Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Early Bird: Adam's Steak 'N Eggs - Revisit

Another hearty breakfast from Adam's Steak 'N Eggs (first post here). Went with friend a few weekends ago. Funny it was another Plan B for us come to think but I finally got the name sake Steak and Eggs ($12).

I somehow ended up with standard issue white toast (they're usually cut thicker), not sure how I ordered different. But the hash browns were quite terrific. Eggs over-easy as usual cause I'm boring that way at least for breakfast.

The steak was surprisingly decently tender. I mean it's no chateaubriand but it was much better than many I've had in diners, in fact to the point I almost never order S&Es. May have been slightly more done than the medium I had asked for but was decently pink in the very center. Beautiful grill marks and I thought the flavor was fine, again it's not like I'm expecting anything aged at this price point. Like most of my favorite breakfast spots, the food is good but the atmosphere is what I enjoy the most at Adam's Steak 'N Eggs.

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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sakae Sushi, Gardena - Revisit

The evening of the day after my double bowls at Ramen Iroha showcase in Marukai Gardena, I decided to drop by Sakae Sushi to pick up some dinner to have later at home. This place is the bee's knees. My first funky post on them two years ago here. I must've been into some weird creative writing slant back then. The flow feels tortured and awkward, probably trying too hard, haha. A bit embarrassed now that I look back but that shouldn't ever detract from the awesomeness of Sakae. (!)

Asked for the 12pc Mix ($9.75).

Always thought their packaging is so darn cool!

Below the contents (sorry it was late and the sun just about to set)...

Seasoned on the sweeter side, such a great treat. The saba is really nice, marinated in light vinegar and not fishy in the least bit. I've never been a huge fan of shrimp growing up but enjoy the Ebi here. Futomaki and Inari I can snack on all day. What they call the Tamago in the middle is probably the prettiest but tastes even better. The only thing I wished maybe was a dab of wasabi somewhere.

Sakae Sushi, 1601 West Redondo Beach Boulevard, Gardena, CA 90247

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ramen Iroha, Gardena - A Tasty Play On Colors

Another shout out to reader (and fellow ramen fan) Junichi who tipped me on Ramen Iroha at Marukai Gardena. (Hey you gotta email me one of these days so we can go have noodles!)
Known as Menya Iroha in Japan, they're a shop originating from Toyama, a relatively quiet prefecture now famous for giving birth to the Toyama Black Ramen.
I first heard of the 'Toyama Black' around three years ago when I assume the Japanese ramen media was desperately searching under the last unturned rocks of regional ramen for another distinctive bowl to report on. From what I've learned it was a very salty, intensely black shoyu flavored ramen that supposedly evolved the way with the post-war blue collar Toyama workforce so to be eaten along side white rice. Yup, you can say Toyama Black was maybe the first ramen to evolve as an Okazu, ha.

Fast forward to present times and Iroha with their slightly tweaked Toyama Black fine-tuned more for mainstream acceptance ranks top sales at the Tokyo Ramen Show three years in a row ('09, '10 and '11). The buzz is that Iroha was now testing waters here in So. Cal. with a temporary pop-up in Marukai Gardena until 9/16. This btw is the other O.G. Marukai off Artesia, not the one next to Ramen Mottainai and Akane Chaya.

It may be a total coincidence but I like the phonetic play on words of Iro meaning color and the three distinctive Black, White and Red choices of ramen offered. Was also impressive to see how many bowls the approximate 20'x20' cubicle pumped out with only a handful of staff.
Anyhow I knew I'd only be able to try two out of the three. The Black is an absolute must try and so was an easy first choice. Went for the middle tier with flavored egg - Kuro Ajitama Ramen ($8.95).

The soup, at least for the Black is mainly of Chicken (whole) with a separate Niboshi (dried baby sardine) component which makes it a double broth according to the website. Having a first sip, the flavors of dark shoyu runs deep and generous like a soy sauce aquifer, also pretty complex with a little lingering of bitterness but one that isn't off putting in any sense. It's also surprisingly not as salty as one might think by the looks, and at least for me what I braced myself for. Still easily a completely different animal than even the most robust of Tokyo-style.
In TBR the ratio of Shoyu-dare (Shoyu flavor elixir) to broth is much higher than a typical Shoyu Ramen. Also made with a blend of several Soy Sauces, I hear it is first used to marinade and stew the Pork Chashu, but then further let rested over a period of time to develop that tar-like near opaque syrupy consistency. In the case of Iroha, dried fish is additionally incorporated for a more complex umami base and the selection of Shoyu for the blend done in a way to reduce much of the sodium levels. Otherwise it is assembled like any other with a final sprinkling of coarse black pepper that finishes things off in Toyama Black fashion.

Having said all this, it isn't fishy in the least bit, especially in the Gyokai-kei sense of ramen, but masters of umami, I'm sure if it weren't there there would be a void, sensation of missing flavor and lack of depth.

The Chashu with a dark outer ring (sorry, a much better photo is coming up) reminded me a cross between Ippudo's and one in Tsujita's Edo Soba. The slices ranged from leaner to fatty and guessing maybe was from being cut into smaller pieces for the almost full serving ~5/6th portion. Either way they were marinated stronger with a healthy dose of Shoyu flavor, more savory than sweet. May be slightly salty for some but something I personally enjoyed as I felt it enhanced the porky flavor. I totally would've made another Chashu-don if I also got a hold of these, ha.

With all this intensity you'd be needing noodles that are nothing short of fantastic, and these were. A medium thickness that was maybe ever so slightly wavy but for the most part would be described as straight. Firm, chewy, with a great nodogoshi, a Japanese term for an attribute of noodles that give a pleasant sensation going down the chute. Stained darker by the soup, I thought it was a great match with.

The eggs were soft and delicate, a little sweet and provided some of the needed break from the Taiko like beat of Shoyu drum. Ajitama btw is short for Ajitsuke Tamago, or flavored egg... Hanjyuku which you might hear time to time in reference to eggs in ramen, literal translation half-mature meaning ones soft boiled. Some Menma bamboo shoots and Kikurage wood ear mushrooms also help dress the bowl. I've heard the menma could be as salty as Tsukemono in some Toyama shops, but here it is flavored pretty standard.

After that bowl, I couldn't see myself trying the milder chicken Tori Paitan style (as collagen central goodness I've heard it was). If I planned better ahead, I would've started with the Shiro but not all braincells tend to fire when you're hungry. I just may be back for it but anyway I ended up with the spicy Red. I think this bowl with a minced meat flavor bomb of Maala numbing Szechuan Peppercorn heat was developed special for the Gardena showcase. Shown, Aka Ajitama Ramen ($9.95).

The delicate chicken broth base is easier to recognize here, drizzled with a little hot oil. Nice but I recommend immediately breaking down that scoop of spice flavored ground pork. The soup instantly thickens to another level of viscosity and depth of flavor while the addition of earlier mentioned Szechuan peppercorn really gives it the interest it needs to distinguish from many other "spicy ramens" out there.

The pork Chashu was a little fattier in this bowl than my first. Consistent in edging on the salty side but definitely delectable. The Nori seaweed sheet, eggs and sprinkle of green onions wraps things up nicely.

It's not like this Red bowl needs to get any spicier but their special Ra-yu hot oil offered to the side I thought wasn't to be missed. It's a great addition to any of your bowls in that it carries a lot of nice flavors along with a more rounded kind of heat profile.

Iroha would bring to So. Cal. a welcomed variety to a scene much too saturated with Tonkotsu (imho), a few old school shoyu and even less examples of good Miso ramen. An absolute great addition in L.A. for sure if they do decide to follow through with their first U.S. soil brick and mortar.
Another thing I like about them is that they don't seem to be afraid of experimenting and developing new ramen flavors which I feel contributed to their success in Japan. While the three offered in the Gardena showcase is pleasantly distinct, their online menu suggests something much more from a chilled ramen, dip tsukemen, spicy miso, yes even a tonkotsu... but also one made with another Toyama specialty the Glass Shrimp.

Come on down Iroha, the weather is great. :)

[Damn you crappy food court lighting!]

Ramen Iroha (in Marukai Gardena), 1740 W Artesia Blvd, Gardena, CA 90248

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I ♥ Mexicali - Asadero Gran Ocotlan

I had the chance to visit Mexicali twice work related in the past couple months. If it weren't for these short day business trips I probably would never have had the opportunity to see this capital city of Baja. Same probably could be said about Nashville, Cleveland and Philadelphia since I don't have close friends or relatives there, but experiencing and discovering the energies of cities new to me are always exciting and Mexicali definitely was no exception. But boy was it hot! This day in early June, it was 113°F and a cool 108 in the shade...

Anyway a two part series that I've been looking forward in sharing. It was a very busy day but the time to eat came sooner or later, and I didn't forget to take pictures.

I really have to thank my host for bringing me to Asadero Gran Ocotlan in that she's been raised vegetarian as long as she can remember. But according, the place made her favorite cheese quesadillas and happens to be a pretty famous spot for tacos for the rest of us meat eaters.

Interior is pretty spacious and air-conditioned although I heard the place was originally outdoors in its early inception. The order of a few tacos went fairly quickly in Spanish, and then this tray arrived not too long after at our table...(!)

Were close to a dozen various salsas and accoutrements. The radishes, limes, spicy pickled carrots and green guac sauce looked familiar but also were thick slices of refreshing cucumber, onions, cabbage and a few different types of delicious salsas.

The host's cheese quesadillas were first to arrive. Supposedly the larger handmade flour tortillas are well known here. Researching more later, it seemed these could be a general Mexicali specialty which I've yet to confirm but at least for Asadero Gran Ocotlan, it's definitely what to get.

My Asada and Pastor tacos came loosely rolled in a paper sleeve. I rolled them out and commenced to put together what I thought was my perfect taco, one condiment at a time. Not too difficult of a task mind you. The steak was nice with lots of crispy bits without being dry. Pastor also well seasoned and just greasy enough. As good as the fillings were I felt the flour tortilla was definitely the star though.

Still warm, a little powdery to the touch, and had that balance of being slightly stiff from being well heated yet still perfectly pliable. The subtle translucency hints at some of the fat content but my diet is forgotten quickly as it is undeniably tasty. A perfect sturdy vessel for your meat (or cheese) of choice that holds up even with more than a few selected condiments.

I'm not sure if the beans and grilled green onions were extra but they were really good in their own right. The beans were seasoned right and the green onions fantastic, char-roasty and sweet. Remember when Baja Fresh used to give those out?? *Sigh...

The Horchata btw was also great. Not watered down like few I've had, thick, spicy and flavorful.

I did try a taco later with the corn tortilla and have to say they don't quite stack up (pun intended) to the great flour ones. Was on the dry side and nothing too uncommon as to what you might find here. Still, the second round of tasty Pastor and choices of sauces made for a great chaser. The plan was to also try the Machaca, but they were unfortunately out the day. Everything totaled about $9 U.S. if I remember right.

Didn't know at the time that I'd be back to the city so soon. I'd definitely happily return to AGO but next up would be the city's perhaps actual iconic cuisine, Mexicali Chinese. Yup, many may be surprised to hear but Mexicali at one time had a population that was more Chinese than Mexican (due to a workforce influx for a massive irrigation project in the early 1900s). Currently Mexicali supposedly has more Chinese restaurants per capita than any other city in Mexico.

Asadero Gran Ocotlan, Calz Independencia, 21280 Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ramen Yamadaya (SD) - Quick Visit

Hello there! Well I typically avoid visiting restaurants at opening week, usually at all costs. But maybe it was that I missed any all of the Mitsuwa fairs last weekend and I needed something to make up for it. Also the second day young Ramen Yamadaya in sunny San Diego happens to be close to work, oh darn - winky smile. [Update: Check out a more thorough first month visits post here.]

But anway, as I mentioned in my update post this is L.A. Ramen Yamadaya's sixth and newest expansion. Will have more photos next time but I really liked how the place was done up. Open and airy and even a cool patio to the side that I was surprised to see. Would be perfect when their booze license goes through. (Judging by how long these typically take, could be a while though.)

There's a glass partition between the dining area and kitchen. But the real physical divide is a wall of billowing steam from several rapidly boiling cauldrons. You can literally feel the difference in air pressure if you sit by the front counter as I have. Columns of hot water vapor venting upward, noodles snap strained downward. I've really missed that. Welcome to a ramen-ya.

I went with the "heavy" Kotteri version and tried the Yamadaya Ramen upgrade ($9.95) where for the extra ~two-bucks you get a piece of Kakuni pork belly along with the regular slices of pork Chashu. Also an extra half of flavored soft boiled egg and the large Nori seaweed increased to three sheets (yum). Other toppings are the Menma marinated bamboo shoots, some Kikurage wood ear mushrooms, and in this case the Kumamoto influenced appetite stimulating Maayu black flavored oil of slow charred garlic (mentioned on my Costa Mesa Ramen Jinya post).

The bowl came piping hot and the pork bone soup that boasts 20hrs of preparation, thick, creamy and rich, pretty comparable to the bowl I had previously at Jinya in fact. Quite a different beast to what I originally sampled during my first visit in Torrance, so it seems the ramen here has been evolving in the last two years. Seeing kakuni in a Kyushu Tonkotsu I reminisce my everything zenbu iri bowl at Jangara in Akihabara. This was on the leaner side but flavored well and decently tender. Pretty good. The pork Chashu slices are the rolled-then-string-tied style which was refreshing to see in SD. You get better fat to protein distribution per slice the way but also I feel a more concentrated porky flavor. Hanjyuku soft boiled egg was also delicious with a nice light sweet soy sauce marinade. Yolkalicious!

I asked for the noodles Katame firm. Thin, white and wiry in Hakata fashion. This extra al dente is the most popularly eaten way for the style but admit it may not be for everyone, especially here in the States. Either way make sure you slurp them feverishly because Hakata noodles can loose their resiliency relatively quickly. If I were on a budget, the large noodle portion or extra Kaedama refill of noodles would be a guaranteed fill for only a buck or so more. The latter, ordered fresh recommended since I wouldn't want these noodles steeping in my bowl for that long. This day I went for a combo meal though and had a 4-pc. Japanese Gyoza and Curry Bowl for an extra $4.80. (SD Ramen Yamadaya menu here btw.)

This partial order I imagine were pilfered from a set. I expect my next full order to be more crispy, but the flavor was very serviceable and still would giv any Japanese Gyozas you'd find off Convoy a good run for their money. Still my favorite in So. Cal. remains at Ramen Mottainai.

The Japanese Curry was pretty tasty as well and reminds me how I can easily see myself order a non-ramen item here in the future, at least until they start serving the clear broth Premium Shio and Shoyu. That is I can only have a bowl of rich Tonkotsu so often but I can already see myself being a regular. Welcome to San Diego Yamadaya. :)

Ramen Yamadaya (San Diego), 4706 Clairement Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92117

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Quick Dinner @ Kaiserhof

Sharing a quick dinner I had with friend from a couple weekends back. Were in OB and Hodad's had a crazy line out. It had been a while since I visited the popular SD burger joint so I was a bit shocked but I'm guessing it might've been partly due to the Comic-Con in town at the time. Anyhow Kaiserhof ended up becoming Plan B.

Was actually my first visit here. Another one of those places from a long list that I've been meaning to try forever but just never got around. The first and last German restaurant I can remember going to in SD was Chef Axel in La Mesa back in earlier 2000.

Inside it was almost a comical contrast from the noise and beach goer casualness at Hodad's. The place is done up nicely, but not to the point of being too stuffy. Paintings of German castles and other tasteful paraphernalia hang the walls while the curtains on every window further help you feel you've been transported.

Beeru time. A Hefeweizen sounded perfect for the hot weather. They had two choices out of at least the dozen or so regularly kept beers on tap. Went for the Paulaner. Had the familiar initial wheatiness with nice citrus fruity finish, but felt extra smooth and balanced, probably helped some by being a draft. Was very refreshing to say the least. The Bitburger Pils looked pretty good too.

Onion soup was what was being served the day. A nice beefy broth with a home made taste. Some onion soups I've had tend to have a light bitter aftertaste but this had none of it and great.

My sausage sampler Wurst Platte ($21.95, including soup or salad). Your artful looking selection of Knackwurst, Bratwurst and Bauernwurst comes resting on a bed of sauerkraut and red potatoes to the side. I now wish I had asked then which was which. The far right is easy enough and the Knackwurst. A fine textured which if it were more herby (and white) would've reminded me of Weisswurst (my all time favorite). This was more garlicky though and I believe made with beef (instead of veal and pork).

The middle, my familiarity at least by looks would guess the Bratwurst. I enjoyed the flavor of spices a lot in this. Had little resemblance to ones I'd get at the supermarket and was really great. By process of elimination I would think the furthest to the left was the Bauernwurst (never had). It was good but maybe my least favorite of the bunch only because the flavors reminded me of a spicy Kielbasa or Andoullie. Would be great if they let you choose three you wanted for the plate.

If all that weren't enough I also had to try a side of the Potato Pancake. Was pleasantly crispy on the outside and had a moist potatoey inner with spices and I remember the additional nice flavors of onions. Comes with some apple sauce. Yum.

The tab came about $35 per person. Not exactly cheap but considering what we had and setting it was well worth it. At an Izakaya would've easily spent equal to that if not more. If I were a German transplant and missed the flavor and dishes of home I imagine the place would be close to godsend. I do know what that can feel like.

Kaiserhof Restaurant & Biergarten, 2253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego, CA 92107

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Early Bird: Banh Mi Trung @ Paris Bakery

Dropped by Paris Bakery off El Cajon Blvd this morning to pickup a couple Banh Mi sandwiches, one to have there in my car and other later for lunch. I've been meaning to check them out ever since reading one of Kirk of Mmm-Yoso's posts back in 2008. Stuck with me after all this time and I finally made the visit...

Being out ~7:30AM this rather brisk morning felt early enough for me but it's nice to know they start operating from as early as 5AM. I don't think I've seen them open past 2PM and can't remember how many times I passed by the place (usually en route to Pho Hoa, A-Chau, Kim Chan, Com Tam Thuan Kieu, Hoai Hue, etc., etc.) to see them shuttered.

From what I've read Paris Bakery is responsible in producing the baguettes (those distinctively light-crusty Vietnamese style) for many most shops in San Diego that serve Banh Mi.

Even the short time I was there, there was an SUV that swung by that was loaded with baguettes by the boxful... Walk-in customer wise it was just me and another lady that seemed like a regular.

Although Rice Flour is often called for ones that are extra airy, confirmed that Wheat Flour is used here according to the kind gentleman that was eager to answer any question I had. "Each bakery has their own recipe... And we use a special Wheat Flour imported from Canada."

I noticed the Banh Mi Trung (BM with Egg) that I had my heart set on wasn't on the menu but they seemed happy to make one for me anyway. Super sweet.

I did feel I was pushing my luck a little when I also wanted to make sure that the egg was over-easy. Cali Baguette Express does theirs scrambled. Cafe Dore and Saigon Sandwiches & Deli with the lovely runny yolkage.

A little cross cultural doodling with pen paper and these guys were awesomely on it. Had the first egg sandwich in my car. Tons of the pickled veggies that were very crunchy and not too sweet. Also were stuffed with fresh Cilantro (and I LOVE Cilantro, stems and all). Eggs were all that I hoped for with maybe only a dash of Maggi missing to help out in the sodium flavor department.

I noticed the razor thin slices of gelatinous Head Cheese that contrasted with the light smear of squishy Pate only later in the second half of the sandwich. From experience Mayo usually isn't present in Egg Banh Mi's and wasn't the exception here. It was a nice lighter breakfast sandwich that I definitely wouldn't mind having again.

Tha Jambon & Pate later had for lunch was good as well. This with a little Mayo and I enjoyed how they slice the hot peppers very thin as it evens out the heat through the meal. Both sandwiches using the longer and narrow baguette measured 12" with ends cut off. While both at $3.50~$3.25 is certainly not a bad deal, I plan next time to take full advantage of the Buy 3, Get One Free to check out the rest of the menu in the near future...

Paris Bakery, 4481 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115