Yikes what happened to Summer?? Last evening I could already smell people's fireplaces lit in my neighborhood.. Happy because Fall is my favorite season of the year but just a little surprised how quickly it came.
Well in this hobby of mine of documenting things I ate, I've still been in somewhat of a honeymoon phase with the City of Gardena so putting up a few more meals relating.
Returned to Umemura for their Mabo Rice ($7.50) last week that I spotted on their menu during my first visit. I forgot it was cash only and couldn't get the Japanese Gyozas with what I had on me at the time, oh well.
So it's not like I want to do a Thesis on the subject of Varieties of Mapo Doufu but especially relating to the dish's history at least here in the U.S. I've been wondering about the import ban of Szechuan Peppercorns since '68 that was only lifted recently in 2005. I remember not too long ago when I couldn't even buy a small bottle Sansho pepper in Japanese markets for my grilled Unagi. Anyhow the effects of this ban surely would've influenced Szechuan cuisine in this country where I imagine chefs were forced to adapt recipes without the use of the distinctive mala numbing heat inducing spice. As for information on U.S. Szechuan restaurants and their dishes during peppercorn-banned days, been hard to get much information in the blogging community because it seems there aren't any food blogs that date before 2005 or at least they are very rare (I would guess having to do with the timing of when blogger type sites with convenient photo storing capabilities launched while the onset of digital cameras becoming so affordable didn't hurt... But this subject could be a whole nother post..).
Of course I take most things I read on the web with a grain of salt but it seems there may have been at least some restaurants that might still have managed to get a hold of the banned peppercorns whether through a loophole in the system or by other means. But I digress and this is starting to get way too heavy for the capacity of my head this lazy weekend morning......
So back to my expectedly least authentic but yummy in a different way Mabo Rice, haha.. The version at Umemura was another celebration of wonderful variations that exists. Here I would comfortably believe more for adapting to early Japanese tastes. I say "early" because much more authentic versions has rapidly increased in popularity in Japan over the last (I'm totally guessing here..) twenty / twenty-five years. Chin Kenichi definitely played a huge role in the latter years.
The Mabo was a very friendly light savory/sweet with an even milder component of heat. A good meaty texture with a nice amount of ground pork contrasting with cubes of silky tofu. The sauce's flavor and umami is derived probably more from an oyster sauce base than fermented beans. All in all a version that wasn't too big a surprise to be found at a Ramen joint (where it's designed more as a Ramen topping) but to me was also personally delightful in that it was an almost mirror replica of how my Big Sis makes Mabo for her family in Japan. Overall a simple and tasty meal for me to enjoy with that all important gohan rice.
The small bowl of soup it came with was essentially that of the Shoyu Ramen's with a slight more vinegar kick and bits of chopped scallions.
Umemura Restaurant, 1724 West Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247
I found Akane Chaya during my stroll of the plaza of Marukai Pacific Market. It was one of the more mysterious store fronts with an equally aged faded sign as with many in this plaza, but dark tinted windows with further a shade draped behind inhibiting me to see what was going on inside.
There were menus taped up and so was able to easily see that this was a Westernized-Japanese Yoshoku type deal with offerings heavily leaning towards fusion pasta dishes similar to Spoon House right across the street. (Akane Chaya's full menu here.)
At least this weekend day the place was quite empty. With the super efficient and friendly waitresses checking up on my water or anything else, it was hard enough trying to take photos of my meal without being noticed (a total fail, haha) so it was even more awkward trying to get a shot of the interior that was a spacious 80's cafe style and rather dimly lit.
I went for the A-Combo with Hamburg and "Italian" Spaghetti with rice ($14.50). But the name of the spaghetti would get a snickering to most because this is your full-fledged ketchup wok'd Naporitan. So especially for the food snobs, beware! Haha. ;)
Soon after my order I could hear the nice comforting sound Pit-Pat-Pit-Pat from the kitchen of the hamburg patty being aired out with hands as if it were a giant castanet.
In my opinion the rather cheap flavor of a Naporitan is strangely its attraction. Obviously the price should reflect this accordingly but anyhow I proudly lift my twirled fork and suspend it in air for a few seconds like those ubiquitous plastic replicas (some now available as USB hubs!) With humble ingredients such as slices of bell pepper, onions, button mushrooms and ham, this couldn't be a more "authentic" naporitan (haha), only maybe if it had a tad more butter and of course the pasta swelled over-done and not al dente.
The Hamburg was a nice size (sorry about my camera's auto setting freaking out on me above) and I was curious after a rather disappointing experience with Spoon House's (especially since their pasta was excellent). Anyhow at AC was a pretty good aibiki Pork/Beef blend medium-fine ground, I could see the sauteed onions in the mix and the softer texture would confirm the typical milk, panko and egg fillers (in this case great things for a tender chopsticks cuttable Japanese Hamburg).
While it was relatively moist and had ok flavor it seemed to have been missing something. Personally I use a good dose of freshly microplaned nutmeg in upping the fragrance and flavor in mine at home. I was mixed about their demi-glace where in one hand I was glad that it didn't seem to be a direct use of an off the shelf product where it had a stronger flavor of red wine, but at the same time it seemed to lack the deep rich depth of a good (Japanese) demi-glace sauce. The moistness from the hamburg would tend to dilute it further but it was great sauced up with the pasta so could very well be that I just wished for more of it, haha.. :)
The complementary cream soup was also nice in stirring up some childhood memories with the lightly sweet corn and potato flavor. I could say the same about the meal itself and while it was quite filling, for the price I felt it was still overall a couple bucks high for the experience maybe.
The Katsu Curry I felt was also slightly on the high side at $10. While a decent medium rich make, maybe not so particularly out of the ordinary. It sure did beat what was offered in the food court of Marukai though (I think it was Gen Pei Udon) which I could tell was a S&B straight out of the box rue.
The version here had nice bits of beef but was also curiously sweet. My guess is that they use the syrup of the Fukushinzuke pickles for additional flavoring which is sometimes done (like how every Japanese household has their own Karee Rice recipe..). :) So the Fukushinzuke pickles wouldn't really be a palate cleanser in this case but I'm a fiend of them anyway so I'm always glad they're there.
The pork had a nice panko breading that wasn't too thick (and battered), unfortunately how Mitsuwa-SD Kayaba's has grown to become over the years. The first two were a lean hire but the last katsu piece did have a nice, albeit small trimming of fat. The salad as with my Hamburg combo's was simple but extremely fresh. Had a nice tart orange zesty dressing.
Akane Chaya shares the same mall as Ramen Mottainai which I'd be honest the temptation of visiting much higher. But personally I have such a huge soft spot for Yoshoku producing establishments (not to mention always being in the mood for it) that visiting one is always a pleasure. That said I could so totally see myself indulging in a giant plate of their Naporitan again while that Yakisoba-style Wafu spaghetti flavored with Japanese Worcestershire sauce is also quite intriguing.. :)
Akane Chaya, 1610 West Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247-3233