Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Nerd Ramblings - And A Couple Bentos I Ate For Sustenance..

I've been pretty frugal with Japanese magazines the last six months or so but I finally cracked and purchased some food porn at the Sanseido bookstore in Mitsuwa last week. They are air freighted and expensive to start with, but on top I unfortunately can usually read less than half or so of the text so they're pricey purchases considering for the most part they serve as inspirational material.. But oh they do inspire! :)_



Couldn't pass up on this titled Otoko Meshi (男飯) that maybe translates to "Dude Meals"?, haha.
Love the phrase "ガッツリいこうぜ!!" ("gattsuri ikouze!!") which is very hard for me to translate but maybe something loosely in the spirit of.. "GET IN MY BELLAY!!"??

On the more warm and cutesy side of Japanese food/lifestyle magazines, I enjoy a copy of ku:nel once in a while. I'm pretty sure the title came from the word (食う:寝る) to eat and to sleep.. Yes the title rocks.



The content is very warm and fuzzy. Recipes and articles usually skewed on very homey meals with a little bit of crafts and sewing thrown in. Yeah I know.. but I'm pretty secure of my guy-hood to care about what the cashier ladies may be thinking, haha.



My favorite part of the magazine is in the back where they do a spread of all the meals the editors had for the season. So cool. Maybe I'll someday evolve my blog to something more day-to-day..

Btw, I should've known but no photography allowed in the bookstore. Since I purchased these I guess they let me off easy.

Sanseido, (in Mitsuwa Market Place), 4240 Kearny Mesa RoadSan Diego, CA 92111

Had an extremely busy early year where my lunches were kind of all over the map in location and choice. Over at Nijiya I noticed they had been experimenting/expanding their bento line the last few months.

I recently found the Katsu Curry packaging change a few times but here the sweet pickles were in their own little compartments. Fyi, they completely reworked their curry recipe last year since the Summer vegetable "Natsu-yasai" series and it now seems to resemble Sakura's version with the finer minced meats and carrots.. Anyhow few things are sadder than the sight of screwing up your Rice-to-Curry ratio while eating and to be left with a lonely portion of white rice in the end. So ration the curry accordingly because shops tend to give you just enough in their bentos. ;)



Mabo Nasu Bento - Savory spicy eggplant with ground pork. I'll admit I was too in a hurry and hungry to even bother to warm this one up. The Mabo Nasu was a little salty at the cold room temperature that I chose to have it but there was definitely enough organic Koshihikari rice to help with. Call it Japanese influenced Chinese or Chinese influenced Japanese.. But when you throw in the potato salad and also sweet pickled daikon Takuan (that I love dearly).. Call it Nijiya's Mabo Nasu Bento. I must have liked this cause I purchased it again for dinner the very next day. Definitely tastes better warmed up. :P



Other temptations were the Okonomiyaki bento and the Buta Tororo Wariko Soba bentos. The soba came with fatty marinated pork and lovely tororo grated yam along with the standard dipping tsuyu.

Also I never got the courage to ask for a photo but if you see a friendly white Amerika-jin man working that you didn't notice before he is the new Nijiya SD manager Graham, freshly transplanted from Los Angeles. When you're there please welcome Graham to San Diego. Welcome to San Diego Mr. Graham! I really enjoy shopping at your store. :)

Nijiya Market, 3860 Convoy Street, San Diego, CA 92111

Hope you all had a great weekend. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Two Meals - Saturday 03.20.2010

I'm trying something a little new and writing about the two meals I had today quickly. Well, the day didn't start very well with a sub-par bowl of Pho for lunch so I was determined to end the day on a positive note. Decided to finally check out Latin Chef. A place in Pacific Beach that offers a Peruvian and Brazilian menu.



And boy was I glad I did. :) I'm pretty sure Latin Chef was one of Kirk of mmm-yoso's recommendations to me when I had asked about the lack of good lunch spots in PB so I must give credit here. Kirk's early visits in 2007 can be found here and here.



This place is super cute and cozy. A friendly portion of fried corn kernels arrived immediately after I ordered.



A nice salty and crunchy to munch on while you wait. My description of the Guarana soda was a fruitier version of a ginger ale type drink. Also had a Coxinha ($2.50).



A curious conical shaped appetizer, described on the menu as a fried flour pastry filled with chicken. The fried dough to me had a pleasant potato-starchy / light cheesy flavor that I really enjoyed and a flavored shredded chicken filling to match. Was told typically eaten with ketchup but to me it was nice just as-is (and I'm a total ketchup fiend).



The Tallaran Verde con Bistec had then arrived..(!)



($11) I ordered it partially because I wanted to compare it with another bistec dish I had previously elsewhere (future post). They actually ask you the doneness of the bistec here and had it medium.



I thought the bistec was acceptably tender for such a lean cut while I also enjoyed the light marinated flavor. The pasta was intensely creamy pesto!



On the menu the pesto was described as made with pecans but it seemed to also have a hint of a curry type of spice that differentiated it from something purely Italian. But all in all pretty much what I had imagined this plate would be. The pasta did prove to be a bit heavy near the end but I managed to finish. I was stuffed. Thank you Latin Chef for a very good meal to end my day. I will be back for lunch very soon!

Latin Chef, 1142 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109

Pho Point Loma & Grill used to be an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet called South China Restaurant. I visited roughly two years ago and remember leaving very.. uninspired. By chance I drove by the area early this week and noticed it had changed to PPL. I was more than happy to put the old memories aside and give these new tenants a try. Truth be told I failed to find the Classics Malt Shop this day (I now realize I misspelled their name on my GPS!).




PPL's menu was extensive enough running the full gamut from appetizers to banh mi sandwiches to com tam plates to stir-fries, and of course Pho. They let me order a half order of Cha Gio.



The wrapper was the Chinese egg roll kind which I personally don't have a problem with though purists may. What did somewhat bug me though was that it wasn't piping hot which I can't remember cha gio ever not being served that way except for the few that I had at to-go places (piled high under heat lamps but priced attractively). With only two other lunch groups (who were already eating) besides me this was a bummer. The nuoc mam cham was sweet enough but light in the fish sauce. Unfortunately none were provided on the table to personally remedy.

I ordered the Pho No. 2 ($5.75) which read - rare steak, well-done steak, flank, brisket and tripe.



They may have given me the No. 3 because I noticed there were no rare steak but some tendon instead. Anyhow the soup was a mild salty broth with very little beef/herb/spice flavor distinctive of Pho. In the past I tended to be more forgiving of this if the meats were prepared well but this wasn't the case. :( Many of the meats (I'm guessing flank) was very fatty but not in a good way and hard to chew gummy. For better or worse they weren't very generous with the amount and except for the brisket were all not very desirable cuts. The nuoc beo even wasn't enough to save this bowl which for me says a lot.



I'm hoping the Pho would improve over time since the place is new and is a relatively easy area for me to get to from home. Until then I would gladly visit many others, not to mention Pho La Jolla (which I'd like to clarify that I never said was bad but just that there were better out there..) or even Pho Time or Pho Sao Bien in PB if from work, and of course my favorite Pho Lucky if I'm inclined to make the light trek to Mira Mesa. So you can say I thought PPL had a lot of work cut out for them as far as their Pho is concerned.. Could be the rest of their menu makes up for it.. So I may revisit but not without waiting for a few months time..

Pho Point Loma & Grill, 2788 Midway Dr, San Diego, Ca 92110



Well maybe one good meal out of two today isn't so bad..

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Nori Is Green..

I didn't plan at all for a St. Patrick's Day post today. Being part Irish I have absolutely no excuse! I've been working on a Fish-'n'-Chips post (Angela's Ashes-ish) but I felt it was still a bit premature to up and none were from Irish Pubs anyway.

The fantastic weather has been holding up so had a long overdue car wash and ate a Chick-O-Stick during. :) Boy was it warm today!



Never had a Chick-O-Stick while I'm pretty sure I first heard about it on Foodnetwork's Unwrapped - the show that I don't really watch but have on as a background while I do other things. The bright orange color may look like a cheesy flavored savory snack but it's actually sweet and doesn't have anything to do with chickens (or chicks) whatsoever. Maybe the outside texture resembles fried chicken? Anyway, when you take a bite the coconutty shell shatters into flavor bits recognizably similar to the butter-flaky Butterfinger sans the chocolate. Does just as a good job sticking to your teeth as well. Yay I had my first Chick-O-Stick.

La Jolla Village Mobil, 3233 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037

So back to St. Pat's.. Plan-B was to look in my drafts folder for anything I ate or thought of food related that was Green.. I know it's a stretch but Nori is green! Love it. I can eat some teriyaki flavored Yama-Moto-Yama or better yet the roasty and flavorful sesame seed oiled Korean version as a snack as-is.. Mmm.
As a proper meal though maybe my personal first association with Nori would be the Onigiri rice ball. My Convenience Store Onigiri post here and another on Onigiri Robots here (that unfortunately now has a lot of dead links so I'll have to do an update in the future).



I kinda wish Mitsuwa, Marukai, and Nijiya would get more creative with their Onigiri fillings. The selection of Ume plum, Sake Salmon, Konbu Seaweed and Tarako/Mentaiko Cod Roe are good classics but feel outdated and as far as attracting the younger generation a pretty dull lineup. I love Salmon and Mentaiko but there needs to be an additional twist. A great YouTube vid on a popular store off the JR Juzo Station that specializes in hand made Onigiri Rice Balls.. I think the name is Kamatoya.



These are the cool kinds where the generous fillings show off themselves by protruding out of the rice like plants sprouting off the melting snow grounds during the first signs of Spring. And the top 5 countdown from their 40+ variety goes as follows:

No. 5 - Miso Katsu. A crispy fried pork cutlet with a sweet/savory miso dressing.
No. 4 - Chicken Karaage. Chicken marinated in a proprietary house marinade, twice fried to crispy perfection.
No. 3 - Good ol' Sake Salmon. Ok, you can keep this classic Mitsuwa/Nijiya/Marukai.. At Kamatoya the fish is attained from a trusted source of quality unexpected in a humble rice ball.
No. 2 - EGGPLANT MISO! Fried eggplant with the same sweet/savory miso used on the katsu wrapped in Ooba shiso leaf, popular amongst young and old. My mouth is watering..
No. 1 - Shrimp Tempura. Actually a trusty classic in the new order of Onigiri-dom called the tenmusu (tempura + musubi) but here offered in two ways, salt and soy sauce flavored. Another popular favorite of both young and old.

And they're all a buck each! The video also mentions that the owner Soeno-san was a one time Japan's TV Champion winner (as Onigiri King). Here is a man that specializes.. :) So another Top Five tips from the rice ball mystro himself on how to make great onigiri that has a tastier shelf life.. (in the handmade method btw..).

1 - Cook the rice with less water. About 10% less he mentioned. Rice balls are typically eaten after sitting for a while and the firmer rice tastes better after time in this case.
2 - Let the cooked rice cool off to room temp before using. This again ensures a rice ball that is as tasty as it was when constructed. Piping hot rice is your enemy.
3 - Don't over moisten your hand. When making rice balls by hand you lightly wet your fingers and palm for the salt to stick when dipped but over moisturizing will not make of good eats. Makes sense..
4 - Don't skimp on salt. While over salting is an obvious no no, according to Mr. S. salt actually helps retain moisture in the onigiri and brings out the sweetness of the rice. Time will tell.
5 - Don't pack the rice too tight. Not firm enough will obviously make your creation fall apart but too much pressure is not good. Like a good Nigiri Sushi you need some air for good Onigiri. For the big boys maybe investing in this robot that injects air into the rice is a good investment.(?)

And I'll turn this all upside down by saying that the best I ever had was when I made myself one in the wee days when returning home from soccer practice. Washed and salted my hands liberally and made myself the most burning hot onigiri I can bare to hold straight out of the rice pot.. And ate it immediately. So the Pro's pointers are probably great when packing for a picnic or of course running your own omusubi business..?

That's all for tonight.. Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Another Random Taco Truck Post - La Princesita, Rolando

I seem to be on a taco truck roll but I don't really go about seeking them out. Came across this one (technically a trailer) that I couldn't help ignore off El Cajon Blvd just past 50th St. The cart was lit up and flashing like a carnival stand and not having dinner may have been a big contributing factor but I was uncontrollably drawn to it like a moth to a porch light.



Located in the Autozone lot next to what looked like a Mexican pastry shop with a grand opening sign (darn now I feel I should've at least stepped in). Upon closer inspection I noticed the truck was a La Princesita. I remembered the name on one or more of Kirk's posts.



My interest in Lengua (tongue meat) had re-sparked recently so I thought I'd try a couple and another two of Carne Asada.



A bit brisk this night.. But taking a few photos while I waited listening to Mexican music in low-fi was pretty entertaining.
My tacos came ($1.50 each) packed to the brim with meat (undressed). You just couldn't eat one without having a few chunks fall out onto your plate. The carne asada had a nice marinated flavor with some grilled crispy bits but the job of trimming out the gristle wasn't done well. It was kind of a roll of dice with each bite. Some very good and others hard to chew. Luckily I have a good set of chompers.



The lengua was tender enough but I somehow didn't care too much for the texture. Looking back, for a first time visit maybe I should've tried more varieties. So I decided to return the next evening where a second visit was never part of my plan (these parts at night can be a little sketchy).



And I did love the self serve condiments idea. Green guac sauce, roasty red salsa, green salsa, pickled carrots, a sliced red onion mix, chopped raw white onions, cilantro, radishes.. and this night also sauteed onions.



You know if they just served me some warm tortillas I might be able to make a decent veggie taco with them all....



They were out of Cabeza, and they didn't serve Carnitas. So I had Pollo, Pastor, and another go of the Asada (thinking maybe it was an off night the evening before).



I didn't hold back on the condiments this time. :) They lightly steam the tortillas by quickly dipping them in water and placing it on the hot griddle. I personally prefer this over the light frying in oil, while one fully steamed is even better, but anyway the chicken was moist and decently "tough bits" free. The pastor I thought was about the same. The steak was much better then the day before but still not completely immune to the tougher connective tissue. Not the greatest tacos I had but not bad ones while the full condiments bar I think is the very neat attraction to the "La Princesita taco truck business model" if you will for me.



The area is a bit out of the way so my visits were strictly out of curiosity. If you're in the area and hungry it might be worth a stop, but again these parts at night can be a little iffy, just a Fyi. The cart operates between 4PM until 11PM.

La Princesita Taco Cart - Rolando, just East of El Cajon & 50th

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Random Taco Truck Day - El Jefecito, Clairemont

This was during one of those many drizzly weekends we have been having the past month..

I'm rarely in these parts but I noticed a bright yellow taco truck in the defunct gas station off of Balboa and Clairemont Drive. I realized this was the spot that Kirk had been giving updates on in the past. (I somehow in my head pictured Clairemont and Convoy (!) and every time I would pass the location I'd disappointingly say to myself, "Hmm, no taco truck today either....!?"..) Anyhow, I think the truck read El Jefecito..



Also conveniently there was a coffee cart right by so I felt I could knock two birds with one stone this lazy weekend day (more on that later). I put my order in of a Lengua (tongue), Al Pastor, and Carnitas tacos and waited. If I remember correctly they were all a buck-fifty each..



A free bean soup helped warm me this chilly afternoon where a drizzle of rain would seem to come and go every few minutes.. The stew/soup was flavored fairly simply but it was a nice gesture.



I pretty much stood next to this grill for the most part that was burning some mesquite charcoal behind the truck.



The tacos arrived with large grilled onions and pepper. Again was also a nice gesture but was still a bit raw for me to enjoy. The lengua was the best of the bunch. Really moist and beefy flavorful. I'll be back for these! :) The tortillas were warmed in the style of lightly frying in oil while the generous carnitas and al pastor were also both fairly oily.



These were a little greasy but surely didn't lack flavor and so I enjoyed them for the still good deal $1.50 that they were. Maybe the al pastor was a bit salty but not bad.



SO.. Fairly satisfied with what turned out my first late meal of the day, I headed for the nice looking black trailer for some coffee. There was a man in front of me that was chatting up with the lady inside long after his drink was served. He also tipped quite handsomely. Finally I had ordered my ice coffee (I know it was cold but that's almost always all I have) and the whole time my eyes were focused on the lady's eyes.. The previous pervy man in his beat up 90's Prelude drove past ever so slowly so I looked back to make sure there were no rain puddles that would splash on me. He was grinning at the "barista" the entire time! Anyhow, I can be pretty naive at times.. And I finally realized that under the lady's cardigan sweater, she was wearing only a bikini.(!) Everything finally made sense. The name of the trailer.. "Sneak-a-Peek Espresso"... Hello... I just hope she had a heater in there! Brrrrrr.



The funniest part though was that I had asked if I can take a photo (of my coffee drink.. you know.. for my blog..). And with an almost well rehearsed verse she point blank told me that photos were $20 each.(!) I felt so embarrassed, haha! I don't even remember how much my coffee was nor did I count my change.



That's all I have for tonight.. Happy eating!

Lunching @ Department Stores - Zodiac, 59th & Lex, And Nordstrom Cafe

My personal memories of meals at department stores brings me back home as a child when my father would take me out as part of our Sunday stroll. The incentive for me (while I greatly enjoyed his company) was a plastic model kit of some sort from the toy department. After the visit I couldn't wait to get back home to build my Gunpla, fighter plane, U-Boat, or Japanese Castle (just kidding), but only before our usual stop for a meal on the top floor which was where the restaurants were located (not too different to a food court but these were actual sit down places). My meal was usually a plate of a very sweet meat sauced Japanese spaghetti, occasionally a Naporitan, or sometimes a Hamburg Steak. Darn if I only had a blog back then! And last on our way out was the ritual of perusing through the basement floor with all the Tsukemono pickles and tubs and tubs of Miso with all the freebie samples. Good times.

Wanted to share a few fun eats at department store restaurant/cafes here in SD (Fashion Valley).. No toy departments in any of these (boooring) but I managed to have a few good eats.



The Zodiac is located on the third and top floor of Neiman Marcus.. Visited Z-NM elsewhere but first time here in the SD Fashion Valley mall.



A small shot of consomme soup comes immediately in an espresso sized cup, complementary with every meal. Hot and tasty! :) The crescent shaped mini pastry thingy was lightly cheesy (how do you like my foodie vocabulary so far? haha).



You also get a choice of a Popover or a mini-muffin looking Monkey Bread. The monkey bread seemed popular this day. Never had it. I wonder if tastes of banana? The pink butter is Strawberry butter. Had it with my light crunchy flaky hollowy popover. Lovely.

I wasn't in the mood for a burger nor was I ready to splurge on a steak this lunch hour so I quickly settled for the salmon (~$18).. Was that lame of me?? haha.



I don't know, I guess I sometimes feel pressured in ordering something more interesting for the sake of my readers.. But the Coho was moist and seasoned well on a bed of tasty mashed spuds with a butter and caper sauce. Nothing crazy here just classy and good. As you can see presentation was very nice. The service was fantastic and just ON. I couldn't ask for a better server. If I were to be critical the dish could've been hotter (felt like it had sat a bit) but for the total experience was well worth it.



Outside I noticed the famous Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies.. But are they more famous for the urban legend $250 cookie recipe?.. One of my first fond memories moving to Los Angeles in the early 90's was Rick Dees announcing the recipe on KIIS FM. Even the radio station bought into the hoax! Since then as an antidote NM has produced a Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that can be downloaded for free.



But I think I way prefer the Yoku Moku. Uber buttery delicate cookie cigares. This box was $36. (Oops my partial reflection with camera is in it, dork!)



Back to the meal, you get a little twirly chocolate mint after your bill. No fortune words of wisdom or lottery numbers included.



That was pretty fun. :)
Throwing in the closest free parking structure in the mall.



Zodiac, 7027 Friars Road (Neiman Marcus 3rd Floor), San Diego, CA 92108



59th & Lex Cafe is in Bloomingdale's (also 3rd floor).



This time I was in the mood for a burger.. So I tried the Bloomie's Burger.



An 8oz patty that is mixed with herbs and seasonings.



At $9.50 the burger wasn't the most expensive I've had but it was overall underwhelming. The mix of the half-pound patty had a lot of herby flavor but the texture was rather stiff. I at first thought maybe it was over kneaded but I now guess maybe the pre-seasoning of sodium in the ground may have caused this. The potato salad I chose felt a bit under flavored but I wasn't in the mood for fries. Sorry can't think of much else to say except that the super cool waiter didn't charge me for the cheese on my burger which would've been an extra $0.75.

Somehow I know I will be back at 59th & Lex Cafe. Hint: Frozen Yogurt.

59th & Lex Cafe, 7007 Friars Rd (Bloomingdale's 3rd Floor), San Diego, CA 92108

In a rare Radiused Corner timely manner the Nordstrom Cafe has just reopened with a new make over just this week. Visited yesterday.



This outside photo with line was taken as I was exiting around 12:30PM, so the place is very popular. Since I never been I can't say how much or different it has changed. As for the lady-to-dude ratio I felt out numbered 9.5:1.. haha. So I knew the menu would probably be skewed but overall I had no expectations..



Did ask a close friend with much more Nordstrom Cafe experience what they recommended beforehand. Lots of salads and soups (I knew it, chick food!) with some special mention to the Tomato Basil Soup.



Wow look at that roasted veggie plate in the lower right. Bugs Bunny would be all over those carrots. Anyhow, got my tomato soup and ordered my main and sat.



I had my share of roma roasted tomato basil bisque soup stew stoup.. but I have to say this was pretty good ($3.50 for a cup).



The cheese crostini was so cheesy, cr(o)sty, good salty, moist, and.. yup very cheesy. :) Really enjoyed it and happily accepted a free second of this giant cheese crouton. (So the service starts out cafeteria-ish but ends full server-ish.)



While the Rustic Vegetables captured my interest for sheer visual impact I ended up with the Tuscan Roast Chicken ($10.25).



Rustic! I haven't seen a sprig of fresh rosemary so large since my Hash House AGG days..



Veggies all had a great char with good caramelization. The yellow and red peppers were so sweet. The large very thick deboned chicken breast was quite moist and flavorful with a trimmed but decent amount of skin with also the wing drumette intact.



The small corn on the cob was fun to eat. It unexpectedly made my SDFV department store meal experiences come full circle reminding me of other childhood memories. I now remember our butter in the butter dish was always shaped a 'U' after all the twirling with hot corn we'd do! :)



Nordstrom Cafe, 6997 Friars Rd. (Nordstrom 3rd Floor), San Diego, CA 92108