away, for anytime you want Korean cuisine with a twist. As well as having lunch every day, they're also one of the few places in the area that serve food until midnight on the weekends (last order 11:00pm).

Parc is located at 734-1 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul on a side street between Itaewon-ro and Leeum Museum. Come out Hangajin Station exit 3, walk straight on Itaewon-ro and turn right at the road between the Audi showroom and Trevia restaurant. Continue up the short road and cross the street running perpendicular continuing on the road that's uphill and slightly to the right. Parc will be on your left.

Maddux Pizza

Pepperoni Slice at Maddux in Itaewon Seoul

Remember that time I wrote about the different horrifically bad nachos I've paid too much money for in Seoul? I could write a similar story about pizza. It would involve the time when Dan and I had just got here and we thought "tortilla pizza" was maybe just a weird translation for "thin crust". It's not. It's also terrible and very popular among young Koreans. The next part would be about the time we went to Monster Pizza after seeing several New York sized pies and slices that smelled divine being eaten in front of the Bottle Shop, only to discover that the pizza is cooked on a giant version of those weird conveyer belt toasters they have at delis and breakfast buffets, ensuring the crust is always extremely pale and dough-y. The former shining star in our pizza excursions was Brick Oven New York Pizzeria in Gangnam. It's a bit expensive but quite good. Also, they use deck ovens, not brick ovens, which is the right choice for New York style pizza but maybe they should reconsider their name?

Maddux Pizza opened in Itaewon in May but I didn't get around to trying it until a few weeks ago. The pizza is cooked in a proper deck oven and it's actually cooked long enough for both the crust and the pepperoni to reach ideal crispiness. Like a true slice joint they don't have a whole lot in the way of flavors which is fine with me since I usually want pepperoni or a plain slice anyways. I have branched out once to the artichoke slice which is a little too creamy and decadent for me to eat all the time. If you're interested in trying the artichoke, I definitely recommend splitting it with somebody, it's good but intense.

Probably the main difference between Maddux and your neighborhood pizza place in New York is the $4.00 price point for a plain slice and the fact that they don't deliver, but non-Korean food is always marked up here and I know getting cheese that isn't plastic-y is expensive so I don't mind the slightly higher price. As for the delivery? Fingers crossed they're on Bird Riders or Y-not soon, I'd much rather have it than the mediocre pizza we usually order when we're too lazy to cook or go out.

Maddux Pizza is located at 129-9 Itaewon-dong. From Iteawon Station exit 4, walk south on Bogwang-ro and take the first right, go down the slight hill and take the first left. Continue down this smaller street a ways and Maddux Pizza will be on your right.

Update: When I was ordering delivery tonight I noticed Maddux is now available through Bird Riders .  WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOO!

Left Coast Brunch

Left Coat Burgers Breakfast Sandwich Itaewon Seoul

Like most people that have spent, well, any time in New York and hungover, I believe the bacon, egg and cheese available for purchase at your closest bodega to be the holy grail of hangover foods. So when I got back from California a few weeks ago and stumbled in to Left Coast Burgers for brunch, not hungover but extremely jet-lagged (basically the same feeling, amirite?) I was super happy to see that they'd added a breakfast sandwich to their recent brunch expansion. The Left Coast breakfast sandwich has the requisite bacon, egg and cheese PLUS avocado, tater tots smashed into a crispy "tot-brown", mayonnaise and their house hot sauce that I absolutely ADORE. Also, some tomatoes and lettuce, but I could take or leave those, honestly. Even though Left Coast's breakfast sandwich is an "elevated" bacon, egg and cheese, it does a great job of upgrading your eating experience without being pretentious. I'm not saying I don't like a poached egg on a croissant with chevre and arugula as much as the next girl, I'm just saying that sometimes I'm really just looking to stuff my face with some extremely not fancy tater tots soaked with egg yolks and hot sauce.

breakfast burrito Left Coast Burgers Itaewon

I mentioned that I'm in love with the house hot sauce, right? When Left Coast first rolled out their brunch offerings a month and a half or so ago, the breakfast burrito was my immediate go-to. Fluffy scrambled eggs, chorizo that is spicy and legitimately chorizo instead of suprise, sweet Korean sausage, cheese, pico de gallo and, yes, more tater tots. I'm pretty sure this is the thing for which the smoky, Mexican influenced house hot sauce was actually developed, and I'm happy to dose my burrito liberally. Both the burrito and breakfast sandwich are served with a side of roasted potatoes and onions that are also pretty spicy with a lovely contrasting sweetness from the caramelized onions. Between the breakfast burrito and the breakfast sandwich, both the Californian and New Yorker parts of me are extremely happy with the brunch menu but if those don't suit your fancy, there is actually even more deliciousness to be had.

Chicken fried steak with white gravy Left Coast Burgers Itaewon Seoul

Yes my friends, that is a giant chicken fried steak with white gravy and mashed potatoes. I haven't ordered this as many times but it's not because it's not just as good it's just SO MUCH that for me it's more of a once in a while brunch food. The breading on the steak is crunchy, well seasoned and absolutely perfectly fried. Dan objects to their being mashed potatoes on a breakfast plate with chicken fried steak and I mostly think the serving is so huge they're not really necessary but also, I'll never say no to mashed potatoes. If you're missing home, this plate is the ultimate plate of American comfort food.

Blueberry pancake Left Coast Burgers Itaewon Seoul

With sweet, crunchy crumb topping, blueberry sauce and whipped cream, I think the blueberry pancake is for somebody with more of a sweet tooth than I happen to have. The pancake itself is literally bigger than my face and heavily studded with tasty blueberries. Fluffy and well griddled, the pancake itself was delicious but for me, the toppings are a little too much, I'd rather just have butter and maple syrup. But if you're somebody who likes to have brunch as an excuse to eat cake for breakfast, this is definitely something you're going to want to try.

Full disclosure: I'm pretty sure this picture was taken at dinner time but it's worth noting that Left Coast has most of it's burgers and a fair number of appetizers (like these out of control totchos) available on the brunch menu too. My burger of choice is the John Wayne which has cheddar, crispy onion rings and tangy barbecue sauce because I'm a cowboy like that.

 Left Coast Burgers serves brunch Saturday and Sunday starting at 11:30. Along with their website you can also keep up with new menu items and monthly specials on  Facebook

They're located at 130-43 Itaewon-dong about one and a half blocks south of Itaewon Station exit 4.