Christmas came a little early for me last month as a handmade wooden robot called the Korejanai Robo (コレジャナイロボ). Something my friends got me from the land of katsudon and sushi carousels.
"Here you go Ethan, it's the Strike Gundam you've wanted..."
Korejanai, meaning "This is not it..." The gift robot is a parody toy figure sparked from stories that may ring too close to home to some with not so fortunate childhood memories. One of a desperate parent trying to pass off a garage creation as that Christmas gift their kid had been hounding them for months on end.
Korejanai Robo won a Japan G-Mark Award in 2008 and I'm super stoked to add it to my collection. Thanks guys! You know me too well!
As for food, quite a few updates relating mostly to ramen. RakiRaki had started a Tonkotsu about two weeks back and the nerd of me was there the second day it was out to try. I wasn't too surprised in that it was a lighter take and after asking I did confirm a little chicken is also used along with the pork bones in their version.
[Original Tonkotsu Ramen, $9.75]
I'm all welcome for lighter Tonkotsu's, in fact I think there aren't enough of them. But this version I felt was a bit too tame and maybe cut with a little too much chicken borderlining a Kumamoto-style let alone a Hakata which they claim. The benishoga pickled ginger is a nice welcome where not even Yamadaya serves (and I feel they should, especially that it would complement more their richer style).
The star though is definitely their new pork chashu that is marinated in a little X.O. paste then flamed with a torch. The one had first below was extremely tender, delicate and nothing short of delicious. Quite superb actually and I don't use that word very often if only because I always thought it sounded cheesy, ha.
I've since also had the Spicy Miso Tonkotsu (which I thought was too salty but will cover in a future update post) and another side serving of just the X.O. belly pork with a recent meal and unfortunately found them over torched and dry. I did mention it to the kind waitress who's usually eager for comments so hopefully it'll be promptly addressed. It'll need to for them to charge the $4.25 for three slices.
[X.O. Underbelly Aburi Chashu]
RakiRaki Ramen & Tsukemen, 4646 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111
I finally dropped in Ramen Yakyudori after a longer dry spell last month and noticed they had a tsukemen as a November special. I had a strong intuition of what I'd be getting into but thought I'd try it out anyway, and who knows, I just might be surprised.
Sheer volume wise they definitely get a V+ with smiley face for $7.50 asking. All that menma bamboo shoots, pork chashu, half a flavored soft-boiled ajitama egg (that I always enjoyed of theirs), good serving of green onions and a sheet nori even.
The noodles unfortunately were what they use in the ramen, but the all important dip was weak and very amateurish in flavor. My guess of the seeming ad hoc concoction was some of their lunch-only tonkotsu with a little shoyu dare, sesame seeds... I might've tasted a little ginger, I don't know.
Are the owners bothering in checking out the competition? No "E" for effort here. Was filling though and of decent value but I'd much rather have their Hiyashi cold summer noodles. If I could only have Yakyudori's generous Tsukemen toppings with RakiRaki's noodles and Dip!
Ramen Yakyudori, 4898 Convoy St., Suite 101, San Diego, CA 92111
Too bad Ramen Zetton's tsukemen turned out to be a bust too... :( Maybe I was expecting too much but there were just too many questionable intentions about it that at the end of my meal I concluded it be best to stick with their delicate Shoyu Ramen and Shio.
A little rare, you get a choice of hot or cold tsukemen here. If you must try it I suggest going the cold route because the hot noodles with interesting wheat flavor were sticky, gummy and not that great eats. The dip was also way too weak, something I could sip directly and not surprised to find in a regular bowl of ramen. I had used up all the soup only a third ways through the noodles which is a first for me in tsukemen. If anything there's usually a lot of dip left. As Edjusted of The Ramen Blog had reported, the eggs were closer to hard-boiled than soft.
The Keema Curry Bowl (small, $3.50) I had as a side was great. The blanched cabbage between it and the rice was a nice touch to cut some of the richness. The Simmered Hainan Chicken Bowl will be next!
Really looking forward in trying the Shio Ramen while I honestly wouldn't mind playing it safe and ordering the Kotteri Shoyu again. Despite them being in OC, I have a feeling filling up their stamp card isn't going to take me that long. Free meal coming up! :)
Ramen Zetton, 735 Baker St - Unit B, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The biggest disappointment in my personal ramen world bubble though was that my once favorite bowl of intensely dark Shoyu of Ramen Iroha seemed to have gotten the WD20 treatment since they made the permanent transition into Marukai Gardena. That's short for "Watered Down 20%" which I just made up but to me is really not a kidding matter... :_(
Ramen Iroha is known for bringing their Toyama Black Ramen which I explain in detail in the link above. While it's hard to tell by the photo, the only thing black was the newer bowls. This was more Toyama Umber (?) and really lacking the impact of the previous bowl during the temporary pop-up opening.
I've also tried their newer White Shrimp Ramen and it was just alright. Chicken based and a little gritty from the shrimp powder I'm guessing they used. Are they even using the same noodles as before?? I'm still having trouble getting over the disappointment of the Kuro Ramen. Someone please hug me. *Sniffle*
Ramen Iroha (in Marukai Gardena), 1740 W Artesia Blvd, Gardena, CA 90248
The not too good news continues on at my recent revisit to UnderBelly. My first and last post despite the few kinks I thought they had big potential. The servers are pronouncing Ton-kō-tsu correctly now. Sorry, just one of those pet peeve things of mine, but the more controversial "No spoons policy" is probably much more erking and still in effect.
I thought I'd try the Vegetable Ramen the lunch break ($10) and they were cool enough to let me have the Tonkotsu broth with (it's usually served with a veggie based soup). Was thinking maybe the healthier toppings of various sauteed mushrooms and white asparagus would balance out the rich soup better. I still had to get some pork Chashu Belly though (+$3)! ;)
This particular bowl the soup was substantially thinner and almost bland tasting. Noodles were also too soft and overcooked for my liking but maybe most of their customer base prefer it that way? The pork was melty tender however seemed to be lacking any seasoning or marinade.
I also thought I'd give the Shrimp Gyozas another try ($5) after reading positive comments about them online. Seemed to have been fried on all three sides which is a strange uneccessary accomplishment but were the same limpy experience I had the first. The fillings are decent enough but pan-fried gyozas to me are equally about contrasting textures.
Hate to sound like a cliche' Yelp review by saying I really want to like these guys, but I really, really do! I noticed the autographed Ivan Orkin poster in the bathroom so the owners seem to be actual ramen fans. The place was doing brisk business during the hour I was there so what the heck do I know really.
UnderBelly, 750 W. Fir St, San Diego, CA 92101
I guess in the meantime the king of extra heavy Kotteri ramen in San Diego still remains at Yamadaya SD. They were doing a better job at distinguishing the regular Tonkotsu as it was at much normal levels of richness the last I tried. Shown below is the Tonkotsu Shoyu.
A surprise one visit was how much I liked the Korroke (croquette) Bowl. A hot, rather standard potato korokke over some rice, however dressed in Okonomiyaki camo-fatigues. Almost a meal in itself, I'll be first to say it's maybe not for everyone. But if a person was looking for a quick primer to fill them up before diving into Yamadaya's ramen, it fits the bill nicely.
Ramen Yamadaya (San Diego), 4706 Clairement Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92117
Otherwise my meals haven't been very experimental the last few months with my usual fallback Japanese comfort foods. I've had breakfast at Hinotez quite a few times after these, just haven't posted on them.
Here we have the Basic Set with Karaage, Tororo and Onsen Tamago ($3+2+1+1). Not bad for seven-bucks which include free miso soup refills. I probably could've gotten away without one of the dollar items, but it's hard for me to choose between gooey egg yolks and gooey grated mountain yam over rice.
I've been wanting to suggest Hinotez serve Ramen in the morning. May sound odd but it's been a trend in Tokyo the last few years, nicknamed Asa-Raa, short for "morning ramen." Hinotez serves it for lunch anyway so why not extend it for breakfast? Either way it was good to see several groups this morning. I really hope they keep this Japanese Breakfast thing going in SD.
Hinotez Japanese Restaurant, 7947 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92111
I hadn't been to Oton for lunch in a while so dropped in recently craving their Yakitori Donburi. I instead ended up having the special which was an Iwashi Fry and Sashimi Bento ($13.50).
The panko crusted sardines were great. Were some katsu sauce and hot mustard provided but I think I would've enjoyed them even more simply dipped in salt as fresh as the sardines were. The sashimi was also quite good where the lightly crunchy baby octopus was probably the highlight.
Posting the Instagram version since it turned out better than the photo taken with my "good camera." Miso soup is pretty solid here though I'm probably partial to Sakura's.
Oton, 5447 Kearny Villa Rd # D, San Diego, CA 92123
Lunching at Wa Dining Okan has definitely been part of my routine the latter part of this year. I feel an update post is long overdue but here is a Gyu-suji Miso Nikomi I had which was the special of the day.
Long stewed beef tendons that are pleasantly tender. This day I didn't taste much of the miso as more a traditional stew flavor but it's ridiculously tasty. I totally agree with the one waitress that said to me, "I don't know why more people don't order it... I think it's so good!" Can't agree enough.
Wa Dining Okan, 3860 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111
Izakaya Sakura is also in my regular lunch choice spots though I've been visiting more for an early dinner lately. I recently mentioned their marinated sashimi tuna Tekka-don here, but below is a sweeter interpreted Hayashi Omurice that'd be sure to fill you up if you're into these Yoshoku western influenced variety of Japanese.
Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111
And finally, after some light research Tonkotsu Udon seems to be a legit thing. Now served at Mugimaru in Mitsuwa Costa Mesa. For those prices I think it's worth a try.
Thanks for hanging in there. Until next time!