Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday Random Things Of Autumnal Hues

I can't believe it's almost November, crazy mang. A quick post tonight about things mostly relating to food, some not.

Made birdhouses out of those foam pumpkins they sell at Michaels/Joann Fabrics. Will be painting them white to match the abode. These will be permanent year-round foam pumpkin birdhouses.

Have you ever had Have'A Corn Chips?? I found out about them from my new cool friends last I was up in Santa Cruz. Their flavoring of soy sauce and dash of lime is rather unusual but I totally love them. It'll probably take a few chips to notice as it's seasoned conservatively but nice in that it doesn't interfere with any dips or salsa if you decide to go the way. But definitely great as-is. I found them here at Whole Foods and just last night saw them at Henry's Sprouts. Haven't checked Trader Joe's yet. $1.99 for a smaller bag. Well worth.

The neighborhood cat. If you notice the shadows, this was very early in the morning before heading to work. The previous one I took I dropped my iPhone(!), chipped the glass and even lost some pixels. Oh well, but maybe gives me another reason to upgrade to the 5.

Totally random but I like this photo I took at a 7-Eleven.

Hot Dog flavored chips I purchased quite a while back. Nice try 7-Eleven but mostly tasted of yellow mustard. Better were these Premium Nori Shio chips at Nijiya.

I buy Calbee's Nori Shio jumbo value pack when they're on sale but this was at another level of dried seaweed flavor and aroma (in a good way).

Little Japanese Naporitan Spaghetti (radiused) corner fillers for kids bento found in the freezer section of Mitsuwa. I can get obsessed wanting to document certain subjects time to time.

Like here's another photo-documented at Mitsuwa Costa Mesa above. And you can count on Mitsuwa's flagship store in Torrance to have a larger deluxe version (below)... :)

Canned mushrooms on sale I purchased at Ralph's for my next Naporitan I'll be making at home. Plan to cut it with a little Demi Glace for a more adult taste.

Naporitan talk over. I love the Kimchee at Convoy Tofu House! Always had.

It's much less sour and a little sweeter than most. You can buy them to take home in a medium size foam container for ~$5. But since it's hardly fermented it doesn't keep well and you need to finish it before four-days to a week max. At least that's what I've been told.

Convoy Tofu House, 4229 Convoy Street San Diego, CA 92111

I thought Doritos Locos Tacos at Taco Bell would be only a Summer thing but it seems to be going strong on their menu. Not a lot left to the imagination with these. The taco shell is flavored with (original) Doritos seasoning, that's the depth of the shtick. The part I like most is probably the packaging. And the colors now timely for Fall?

Another Autumnal color palette, below a plastic ham and cheese display of displays. Some probably could guess from where.

More meals with earth tone hues. I've had Spaghetti & Meatballs for dinner at Regents Pizzeria at least four times in the last few weeks. It's been a pretty busy marathon month and I needed the carbo-loading, or so I reason.

But I am embarrassed to show how much parmesan cheese I use. It involves unscrewing the cap, yay. (恥ずかしい!) The meatballs are very garlicky here, and not complaining the least bit. Definitely more fulfilling than Noodle & Company at the Westfield mall a few blocks over.

Regents Pizzeria, 4150 Regents Garden Row La Jolla, CA 92037

The one non-Instagram photo in the bunch, a reuben sandwich I had at Mission Hills Corner Market. They usually have a couple Zapp's brand chips on hand and I grabbed the VooDoo flavor (basically your "earthquake" sour/savory/sweet/spicy everything flavor). It's a friendly corner shop with nice people. Haven't had a bad sandwich here.

Mission Hills Corner Market, 1630 W Lewis St, San Diego, CA 92103

Last, there's a great article (in English) on Nihon Soba in Nijiya's free quarterly publication "Gochiso." Check it out if you have the chance. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kurobuta Rosu Katsu @ Kagura, Torrance - Quick Visit

Here we have an atsugiri kurobuta rosu (thick-cut berkshire loin) katsu from Kagura in Torrance. I have to admit, to the moment until I finally took my first bite I was bracing myself for the dry/tougher overcooked tonkatsu (Japanese pork cutlet) I've often jadedly had in So. Cal., but was pleasantly surprised at it's moist tenderness, as well as that prerequisite (for a rosu) band of fat running through the cutlet like Sergeant's stripe.

The only bummer was that the shorter fragile bread crumbs didn't resemble fresh nama panko, but maybe more important that lard wasn't used for the fry oil (komeyu, rice bran oil is used here). Both would've yielded an additional layer of subtly sweet and deliciously superb pierce-the-roof-of-your-mouth outer crust. I give it a solid B+ but could be much harder for the asking $15.95. Pretty average for Tokyo prices but there were a few loose ends.

As it was lunch, the B-crew may have been on duty in the kitchen as I thought the presentation could've been a little more careful. (I had rearranged and doctored it up quite a bit before taking the photo.) The gozen set includes all the above plus AYCE shredded cabbage and a lovely smaller chawanmushi (savory egg custard) that I really enjoyed its stronger dashi flavor. The sengiri kyabetsu was cut extremely fine and nice, but some of the edges were wilted giving away that it was made much earlier in advance. The dressing was a nice, lightly tart and sweet of grated onions and/or daikon, but I'll be asking for it plain next time as I enjoy it with katsu sauce in the given context.

The sauce here wasn't too acidic and nice (as I find some Tonkatsu sauces can actually overpower like most steak sauces do steak). Flavor wise was more a mid Chu-Nou that was sweeter yet acidic enough to help cut through some of the fat. The sesame seeds which you grind yourself in a mini mortar and pestle was a nice touch which you can incorporate into your sauce though mine I preferred sprinkled directly over.

I've known about the teishoku-ya in Little Tokyo T.O.T. for some time but only first heard of their sister Kagura restaurants from commenter Rina on my Mille-feuille Tonkatsu Trial recently (the post itself dating back in '09). A quick first looksie at their menu and I could sense my pupils dilate at the all-star lineup of great sounding Japanese Yoshoku (wiki link). Various Katsu sets to Japanese Hambaagu to even an Omurice that looked very tempting.

Later researching I found a writeup from ExileKiss back when they were a more upscale Kappo-ya and also another when they downscaled a year later to become the Tonkatsu specialist they are today.

A view of another piece courtesy of Instagram. The lovely 1/2" band of fat give it that ying-yang compliment match to the leaner (but moist) end.

Prices are definitely on the high side but for me was actually refreshing to see a place taking the Westernized Japanese neo-soul food Yoshoku to its more original classy representation.  I shall one day try that Katsu-jyu box.

Kagura - Tokyo Tonkatsu and Sake Bar, 1652 Cabrillo Avenue, Torrance, CA 90501

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mitsuwa Fall Umaimono Gurume Fair 2012 - Tanaka Sobaten And Sendai Takejiro

Well, made it to both Costa Mesa and Torrance again today for another one of Mitsuwa's events, this time the Fall Umaimono Gurume Fair. I guess when you do as many as Mitsuwa does in a year (including all the Anniversary sales) you're bound to run into a few that are quiet as I felt it was this time in terms of number of stalls and foods offered. In fact I dropped by our San Diego store for lunch yesterday and it didn't seem like a whole lot was going on except for the korokke (croquettes) and few other merchandises.

My usual small trek out to the OC area is because the larger stores there have a bit more happening, but for the most part is actually to sample the limited time showcased ramen. Although I visited Costa Mesa last on the way back down, will start with Tanaka Sobaten. The event's last day is tomorrow.

It was hard for me to gather much information on Tanaka Sobaten, but it seems they're actually a chain from Tokyo that offers a few versions of Kitakata Ramen as well as a claimed Yamagata spicy miso.
Kitakata Ramen is a significant regional style in Japanese ramen alongside the largely popularized trio of Sapporo Miso, Hakata Tonkotsu and Tokyo Shoyu. As I've never had a Kitakata style you can say I was really looking forward in trying a bowl, and at least from online Japanese reviews and accounts, Tanaka Sobaten seemed pretty favorable to its authenticity.

When one hears the word "Tonkotsu," usually the famous creamy opaque white Kyushu ramen is associated with, but since the word simply means "pork bones" any stock made using is technically a tonkotsu-kei (as is Okinawa Soba, though chicken is also often used with when making). Kitakata ramen I hear is mainly of this pork bones but also niboshi.

Further the term Chuka Soba ("Chinese style soba") can mean different things depending where you are in Japan. More commonly describes an old school Shoyu Ramen but say, in Wakayama, it could mean a more distinctive Tonkotsu-Shoyu.
In the case of Tanaka Sobaten, it seems to refer to a Shio (salt flavor). I couldn't detect much if any soy sauce flavoring, though the clear, faintly colored soup would've been a visual giveaway. Pretty much looked like what Keizo of Go Ramen! had on this post, minus a few extra chashu.

The noodles were a softer chewy and hira-chubuto-chijire. That's.. flatter, medium thick and with a crinkly wave. The strangest thing was how much I felt everything reminded me of Okinawa Soba (only lacking a stronger bonito flavor, some benishoga ginger and slice of kamaboko fishcake).
There was though a good shoyu flavoring coming from the intensely dark menma bamboo shoots, similar to ones I came across on Tsujita's Edo Soba with only other soy sauce notes from the leaner meaty pork chashu which was quite nice. On the salty side but with lots of flavor.

In fact I could see some may think the entire bowl was a little salty, but I enjoyed it if not the flavor profile a little tame for an event showcase maybe. Like Ramen Iroha's Toyama Black, it made me crave a bowl of rice in a good way. Compared to Nakamuraya's refined Shio, this would be more rustic and personally wouldn't have minded the niboshi (dried sardines) to have been played out more prominently. Did kinda wish I started the day with this bowl.

I'm jumping around but I grabbed a Gyutan (beef tongue) Bento from the Tsukasa stall in Mitsuwa Torrance as well as a Gyutan Stew. They were grilled in front of you and the bentos still warm so I got tempted. Having them tonight as a late dinner. Btw it was mentioned that Gyutan Tsukasa will be opening a shop in the food court of Mitsuwa Costa Mesa Spring of 2013. Sa'weeet!

Other things that bring a smile to my face is a large mound of deep fried Korokke. I'll probably stop by our SD branch tomorrow for a few of these like I usually do.

Things I sampled. A Matcha green tea cold soba...

Konjac balls... Why not? And healthy for me.

And your usual medley of premium sushi. One day I'll grab one of these while waiting for my ramen...

In Torrance was Sendai Takejiro. A shop hailing from Sendai, Miyagi prefecture where their miso is very well known.

Was described in Mitsuwa's preview that they would be serving a milder Miso Ramen. I'm typically not a huge fan of mild tempered miso ramen but was pretty curious in trying a bowl from this city. At 11AM opening time there was already a longer line and it remained the way the duration I was there.

As described was a mellower miso but still something that'd easily blow out of the water what's served in most shops in town. I can tell a quality miso was used and I witnessed the soup heated with a wok giving way to the frothy and full bright miso flavors, though missing were the more maillard reacted notes compared to a Sapporo style like Ezofukuro's miso sampled recently.

The noodles I felt were fairly typical and didn't shine here where it being slightlly soft in my bowl you could say didn't help also. But the chashu was very decent, the kind I often give my personal description as tectonic, where leaner meaty pieces are connected with tender fatty veins.  The menma were very lightly marinated, giving way to a more springy crunch with natural bamboo shoot flavors. Other toppings were kikurage wood ear mushrooms, beansprouts and a naruto fish cake slice.

I'd be the first to say that not all Miso Ramen need to be as intense as a bowl from Sumire (as awesome as they are), and here we have a quality, albeit mellow miso that I can see myself having everyday. Still if this shop is related to this Menya Takejiro (which I couldn't confirm), I felt for the fair one of their tsukemens would've given a bigger impact imho. As always looking forward to Mitsuwa's next event. I'm stuffed! ぷっふぁ〜 食った!

Mitsuwa Market - Torrance, 21515 Western Avenue, Torrance, CA 90501
Mitsuwa Market - Costa Mesa, 665 Paularino Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Mitsuwa Market - San Diego, 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd, San Diego, CA 92111

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Kohryu Ramen, Costa Mesa - Quick Revisit

During another of my weekday OC errands thought I'd try Ikko but without luck. Their kitchen was torn out and restaurant under renovation. どんだけ〜。。。

No time to waste Plan-B was a semi-reluctant Kohryu Ramen being just a block or so away on the same street. Most of my Kohryu visits were pre-blogging days and before the new management. With the new owners you hear some say that they've improved, while others a disapproval that they've not been the same. Sounds to me like an inconsistency issue but one of my visits that I did manage to document was in 2010, a maamaa~ (まあまあ) average depending-who-you-ask miso ramen that had the typical mild miso flavor you find all over So. Cal.

Good news is the prices on the menu didn't seem to have changed in two years. Choices run a full gamut from Garlicky to Spicy, a Veggie, Wonton, Chanpon, your basic Shoyu, Shio and Miso, a loaded house ramen, and even a couple idiosyncratic offerings like the Shacho (boss) ramen.  I'd avoid the tsukemen here but the non-ramen dishes like the Mabo-don and Katsu-don may be up my Asian Dude Food alley (that sounds kinda funny, haha) though I've yet to try.

I went for the Koi Ramen ($8), koi - another word for rich.
It was pretty ok. I can't praise it but it did manage to hit the spot somewhat the day. The soup tasted your typical pork/chicken/veggie base but was cloudy in a seeming intentional way, however the flavors very fuzzy with no focal point. Kohryu has a thing with fried onions which if as a distraction tactic I have to admit seems to work, though it's not prepared particularly with care, often bitter rather than being sweet and smoky. I also often find the yolk in the egg a bit off tasting but I think it has something to do with their recipe for the marinade flavoring since my experiences are almost too consistent.

There's a pork chashu in there that is the more leaner and meaty old school style. The menma bamboo shoot is fair. The biggest surprise the day was the thicker-side chijire crinkled noodles which seemed a flatter hirauchi and rather rare. Actually reminded me of some used in Okinawa Soba but this was much chewier in style for a ramen.

The 4-pc Japanese gyoza you can tack on as a combo for an extra two-bucks. The small han-chahan fried rice I had to pay an extra $3.

The filling of the gyoza is more chive based which I happen to enjoy though it could be juicier and skosh meatier. The skins used also seem more resilient than most which is nice in that they don't fall apart like many. The fried rice as with the ramen was blurry in flavors and taste. Decently fluffy though.

The place can get pretty busy so my visit during the later off peak hour was a good thing. Otherwise I may have contemplated dropping by the door over to try out a Teishoku set. While this post may make me seem indifferent to Kohryu, truth be told I'm actually a little jealous of Costa Mesa for having them. They do Japanese junk food decently that's priced right and in an unpretentious casual setting that reminds me of spots I'd visit in High School as a teen. And In my full non-foodie admittal, on most days that's still usually what I'm in the mood for for lunch, haha. ;)

Kohryu Ramen, 891 Baker St (Ste B-21), Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ramen Yamadaya, Costa Mesa - Quick Visit

I found myself needing to run multiple day errands to both Fountain Valley and Irvine during the last couple months so I've had some quick lunches at Costa Mesa (like my Wa-fu Curry Rice at Mugimaru), the area conveniently nestled between.

This half-hour I thought would be perfect to finally try the Yamadaya Premium chicken and dried fish based Shio/Shoyu offerings which unfortunately didn't make San Diego's menu cut. For those first hearing the shop's name, Yamadaya is an L.A. born rapidly expanding chain that specializes in (a decidedly richer) Kyushu-style Tonkotsu ramen. While the popular creamy pork bone soup is hard for me to pass up on some days, I've always been more a fan of the clear brothy styles, and especially ones that are flavored boldly with some gyokai marine cajones.

Well past 1PM and the shop was still pretty busy but I quickly got seated by the counter (with only moderate lighting).
I was debating whether to go Shoyu (soy sauce) or Shio (salt) flavored but finally went for the dark amber Shoyu. A quick sip of the soup and I have to admit being pleasantly surprised at the amount of Bonito flavor. I really missed this. The last anywhere near was my bowl at Harukiya (seven years ago, and at the RaHaku), or Menya Musashi in Shinjuku (also pre-blogging days). There was the Niboshi Ramen at Ramen California (during the original ownership) but that was a more smokey flavor due to the blend of different niboshi used. Here the possible use of some refinement all aside, I have to say I really enjoyed it.

The toppings of single pork Chashu, menma bamboo shoots and flavored soft boiled hanjyuku ajitama egg were standard Yamadaya fare except for the spinach and also the negi-abura - oil flavored with Japanese leeks/green onions that I noticed. The sheet nori seaweed is always a welcome for me in ramen giving it that extra subtle pleasant sea note.

The noodles were straight hosomen (thinner) but not the wispy white unleavened Hakata noodles used in their tonkotsu. Texture wise they were borderlining cooked too soft for my liking (especially near the end of the meal) but overall matched well with. What didn't help was the time spent waiting for a forgotten renge spoon, but I still plan to ask for it katame (firm) next time to be on the safe side.

The full order of Japanese gyozas ($4.30) were fried decently but the fillings were way over seasoned sodium wise and didn't need the dipping sauce whatsoever. At least I know other Yamadaya branches have their own quirks to iron out maybe. I should mention here that I don't care for the premade gyoza sauce either as I like to concoct my own ratio with shoyu, rice vinegar and hot oil.

I wouldn't know when I'd find myself in the area again but the Premium Shio would definitely be next to try. Judging by their Shoyu had the day the Shio would be about where I'd wish RakiRaki's "Premium" was. But beggars can't be choosers and I'll take what I can get in town.

The bowl has plenty of room for polishing (better clarity of flavors in the soup, better executed toppings and noodles, etc.) but honestly for the price if someone told me I could have one regularly delivered to my doorstep, I'd be first to sign up for a twelve-month subscription. Until then I eagerly await for it to come to our SD branch.

Ramen Yamadaya, 1175 Baker Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626