Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Kazumori's Creative Pinch

"Did you see how the tops of the rice were herbed?" asked an awed NetBot, Eat Korea's robot taste tester. "That's what makes a restaurant really good, right? All the little surprises?"

We were at Kazumori, a new Japanese restaurant in Pyeongtaek across from City Hall. The NetBot was commenting on how little, creative touches that no one else would think of make good restaurants stand out. We ate there a couple times since they opened, and Kazumori's successful creative flourishes really helped it climb our list of good Japanese restaurants in Pyeongtaek. 

Take their donkas roll, for example. They aren't the first Japanese restaurant to turn donkas into a sushi roll. However, in my experience, they are the first to make sweet sushi rolls enjoyable. Kazumori's donkas roll belongs to a style of roll that I typically avoid. This roll is a colorful harlequin in a carnival of sweet, fruity, neon salad dressings and dyed tobiko (fish roe). It looks more like a dessert than an entrée, and from the first time I ate this style a few years ago, I was turned off by its overpowering sweetness. Who wants a roll that tastes like sweet, ricey, blobby salad dressing? It simply doesn't work with the delicate flavors and soft texture of raw fish, but to my surprise it does work with Kazumori's donkas roll. Donkas has enough greasy, porky flavor to stand up to sweet and sour dressings. Plus it is both meaty and crunchy, adding a variety of firm textures that have much less in common texturally with salad dressing than does a squishy fish.

In addition to the donkas roll, another dish that stood out was the salmon teriyaki. If you google "salmon teriyaki" you get pages of delicious images of salmon steaks, so to be clear, Kazumori's salmon teriyaki is not a teriyaki salmon steak. It is a teriyaki salmon stir fry. This may be a creative twist or merely a labeling error. But either way, it is not just any salmon teriyaki. To be absolutely clear, it is an out of this world salmon teriyaki. The salmon is tender, but not flakey and dry. The veggies are all crisp and fresh. The NetBot went crazy over the mushrooms. And the teriyaki bound all the flavors together in perfect harmony. It was fantastic.

I can't say as much, however, about one of the side dishes served with our meals. Perhaps it is a perfectly conventional dish the humble NetBot and I are ignorant of, but it completely defied both our experiences, so we're chalking it up to the restaurant's creativity. And new or old, some ideas are better left under the toque. Included in our meals were cups of what appeared to be custard. It was exciting to imagine ending our meal with a custard, until an impatient NetBot took an early spoonful. It wasn't custard, at least not a dessert custard.

"I'm confused by it," said the NetBot. "I don't like it. It's not good. What is that? Fake crab meat?"

I tried to give it a chance. Sometimes food gets better the more you eat it. But it wasn't happening.

I will say this at least — it looked good.

Most of what Kazumori serves is really tasty, though. Their sushi was so good we went back the next week just for a salmon, or "yeon-eo," sushi set (연어초밥정식). We even ventured to taste gon-ee (곤이), a mild, buttery, intestine-looking fish-roe that we found at the bottom of our cod soup, daegu-tang (대구탕).

Prices were fair for what we ate. The first meal cost 19,000 won: 9,000 won for the sushi and donkas roll set (스시&돈가스롤정식), and 10,000 won for the salmon teriyaki set (연어데리야끼정삭). Our second meal was even more affordable: 7,000 won for the cod soup and 13,000 won for the salmon sushi set.

Kazumori is hard to miss. From Pyeongtaek Station take a bus to Pyeongtaek City Hall. Almost any bus will do, but you can always rely on the 50 or 20 bus which run frequently. Get off the bus in front of Lotte Mart (you'll see the store on your right) and continue by walking down the street. Look across the street when you get to the first intersection. You should see the Christmas lit windows of Kazumori on the second floor of a building across from you, in the building on the right of the Chevrolet/FX Hair building.

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