Tuesday, May 10, 2011
....unless you've been ordering the wrong dishes!
I was initially going to write a blog dedicated my birthday brunch at Mecca Nuffield Street, but I went to Tanuki's Cave on Thursday and couldn't resist doing a blog on my time there! On Friday, I graduated for the second time and went out to Mecca Chancery for breakfast, so I will try to combine both Mecca events into the one blog. :)
319b Queen Street, Auckland City (pretty much to the left of the Town Hall)
For some people, their guilty pleasure is chocolate. Mine strangely enough is Tanuki's Cave. Some of the dishes – okay, mainly the kushiage dishes – aren't so healthy; therefore I do feel guilty about going there sometimes. Also, it is not exactly cheap. But I hadn't gone to Tanuki's Cave for about six months, so I wasn't feeling guilty about it this time around! I was craving their yakitori skewers and had expressed my sudden cravings on Facebook (....as you do). My friend Mrs Chopstick* responded to my calling, and we eventually made plans to go! Yay.
Tanuki's Cave is a yakitori and kushiage skewers bar – one basically being grilled, the other being dipped in breadcrumbs and fried. The menu isn't just limited to skewers – there are salads and other sides, donburi, and dessert available as well. You get two skewers per dish, but if you're at a table for three you can always ask them to serve you three skewers, instead of ordering the same dish twice.
A few things to talk about before mentioning the food. For one, they do not take reservations. Every night is a busy night at Tanuki's. Four of my friends and I arrived on a Friday at ten to seven and had to wait for a table for about twenty minutes. You can have a drink while you wait, which is what we did. On Monday to Thursday they are open from 5:30pm, other days from 5pm. Going to Tanuki's before 6pm is ideal if you want to avoid the risk of waiting. Sometimes you can be really lucky and coincidentally get the last table available between 6-8pm though. When they get incredibly busy, sometimes the quality of service slips as well. Although on Friday night, I had a glass of sav blanc on the table (which had a bit left in the glass) and the waiter accidently dropped my drink to the floor. He kindly brought me another glass on the house, even though I didn't really want another one! My face gets incredibly warm and red after one glass! So sad. But I did drink it anyway.
Another thing is that the place is rather dark. Hence the "cave" part of Tanuki's Cave. Heh. The lack of light is a bit startling for some people when they first try it out. I remember the first time I went to Tanuki's, I went with Mr Chopsticks and Mrs Chopsticks (bad pseudonyms I know and I apologise), Mr Chopsticks said, "I can't even read the menu!" Heh. We were placed at one of the tables that had really bad light unfortunately.
Last of all, the waiters always ask your table if you're in hurry and have to catch a show or movie soon (and what time you need to leave in order to go to the show or movie). I'm not saying you should lie – because lying is terrible of course – but I was so hungry on Friday night and I did actually have to leave early, that I fibbed a weeeee bit since we didn't have a show or movie to attend afterwards. It really depends on how busy they are because even if you're not in hurry, the food can be delivered to your table really quickly. Actually, the main difference is that they like to give you a bit of time between serving dishes if you're not in a hurry. But the time between dishes isn't that long to be honest.
One of my favourite dishes is the Plate of Cabbage with Salt and Japanese Mayo ($4.50). I was feeling a tad frustrated when taking this photo because the light was ruining my ability (or inability I guess) to take a good photo. The huge slobber of mayo is on the other side of the dish by the way, heh. The first time I ordered this dish for Mr and Mrs Chopstick, The (real) Scholar, and That Guy, they all gave me dubious looks. Mrs Chopstick in particular was like, "Uhhhh, why is Jess acting so weird by ordering a goddamn cabbage?" (No, she didn't say that. But it was all in the look she gave me). But whenever we go to Tanuki's now, we order it! That Guy – who doesn't even like raw cabbage – even likes the dish... (if he doesn't, then why does he keep eating it?)
The first time I went to Tanuki's, I ordered the yakitori set for convenience and to eliminate my normally indecisive behaviour. I now tend to not order the set menu, but still order the Tender Chicken and Leek Yakitori ($5.20) which is one of the yakitori skewers on the set menu. I'm not even a huge fan of leek, and yet I like this dish. The chicken is incredibly juicy with the sauce and tender as the name of the dish suggests.
This is the Scotch Fillet Steak with Butter and Soy Sauce Yakitori ($5.60). The yakitori version of this dish is much better than the kushiage version (also $5.60), but the latter version is still good. Mmmmm. You'd think that with the butter and soy sauce, the steak would be rather salty, but the flavours aren't exactly a deterrent.
The Chicken Tenderloin with Cheese Kushiage ($5.20) is probably my favourite dish at Tanuki's Cave. It isn't exactly healthy, I know. I like to add the kushiage sauce that they have available in a bottle (like a condiment) to the chicken tenderloin. I add a little bit of sauce before the first bite, and once you can see that the cheese is oozing in the middle, I add more sauce on top!
Mrs Chopstick ordered the Capsicum Yakitori stuffed with Chicken Mince ($6.20). I can only eat capsicums when they're chopped up... as opposed to just being halved. So I don't know if I could ever eat the whole dish (if I ever ordered it). But my friend really likes it. She usually orders this dish and/or the Mushroom version of this dish.
All four of my friends ordered the Yakitori Set – 5 sticks ($17). The set menu includes a small Spinach and Bacon Salad, Tender Chicken Thigh Meat, Chicken Wing, Tender Chicken and Leek, Chicken Mince Ball, and Pork Belly. I really like the salad, but you have to really mix the whole salad up yourself before eating it. The first time I ate it I made the mistake of not doing that. If you don't, the top half of the salad will be rather dry in the mouth, and the bottom half will be extremely soggy!** They're not stingy on the bacon (bless 'em), but are a tad stingy with the tomato....although I guess that's why they don't call it a Spinach, Tomato and Bacon Salad! Heh. The yakitori set isn't too bad, but I think some of their best yakitori dishes are not included in the set (so I choose not to order it). The chicken mince ball is my least favourite, but I really like the chicken wing (despite the bones) and the chicken & leek.
This is the yakitori version of the Chicken Tenderloin with Cheese dish ($5.60), which The (Real) Scholar ordered. I forgot to ask her whether she liked it or not, but from looks alone it does not look appealing at all.
Mr Chopsticks ordered the Shiitake Mushroom Kushiage stuffed with Chicken Mince ($6.20). I think this is tastier than the yakitori version due to different textures. If you've been following this blog, you'd know that I looooove mushrooms. Yet, I'm not actually a big fan of this dish (in yakitori form, not the kushiage). With the fried version, you have different textures – the crispy, crunchy breadcrumb outside and the chicken mince that will be texturally soft inside. Whereas with the yakitori, there is no crispy texture.
Another notable dish is the Mashed Kumara Kushiage coated with Crispy Almond Chips ($5.50). The (Real) Scholar ordered it once, and I was so surprised by how good it was! It is a bit sweet. This dinetube video briefly shows viewers how they make this particular dish. The takoyaki is not too bad either.
I really like pork belly, but I must admit that I'm not a fan of their pork belly dishes in both the yakitori and kushiage form. The fat content from the pork belly that they cook with is too much for me. The Grilled Deep-Fried Tofu with Yakitori Sauce dish isn't that exciting to eat, and neither is the Vienna Sausage dish. For my next visit, I'm really tempted to try the Scallops with Soy Sauce Yakitori (sounds weird, but I'm curious) and the Garlic Flavoured Chicken Wing Kushiage.
Not all of their dishes are standouts, but it's a really good place to go to for dinner or even for a quick snack before a show or movie. There must be a reason why people always come back to Tanuki's Cave. You could always try different dishes each time you go, or you could even stick to the tried and true dishes that you already know are good! I'm going to miss the place when I leave for London in September! :(
* There's always a reason to my madness. I don't make up random pseudonyms for nothing, you know...
**The term "soggy" is such an ugly sounding word.