Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lunching @ Izakaya Sakura - The Sakuramen And Few Other Dishes..

Another episode of sharing my lunches at Izakaya Sakura. I hope people aren't getting tired of these. I explained in the past that I'm simply one of many regulars here and it just so happens that I have a hobby of blogging about what I've eaten. That and I've been also trying to complete their entire lunch menu for fun. Ok, that part might sound weird to some.... ;)

So anyway I've heard Sakura was experimenting with a Tonkotsu based ramen for some time now and it was supposedly offered on a trial basis during dinner while they ironed out the recipe. It's now available for lunch. :)

Sakura's original ramen cleverly named the "Sakuramen,"($8.50).

While my experience with were all pleasant, its personality has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So you can say the recipe tweaks continues on but I didn't think the results would be so drastic.

My first bowl was Dr. Jekyll, a made from scratch delicate tonkotsu broth that I guess I'd categorize as "assari Tonkotsu" or light tonkotsu. Toppings were also flavored on the light side which I thought maybe caters to their older and female majority of patrons (that at least I observe of the place).

The thick cut roast pork was impressively tender, the yolk of the hanjuku tamago a nice glossy medium, the stir-fried bean sprouts still with a nice par crunch with a light kick of fine ground pepper. The noodles not surprising were off the shelf (wavy chijire which I believe is usually not associated with tonkotsu ramen but is efficiently shared with their Hiyashi Chuuka cold noodles). With a name like Sakuramen, you can tell they are not really trying to authentically replicate a bowl of a particular region but instead create something unique to them that their patrons would hopefully enjoy. I was asked afterward what I thought and I was quite honest with. Overall the flavors were on the quiet side for me personally but everything seemed consistent in a good way. Younger patrons may want something flavored a little stronger though..(?) I'd still happily slurp up this version any day of the week.

So a month or so had passed and my second experience turned out a polar opposite beast. Mr. Hyde or Mr. Hulk. This was not the soft spoken doctor from the previous.(!)

A completely opaque extremely dense soup that was collagen central.. A can of this on the market shelf would've been labeled "Cream of Pork Bone." The bold personality of the soup was very un-Sakura like if I may say so, but not in a bad way. While I continued to slurp I kept thinking to myself I was going to get tired of the rich broth anytime soon now but I somehow didn't. It's rich but not salty. One glitch though is that the noodles now seem underwhelmed in the heavy weight boxer of a soup.

So to reconfirm my experience I had to try it yet again.. ;) This time a tad less rich than the previous but still quite up there in the kotteri scale. The stir-fried sprouts now with the addition of garlic chips.

An onigiri rice ball probably would be a great complement like how one is served with their soba entrees. While I hate sounding like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I personally wouldn't mind the soup a little less rich if the noodles were to remain the same. Whether or not it will be your cup of tea is hard to say but what I can safely say is that at least for these last experiences went there is no other tonkotsu that comes close to Sakuramen in San Diego and to have this option is nice and a refreshing change. :)

A few other meals quickly that I don't think will need too much explaining..
I noticed a few price increases of their sides which is concerning but the Tori no Karaage (Chicken Karaage, $3.50) I think is still a great deal. Hopefully yours will be shaped like little grenades like it was this day as I feel it always should. I like the center to be concentrated with scorching hot chicken juice, haha. Because otherwise I might as well be eating chicken strips which is not the same.

I remember when Sakura's karaage used to be served mizore style (already bathing in the tsuyu with grated daikon radish). Sometime ago they switched to the tsuyu on the side with an addition of the more modern (but now almost standard) dollop of Japanese mayo with shichimi pepper.

I've had it once with their standard curry ($8.50). Mmm a no brainer match. Surprised it's not on the menu this way but we all can't be a Coco Ichibanya can we? :)

I've described Sakura's mild but rich curry many times before but I'm always impressed at how well it goes with the Miso Soup. The sweet Fukushinzuke pickles are an absolute must for me (I often ask for extra) and here it is also served with Rakkyo (sweet pickled scallion bulbs?). Something a bit rare these days.

To finish the karaage thread, it's also available as a Teishoku lunch set ($8.50).

This day the karaage was shaped more "strippy" than usual. It probably fries up quicker this way and while it was still decently moist (the fact that the chicken is the darker thigh portion with skin always helps) I missed the tension of the extreme care I have to take of not burning my mouth with the chicken mini-grenades.

The Mix Tempura Set ($9). Two large shrimps, a butterflied aji or kisu, and a variety of vegetables (eggplant, green bean, sweet potato, onion, if I remember correctly).

The batter was a medium density with nice perforated branches (the term of the technique used is「花を咲かせる」or "to blossom flowers"). Fried well if not a bit on the thick side but with a nice aroma of sesame oil.

Maybe a good time to slide in a visual refreshment here.. :) The Hiyayakko cold tofu appetizer is still a favorite of mine ($2.50).

A momen medium-firm tofu topped with scallions, sliced raw okra and dried bonito flakes. The okra is a nice touch.

And what would a Japanese eatery be without your Katsu-don. This one is chicken ($9) though visually almost indistinguishable to the pork, he he.

Consistent to the Ten-don and Oyako-don that I've had, a nice robust tsuyu broth to make me crave that Japonica variety of rice. Something that I really enjoy but also something I've learned to not take for granted (such as at Kayaba which borderlines flavorless).

I need to keep reminding myself to ask for the eggs half cooked in the future though.

The Nasu no Karee or Curry with Eggplant ($9).

I'd like to say the eggplant is roasted but I'm sure it's quickly fried which in the world of Japanese Curry is never a bad thing. I actually enjoyed this a lot.

And again, the paring with the miso soup may sound strange but my how well it goes together. :)

I thought I depleted my token used to be offered dishes but I managed to find one more. The Kani Cream Korokke (Crab Cream Croquette).

You still occasionally find a mini version in the Limited Bento Lunches. The crab flavor is very subtle in the hot bechamel based filling so some may be disappointed but it's a pretty typical rendition. Sort of a classic mainstay in Japanese households and I can see myself order it if it were still offered.

The last is a recent new addition to the lunch menu. Mushi-dori no Teishoku (for short but actually - Steamed Chicken with Sliced Jalepeno and Onions, $8.50). This actually is an update from a previous steamed chicken dish now with a generous addition of sliced onions and a nice heat from Jalapenos.

The chicken is again a tender thigh portion with skin. The toppings were lightly steamed as well and all with the ponzu based sauce a great non-fried healthier addition to the menu I thought.

So this concludes yet another nerd-a-thon episode.. I hope you all enjoyed it. The next one will probably be coming sooner than later while I continue to finish off stashes of older photos before the year ends. Hope you all are having a good week, and of course good lunches! :)

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

Links to past lunches I've had at Sakura:

Uni to Ikura no Zousui, Kimchi Nabe, Saba Misoni (side), Una-don, Unatororo-don, Oyako-don, Sukiyaki-don, Ten-don, Ebi Shrimp Fry, Ten Zaru Soba, Ten Soba (cold), Natto, Ebi Fry Curry
Ginger Pork
Unagi-don (+tororo)
Buri Daikon, Saba no Shioyaki (teishoku), Yasai Itame, Jyaga Tamago, Tensoba, & Sanma no Shioyaki, Mekabu Natto Yamaimo Iri, Saba Misoni, Tonjiru sides
Nagasaki Sara Udon, Nagasaki Champon, Chicken Teriyaki, Yakisoba (w/ egg), & Roll-Kyabetsu, Sanma Nitsuke, Guratan Korokke, Potato Salad sides
Kaki (Oyster) Fry, Chicken Katsu Curry, Chicken Katsu, Plain Omurice, Hayashi Omurice
Uni-don, Chirashi (1 and 2), Ikura-don, Negi Maguro Natto-don, Spicy Nakaochi-don, Tekka-don (+w/tororo)
Liver Nira, Ginger Pork, Garlic Chicken, Saba Amazu Ankake, Hata no Kinoko Ankake, Buri Teri, Steamed Chicken w/ Ponzu, and Tofu Dango, Aji Fry, Saba Shioyaki, Buta Kakuni sides
Curry Udon
Hiyashi Chuka, Hiyashi Somen
Nikomi and Wafu Hamburg, Menchi Katsu, Subuta Dango, Mabo-don, & Hiyayakko, Agedashi Dofu, Yasai Kakiage, Karaage sides
Uni Spaghetti, Miso Marinated Broiled Salmon
Wafu Steak, Special Bento Box - 1
Menchi Katsu Sando


K and S said...

yummy! I haven't been to Cocoichibanya since we left Hawaii! I should check out the shops here.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, you're killing me! I'm sitting here with the space heater on and thinking just how wonderful any one of those dishes would be right now.

Anonymous said...

I love these posts! You always give me good ideas of what I want to try next time I go there.

Dennis K. said...

Hi K&S! I didn't know there was one there.. I heard there was a Tenkaippin in Hawaii as well but I think it may have since closed. Either way doesn't help me much, haha.

Hi CAB, it sure was cold this morning wasn't it? I'm running out of firewood! I could go for some peking duck again myself, hehe.

Hi Kirbie, I'm still trying to figure out what the cause of the bug is that I can't seem to comment on your blog. Anyway I'm glad to hear the posts are appreciated! Cheers

meemalee said...

So I'm guessing you like Sakura!

I loved the ramen comparisons - it's like a science project :)

The steamed chicken rice dish looks lovely with all the sliced onions. It reminds me a bit of Hainanese chicken rice. Very simple, light and delicious.

Dennis K. said...

Hi Meemalee! You can count on me to describe a meal like a science project, haha. I actually used to come here more often before my Japanese colleagues returned back home, pre-blogging days. I love hainan chicken rice!

Sawyer said...

merry christmas dennis! did u have a christmas goose for dinner? =) man i can't go to places like sakura because the last time i went, i lost control and ordered wayyy too much, wanting to try everything!!!! so i live vicariously thru your blog instead =)

Dennis K. said...

Hi Sawyer, it could get expensive here at night but lunch is more affordable. In fact I'd even make it my treat next time you're down here! Cheers