Thursday, January 31, 2013
Otafuku Noodle House - Gardena
The latter part of last year I went through a teuchi (handmade) Soba phase, first stemming from an accidental revisit to Fukada in Irvine (that I had mixed feelings about), then checking out Soba Sojibo through a friendly tip along with another exciting random discovery of Ichimi-An. If a person ever starts a similar search online or off, it'd probably be a matter of time before stumbling on Otafuku. A quiet shop off S. Western Ave in Gardena.
The front has recently gone through a big makeover, but you'll still see most regulars come in through the back entrance. A narrow corridor leads past a storage closet, steamy buzz of the kitchen and eventually to the Hello Kitty noren flanked with on-duty friendly servers.
I was surprised to find three types of soba offered (the noodles themselves), where if you include the also handmade udon, makes a fourth. Documented Otafuku menu here (that I recently updated with the Dinner version).
I figured the standard Zaru Soba ($7.50) was a good place to start where I was told is the most popular of the cold offerings. The noodles are all made in a small room attached to the side of the restaurant by the owner and a quick slurp reveals the fresh, pleasantly subtle flavors of soba with nice resilient texture. Nothing life-altering here, but definitely managed to quench the teuchi experience I've been hooked on these last few months.
The mentsuyu served with good (real) hon-wasabi is a delight. On the subtle side for my personal taste but the scratch-made flavors while delicate are really pleasant.
I got a tip from the folks at Umami Mart about Otafuku's atsuyaki tamago and tried it as an appetizer one visit. Oftentimes also called Dashimaki Tamago but at Otafuku named Ji-Tamago-Yaki ($7) was made to order and still hot when it reached the table. Fluffy with great flavor, you can visually see the amount of dashi used by its color. Oishii!
I can actually make an equally comparable but this was one of the best I've had going out in So. Cal. maybe.
On the same note, a similar great experience was with their Oyakodon ($11). Previous, to have any worthwhile I pretty much had to also make them at home.
Otafuku's hits the mark on almost all accounts. Tender dark meat pieces cuddled in a good quantity of wiggly-rare simmered eggs seasoned with a flavorful and robust dontsuyu. The minced yuzu citrus zest was a great touch, then finished off with your pinch of fresh mitsuba (Japanese parsley) leaves. So good and probably also the best I've had (since coming to the States) outside of my kitchen.
One visit I splurged on what they call their "Kikouchi" ($11) which is a Jyuwari Soba. This means 100% soba buckwheat is used in making where most are blended with some ratio of wheat flour for various reasons.
Not surprising has the most aroma and flavor of all three but also is this stiffest. It wasn't as hard as the one I had during my trip to Kanazawa many years ago (which was my first experience with a Jyuwari), but in general I felt my personal sweet-spot experience at least at Otafuku was the standard Zaru or the Seiro (coming up). And for the price I can go for the large order. :)
The Kakiage I had was pretty good but had the potential to be much better. I felt was fried a little too long as the scallops and shrimp inside were well-done. It had a pleasant nutty sesame oil aroma, though not as strong as Hannosuke's.
The soba-yu is the starchy water used to boil the noodles and can be opted to thin out your leftover mentsuyu at the end of the meal to be had as a light broth. While I don't always care for it the particular one I had here was pleasantly enjoyable.
You often hear that Oyako or even Katsu-dons at soba specialist shops are worth a try, mainly due to the same superior dashi made for the noodle's tsuyu. At least at Otafuku this theory seems to hold very true.
The Kuro-buta (Berkshire Pork) Katsu-don ($12) was great for most same reasons as their Oyako. All in great play -- the marbled pattern of yolk and whites from a not overly mixed egg, robust sauce, and the large well seasoned katsu with edges still crispy (which was definitely refreshing for a change). This day's I felt they may have fried the katsu a little too well but the pork was still tender and moist. The minced yuzu zest was again a nice touch.
These entree items come with a small side salad, miso soup and pickles. The pickles are done in their own nuka-doko and had that lovely distinctive nuka aroma and flavor. I'm embarrassed to mention the fate of mine (was unintentionally neglected too long) but it made me want to start up another. :P
The order of Vegetable Tempura was done pretty proficiently. The batter is not too thick or thin, and matches well with the soba broth that it is often found sopping in. I really love tempura'd shiso leaves (as do of nori) and wish more places in San Diego served it in the typical mix.
The Tori-jiru Seiro ($10.50) was actually had by a friend but I got to taste. The noodles in this case are cut much thinner and is dipped in a hot broth with tender Jidori chicken pieces and scallions. Really enjoyed this one (though I still have to give Ichimi-An the upper hand in the noodles themselves maybe). While the next to try on my list is their Curry Nanban, I may be ordering it again immediately after.
Anago Tempura ($7) is usually a sight served whole, but I think ours were cut up knowing it'd be shared. There are also mini tempura bowls that can be ordered for $3.50 with your soba as a combo.
I'd love to visit for dinner one of these days since there are a lot more seafood offered on the menu then. And while I'm happy to have found another shop to soothe my teuchi soba oats, I'm equally or maybe more so excited about Otafuku's donburi and side items.(!)
Otafuku Noodle House, 16525 S Western Ave, Gardena, CA 90247