Wanted to distinguish my future Hinotez posts with this collection of visits during their inaugural first month of opening. Like all restaurants getting started we all know how things may not quite be ironed out then but more important they haven't started serving Yakitori which is how the Hinotez related Yakyudori folks have made their mark in San Diego. I've been told the grilling will happen soon as they get their booze license, hopefully soon.
I thought it'd also be a good time to re-remind new readers and random visitors that I don't do reviews per se, or at least consider my posts as such. I don't blame those who may think it, the way I tend to meticulously photo-document and describe my meal experience in sometimes detailed manner. The difference admittedly may be a fine one. But the blog has always been meant to be my personal online diary documenting about things I ate, nothing more - hence no sponsored advertisements and the most un-food blog like name I was able to come up with. So anyway now that I've gotten that out of the way let's go look at some food pictures! ;)
These are mostly in random order but I had to try the Shoyu Ramen ($6.50) first just to compare with related Ramen Yakyudori a few blocks away. (BTW, the original Yakyudori in Hillcrest had been sold and is now Raku.)
There are far less topping options than Ramen Yakyudori but the kind waitress was cool enough to try to accommodate my request for a pad of butter (to better hedge my assari-kei bets). Was a smaller slab but I didn't remember being charged any. I thought the Shoyu Ramen's soup visually looked a little lighter compared to my many bowls had at RY. Was nice and savory but felt a wee subtle on the stock, especially the Soy Sauce flavor that if I had my eyes closed and they told me this was a Shio I probably would've been fine. The chef may have been conservative incorporating the Shoyu-dare but just a guess. Still overall pretty Ok I thought and a good deal for under seven bucks.
The Chashu Pork slice once warmed by the soup became very tender and great. The hanjyuku egg was a nicely marinated sweet and a thumbs up as well. The wavy lightly eggy noodles were a perfect medium firm, the way I enjoy most despite me forgetting the request. I still agree with Kirk of mmm-yoso and think the soup could be much hotter in temperature when served. Ramen should easily cloud one's reading glasses when taking the first slurp.
Check out this impressive plate of Curry Rice! Katsu Curry, the king of Japanese Yoshoku. ($5 + $3 for the pork cutlet, and +$1.50 for salad and miso soup.)
The oblong metal plate and shredded cabbage garnish hinted at a Kanazawa style Japanese Curry but this may have been a coincidence since there were too many things that made the plate not a Kanazawa style than more. Either way was a pretty tasty curry with ground pork bits reminiscent of nearby Sakura's. The tonkatsu was smaller and I would guess a ready-to-fry premade before being deep fried. Would've expected a little larger size for the three-bucks but was skillfully cooked accommodating for carryover heat, moist and tender in the center than most I've had. Knowing that only the Curry Rice portion can be had at $5, and an optional poached egg only a dollar extra makes me a very happy camper. :) I'm always amazed how well Miso Soup goes well with, perhaps a true sign of classic Japanese Curry.
I was curious in trying the Japanese style TanTan Men on the menu but went for the Tonkotsu Miso ($8). The roasty black Maayu oil was a nice touch.
The noodles were a straighter white, somewhat reminiscent of Hakata style but a little overcooked for my liking, still far from bad and most Americans may actually prefer it that way. The biggest thing for me was that although the soup came off creamy and sweet in the beginning, it later progressed to be quite salty for my taste buds by the time I was close to finishing. For now Santouka can stay relaxed but I'm looking forward in monitoring how the bowl will improve as time pass.
The Chicken Katsudon was $7 by itself. Again had with miso soup and salad for an extra buck-fifty. You're asked about the doneness of the eggs here which is a nice thing. I went for the hanjyuku medium-rare as did most Japanese that I managed to eavesdrop on my visits.
Eggs were almost cooked through and wouldn't have minded it being much rarer but soft and light as it should be. The chicken katsu was fried to order and decently juicy, but still didn't have that delicate handmade quality judging by the flatter panko crust personality. I also thought the piece could've been larger in size but the don-tsuyu had decent sweet flavors and I did manage to finish the rice in the entire bowl. Looking forward in trying the Oyako-don next.
Wanting to try a hot soba, ordered the Curry version one visit. Although Curry Soba isn't as popular or well known as Curry Udon it's definitely offered some in Japan.
Unless you go to a specialty Soba shop, off the shelf noodles and broth are the typical norm both in the states and Japan and was the case here. The classic flavors easily manages to hit the spot while portions were very decent as well. By the end the blanketed ladle of tasty pork curry is completely incorporated into the soba making things nice, rich and comforting.
A few sides. The California Roll ($4.50) was also a good fill for the price. Had a very nice amount of Krab filling. I can see myself getting this again. There are a few sushi rolls offered including a special Hinotez Roll that goes for $12.
While I've never been the biggest fan of (what I call) San Diego Style Japanese Gyozas that saturate our Japanese restaurants in Kearny Mesa, the unfrozen fresh taste fared much better than the Shumai's. I can eat these by the dozen how light and healthy they are.
And at $4, not a bad deal. Those award winning juicy $2.95 gyozas at Mottainai in Gardena are proving very hard to beat. The Shumai was for me the very familiar Japanese/Chinese Chuka style, and unfortunately not much to differentiate from store bought.
You have the option of getting them fried as I did but for $5 they really didn't do much for me and I would rather get the Chicken Karaage which is a better fill and also cheaper at $4.50. The Karaage is not surprisingly very similar to Ramen Yakyudori's. I'd personally prefer more skin left on them but still quite good, centers juicy with a light and crispy koromo batter surrounding.
The Tempura ($3.50) I actually had with the soba earlier. Came with three small but fresh shrimp, some green beans and shiso leaf. The batter was lighter and pleasant and probably best eaten separately as delicate as they were.
That's all I have for this round. Overall I had a very pleasant experience. Yakyudori, or in this case Hinotez would probably be best known and set apart from other competition for their excellent grilled Yakitori skewers once they get going. I was pleased to find some Yoshoku gems such as the big comfort plate of curry rice, very serviceable ramen and tasty appetizers. Also the fact that we have our first Breakfast serving Japanese establishment is a big win and welcome to SD and brings me great joy. :)
Hinotez Japanese Restaurant, 7947 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92111