Friday, May 8, 2009

Lunching @ Umenoya - Nice To Know Ya! But Where Am I Again?

Oh man what a week it was. I love my job but sometimes like any, things can get a wee stressful. Thankfully this hobby I started of rambling to myself about things I ate helps me unwind and express myself creatively in a way I happen to find relaxing. Some people join bowling leagues for fun while others prefer to Wii bowl in the comfort of their homes. (If you reach pro you get a sparkly ball!) Some read books while others may find more satisfaction in restoring a vintage bookshelf. During my free evenings I enjoy doing this.

I've been challenged by many tough to write posts but I must say Umenoya's was up there with the toughest. Mike Tyson tough. Umenoya translates to "House of Plums." A sentence I planned to start with for weeks now. Will this post ever see the light of day?

Maybe I'm onto something. Shown above is the seat that I must sit at or my chances of taking any photos would be next to impossible. Izakaya Sakura, though not as extreme is similar. I have one favorite seat there and if I see it taken (by slow drive-by style) I would sometimes go as far as opting for another lunch spot.

The exterior of Umenoya looks like this (photo artsy-enhanced..).

When driving East on Miramar Road, you pass the giant white pyramid and a few lights later to your right will be the aviation museum with parked random planes. When you see the U.S. Marine helicopters towards the end Umenoya's light yellow mall will be immediately a few feet after to your left on the opposite side.

A little background I managed to get by asking the petite older lady that seemed to run at least the show up front was that she is from Niigata and the restaurant has been in business for over 20 years. This dates the place back to the mid to late Eighties which explains most of its decor freeze framed in time. One example quite literal like the faucet with fake running cellophane water.

They also seem to be huge Sumo wrestling fans judging. In any case, one particular day I heard some stir-frying sounds in the back kitchen while the lady was up front so at least I know Umenoya is not run by a single individual(!).

A very quick and personal description of the place is that if the lunch meals at Izakaya Sakura reminded me of what it was like to be fed by a Japanese friend's mother (who happens to be a particularly good cook), Umenoya may be like the same but that of one's grandmother. Yes, to me the dishes here are the stove-top-stuffing syndromes of home style Japanese. "Your grandma is making Gindara Nitsuke?? Yeah!! (*high fiving of hands*)

The biggest attraction of Umenoya for me at this point is their surprising range of menu. This is definitely not your cookie-cutter Japanese spot for sure. (Their lunch menu here.) But not knowing my first meal was my trusted Yoshoku King, Katsu Curry (Chicken, $6.25).

The curry was pretty standard but considering my good sized photo collection of bad Japanese Curries in San Diego (that I personally choose not to share) this comment is actually a compliment. The Chicken Katsu was perfectly done. Thigh meat with skin on, moist center and very crispy bread crumbed outer. I say it so often maybe I should come up with an acronym for it. TMWSOMCCO?.. ;)

Can a food blogger say that they loved the design of the plates? Wow, now that's home style. The simple things that bring a smile to my face. :)
Every Umenoya lunch meal comes with a small salad and Miso soup.

The iceberg lettuce in the salad is never wilted and always fresh. Some may think it is funny that I even mention this but you'd be surprised what has been served to me at various places. Has a very light tangy asian dressing. The Miso Soup also hot and great tasting. (On the strong flavored side here unlike Sakura's which is lighter but still enjoyable in its own way.)

At the time you had a choice of less expensive frozen Gyoza or the little pricier handmade. Shown are the handmade and were pretty good with a decent amount of filling (as opposed to Tajima or Chopstix).

I personally prefer ones with a Garlic or Nira (flat leaf chive) kick but I thought these were still pretty good.
The Eggplant Ginger Sauce ($3.50) side.

A nicely done simmer flavored in a more subtle palate again like how a Japanese grandmother would maybe.

I should mention here before I forget, Cash Only. Also I was usually the first or second person to enter (11:45AM) while the place maxed at maybe four groups at least for the few times I had visited.

There are some Japanese comic books up front by the television on low volume. A notable mention is that they have Oishinbo.

I loved it when restaurants in Japan had these food/chef chronicles of Japanese manga stocked. The manga The Chef is another good one but perfect for this day was Orange Page. A simple cooking magazine I like but never would go as far as purchasing it for myself..

Cool, an article on my hero Kentaro! (The photos Random House chose to use for his U.S. books are horridly generic by the way.)

I just wished I could read more than a third of what is written... (Maybe actually more like a quarter often times.) But still fun just to browse through.

The San-Pin Teishoku. Means "Three Item Lunch Set."
Here I chose Kakifurai (deep fried oysters), Pork Ginger and Hiyayakko cold tofu appetizer.

The oyster fries were very good as with the Pork Ginger. Always addicting with rice.

I'm used to Pork Ginger that is flavored sweeter but this was still nice with decent rice craving potency, meat was also tender.

The Tororo Maguro (~$5?). The portion was a bit small even for an appetizer so I proceeded to gently drape it over the rest of my rice.

My resulting Tororo Maguro-don.

A mini one but the addition of Wasabi Shoyu would make it rival most. Most that are mini with cubed tuna sashimi that is.

This may have only been listed on their Japanese menu which is "special." I frown upon these because it is a rather un-PC thing to do but it may just be that some items hasn't been translated onto the English page yet.
Anyway, so in addition to what is offered in their lunch menus the specials board up front by the television is what I meant by their range. Kisu Tempura or Kimchi Natto anyone? :)

This is the day when the simmered Gindara (black cod) Nitsuke was recommended to me and I had it with some squid tempura as a second item in a Teishoku set ($9). They are quite flexible here at Umenoya so whatever combination fancies you.

The Gindara was a nice tender flaky white fish, for the most part lean but with a light buttery fatty layer in between the skin and meat.. I thought it was pretty good.

The simmer a classic sweet soy sauce flavor with ginger. Close to fall apart tender, I had most over the rice. Surprised?

Honestly had more tender Calamari at restaurants but The squid tempura was decent. A mix of Geso tentacles and stripped cuts. Quantity was substantial as you can see.

Below the full Teishoku I had the day with many radiused corners..

This visit revolved around skimming through the fun Lettuce Club magazine.

Oooh, a special on Pork Kakuni.. Yum. And another "Gatsuun" (ガツンと) "Impact flavored" meal advice. Nice. I could always use some advice on Impactful Flavors, haha.

It's hard not to notice the bit awkward silence here at least to me and at least for the few times I visited for lunch. The television on low volume and the sound of the cars whizzing by on Miramar Road in addition to the rather dark interior with lack of windows (not to also mention the eclectic decor). All sometimes transports me to a dreamy surreal state. "Huh, where am I again??"

Earth calling Dennis... Earth.. to Dennis. To help my thoughts return back to ground let's talk about chicken eggs shall we?

Personally tired of all the too firm over cooked grayish eggs I see in most Oyako-dons around I asked if they can make me one with the tamago "loose" or "ゆるい". The answer of course was a "どちらかでも作れますが卵は半熟のほうがいいのですね?" or "We can make it either way but you would like your eggs hanjyuku (half cooked), is that right?"
Oyako-don ($4.75 including miso soup and salad).

Umenoya hooked me up with some wiggly and very moist Tamago Toji (word used when you seal something with an egg). A straight forward Oyako-don otherwise but elevated by the eggs done a perfect slightly runny. How Oyako-dons ought to be in my opinion but I've seen more than once people complain about runny eggs, even at French Bistros and so I understand the Americanized trend toward well done eggs in most donburi's. Just don't personally prefer it.

Also helped was that the rice which was on the firm side that didn't go mushy with the addition of the kaeshi broth. This kaeshi I thought had a good balance between sweet and savory dashi.

Fyi, if you ever wondered what the Oyako in Oyako-don meant, it means "family." A bit morbid when you think about it but basically it consists of a donburi bowl of rice with both Chicken And Egg, hence a "family bowl."

Another offshoot sometimes using the Oyako name is with Salmon and Ikura (salmon roe).
So would this mean a bowl of rice with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and simmered Kabocha would technically be one too? A vegetarian Oyako-don! :)
The "Tannin" in Tannin-don on the other hand means "stranger" and usually a donburi with Beef or Pork with fluffy eggs.

The Tebasaki fried wings were great.

The larger tebasaki wings were a $1.75 each. A bit greasy but very well marinated and the flavors of the light soy sauce and ginger nicely done like a great Karaage.

Only four total visits so far but I've managed to become completely curious of this place.

Like how when digging up my earliest photos of theirs I noticed a sign mentioning New Years Osechi Ryouri. This is the Japanese equivalent of pre-ordering your Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner!

As I leave I also place into the magazine donation tub my loose change.

Good authentic Japanese food to be had here at Umenoya. Probably not the best place to bring along a large party (at least for lunch), but definitely a good idea to bring along a friend or two to keep you company.. :)

Umenoya Japanese Restaurant, 8650 Miramar Rd # B, San Diego, CA 92126


KirkK said...

Hi Dennis - Nice post.......the location, and the speed limits on Miramar make Umenoya easy to miss. You took great photos in spite of the lighting (or lack thereof).

Dennis K. said...

Thanks Kirk, I have to hold my breath and make sure I don't flinch when it's that dark with my digital compact... My first visit was a couple years ago and lunch was still pretty quiet then as well. I'm assuming the place is busier at nights. Hope the post gives them some exposure at least with whatever the little traffic I get.

Chubbypanda said...

I love your intro. It's too funny/true. No matter how pretty the food, if your lighting is crap, you're screwed.

Dennis K. said...

Hi CP, thanks! I do sometimes wish I had a proper digital SLR but I still prefer the convenience of a compact where I can always carry it around with me. It's usually fine 80% of the time. Thanks for dropping by!

Junichi said...

The owners are closing shop at the end of this month. Rumor is that they will help manage Ichiro on Convoy starting July. Time to make one last trip!

Dennis K. said...

Wow, thanks for the info Junichi! I will. Well at least Ichiro can use the help.. :P
I really hope they incorporate a few of Umenoya's items into their menu. That would be really nice.