Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gyutan Tsukasa - Mitsuwa Market Costa Mesa

It took me long enough but finally getting around sharing my meals had at Gyutan Tsukasa. Your grilled beef tongue specialist hailing from Sendai, now conveniently located (permanently) in the food court of your Mitsuwa Market, Costa Mesa as of this April.

The delay was first partly due to simply being behind on posts, but later because of an unexpected turn after a rare opportunity to directly speak to an insider about some of my thoughts. While yelp reviews kicked off favorably, I've felt otherwise and that the product wasn't quite to par with what was served during previous Mitsuwa events as a showcased visitor.

Long story short, these guys have been super receptive and the coolest. Basically they pretty much all but listened to everything I had to say and so my photos here reflect the recent 'better and improved' experiences at GT. So lets start!

First your basic Gyutan Set. $9.80 gets you a plate of juicy beef tongue swiftly grilled over binchotan charcoal, some lovely pickles, barley rice and bowl of gyutan soup broth. Grilled Gyutan OTR (On The Rice...) action shot.

Tsukasa is said to use the more desireable, rearward base portion of the beef tongue called the tan-moto (タンモト). Since my first visits during opening they have either changed "gyosha" suppliers or have instructed them on better quality control. Maybe both, but these were much more tender, juicy and marinated with good flavor than my early visits. A lot happier now, thanks guys.

The soup I think could still be a tad more concentrated but nice. I finished up combining them with dab of wasabi to make a Gyutan Chazuke, yum. :)

I never had a chance to try their donburi bowl which was quickly replaced by their Gyutan Curry early on. At $7.50 a pretty good deal I thought. For whatever it's worth the image shown below is the first to ever come out of their kitchen. As curry test pilot, I'm kinda nerdy proud of the fact, haha (being a huge fan of Japanese Curry).

Anyway, the good was that it was chock full of tender large gyutan pieces, but I thought the rue was much too standard off-the-shelf tasting and lacked depth. While I've never been a huge fan of Miyabi-tei's curry next door, I thought this really wouldn't make an impact to win those over.

So Tsukasa's curry rue since had been said to have made many improvements. I noticed a touch more fruity acidity and maybe an increase in umami from stewed onions (my guess).

Definitely better, though I think it could maybe be kicked up yet another notch. Starting with an even larger quantity of deeply dark, caramelized onions, then some spices to make the flavor still further unique. I don't mind spending an extra buck or even two on something made with more love and good old fashioned elbow grease.

Last is the Tsukasa Set. Priced the same as the Gyutan Set but in place of a few cuts of beef tongue you get instead a Gyutan Stew, Tororo grated mountain yam and small salad. Fyi, a little trivia, this was originally going to be called the 'Lady's Set' according.

The base of the stew is your dark Demi Glace style, something popular in Westernized Yoshoku restaurants in Japan. I enjoyed this as much as my first. Did wish the portion of the stew was a little more. :)

A boxed bento can also be purchased for $7.98 for takeout. It was nice to see the spicy Miso Nanban also available for sale. I could probably put down a few bowls of rice with only it!

There seem to be plans for further menu expansion. Looking forward to them.

Gyutan Tsukasa (inside food court of Mitsuwa Costa Mesa), 665 Paularino Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Bun Bo Hue Chay @ SD Lantern Festival 2013

A quick post for tonight, I was driving down El Cajon Blvd looking forward to an early Banh Mi Xiu Mai lunch fix today and came across the SD Little Saigon Lantern Festival over by Hoover H.S. (across the street from the original Paris Bakery). Had a quick meal there and took some photos. A friendly disclaimer though that many more people started to trickle in after the heavy overcast hour. Still, I feel they maybe should have had all the lanterns lit up during?

The food stall that piqued my interest the most was the one set up by the local Vietnamese Buddhist Temple. The vegetarian Bun Bo Hue Chay was only $5 and similar veggie Cha Gio - 2 for $1. The vegetarian Bun Bo Hue I thought was pretty good (!) with surprising copious amount of flavorful herbs abound. One in particular I immediately recognized from my Que Huong visit with the Kirk as Vietnamese coriander, but it also had a good amount of 'meaty' fried tofu and shiitake mushrooms along with. This was a great meal and healthy for me to boot!

Tanaka Shoten Hakata Nagahama Ramen - Mitsuwa Kyushu & Okinawa Fair 2013

I briefly mentioned of Mitsuwa's Kyushu & Okinawa Fair my first Foto-Buffet post but today is the last day of the event in So. Cal. I was able to check out the Torrance store yesterday and had some quick bites. Below is the Mango soft serve from Blue Seal Okinawa.

Although it was my second choice it was actually super delicious! Fyi, it took some time for me to find a comfortable spot to take the shot so the surface is a little glossy. Anyway, the Purple Yam version was sold out, Bummmerrrrr. ...Like for the remainder of the event, or I just may have visited again today, ha. Although I've been covering Mitsuwa Events for a while it seems my last on the Kyushu & Okinawa themed was back in 2009 at SD.

Tanaka Shoten had been a visitor in the past but it would be my first tasting of their Nagahama Ramen. Nagahama in this context refers first to the area in Fukuoka that is their port fish market. Many ramen yatai carts would set foot to cater to these rather impatient market related patrons that are usually in a rush, looking for a quick meal during bidding breaks. The thin noodles that can be swiftly cooked as well as the kaedama system of ordering an extra supplementing serving of noodles is said to have taken root here for these reasons.

As for the ramen it was quite delicious. The soup which of course is the iconic opaque white tonkotsu is very creamy and smooth which (for me) was just the right amount of viscosity. It's also surprisingly not overly rich and makes me think its body is mostly from emulsified collagen rather than fat. (スープは濃厚ですが意外とあっさりしてます。毎日食べれる味です。)

This relatively lighter soup for a tonkotsu then allows the person to adjust the flavor to their liking with many condiments, another Nagahama characteristic. Basic toppings were green onions and kikurage wood ear mushrooms but I was really glad to see Tanaka Shoten going all out with additonal beni shoga (pickled red ginger), grated garlic, roasted white sesame seeds, karashi takana (spicy pickled mustard greens), black pepper shakers, all set to the side and constantly refilled as necessary. This elevated the already good bowl to really great, but man that karashi takana was super spicy! :)

Must say here that the pork chashu slices were fantastic. Extremely tender with a perfect amount of marinade flavor. Noodles are thin but firm and works well. Overall a well balanced bowl that is not as kotteri as one would think and something I can see myself enjoying everyday.

As usual I'm not that great with covering the rest of the event but some photos I took were of some Saba (mackerel) sushi from Nagasaki, a tasting of Mozuku (type of seaweed) Shoyu Dressing (that I purchased) and Sata Andagi (which kinda reminds me of Old Fashioned Donut Holes), both from Okinawa.

Had a good time and already looking forward to the next event. :)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Foto-Buffet

A collection of food photos that will probably not make it to a proper post otherwise. They're this Friday's Food Foto-Buffet.

Sorry, doing two in a row wasn't my first plan. Was supposed to have a buffer in-between but it's how things turned out this week.

Well, as I was super bummed to learn that my recent favorite B-kyu Gurume drama series - Meshibana Keiji Tachibana had actually stealthily ended the last episode I had watched, I found out that Kodoku no Gurume Season 3 had just started. SWEEEET.

I briefly mention about it and comic book turned drama series character Inogashira Goro in my first Ichimi-An post. Realized I've yet to share my list of current favorite food-centric Japanese television shows but hope to do so soon.

Another quick television related update. My friend Ginger-san of had mentioned that Eat Napo-san of Naporitan x Naporitan will be on Matsuko no Shiranai Sekai.

I absolutely love that show! And really great for him even though it's probably at least his third appearance on a nation wide Japanese program. But as I had predicted, there's a big Naporitan comeback boom going on. Can't wait to see the episode. [Update: Blog post on the episode here.]

So on to an actual Japanese Spaghetti Naporitan had in April below. This was from Mitsuwa Torrance food court's Italian Tomato which is curiously re-bannered currently as Hamada-ya Bread Bar & Coffee. I'm not sure what the extent of the change will be but so far not much seemed to have to the original menu which I'm sort of glad of.

A quick comment that Naporitans should be cheap. Like this one. The entire set meal shown was $6.95 and in the spirit of the humble Napo. Many I've had in the states were fancied, and/or served during dinner at a premium, which quite frankly misses the whole point. The version had here while the bell peppers could've been sliced thinner was pretty close to spot on for my tastes. A dryer katayaki style that I also prefer.

Below, Curry Ketchup purchased at Sausages & More in Lakeside. It's quite sweet and not sure it would be a good base for a home Napo, but I enjoyed it with my meal the day (post coming soon).

I mentioned about Costa Mesa's Don Don Tei's katsudon that was a bust last. I debated whether to save it for a longer series of my recent katsudons but compiling the list of mostly forgettable bowls didn't inspire me this week.

However the pretty wax sample behind the glass did and I gave this a try. It had the typical downfalls of a sleepy rendition. A weak don-tsuyu sauce, katsu pieces that didn't seem to have come moments from the fryer and eggs that were cooked stiff. Of course Mugimaru's chikuwa-ten saved the day.

Too bad it's a $1.50 or I'd make a meal out of them. Their giant chicken karaage is $0.90.
Noticed our Kayaba serving Chicken Katsu a few weeks ago. (Yes, that is tonkatsu sauce on my potato salad...) I'm not the biggest fan of their panko crust which is thick and batter-ey. For me the experience of Japanese furai-mono relies much to this outer layer and katsus are no different. I'm looking forward to my trip to Japan this Winter for some fresh nama-panko, spiny crisp roof-of-mouth-piercing, deep fried in sweet lard, miniature awesometown in my mouth tonkatsu done proper.

Done with food court meals (for now), spotted while randomly trekking around side streets of Torrance was a really cool beer-with-burger sign. The text and illustration were actually raised, and what lovely patina.

Did you know the Rubios off of Clairemont Mesa is the company's flagship Test Kitchen? I've eaten here many times and the bold letters that spell "Test Kitchen" out is a big giveaway but I somehow only discovered the fact earlier this year.

Their pretty hot Diablo Sauce can only be found here, and while you'll also see recipe tweaked things like pepped up citrus rice and garlic beans, I've had limited time special burritos and such. If I remember right they were one of the first locations to serve with real plates and utensils as well.

A couple of pizzas. Above is from Luigi's in North Park, taking advantage of their $6 for 2-slice and drink deal. Below a slice of thin crust sausage and a Maxwell Street Polish Dog from Lefty's in Mission Hills. I forgot how much fries they gave with hot dog orders and the pizza wasn't really necessary.

Couple of ramens. Had been some time visiting Ramen Zetton in Costa Mesa since my consecutive lunch tries at IKKO but had ordered a Shoyu with extra Nori not too long ago.

Their Shio or Shoyu would be my best bet here and the day's was still a better pleasantly greasier chicken-based torigara bowl with wa-fu character in the area (this includes SD of course). I feel they're on the verge of being much better, I hope they keep the passion and continue experimenting, iron out inconsistencies. The Japanese gyozas were fried well the day but the fillings were quite stiff.

Yamadaya Costa Mesa's Premium Shio had better days. As with their Premium Shoyu I really enjoy the stronger bonito flavor in the soup. This bowl somewhat satiated my gyokai-kei craving but barely. Where's the aromatic negi oil (koumi-abura) and what's up with that hard boiled egg? The fried rice was just as heavy handed. *sigh*

Last, a reminder that Monday, July 22nd is Doyou no Ushinohi, or Japan's National Eel Day of sorts. So get your grilled Unagi appetites on to better endure the heat wave of the coming months. And if you miss, there's another this year on August 8th according to Wiki.