As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite things about living just off Passyunk Avenue is the ability to step out of our house for a stroll, a bite to eat and/or a drink or three. During the warmer (but not too hot) months, we love taking our bulldog, Jewels, along on our jaunts. She loves it too for two reasons. First, we almost always stop at Doggie Style (it’s a pet store, folks) where she is doted upon and receives numerous treats. Second, she usually receives people food (and more attention) when we’re out to eat. Gee, this dog likes to eat. She’s obviously part of the family. One of our favorite places to visit is Izumi Restaurant on the corner of 11th and Passyunk. We love lingering over their maki and a glass of wine.
A few weeks ago, we set out to do just that and our plan was thwarted. We waited at the front door. Then we waited some more. Then we flagged down a waitress who told us she’d be right with us. It was around that point that my husband thought he saw Darren Daulton walking into the restaurant. Who knows. Then we waited some more. And some more. I was not pleased. My husband knew what was coming. The waitress finally came over and told us there would be a 20-30 minute wait (after asking if we wanted an inside or outside table. Duh, lady, we have our dog with us.) I let her know how I felt about that and walked away frustrated. My husband tried to put things into perspective on our walk back down the Avenue saying things like “maybe someone else was supposed to come in tonight but they died.” Who knows. Either way, it wasn’t about the wait for an outdoor table, it was about the wait to even be acknowledged. I may have mentioned this before, but I put some weight on being a neighborhood place. You have to put yourself out just a little bit more. Be a little friendlier.
Anyway. We went home and ordered some delicious take out from Tres Jalapenos and my trials were forgotten.
Last weekend, we decided to give it another try. We headed up 11th street on the later side–close to 9pm–and were treated to a number of empty outdoor seats. We were seated quickly and our speedy waitress whipped open our bottle of wine and poured two glasses before we could even tell her that we wanted to start with this.
(See the glass of wine in the background.) No biggie though. We sipped our beers and took in the specials while perusing the menu. A number of the specials stood out to us and we opted with two of them, two maki, the sashimi sampler and a heavier dish.
Our kumamoto oysters came out first. These were a refreshing and oceany start to our meal.
The oysters were followed by an interesting-sounding dish–grilled octopus in sesame oil. My husband bit into one before I did and exclaimed “it’s cold!” Although we expected a hot dish, this octopus was chewy without being rubbery and the sesame imparted a great flavor throughout. The sesame seeds sprinkled on top added a nice crunch to balance the chewiness of the octopus.
The sashimi sample was up next. The sampler consisted of two small bites of the following: tuna with tofu vinaigrette, fluke with tataki sauce, salmon carpaccio, squid with smoked sea salt and lemon oil and surf clam with spicy miso.
Our food just kept coming. I swear it was flying out of the kitchen. Our maki and pork belly came at about the same time, but we ate the pork belly first because it was warm.
The braised pork belly over congee is definitely more of a cold weather dish, but we had had it before and liked it. Besides, all of our other dishes were very light so it was nice to have something to balance that out. This dish is phenomenal, by the way. The pork belly is, well, pork belly. It slips apart under the gentle touch of a fork and the flavors just fill your mouth with comfort and happiness. The congee is a tricky little devil. It has the porky flavor of the meat along with sweet soy sauce. As you eat it, you’re likely to happen upon a mushroom or edamame pea nestled in the porridge. This is a soulful dish.
We finished with the maki–shrimp tempura and a softshell crab. The shrimp tempura was great, while the softshell crab left a bit to be desired. I was hoping for more meat and less veggie. Let’s just say we emptied our plates anyway.
As we slowly finished up our meal, I started to make my way to the bathroom before noticing that the entire staff was busy cleaning the inside of the restaurant and the floor was being mopped. Oops, guess I’ll hold it. It was before the 11pm closing time so I guess they were just trying to get a jump on their evening.
Izumi is just the kind of restaurant Passyunk Avenue needs. While they may have some missteps here and there, they fill the perfect niche and I’ll keep coming back for more.