Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Bread Maker Experiment..

Some lighthearted entertainment for the weekend..
Fyi, this is unofficially my second "Animation Inspired Food" post.. You can read part-one on Marco and his worldly travels in search of his mother and the lovely Potato Leek Soup at Shakespeare Pub here.

Oh Pazu and his awesome Welsh mining town inspired living quarters in Castle In The Sky (Tenkuu no Shiro Rapyuta). One of the many Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli produced anime films that I cannot remember how many times I've watched (originally released in 1986).

The scene of Pazu making a simple breakfast of a sunny side fried egg with a thick slice of country bread (only later to be eaten under a mine in escape of "bad men") was another inspirational moment for me of food in animation.

So sometimes I fall in love with a concept and just have to try it out.. Like what would be better than waking up to a pot of fresh brewed coffee on a timer than the smell of a Freshly Baked Loaf of Bread on a timer!?

I borrowed a friend's Breadman bread maker and found a simple recipe for basic white bread online. I should note here that the rather loud sound of a machine kneading bread in the wee hours of morning wasn't exactly how I wanted to be waken during any precious vacation day.. But soon enough I fell back to sleep and later was indeed treated to the experience of waking up (this time for real) to the amazing smell of Fresh Baked Bread!

The smell was fantastic but my first experiment wasn't all together a success where while the taste was fine, it was quite dense and heavy. My fault though for not following directions completely. Next time I will use actual Bread Flour (higher Protein content) rather than the All-Purpose I conveniently had at hand and I will also try sifting it as well. Below right, you can see the tell tale sign of bread baked in a machine - the bellybutton the mixing paddle creates.

The breakfast I actually had the next morning so while frying an egg I toasted up a good thick slice.

My fried AA Extra Large Egg had nice thick whites but overall still a bit small for the giant slice of toast. I need to go find myself some AA Jumbos..
The dense bread wasn't all that bad for a first try. Maybe the taste of yeast was higher than I wanted but it was lightly sweet and toasting it definitely helped.

This Pazu style whole-fried-egg-on-toast at a random hotel restaurant below had better egg-to-bread ratio. The toast was heavily buttered as well which made it very tasty. Mmm..
It's a bit messy but I highly recommend.

I should also maybe clarify that I'm not an Anime nut. My interest in it is probably average for being raised in Japan.

But when a scene of creatively stylized rendition of food appear.. It suddenly becomes fascinating. ;)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lunching @ Izakaya Sakura - Liver Nira Stir-Fry and Quite A Few Other Teishoku Dishes

Last weekend I had the Liver Nira Itame (Liver & Garlic Chive Stir-fry, $8), one of the additions to Sakura's recently updated menu.

I think originally a Japanese/Chinese Chuka dish, the Liver Nira is now a Teishoku staple in Japan (often called Reba Nira if you like to google it for more info). The softer Chicken Liver used had a milder flavor than the Pork version I'm used to.

All the veggies including the bean sprouts had a nice par crisp. Obviously I don't recommend the dish if you do not like liver to begin with... I personally don't seek it out often myself but like this day can have a craving once a while.

I know Sakura experiments with their menu time to time but judging by the looks of these, they seem to be for the longer haul. Very cute and was also better visually organized I thought.

To the left is the English and right the Japanese version. A few new additions like the Liver & Nira but I noticed quite a few older items were missing as well. Perhaps a proactive simplification of the menu for these uncertain times. The Subuta Dango (Sweet Sour Pork Meat Balls), Mabo Tofu Don and the Sushi Rolls from the weekend menu are now permanent items.

It was a little sad to see the Tofu Dango not make the lunch menu cut. I feel a bit nostalgic of this photo taken some time ago.

But being one of the higher priced side dishes at $5, I could understand it now reserved only for dinner. These below I had just last week.

The contrasting textures from carrots, scallions, shiitake and hijiki among others in a soft deep fried minced tofu sphere were great with the toromi thickened sauce.

The Aji (Horse Mackerel) Fry on the other hand was added to the Appetizer menu ($3.50). (Technically moved from the combo meal list.)

I'm sometimes convinced Sakura makes their own Panko breadcrumbs because they can be roof-of-mouth-piercingly-huge at times. Includes the always good sweet Demi Glace sauce along with some Tartar Sauce and a small mound of Sakura's Potato Salad (which a larger portion is also now available on the App. menu for $3.50).

This is an older photo of the combo version ($8). Under the two Aji were also a few fried Zucchini slices. I wouldn't be surprised if they still served it to you the way if you ask.

The Pork Shoga Yaki (Ginger Pork) is another classic Teishoku dish ($8) and is here to stay. There were at least three other people having it this day.

Always filling and the great ginger and lightly sweet soy sauce flavor the perfect appetite booster if you're maybe feeling under the weather (or in Japan hungover from having too many sake shots the night before with your company boss).

I wouldn't be shy about pouring the drippings onto your bowl of rice because it's too good to waste... :)
On a similar note the other new addition I noticed was the Garlic Chicken Saute ($8.50).

A nice tender chicken thigh, with skin on (thank you). It's a very flavorful garlic sauteed chicken with a lot of "rice craving potency" and I wouldn't waste an once of the drippings here as well. ;) Fyi, extra rice refills (okawari) are free so why not.

Contrary to the Aji, I noticed the Saba no Shioyaki (Salt Grilled Mackerel) no longer on the Appetizer menu ($3.50) but still available as a lunch set (Teishoku) for $8. Below is an older photo of it as an appetizer. (Nerd alert)

Always fresh tasting, perfectly grilled with a crackly skin and moist interior. Sakura must have a good consistent source of great Saba. Like how this Saba no Amazu Ankake (Fried Mackerel with Sweet Sour Sauce) was also great although it didn't make it into the new menu. (Was $8.50.)

A Japanese/Chinese (Chuka) influenced fusion of sorts, large lightly fried Saba pieces were covered in a thickened Sweet Sour sauce not too different from the Pork Meat Balls but with thinly sliced onions and ginger.

A quick note, although the Sushi Chef Kazu-san may seem like the face of Sakura, I've been told it is Ken-san who works in the back kitchen that is the unsung figure (and co-owner?) responsible for most of the restaurant's non-sushi dishes. Ken-san is especially proficient in "Toromi" sauced type dishes like this Hata no Kinoko Ankake that is still available.

Fried Fish with Mushroom Sauce ($8).

As far as I know Hata is a simple white fish and here is lightly battered and deep fried..

Then smothered in a nice Toromi sauce with shiitake, spinach and "flowered" egg.
I was glad to see this stay but what I also noticed gone was the Rib Eye Wa-fu Steak.

Already a Sunday Only special, this was the most expensive dish on the lunch menu so judging by everything else maybe not too surprised. It was still great though and you can read about it here.

The Uni Spaghetti and Miso Broiled Salmon you can read about here and the two Hamburg Steaks, Sweet Sour Pork Meat Balls and Mabo Dofu Don here. All are still part of Sakura's new lunch offering.

A third and last new dish that I haven't tried was the Teriyaki Chicken. I would guess this wouldn't be your typical judging by the Buri Teri ($8.50) I have had before below..

The Teri doesn't come from a bottle but made from scratch with simple ingredients (sake, mirin, soy sauce) and the meat's own rendered oils creating a natural glaze.
Come to think, I didn't see the Steamed Chicken (with Ponzu Dressing) either ($8).

Was a nice alternative to the fried dishes.

So while this all may be a little confusing, from my experience (at least for lunch) Sakura has always been on the unpredictable side. Like how one afternoon when I questioned about the Buta Kakuni on the dinner board they had asked "Would you like to try?" (Must have been some leftover from the night before...) And how could I have turned that opportunity down? ;)

Buta no Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly, ~3.50)

Was much less sweet and overall milder than Okan's but also more tender. If I had a bowl of rice I could call it great lunch.

Were quite a few changes. But if it's all to ensure a healthy and prolonged future of my favorite humble but great lunch offering establishment, then I fully support. :)

My next Lunching @ Sakura post will probably be the various Kaisen (Seafood) Dons.

Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111

Monday, November 24, 2008

Min Min Ramen (みんみんラーメン)

My friends who sent me photos of Aoi's Curry Udon and had also helped me with my Hokkaburi post last had sent me these of Min Min Ramen (みんみんラーメン) yesterday. They were so wonderful that with permission I had to share.

To eat at Min Min Ramen is not as simple as wishing you were in Japan or Tokyo. Because once there you will have to trek out through many twists and turns of small local roads to reach your destination of HachiOji.

When finally there you are greeted with this close to dilapidated structure.

And a line out of course. Lines are proof of something special happening inside.

A quick tuck under the Noren and through the sliding doors.. (がらがらがら)

Reveals the rather spartan stage where all the magic happens..

The giant in the photo is supposedly Koto-oushu, a famous Sumo wrestler.

On to the food..
Explained extra Menma (Pickled Bamboo Shoots). Get me a bowl of rice quick! :)

Extra Tama Negi (White Onion). Min Min seems to be known for using finely shredded regular onion and not the usual Naga Negi (Japanese Green Onion). Either way, I'm wondering what that yummy looking sauce over it is..

Ugh, I can't believe I'm getting hungry by a photo of sliced onions.. haha. But finally..

Min Min's Tokudai (double portion) Shoyu Ramen.