Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lunch Retries.. Izakaya Tajima & Oki Ton Japanese Bistro

Izakaya Tajima (formerly known as Tajima 2) I had enjoyed lunching a few times until their hours got very confusing. After one too many drives down only to find the Open Sign unlit I had thought they were done with serving lunch for good.

But early this week heading to Santouka in Mitsuwa Market for a quick slurp, I found Izakaya Tajima's sign on and so instead turned into the "Boot Barn Mall" where they reside and decided to check them out.

I'm now guessing they were only temporarily closed for another interior redo because as I entered through an unfamiliar new entrance, I also noticed a different interior layout. No more large communal tables but instead many private cubbyholes along the parameter of the restaurant surrounding the central kitchen. All this and a new splashy website to complete the refresh.

Needless to say I was very happy about this because I'm the type of person who gets excited about Japanese places that offer more than Teriyaki Chicken and California Rolls.

This day I had one of the lunch special noodle combos (8.95) - Pressed Mackerel Sushi (Battera) and Udon (hot)..

The Battera came first.

I've only had Battera one other time and quite some time ago at that but the one here was pretty good. The lightly marinated Saba along with a thin layer of Kombu sandwiched Shiso leaves and Sesame Seeds between the sushi rice.

All tightly pressed in a mould and then sliced to create perfectly rectangular sushi treats. The rice although slightly on the mushy side was still warm with a good subtle vinegar flavor and I enjoyed these a lot. I would definitely have this again.

Forgot to mention I was very hungry so I also ordered an Anago (Sea Eel) Tempura as a side, mostly to go with the Udon that was on its way.

Anago Tempura ($6.95).

Unlike pressed sushi I have had quite a few scrumptious Anago Tempura in the past. So I had set my expectations accordingly to be fair. Poor farmed Eel can have a gummy thick skin but this wasn't the case here and while it wasn't quite as fluffy as what I've had at specialized Tempura eateries it was still adequately soft and tasty.

I enjoyed having it with several choices of sodium..

Just with a dash of salt or dipped in Tentsuyu and even at times with a light drizzle of Soy Sauce.

The Udon was good too.

The basics with some Tenkasu bits, Wakame Seaweed and Scallions. The Anago went well with it.

Along with these other Lunch Specials is a full Izakaya menu, many shared with the original Tajima.

An extremely diverse menu, competitive prices and good eats. I don't think I can ask more for a Japanese lunch spot!

Izakaya Tajima, 4411 Mercury St., San Diego, CA 92111

Oki Ton Japanese Bistro I visited a few weeks back. It had been a long while since my last visit as well. My impression was that it was expensive and it could be. I think I splurged on one of their $18+ Pork Tenderloin Hire Katsu plates and was less than impressed.

But I also did remember that they had a pretty good miso soup (at least for my taste). It had a more pronounced Dried Fish Stock flavor and I was curious to see if that was still the way they were serving it.

Contents were humble with tiny bits of silken tofu and wakame but I was happy to see that the soup was still the same.

I also discovered this day that if you order from their Lunch Specials Menu, it is possible to come away from the place unscathed.

So I thought I should try something Katsu again and the Chicken Katsu Sandwich I had was indeed redeeming ($8.50).

A freshly deep fried panko breaded chicken breast surprisingly tender and moist. Really sad to say "surprisingly" because this is really the way all katsu should be everywhere.

Very good but if I were to be picky, I didn't care too much for the Sandwich Spread like flavor that made it more like a western dish. Just a personal preference thing I guess but it did have a nice hot mustard kick that I did like about it.
The Veggie Tempura also hot and fresh. A perfectly good and filling complement to the sandwich to take you to deep-fry heaven.

The cold tofu Hiyayakko on the other hand for $4 was overpriced.

When you think you can get these at Sakura and Tajima..

..for $2.50 and $2.95 respectively.
Cheaper and much more substantial although maybe hard to tell by the photos.

I had asked to leave the menu as usual and while I was scanning through with maybe the focus of an autistic person to a phonebook, I saw something that caught my eye.

The Okinawa Soba ($6).

I almost forgot the fact that Oki Ton's name and concept was a tribute to the owner's few years experience in Okinawa. Judging by the menu offerings, a loosely based concept but still, I probably haven't had Okinawa Soba in over 15 years.

While the pure nostalgia of the flavors were overwhelmingly soul cheering, hard to highly recommend with lack of any protein even at the relatively bargain price.

I know asking for Soki would be too much but a few fish cake Kamaboko slices would've been nice.

Overall the experience was very positive and while having the rest of the sandwich later the evening for dinner, I was already browsing through their menu photos on my monitor to see what I could get next. Maybe the Spicy Tuna Burger.

Oki Ton Japanese Bistro, 2408 Northside Dr, San Diego, CA 92108

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Brunch @ Farm House Cafe - Part Two

Yikes I'm completely swamped. Most of my meals last week consisted of Austin brand Cheese Crackers and Dirty's Maui Chips from the snack machine.

So Saturday morning I decided to treat myself with another light brunch at the Farm House (before heading my way back to work).

Funny it's my second visit and I still haven't actually step foot inside. Looks cozy but I'd rather sit out and have my meal while observing the matching of Car vs. Drivers go by. "Huh, a granny in a Scion xB.. interesting."

I didn't see the Omelet a la Ciboulette (Chives, Cheese and Bacon!) that was listed on their online menu but a Crab Omelet instead which I ended ordering. You can read about the Eggs en Cocotte that I had last here.

Crab Omelet ($8).

I had to order the Chicken Apple Sausage again. Very herby good and much less guilt inducing than a pork version. The country potatoes (Pommes de Terre Rissol) just as tasty as during my last visit.

Hope you like runny Omelets because this is a French Bistro. I certainly do!

Topped with fine minced chives, the omelet was oozing in crab flavored butter sauce and filled with of course minced crab meat. Nothing over complicated here, everything just done simple and fresh. In addition to the potatoes came with a toasted baguette, baby greens and a slice of lemon.

Too bad they're not open for lunch on Fridays anymore as Alice Q. mentions.
But I did notice their Burger on the weekend Brunch Menu which I have my heart set for next time.

Farm House Cafe, 2121 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Light Dining @ Kazumi, Yu Me Ya and Okan

Although I have fun casually experimenting with different lunch spots (some hits and other times not so) I have to say I hardly go out for dinner. So I consider myself lucky when I find new great places to dine.

Wanted to share three of which I've been to relatively recently where I enjoyed light afternoon meals. Two I've only visited once but have quickly become a fan of. I did notice they all had a few similarities..

All are unfortunately not open for lunch.
They are all Japanese but not cookie-cutter Japanese and have many not so common offerings.
Many items are appetizer portioned so I get to try these.
All are small and cozy and will get crowded so my visits were right at opening, 5:30~6PM to avoid this.

First is Sushi Bar Kazumi, a surprisingly hidden spot for being smack middle of bustling Hillcrest. It didn't take me long to figure out Kazumi was going to be my kind of place.

Look at the toy figurines!

Seems family run with a Father/Son team behind the sushi counter and the wife multi-tasking other duties. My young Itamae (which I unfortunately forgot to ask his name) was great and very informative about what was being prepared for me.

It was really nice to see the menu with many items you wouldn't typically find at an average Japanese place. Too many I wanted to try (at least what my dinner budget allowed) but my first order was easy. I quickly started with the Asari Miso Soup ($3.95).

Piping hot and simply delicious. The clams gave the soup an extra seafood flavor that made me realize how much I missed this in others. Maybe it's just my preference in Miso Soup but I feel most down play the dried fish stock flavor to not turn off some patrons.

I then went for the Uni-Scallop Sushi ($6). Yum.

I tried the first without Soy Sauce like the chef recommended. So delicately sweet.
The second I had with a light mopping of Soy Sauce with my Gari Ginger between chopsticks. I learned this technique from an old friend. It's great for Gunkan-Maki style sushi which you can't flip upside down.

A couple Hand Rolls.. More Scallops and Saba.

Too bad these photos aren't doing justice.

I usually end in sweet Tamago but unfortunately I was told Tamago had been retired ever since the head chef injured his arm. So instead I was recommended Unagi ($4.50) "for dessert."

Dessert was right. The home-made Unagi glaze was quite sweet but very rounded in flavor. I'm guessing they use Mitsu-Ame for the sweetener but just a wild guess. :)

As you can see only a quick tasting for now but I really look forward to my next visit.

Sushi Bar Kazumi, 3975 5th Ave # 120, San Diego, CA 92103

Sake House Yu Me Ya had always been on my radar to try but it had one flaw for me (aside from not being open for lunch). It's up in North County which is the exact opposite direction of where I should be heading to get home.

Of course great for the locals there where one even claims it to have the best Udon in San Diego. One thing is for sure and it is that the word of it being a great place to dine is definitely out. There were already a loyal group of Yu Me Ya fans waiting for it to open when I arrived at 5:25PM.

Twenty people seating simultaneously would make any place a bit chaotic for a few minutes but my first item was already served to me by 5:35.

A small Sapporo in an ice chilled glass pitcher.

Wow an actual Origami Crane for the chopstick rest (unlike the quickie version that I make with the paper sleeve). It's only been ten minutes and I already felt the attention and care throughout the place. And this was before I had a sip of my beer..

So I started with the Takoyaki octopus balls ($4.95).

These were really great and the kind that are Crispy on the outside and moist almost Custard-like in. I could easily have had another order but I needed to save room for the Udon.
Several to choose from here. Plain, Kitsune (with a braised fried thin tofu), Wakame, Sansai (a variety of wild Japanese vegetables), and Tempura (served on the side crispy).

I decided to try the Wakame Udon ($7.95)

The noodles were great with a nice "koshi" chew but what impressed me the most was the hot Tsuyu broth. Very light Kansai style but so made-from-scratch tasty. The only reason why I couldn't finish this broth was because the combination of the cast iron bowl and shallow wooden spoon didn't allow me (without embarrassing myself).

Many were having their Sake Sampler which I would like to try some day along with so many other nice things listed on the menu..

A few Kushi Katsu for sure and I would bet their Kakiage-Don would be great too. Again, too bad they're not open for lunch.. But that's a common thread in all the places on this post.

Sake House Yu Me Ya, 1246 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas,CA 92024

Wa Dining Okan I've been to twice. Okan (Kansai dialect for mom) occupies the corner space of the Nijiya Market mall where Yakitori K-1 used to be.

The place is tiny but the interior is done up quite nice. A large U-counter in the center and some tables along the walls seem to maximize the space well.

As you can see there are many large bowls (Ozara) on the counter showcasing their proud care takingly made food.

Tempted, but on my first visit I had the Miso-Soup-of-the-day and two specials - Katsuo Tataki and Horumon (tripe) simmered in miso. A little factoid, the word Horumon literally means "discarded things" in Japanese and I would guess used to be until a person with some ingenuity (and maybe a hint of desperation?) transformed it into something not only palatable but good!

The Horumon was extremely tender while the irregular spoon-torn Konnyaku gave the dish some extra texture.

I absolutely love the concept of Miso Soup du jour because there are certainly many types of Miso Soups to be had. This day was Tonjiru. Pork and Vegetables.

You won't find Sushi here at Okan but they do serve some Sashimi-like dishes occasionally as a special like the Katsuo Tataki. The lightly seared sashimi grade bonito tuna laid on a bed of Kaiware Daikon Sprouts and was topped with a lot of julienned Shiso and raw Garlic slices.. It was almost like a salad with the amount of fresh greens.

On my second visit I did order an Ozara dish. Saba Nitsuke (Simmered Mackerel).

I was given two choices where explained the tail portion, with little to no bones, or the head portion, with bones but with more umami. I chose the latter.
So tender and simmered perfectly. Izakaya Sakura has a great Miso-Ni version but the type here was the sweet Soy Sauce, Sake and Ginger simmer.

Asking what they recommend me getting next I ordered the Gobo Mizuna Salad. The crispy fried Gobo root was wonderful with the extremely fresh Mizuna and light dressing. Probably best to share but I didn't have too much trouble finishing.

I ended with the Buta Maki.

The Pig here is the blanket where it wraps around crunchy Enoki Mushrooms and are char-grilled to my delight.

Okan is the most conveniently located for me of these three dining spots. That's a great thing considering their wonderful food, large menu variety and the daily changing specials which will keep me wanting to return and check out.

Now that I look back, there is one other similarity to these places and that's that they all made me wish I owned a proper digital SLR!
Dim atmospheres are the crutch to my otherwise trusty Canon point-and-shoot.

Wa Dining Okan, 3860 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

You can read about another light dinner I had at Okan here.