Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Ramblings - Lunch @ Kokoro And Oton. A Gift Of Myoga And Others

Posting on some random topics and few updates that was intended to be up last Friday -- my self-imposed oxymoron that is the 'blog post deadline'... :P

So being on a low-carb diet these days has put a sizable dent in my former ritual of going out for lunch but I allow myself cheat days once in a while, and on those I try to make the most of it. "Making the most of it" meaning if I'm going to consume carbs, it's going to have to be something worth the guilt. The same going for anything sugary.

I visited Kokoro, one of the newer Japanese offerings in SD not too long ago and had a very nice lunch. It's located in a rather hard to find area in Serra Mesa over past Montgomery Field and Pampas Argentine Grill. Once the GPS takes you to the general area, keep an eye out for a Subway and Kokoro will be next to it. Despite being in this obscure strip mall, things inside the restaurant are much different -- peaceful, minimal, and in trend with many higher end sushi places in Japan, without the usually ubiquitous horizontal sushi neta case.

I had the Chirashizushi ($18) which comes with miso soup and a drink. The Chirashi that included both fresh and a few grilled items was quite good. First, the sushi rice was excellent but I was most impressed by the variety of toppings that seemed like from their entire sashimi menu and then some. A combination of both akami and shiromi, uni and ikura salmon roe, shrimp, both tako octopus and squid (all lightly boiled), shime saba, grilled Anago conger eel and albacore, then last but not least a very memorable tamago omelet that was mildly sweet with plenty of dashi flavor. The few kampyō pickles sprinkled over the rice was a nice touch.

The miso soup I have to say was also terrific. Nothing here from an electric kettle that's been sitting for who knows how long. A very nice scratch made taste where the fresh dashi plays an equal if not more important role than the miso used. Since a refill is $3.50, I'd be savoring the last sipful.

I have their current entire menu up on my Menu Vault for anyone interested. Prices are on the higher side but quality is quite good. There are also a few cost conscious to-go only items during lunch such as soboro, grilled chicken, beef or salmon over rice. And for the casual sushi goers, there are your many familiar Americanized rolls. Was pleased to see Kokoro's heart set both with originality and tradition, while also able to cater to popular local demands.

Kirk of Mmm-yoso has already done two posts on Kokoro including an omakase. Check it out.

Kokoro Restaurant, 3298 Greyling Dr, San Diego, CA 92123

Although Kokoro's head chef was formerly at Oton, my recent visit there for lunch was unrelated. (I ordered another Chirashi even...) I was told by a close friend that Oton may have stopped serving lunch and was quite surprised to hear since they seemed pretty busy the hour in the last year. Being the cheerleader of Japanese restaurants in town that puts effort in serving non-cookie cutter offerings, I've done several lunch posts and most always enjoyed these reasonably priced noon meals.

Turns out lunch is now only served on Fridays and Saturdays from 12~3PM. In place, Oton gains a happy hour Mon~Thurs that starts from 3PM. The recently updated lunch menu can also be found on my other blog here.

I went for the Hokkai-don (which is a play on words, sort of a bowl filled with the bounty of Hokkaido..., $18.50). The variety of seafood was also a pleasure to see which included fresh scallops, (real) crab, salmon, both ikura and kazunoko (herring roe), uni, squid, a botan shrimp and nice block of tamago.

Picking the tasty brains out of the botan shrimp with chopsticks was one of the meal's highlights. All with the sushi rice which was also quite good and drizzle of wasabi spiked shoyu, I was happy to enjoy the meal guilt free. Their miso soup has also been one of the better in town (though I must have looked American the day since they included a spoon with mine).

Oton has several Chirashi-style seafood bowls during lunch to choose from but if I'm ever back, I'd probably be having this again, though their daily bento box ($13.50) that includes a variety of sashimi, fried and simmered items is hard to pass up as well.

Robataya Oton, 5447 Kearny Villa Rd # D, San Diego, CA 92123

Been pretty hot here the last few days and so was elated to see the Nashi (Asian Pear) flavor of the GariGari-Kun popsicle for sale at both Nijiya and Mitsuwa Markets. GariGari-Kun is known to have many flavors (at least in Japan) with even a few odd limited editions such as the Corn Pottage flavor that was out a few years back.

I had a chance to try one of their limited flavors from their Rich series during my last winter vacation that was a collaboration with Ezaki Glico and their brand of Cream Stew block roux's -- "Aunt Clea's Stew."

Creamy with a tad of savory, surprisingly it actually serviced decently as an ice snack (for me) where I even enjoyed the small bits of potato that it contained, ha. While I maybe won't be yearning for this flavor to be out again in the future, the Spaghetti Naporitan flavor that came out earlier this year I am curious about. Of course you can count on my friend EatNapo-san of NaporitanXNaporitan having covered it and can be checked out here.

Last, I was very happy to have received some Myoga from a friend's garden recently (which is the same person I had obtained some roots of my own). What you see below would roughly cost $12 as they are around $2.99 per bulb here.

I've made a quick cold tofu hiyayakko meal out of one of the smaller bulbs which turned out great. I used kinugoshi (silken) Meiji Tofu and Kamada Dashi Shoyu both purchased from Nijiya. A little grated shin-shoga young ginger and bonito flakes.

These myoga were especially fragrant and pungent, a little went a long way. Next time I would chop them even finer. Some additional julienned Shiso leaves would've elevated this to another level of aromatic flavor bomb but I didn't have any at hand.

It probably won't be until next year before my plants will start bearing these bulbs but if what I had are a hint of what to expect, I'm really looking forward to them!
Some random things I've made and posted in the past using Myoga is a baked miso and cheese tofu appetizer as well as a tempura that paired well with a soba. Both something I may try again if things cool off in the next weeks.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I ♥ Detroit - Hunter House Hamburgers

Although the term 'slider' is used synonymously for anything and everything that resembles a miniature hamburger these days, any food curious should be obliged to know that the roots are from a specific type of smaller burger categorized by a unique method of cooking. Where a conservative amount of ground beef is smashed flat on the griddle and copious amounts of onions also given an initial char, then everything (preferably with cheese) including the sweet squishy buns stacked to steam so to achieve an oniony huddle of tender oneness. These humble bargain snackages often purchased by the sackful are your true sliders, made most known by the large chain White Castle and Krystal.

My mini tour of the Detroit area offerings inspired by both a Serious Eats and Offbeat Eats articles led me to Greene'sBates'Telway and finally here to the Hunter House. The HH was a perfect example of the classic white pill-box designed burger joint diners of yesteryears in and out. Next to Greene's it was my most favorite. The time I had arrived for an earlier dinner, the place was busy with families, young school kids and various blue-collar worker types on their off time.

After a quick visual survey of what most people where having, I went for a double cheeseburger and side of onion rings.

The double cheeseburger was the highest priced of the bunch (relatively speaking) at a whopping $3.05 but I have to say was also the best I've tried the trip -- the image of griddled onions above speaking for itself. The also maillard patties further infused with melty American cheese is really the key with these. Like the rest I've consumed, a couple pickle coins and a small squirt of mustard was all it took to elevate it to slider bargain-bliss status.

The onion rings ($3.25) were also terrific. Too bad a couple of the rings fell off as I was bringing my tray to seat (!) but for something pre-prepped for optimum fast food convenience was very fulfilling.

My meal at Hunter House really made my evening the final day at the city and it made me wanting to experience even more of the city's independent slider burger establishments which there are definitely no shortages of. The new Ann Arbor location of Hunter House should be operational as you read this. Looking forward in visiting them both in the hopefully not too far near future. :)

Hunter House Hamburgers, 35075 Woodward Ave, Birmingham, MI 48009

I ♥ Detroit - The Telway

The third stop on my mini tour of Detroit's independent slider establishments after Greene's and Bates' was a Telway branch in Madison Heights. According to a commenter on Kaszeta's Offbeat Eats post on the place, this location used to be a Top Hat, another one of many past White Castle clones. Really loved the building, in and out, being retro but somehow also modern at the same time. The workers were also a friendly bunch.

An early dinner and since I had plans to also visit Hunter House next, my meal order was light. A cheeseburger ($1.05) and a Coney Dog ($1.30). Yay.

As with Daniel Zemans' experience in his Serious Eats article, it was also the most tender slider I've had from the few I've tried. This is partly due to Telway's unique additional method of placing a towel over the burgers for some extra steaming before final assembly. There isn't much char on this one but the moist 'oneness' of the slider ingredients of griddled onions, sliver of ground beef, American cheese and pillowy buns is high and a joy to eat in its own right. I felt this was also probably the closest in favor and texture to a White Castle, but one that is definitely a good cut above.

My coney (shown pre-mustardage) was very serviceable as well. As with Bates' the frank seemed a skinless but it was much better griddled. I feel the chili is really more the key with these and the version here felt equally good as Bates' -- smooth, with no beans of course, and perhaps a little spicier. I'd love to try their Foot Long one day.

The Telway, 27000 John R Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I ♥ Detroit - Bates' Hamburgers

Continuing with my mini tour of trying out Detroit's independent slider establishments, things had led me the next day to the friendly peeps at Bates' Hamburgers. A quick reminder here that we are speaking of the original, friend-of-workingman's take of the term slider, and for a more detailed primer for this actual burger genre, please check out my previous post at Greene's Hamburgers. :)

Bates' has two locations and the one in Farmington Hills worked out great again for my purposes. A nice review of the Livonia branch can be found on Kaszeta's Offbeat Eats blog. As opposed to the other white pill-box style spots I'd visit, Bates' of Farmington had a much more familiar vibe where I could have easily mistaken it as one of the many casual Mexican or Greek burger joints here in Southern California.

At lunch hour and not much time to spare, my order was two cheeseburgers ($1.42 each) and a coney ($1.70). All came out in a few minutes. Yay.

The sliders were another winner here -- your compact conglomerate orbs of tasty griddled onions, moist beef, melty cheese and soft buns that I feel were hard to beat for the money (Telway which is up next was the cheapest but I'd fork up the few extra change for these). Char-on-the-onions wise I might have to give the upper hand to Greene's, but in any case a couple pickle coins and squirt of yellow mustard later, the two were down my belly Pac-Man style with little effort. These do tend to be deceivingly filling though, but I definitely had room for my Coney Dog.

I had done a quick post on a National Coney Island outlet at the Detroit Airport back in 2011, and there I mentioned trying to remember where I had my first many years ago. Thanks to a drive the previous night to the Royal Oak area for my friend's get-together, I realized that it was at the Athen's Coney Island! Phew, a nice feeling to finally put that thought to rest... :)

But anyway, the term "Coney" can also be confusing for some who haven't been accustomed to hearing it in reference to hot dogs. Here I'd again defer to my friend Kaszeta of Offbeat Eats who does a very great introduction, but in Michigan a Coney is an all-beef hot dog with beanless chili, topped with chopped raw onions and usually some yellow mustard which you see practically everywhere as you would taquerias in SD maybe.

[Bates' Coney Dog pre-mustardage.]

At Bates' the frank although all-beef was a skinless kind and lacked that snap, but with the smooth and meaty homemade chili was really hard to complain otherwise for the price. These definitely make you forget the artificial textured and overly salty mystery chili served on dogs from that famous large chain on this side of the coast. But anyway, I also noticed the onions were the same cut used for the burgers and felt it gave the meal an edge of pungent goodness for the better. Made for a nice photo too. ;)

Wednesday at Bates' btw is "Coney Day" where the price for these treats drops to $1.15. I can totally see myself helping with at least three. Three and a cheeseburger. :)

Bates' Hamburgers, 22291 Middlebelt Rd, Farmington Hills, MI 48336

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I ♥ Detroit - Greene's Hamburgers

While I've been to White Castle a few times as well as a Krystal outlet in the past, I've been curious of trying out some of the local independently run burger businesses in the Detroit area after coming across a slideshow tour on Serious Eats of Motown's Sliders. Further reading a few posts on my friend Kaszeta's great Offbeat Eats blog sealed the deal that these would be a personal must-try if I'm ever back in the city.

Kaszeta does an excellent job of explaining what a true slider is and some history of Detroit's taking of White Castle's model on his posts on Telway and Bates. Both recommended reads if any are interested in the subject, but the gist is that the delectable, somewhat greasy smaller burgers are far from the oversimplified description of various popular miniaturized burgers you see on menus of trendy restaurants these days. Was also surprised to find the current wikipedia page of the term doing a very poor job as well.

Sliders are indeed small in size but more so identified by a specific method of cooking to be properly categorized. It starts first with a rather conservative amount of ground beef smashed flat on the griddle along with a generous amount of onions for some initial char, then left to steam by the cooking onions that also parts flavor to the entire thing all together with the squishy buns. Further with melted American cheese and few slices of pickle coins, the result is a soft, steamy and moderately greasy gem of casual snackage that locals often purchase by the sackful to-go. In similar vein to street tacos here or hot dogs, there is not a whole lot fancy or gourmet about a slider, prices of a single cheeseburger usually hovering well below the $2 range. Now having had a chance to taste a few of the city's fine examples, I'm officially a fan.

First up, Greene's Hamburgers was easy to pick off as it was only 15-mins from my hotel, in fact it's the only place that I was able to visit multiple times as they are open 24/7, also having a separate breakfast menu during the morning hours. I've learned Greene's used to have three locations but currently only the one off of Orchard Lake Rd in Farmington is in operation which happens to be the oldest, in business since 1957.

My first visit was well past midnight (partially due to some jet lag) and there was something unexpectedly dreamlike about the view of a glowing white pill-box diner on the corner of a darker, calm stretch of road (at least at night). I had ordered a single patty cheeseburger ($1.85) with side of onion rings ($2.75).

This isn't a burger for a person hung up on seeing some pink in the middle of the patty -- the principle I generally agree for larger pattied burgers, but the fact is that there are many types of burgers and as for a (true) slider, it's all about the cohesive oneness of steamy aromatic and sweetness of onions webbed into the sliver of moist beef with additional flavors of some nice char (which I consider a type of seasoning) and in this case oozy American cheese. The simple bun also infused with some 'slider essence' cradling it all together.

While visually may remind of something from McD's, I can guarantee it's nothing like. How I might describe the experience to at least my Asian friends would be perhaps imagining a deconstructed cheeseburger version of the Nikuman, though that would still be quite a bit of a stretch. After a few tries I found I liked best with couple pickle coins and only a small squirt of yellow mustard, sans ketchup.

The onion rings although fast food style was far superior to most large chains. Made to order, came out crispy hot and the batter had a nice flavoring.

A second visit I had a double cheeseburger ($2.65) which had much better meat ratio, but I somehow still could see myself having two singles instead. I think it's that marriage of strands of griddled onions to the beef that gets me hooked.

I ♥ Greene's Hamburgers and I ♥ Detroit sliders and the small businesses that still bother to produce them right. Looking forward in sharing a few more.

Greene's Hamburgers, 24155 Orchard Lake Rd, Farmington, MI 48336