Friday, October 31, 2008

Lunching @ Izakaya Sakura - The Nikomi & Wa-fu Hamburgs, Menchi Katsu & Two New Items!

I think it's time to put up a few more pics of lunches I've had at my regular lunch spot Izakaya Sakura. This post took a few evenings to prepare but I finally got around ordering the second Hamburg on the menu, Tomato Sauce Nikomi, and I also found two new menu items which I believe are on a trial basis that I wanted to share.

The giant oblong meatloaf like Hamburg Steak at Sakura is more reminiscent of how my mother used to make them than say, a chef with a fancy tall white hat at a classy Yoshoku restaurant. But to me this is all part of Sakura's charm.

Japanese Meatloaf w/ Tomato Sauce ($8.50).

"Nikomi" means stewed so this will not be coming on a sizzling cast iron platter. Also fillers seem to be at a minimum so it is a more firm, beefy flavored Hamburg.

A little hard to see but it was topped with a well-done fried egg. Next time I will ask for this medium or over-easy because I think the flavors with the rich tomato meat sauce would be great.

The Nikomi Hamburg was definitely one of the more hearty lunch dishes I've had at Sakura. The cold Hiyayakko appetizer was nice to offset.

Hiyayakko ($2.50).

The Hiyayakko here comes with sliced raw Okra in addition to the usual chopped scallions and bonito flake toppings.

The Wa-Fu Oroshi Hamburg I had twice before. It has sauteed mushrooms, fresh minced Shiso, scallions and grated Daikon with Ponzu dressing.

Japanese Meatloaf with Ponzu Sauce ($8.50).

This more Japanese flared Hamburg with fresh grated Daikon radish and the mild acidity of Ponzu will leave you with much less guilt. Still I would guess the actual calories are probably only nominally lower than the tomato sauced cousin. ;)

Lunch hour this day was slow and so I had asked if they could make the Yasai Kakiage (a type of mixed vegetable tempura) that I saw on the dinner menu board.

I should've taken better mental notes because I can't remember all that was in this Kakiage but I do remember it being excellent. And although it easily put me over my lunch budget because it was from their dinner menu, I was still glad that I got to try it. It was explained to me in the past that if the kitchen is not busy and the right people are staffed, most special request are possible.

The breaded and deep fried version of the Japanese Meatloaf is called the Menchi Katsu ($8) and is an all time favorite of mine.

I've honestly had more attractive looking Menchi Katsu here in the past but this day's tasted just as good. I would imagine the ground meat recipe is different from the Hamburgs' because it is much more tender (more filler?) but I may be wrong. Whatever they do, it makes for one moist patty.

Sakura's sweet Demi-Glace sauce is always great and I feel most perfect for this deep fried ground beef patty. You can read about the Menchi Katsu Sando, Sakura's sandwich version that is unfortunately no longer served here.

Checking out new dishes is always exciting for a regular. Recently there were two.

Sweet Sour Pork and Mabo Dofu. I was curious to see Sakura's take on these two very popular Chinese classics.

Sweet Sour Pork Meatball Lunch Set ($8.50).

I liked how it wasn't overly sweet like some and the ground pork meatballs were a nice change to the deep fried mystery pork pieces that I often encounter elsewhere.

The addition of Bamboo Shoots and Shiitake Mushrooms were great along with the SSP usual trio of Carrots, Onions and Bell Peppers (and a few small pineapple slices).

I had the Agedashi Dofu ($3.50) as a side.

As the large spoon may hint, the great hot Tsuyu Dashi broth is the star here where it seeps into the fried Tofu. Mmm.

The very next day I came back to try the Mabo-Don Lunch Set ($8).

While there are many different interpretations of this dish, I prefer the ones that are on the savory/spicy side. In fact, I only ask of two things in a Mabo that would otherwise ruin it for me.. That it is not to be watery and/or sweet.
My favorite Mabo Dofu to be had in San Diego so far is the one at Dumpling Inn (future post).

Sakura's take fared pretty well for my personal taste. I could've wanted the flavors a tad stronger, especially for the amount of rice given, but it had a reasonable amount of spiciness and by now the characteristic more subtle flavors of Sakura that rely on Umami rather than sodium is something that I've grown to like and expect.

And of course as soon as I say that, I completely contradict myself by doing this to my Karaage!

That is the complementary Mayo with Shichimi Pepper dip.
If you're having trouble deciding on one side here, I highly recommend Sakura's Chicken Karaage ($3.50).

The tender thigh pieces are perfectly fried with a nice amount of skin still intact. They also now give you a choice of two ways to enjoy them, Mayo and Tentsuyu, although a few bites simply with a drizzle of lemon is a perfectly fine third option as well.

Hope you enjoyed these photos as much as I did taking them (oh, and eating the food too!).
Until next time.. And there are a lot more where these came from.. :)

Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wi-Pho'ing @ Cali Baguette Express

You probably won't guess where I was having breakfast while surfing the web this morning..

Cali Baguette Express off of El Cajon Blvd. Yes, with their early morning to late 9PM open hours (they are no longer 24-hrs), a drive-thru (same hours as the store) and available free Wi-Fi (sort of), you can say it is one of the more modern day Banh Mi joints in town. The only convenience K-Sandwiches has over them is accepting credit cards. Cali Baguette is still cash only.

Mmm, Banh Mi. Banh Mi's to me personally are in a category of Foods that are like Pizza.. I consider them either good or great, and occasionally maybe I'll run into even an excellent one. But I have yet to encounter a truly bad slice of pizza or Banh Mi (knock on wood). ;)

Most BM's here are under $3. So far I've tried their Cali Special and BBQ Pork. I thought both were good but again after my disclaimer you can take it for what it's worth.

But how can a flaky Baguette stuffed with sweet pickled veggies, thin slices of hot peppers, fresh cilantro, special spread and your choice of meat(s) with a dash of Maggi salt not be a good thing?

My first experience with an Egg Banh Mi (which I considered excellent) was at Cafe Dore and you can read about it here. The version at Cali Baguette I had today is scrambled ($2.59). I also got two Vietnamese egg rolls (smooth wrapper) and an Iced Coffee. My entire meal was just over $6.
The eggs were very fluffy and ever so slightly runny, the way I like. I noticed they've cut back on the mayo-like spread. Fine with me, I liked it either way.

So the interesting part was the Wi-Fi. The network's name was Cadao and after asking the cashier it is indeed Pho Ca Dao's but supposedly shared. Unfortunately the signal proved to be a bit weak and intermittent so I didn't stay long but now I'm very curious about Pho Ca Dao next door which I have never visited. Are people in the restaurant enjoying a bowl of tasty Pho while spread out with their laptops and extension cords?? If so that would be quite the bomb.

Cali Baguette Express, 5125 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Curry Udon Envy - The Beginning..

I wish I had taken these photos.. More so, I wished I had eaten this Curry Udon.

My friend currently residing in Tokyo that I had mentioned in the introduction to my last Curry Udon post sent me these pics the other day. The place is called Aoi.

I can just hear him and his wife now..





As much as I can try re-creating the udon, I can never experience that great atmosphere. *Sigh*

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kaiware Daikon Container

Ok, I won't be offended if any of you wondered why a person would go through the trouble of making a Kaiware Daikon Container. This actually started from wanting to grow my own Kaiware Daikon Sprouts but I quickly lost interest in the idea after I found a packet of Daikon Seeds (of unknown quantity) going for $1.49 while a package of grown ready to use Kaiware at Nijiya went for $0.99.

So until I find a much cheaper source of Daikon Seeds I was stuck with the pretty container that I had purchased for the project.

Still some small benefits of having such a container would be that it would look neat in your fridge next to your butter dish and it is actually more useful than what the Kaiware comes in where you need to pull the entire sprouts out every time you want to cut and use them. So if you decide this might be something you would be interested in I got my plastic container at the Container Store. Comes in many colors (~$2.39).

The only thing you will need to do is to make aeration holes. I used a dremel tool. A drill may work but make sure you use a small bit because the plastic is very brittle and will easily crack.

I forgot to mention the container will be used upside down so drill (what was) the bottom.

Done. Ok, I cleaned out my fridge a little for this photo..

What would you use Kaiware Daikon for? Almost everything!
Not only is it a pretty garnish but it gives your dish an extra radish-like fresh bite. Maybe my next post would be a simple recipe.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nissin Cup Noodle Curry and Seafood Flavor Tasting! - Torrey Pines Beach @ Dusk and Dawn

This post is partly dedicated to Keizo of GO RAMEN! and Edjusted of Both insanely passionate Ramen bloggers (and I thought I liked ramen) that not only did they both bother to comment when they came across my Nissin Cup Noodle U.S. vs. Japan Product Comparison post but even gave me compliments and encouragements. Thanks guys!

Not to jinx myself but I think the busiest of the busy time at work is over, at least for another few weeks anyway. I look forward in catching up with posting photos of what I've been eating and even hope to have a few recipes to share in the near future.

A couple weeks back during one 24-hr period I had surrendered in knowing I would probably be doing a semi-all-nighter, I decided to do my last two Cup Noodle flavor tastings at Torrey Pines Beach. TPB is only a few minutes away from work and the perfect spot to relax and take a break with convenient parking located right along the shoreline.

I already knew I would be having the Curry Flavor at dusk thinking of childhood memories coming home to the pleasant scent of simmering curry under turmeric colored evening skies.

As the exclamation point in the post title suggests, I was nerdly excited. Yes even the young couple playing frisbee in the background was not a challenge to the Japanese Nissin Cup Noodle's ability to make lemon moments into lemonade as it had proven to me during my previous comparison post.

A quick look at the back before opening. Hmm, I always thought this chart was their nifty way of listing ingredients but it seems more a checklist for people who may have severe allergic reactions to certain foods.

Unlike the Original, the open cup revealed dehydrated contents covered in granulated curry rue. Wow look at those large potatoes! They must be a relatively new thing because I don't remember them in the past.

After a pour of hot water and a 3-minute wait..

..Looks like so. You'll need to give it a good stir to even out the curry throughout the soup. The noodles seemed wider than what was in the Original. A good match for the very flavorful and surprisingly spicy curry soup that also had a thickener which gave it even more body to help adhere to the noodles. The potatoes were great along with the tasty mystery meat nuggets that are also found in the Original Flavor.

A perfectly nice filling warm snack meal that I wouldn't mind stashing a case in the cupboard along with an additional two of the Original Flavor. (photo taken from the lifeguard tower)

My Cup Noodle break almost felt like this newer NCN commercial except that the curl in my hair is natural as opposed to Takuya Kimura's silly looking perm.

A drive back to the office and fast-forward eleven hours.. Having had about five diet cokes throughout the night I was more than ready now to take another Cup Noodle break.

Early morning at Torrey Pines Beach. The dark gray skies and brisk air was quite a contrast from last evening but I found it very refreshing.

Saving the Seafood Flavor was perfect for dawn (think fishing boats unloading the freshest catch of the day at Tsukiji..). Maybe I'm a morning person after all.

Again, if you can read Japanese please take note if you are allergic to any of these ingredients below before consuming a Cup Noodle Seafood Flavor. A picture of a bird that seemed curious of what I was up to.

The cup when opened was very colorful!

Since the chart listed "crab," these bits although processed may actually contain some. May only because it could just be a small ingredient for the soup base.
I'm thinking I better make this quick before the morning coffee drinkers in the studio find out the hotpot is missing..

Three minutes later this is what it looked like.

Krab, Wakame Seaweed, slivers of Octopus and/or Squid, Cabbage, Scallions and the Fluffy Egg bits that are also found in the Original. But oddly no Shrimp.
The soup flavor seemed Tonkotsu-ish but a very light version. I thought it complemented the seafood flavors well. The noodles were plentiful as usual and were the thinner type used in the Original. As I was finishing, I also noticed tiny bits of Shoga Ginger. Quite nice but I think this flavor would list third starting with the Original then the Curry.

Goes without saying that I took back with me all my trash. Let's keep our beaches clean!
As for the meals I thought they were just great for a quick snack and can understand its popularity in Japan. A cup ramen ranking chart I found listing it No. 1 here. Don't know why Nissin doesn't sell these higher standard versions as-is here. Two of the U.S. cheapo Cup Noodles cannot replace the experience of having one significantly better tasting Japanese NCN and the just over a dollar price point would fit perfectly above them but well under the ~$3 bowl types.

So another sunset and sunrise, another day, and sooner or later surely another deadline. Other Nissin marketing suggests nothing is impossible with a Cup Noodle. Not even conquering global warming along with space travel to the moon and back.

I'm totally sold. Go Nissin Cup Noodle! Go.. Me!?