Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lunching @ Hinotez - The First Month Post

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Quick Lunch @ Okan And Few Sneak Peek Randomness

Thought it was due for a catching up type post. I'll have to see how much I can get done tonight as I'm recovering from a Firefox crash and having to rewrite everything really sucks. But anyway we had grilled some Sanma at friends last month. Might've smoked up the neighborhood a little but these were plump and was delicious had with grated daikon oroshi and drizzle of shoyu.

Dropped by Okan today for a quick lunch since it had been a while. My last Part Five collection of lunch meals can be found here. Come to think I didn't notice the free grated Tororo this time around, bummer. But I did instead a bunch of newer offerings. So much so that I went a little over my lunch budget ordering up, ha.

Your bowl of rice can now be upgraded to several mini-donburi's. This day a choice from Chashu pork to even Ikura salmon roe but I went for some Mabo-don status the Mapo Doufu lover that I am ($6.50 + $3).

Was very satisfying for a person craving a Japanese style Mabo. More savory than spicy, also nice and meaty. Buri Daikon was listed as one of six sides on the week's menu ($6.50). Have to say trying out an Okan's version was hard to turn down.

It must not be quite Buri (Yellowtail / Amberjack) season yet as the fish was still very lean (I had a similar experience at Sakura not so long ago). But the seasoning was spot on, an umami laden savory-sweet with a hint of ginger. I can't wait until the fish fattens up for a richer and tender experience going into the Winter season as I'm a big fan of Buri Daikon.

Wa Dining Okan, 3860 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

I've had a slew of documented lunches from Okan's sister restaurant Oton for some time now. Been meaning to share sooner. (My first Oton post since they started serving lunch at the beginning of the year here.)

While their lunch menu is still centered around accessible Donburi's, it's been expanded a little along with an additional weekly changing special. (Shown just the half portion soba side.)

Oton, 5447 Kearny Villa Rd # D, San Diego, CA 92123

I haven't been the super regular as I once were at Sakura but the place still makes it to my lunch rotation time to time. (In fact I just ran into The Kirk and the Missus not so long ago!)

Shown the Ika Somen. A more Summer dish of very fresh raw Squid thinly sliced to resemble noodles and had with Soba Tsuyu. At $5 the three-bite sized crucible is on the high side but for me worth every penny. My last longer organized Lunching@Sakura series post was February of this year. I'm way past due for an update here as well.

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

Speaking of Summer, back in July a group of SD food bloggers got together for a BBQ crawl. Need to thank Carol of CAB Cooks again for organizing the fun day. Was neat to meet also Canine Cologne (again), Kirbie, Mary, Marie, Leanne and their significant others. Hope I didn't miss anyone, there were a few last minute cancellations.

We visited four joints if I remember right. Criteria was that they had to actually smoke their meats with wood or wood chips. The best by far was Coop's West Texas Barbeque in Lemon Grove! Drool....

Hope to find the time to write about it in more detail soon, if for the sake of my own documenting process before my memory gets too fuzzy. The owner was such a cool guy, he gave all of us a sampling of his BBQ Spaghetti, made with sauce smoked along with all the other of his lovely meaty creations. (I guess all the cameras snapping away was hard to ignore, haha.)

The dish may have been a bit rich for some but this was right up my alley. The brisket and (oh) the ribs were fantastic.

Coop's BBQ, 2625 Lemon Grove Ave, Lemon Grove, CA 91945

The most fun I had during the crawl though had to have been at The Babecue Pit in National City. There are a few around but this locale was totally a step back in time. The photo below isn't even of my own meal (of course have those too). It just looked too pretty and took a snap.

The Barbecue Pit, 920 E Plaza Blvd, National City, CA 91950

Back in March there was an article on Serious Eats about Ramen Hacks (the instant kind) by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and many readers commented with theirs. Was a fun read. I remember adding a little milk and/or a half packet of gelatin to my instant Tonkotsu (usually Umakatchan brand) for some added richness and viscosity. The latter gave some body to the soup which most packaged ramen needs for a better mouth feel. But anyway I've tried a few of my own with real ramen, specifically Santouka.

As much as I love Santouka's creamy rich Asahikawa style Tonkotsu, I always thought the flavors they offered (with the exception of the spicy Kara Miso) didn't have enough differentiation. As a regular this means you start to wish for changing it up some. Don't look too hard at the Chibi Shio Ramen above because I haven't done anything to it but looking forward in sharing my finds as it was a fun experiment.

Santouka Ramen, 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd (Mitsuwa Market Food Court), San Diego, CA 92111

I went through a bit of a Vietnamese Com Tam broken rice dish phase last Summer as well and collected enough to do a fun comparison. This one plated below resembling the size of a rugby ball was one of the better deals in town in quality and quantity. I think it was only around $7.50 too. No wonder I can't lose any weight!

I think I'm going to call the series "Let's Get Fat Together."

Finally I still have many more food related photos from my last trip back home.

Shared already what I thought would be of interest to actual foodies, so what are most left are probably fast/junk foods. Still all things I sentimentally hold close to my heart and was happy to be able to photo-document for the blog during the Winter break. Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Early Bird: Adam's Steak 'N Eggs

Adam's Steak 'N Eggs is one of the few quirky breakfast joints lined along Hotel Circle that seem to mainly cater a split clientele of out of town business travelers and more casual local regulars on their way to work. Open from 6:30AM on weekdays, it's the breakfast half of the shared building and assumed same owner Albie's Beef Inn, live band karaoke eclectic dinner venue of sorts.

Judging by the exterior the Bavarian country bar meets American breakfast diner fusion inside can be unexpected. A nice collection of alcoholic drinks meant as classic hangover cures list the left half of the menu. Screw Drivers, the Ramos Fizz, of course your Bloody Mary, and even Milk Punch.

Their namesake Steak 'N Eggs not surprisingly is popular but sharing instead the Hamburger Steak 'N Eggs plate ($9) that happened to be more in the mood for. The gouge to the side I'm guessing was from the cook checking its doneness? There are less obtrusive methods but I guess only one absolutely sure way.

I know by now non-Japanese hamburger steaks (and Loco Moco's) aren't usually fillerized and not the fluffy Japanese Hambaagu that I've grown up to love. Instead with a completely different profile, it's the substantially beefy flavor experience an all-beef patty can only provide. Was cooked past the medium I had asked but definitely the better non-Japanese Hamburger Steaks I've tried to date, I consumed the entire finer ground top sirloin burger with only a dash of salt and occasional smidgen of tangy salsa provided.

The Hash Browns which they simply call "Potatoes" here are not the usual stringy cuts but more square and chunky like delicious fried potato confetti. Eggs were perfectly done Over Easy as asked and the tasty thick cut buttered Texas Toast how I wish all are everywhere. Haven't explored the rest of their menu too much but I remember their sausage links to be good, a nicely sagey skinned variety with a subtle snap.

Adam's Steak 'n Eggs, 1201 Hotel Circle S, San Diego, CA 92108

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Early Bird: A Japanese Breakfast @ Hinotez

[Update: Hinotez now opens from 8AM and also serves morning ramen.]

7:29AM Balboa Ave. Always wished for one. Hinotez must be the first Japanese Restaurant to open early enough to serve breakfast in San Diego. Since yesterday from 7AM, and I hope they keep it up because I plan to come often. [Check out another visit here.]

Waiting until a few more visits to share my lunches here but quickly met up with a friend this morning to check out this new breakfast gig of theirs. The ordering method is somewhat similar to Okan's lunch. A starter or 'basic set' consisting of a bowl of Rice, Miso Soup, Hiyayakko, Pickles and packet of Nori seaweed starts at 3-bucks (but now $2 for a limited time until the end of the month), while there then are several many $1~2 options that you can add to your hearts content. Current full menu here.

Myself, went for a poached Onsen Tamago ($1) for the yolkage I needed and a second Ginger Pork dish which was one of the specials ($2). My friend had the Curry which I later tasted and thought was pretty good with some ground meat, possibly inspired some by Sakura's version.

Were all pretty tasty with only initial additional thoughts that maybe portions could have been larger somewhat, especially the Hiyayakko which I swallowed whole. In actuality though most asagohan in Japan are no larger than this and it was the nice lighter alternative to fried bacon and eggs that I was in fact hoping for. New breakfast option success.

Lunch and dinner, the actual grilling of Yakitori skewers will not be happening until their liquor license goes through. Until then they will be serving the same menu for dinner offered at lunch which include Udon/Soba, Bento Combos, Curry, Ramen, Sushi Rolls and Appetizers.

So far so good, and what I can say for breakfast... Hinotez, let's do this.

Hinotez Japanese Restaurant, 7947 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92111

[I've since posted on a first look lunch meals that can be read here.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Retort Report / Ramen Radar: Muji's Green Curry & Nakamuraya @ Fall MUGF 2011

Trying to relax while feeling you've accomplished something over the weekend is a tricky endeavor. Hope everyone had a good one. Mostly wanted to give an update about Mitsuwa's Fall Umaimono Gourmet Fair coming up end of the month but throwing in a retort curry while I'm at it. Pictured below MUJI Japan's delicious Green Curry that came from a pouch and reheated in rapidly boiling water. Later tossed up in the same fry pan a super quick seared cabbage side that literally took two minutes. Embarrassed to even mention but all of what I can remember on highest heat: Olive oil, cabbage, drizzle of sake, pinch of Dashi powder, S&P, dried chili pepper flakes. In that order.

I can do a whole post proclaiming my love for all things MUJI, but for now for the uninitiated I'll just say they're kinda like the IKEA of Japan except maybe a hundred-fifty times cooler. More a total lifestyle based concept where they sell quality minimalist inspired products from clothes to tableware, beautifully spartan mechanical pencils, wall mounted CD players, and recent past years even MUJI Homes to contain of course all your MUJI furniture.

I also always enjoyed their foods, the basic "General Store" like feel the packaging and contents had. They offered quite a few selection of retort pouch curries as well as 'curry kits' with premeasured spices for the more DIY spirited. Muji's Thai Green Curry (Chicken) rings a particularly sentimental note for me as it was a staple in my tiny Japanese suburb studio apartment back in the day.

At a highest Five Muji Chili Pepper unit rating it packs a good level of heat and also hardly sweet it is surprisingly more authentic tasting than what's probably served in most Thai restaurants here. Each pouch contains a nice amount of bamboo shoot, dark meat chicken pieces, straw mushrooms, and token Kaffir lime leaf and Bird's Eye chili pepper. Good stuff.

Yes another Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Fair is on its way the end of the month, 27th (Thurs.) to the 30th (Sun.). I'm particularly looking forward to this one as legendary Nakamuraya will be there showcasing their famous Shio Ramen. The online description lacked any whereabouts which made me hesitant to post about it earlier but the recent flyer I picked up at Mitsuwa finally mentioned that Nakamuraya will be at Torrance.

The closest thing I've had to a Chef Nakamura influenced creation was a Niboshi Ramen at Ramen California last year that was close to divine to pronounced dried fish wafu ramen fans like me. Unfortunately I've heard Ramen California has since acquired new management and have lost any ties to Nakamuraya in Japan. Been completely regretting not having had the chance in returning before, but maybe this Mitsuwa Fair appearance is a hint at renewed interests in establishing a locale in L.A. or O.C. in the near future. One can wish...

Picking up some Beef Tongue Bento Box and Menchi Katsu will be high on my list and seems to also be only available at Torrance. I'm not very familiar with Hawaii's Gomaichi Ramen that will be at Mitsuwa Costa Mesa but the photos of their Japanese style TanTan Men and Sung Hon Men looked mighty good so I hope to drop by there as well. Heck maybe I'll make it a mini ramen crawl of sorts and visit Nidaime Tsujita that I hear is finally open for a bowl of amazing tsukemen while I'm at it. :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Retort Report: Coco Ichi Beef And Kinkei Ginza Curry

The care package replenishment of more pouch curries had arrived. Combination of it and the fact I left my good camera at friend's means clearing out the older curry queue this weekend. As promised from my earlier Coco Ichi Pork Curry retort report, I had the beef flavor with some Natto couple weeks ago. Thought it'd go well in a Turf-n-Turf kinda way. Natto also happens to be a listed topping on the restaurant's menu.

And they very much did go nicely but seems anything would've been great with this Beef flavor which I thought had much more umami-oomph than the Pork that bordered on subtle. If I had to choose, this Beef version would be the one kept permanently stocked in my cupboard.

This day I was also enamored by the rediscovery of the Coco Ichi plateware in looks but also functional beauty. Designed specifically for the sole task of perfectly cuddling a single portion of Japanese Curry Rice. Much wider than a soup saucer and not as flat as a standard serving plate. The calculated dimensions efficiently cools the curry sauce to devourable temperatures while also contributing as a stable platform for toppings piled to extremities. Makes me even more proud to own one. ;)

Next up sharing the Kinkei Ginza Curry documented much longer ago. This was one of the first to go from my beginning of year purchased stash how delicious they were. To a person familiar to the Meiji corporation, the company may be known more for Milk Chocolate Bars than curries. But I'd find out Meiji had in fact been producing curry products under the Kinkei (Gold Pheasant) Brand as early as the 1920's. Sometime after the mid-Eighties they would launch the Kinkei Ginza Curry in retort pouch form with attractive retro packaging.

Loved the box where each pouch inside of all three I purchased also had a different retro graphics printed. Shown in heat level 'Spicy.'

I'll have to take back what I said earlier. If I had to choose one boxed curry to be in my cupboard at all times it would probably be this Kinkei Ginza Curry.

Containing plenty of beef and onions, extremely flavorful and satisfying. The rue, deep and unctuous, overall on the sweet side but balanced with spice heat that makes you look forward to each alternating spoonful of hakumai rice. Couldn't really ask for more as for classic Japanese style curries go. The strips of beef and the way the onions were sliced thin reminded me of Hayashi Rice which they also sell. (The photo in the wiki link provided isn't very representative. Here's a better Hayashi Rice image on youtube.)

Last, a random King Crab retort curry review from Road of the Retort-Pouched Curry King...

Whether he'll reach the real deal level of Instant Noodle Diary Mr. Tontantin fame only time will tell but found it entertaining nonetheless.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Asian Dude Food: The Spam Roll @ Chopstix Too

You can often learn something about yourself when blogging. And you can learn something of others when blogging about food. Probably the most accessible means in firsthand witnessing adaptation within cultures and their diversity is to study a meal composed on a plate. Further taking the time to understand the dish's background and history strengthens appreciation which I feel ultimately leads to open-mindedness and honing of one's skill to empathize. Long story short, Chopstix, I come in peace. You were very packed with people the day so why should you care. But in any case I really enjoyed your Spam Sushi Roll ($3.50).

I randomly visited Chopstix Too breaking my five year or so blank in hopes of preemptively extinguishing a potential hunger driven shopping spree at Mitsuwa later on. Was craving then a classic Katsu-don (I would've totally dropped in Yoshino if they happened to be closer), but would be that I will discover the already very Americanized Japanese menu at Chopstix-2 seemed to since have further evolved with an additional list of what looked to be Island inspired offerings.

None of the donburi descriptions referred to meats simmered together with onions in don-tsuyu and sealed with wiggly egg. Instead most were flavored simply with Teriyaki sauce. So my Plan-B was this handsome looking Fish Katsu Bowl. I actually did enjoy the spicy mayo portion. The very sweet teriyaki though became a bit much for me personally halfway into the meal. If I could have it my way I imagined a version with a lightly tart and less sweet Nanban sauce with maybe a small dollop of creamy and light Asian tartar sauce. Not the least bit calorie conscious but something with more interest and perhaps a tad less cloying.

Still at $4.95 with Miso Soup, was not a bad deal at all where I could see myself asking for the Calamari Katsu Bowl next time if I could request sans the teriyaki syrup. As I mentioned earlier I enjoyed most the Spam Sushi Roll the visit. The brand name pork luncheon meat cuts were heated on the skillet beforehand for optimum flavor, then rolled along with texture and flavor contrasting takuan sweet pickled daikon and creamy avocado. A simple savory treat I found pleasing to snack on dipped in wasabi shoyu and easily worth the $3.50 in my humble opinion.

Chopstix Too, 4380 Kearny Mesa Rd, San Diego, CA 92111