Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Saturday Blogger Lunch And Few Updates

Met up with The Canine Cologne of Pink Candles at Ridgemont High and The Cathy of Mmm-Yoso for lunch today. CC had just gotten back from a trip to Canada and had some gifts.(!)

To try a Japanese place was suggested so I picked Izakaya Sakura since I knew Cathy enjoyed them (and posted many times on including Kirk). Easiest explained, the place is like my Que Huong for Japanese. The food could range from great, to good to ok, but the special kudos they've always manage to earn from me is the fact how they make the effort to offer non-typical Japanese dishes for lunch (at least for So. Cal. standards). You'd be hard pressed to find the likes of Buri Daikon, Saba Miso-ni, or a Negi Maguro Natto-don as lunch options in Japanese eateries even in L.A.

Today I splurged and went for the Uni-Don (Sea Urchin Donburi, $18) since we were there a little later and Kazu-san the sushi chef was present. I also special requested an Ika-Somen, mostly for myself but to have CC and Cathy also try.

A really nice summer dish of raw squid sliced to resemble noodles and had with some mentsuyu. With the cold tsuyu, some grated ginger and green onions, the crucible sized appetizer always packs a delicious punch. Admittedly high for ~$5 but something difficult for me to resist especially on great weather days as today.

Cathy had the Spicy Fish Salad which I forgot to take a photo of (but can be found here on one of my older posts). CC got the grilled Sanma (Pacific Saury). One thing I know of CC is that she's always up for a challenge to try something unfamiliar which is great. :) The fish with distinctive smokiness favored by many Japanese can also be a technical hurdle for some with the small bones. I don't have it often but when I do get a Sanma craving, it's hard to be satiated with anything else.

And the gifts! Ketchup Pringles, dark chocolate Kit Kat, Nestle' Coffee Crisp and much much more. Thanks CC! The Coffee Crisp was gone before I got home (haha) and I'm finding the (powdered) Ketchup flavor Pringles strangely addicting as I work on this post.

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

I'm really excited about a new coffee shop in my neighborhood called the Coffee & Tea Collective. (Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube) Off El Cajon Blvd opposite side of Rudford's Diner, I think they're occupying the old ABC Piano spot if I remember right.

It's a lot more spacious inside than how it may look from out. Awesome minimalist but warm vibe. If you're in the area, please show your support. The coffee is great.

Coffee & Tea Collective, 2911 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA

Dinner a few nights ago at Tacos El Gordo (No. 3).

Stewed Suadero was nice and tender but the Al Pastor the day was off the hook good. Lots of marinated flavor with that nice tasty citrus note. Not too dry with also a little of that great charred crunchy bits about. Went back for seconds. I noticed they now take charge. At $1.80 each, they can add up.

My post on Ten-don specialist Kaneko Hannosuke (in Mitsuwa Santa Monica food court) will have to wait until next month as it's the last day of June so soon. The stop was earlier the same weekend day as my dinner Costa Mesa Ramen Jinya visit.

It wasn't bad per se but at $14 for the Edomae bowl with Anago (sea eel), let's just say there's ample room for improvement.

Random Santouka Ramen photo of the month. Shio Chashu (regular size). Their main Salt flavor with extra pork. The green onion rice bowl, Negi Meshi has been a must for me with.

Which reminds me reader Junichi had given me a heads up of Mitsuwa's next fair which is Kyushu and Okinawa themed (July 19th~22nd). As for our special ramen visitors, Tatsunoya will be at the Torrance store serving up some delicious Kyushu Tonkotsu.

While the soup is also delectable, De-with it or how do yo say De-Groovy? I especially remember the house made noodles that were firm wiry straight and great.

[Tatsunoya @ Mitsuwa 2010]

Tanaka Shoten will be at the Costa Mesa store the same days with their Hakata Nagahama take and it'll be hard for me to miss either. Also Foremost Blue Seal Okinawa will be there with some regional purple yam soft serve. I remember my exciting grade school field trip to the factory like it was yesterday! Natsukashii...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jinya Ramen Bar, Costa Mesa - Quick Visit

Went up to L.A. yesterday to run a few errands. The drive was fairly impromptu including the stop by Costa Mesa on the way back. Having an early dinner there sounded like a much better idea than the leftovers waiting for me in my fridge maybe. So decided to drop in the just newly opened Jinya branch. As with Yamadaya, Jinya has been another relatively recent rapidly growing name in the L.A. Ramen scene.

Once there I was trying to figure out why I had a Gyokai (dried fish/marine) flavor image of Jinya's ramen as I found myself a little puzzled after quickly perusing the menu. Were a few variations of Tonkotsu and a chicken ramen, but nothing fishy (in the good way). Did I have them confused with another shop? It wasn't until I got home and did some digging that I realized the impression was probably from an older Rameniac's review that I read of their first Studio City location in Oct 2010. There Mr. Rameniac described a special of the day during the soft opening of a Gyokai Tonkotsu-Shoyu which perhaps didn't make the long term cut. Bummer.

So I took instead one of the recs from the kind waitress of a black "Kuro Tonkotsu" which was also mentioned and given a stamp of approval by reader Junichi. (Tonkotsu Black - $10.55).

The soup was completely opaque where I couldn't even make out a shadowy silhouette of the two large pork slices just beneath the surface (that turned out to be succulent and nicely seasoned). The 'black' part of the name obviously comes from the Maayu (Ma-yu) drizzled on top, a flavored oil made from slow charring garlic. Often found in Kumamoto-style Tonkotsu but now not uncommonly seen in others due to its popularity. A single sip of the soup reveals an impressively concentrated and creamy broth with a moderate layer of crinkled cellophane rendered fat. Big smiles.

Got a bit shy with my camera after discovering the two ladies sitting next to me and facing my way were friends with the owner, but the noodles were notably great as well. A straight, pale white in Kyushu fashion with nice subtle flavor of (cooked) flour. If anything it was a tad soft for my liking, something easily remedied by requesting it firmer next time around (barikata for me).

The Hanjyuku (soft boiled) Ajitama (flavored egg) came in a separate crucible and was marinated perfectly. Light flavors of sweet-savory soy sauce that penetrated down to the yolks, the jewel-like amber nugget softly solidified to how I most prefer.

Japanese Gyozas weren't too shabby either. A fairly mainstream rendition in style and flavor but executed very well with a wonderfully crispy single side of the thinner skin that renders easy, revealing a lightly garlic spiced, decently juicy minced pork inner. $4.50 gets you eight of these babies and makes me wonder why I can't get a similar value and quality in any of our SD Japanese restaurants. Tell me why-hee, cause I want it that a-wayyy...

In ramen, oftentimes the first spoonful/slurp is very different than the imprint of the last -- Is about the holistic sum as much as the individual parts. Thankfully sodium levels of the rich broth are controlled for a more lasting pleasant meal. The Maayu, scallions and sheet Nori help breakup the monotony impressively well and also available free are fresh garlic. But as I got to the fried onions near the end, I have to admit it almost pushed me over as tasty as they were. I started to crave some of the more time honored classic Tonkotsu toppings such as benishoga (red pickled ginger), karashi takana (hot pickled mustard greens) and/or kikurage wood ear mushrooms. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I think I'll fork out an extra buck next time for more Menma bamboo shoots. Otherwise would've been an easy kanshoku where I reluctantly left a few spoonfuls of soup behind (and felt real bad about).

Definitely a stop I'd be recommending to friends if they happen to be in the area (or other branches) and mood for a hearty Tonkotsu that despite isn't too fat laden. I also thought the soup was a perfect platform to transform into a very spicy version, hence the availability of their Tonkotsu Red with a spice level choice of 1~10. The chicken ramen sounded enticing as well. Described as also milky and concentrated, I imagine it being something like a Tori Paitan.

Jinya Ramen Bar, 1450 Baker St - Ste C, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Updates - Ramen Yamadaya Coming To SD, Four Year Bloggaversary Post

Yup, it's been four years. But first to more exciting things, Ramen Yumma-daya, I mean Yamadaya is coming to SD.(!) July 25th, I got my calendar marked. [Update: Check out my first visit here and a more thorough first month visits post here.]

I had dinner at Little Sheep last night and whaddya know, they're opening up in the same mall just a couple doors down. It's been a while since my first and last visit at the original Torrance location back in Oct. 2010 but I knew they've been expanding rapidly. Currently there are five Yamadaya locations including the newly opened Sherman Oaks branch.

Looks their menu has expanded a lot as well where while they've been primarily a Hakata-style Tonkotsu establishment, they now seem to additionally offer a brothy clear type Premium Shio and Shoyu which I might be looking forward to more if they also have plans for them here.

They've been the rarer exception in So. Cal. of a place that served katsu and teriyaki items that also managed to produce commendable ramen, so people can get their Japanese deep-fry fix here too. Japanese Gyozas weren't too bad as well if I remember right.

Ramen Yamadaya, 4706 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. San Diego,CA 92117

Back to my blog.. I feel I've been doing this a lot longer but Year Four is behind me as of today and now onto my fifth. Still planning to put up random food related topics that inspire me as a Food Curious. (A descriptor I came up with a while back after long deliberation.)

[Giant Takoyaki @ Meiji Jingu, January 3, 2011]

Maybe a self induced quick Q&A is due for this year...

Q: Is Dennis your real name?
A: Might have mentioned before but it actually isn't. But have felt comfortable enough with it when meeting other fellow bloggers in real life and missed the critical awkward timing of telling them otherwise. The 'K' btw comes from the Japanese Curry loving original Super Sentai yellow ranger - Kiranger.

Q: Any favorite/proud posts?
A: Embarrassed to say I have a few but I seem to corner any query for "Japanese Worcestershire (sauce)" thanks to my dandy Usutaa Sauce chart. While the most popular route to my humble blog according to stats would be via a Chirashi photo on lunching at Sushi Ota, I'm actually more excited of the fact that if you Google-Image "One meatball," my pic from Volare is usually up there in the top three. In all of the entire google-verse, how cool!?

Q: Who's your target audience?
A: I don't really have one but I try to write for a broad (nerdy) international readership as much as a lot of the content is SD specific by nature. Most comments I get are from other food bloggers.

Q: Other memorable moments in the four years you've been blogging?
A: Yes, it's when I got a hit from S.E.T.I.!

Probably just a receptionist trying to figure out what to have for lunch, but I can't help get totally nerded out about it.

Q: Most swiped photo without permission?
A: That's easy, it's the Triple Scoop Thrifty's Ice Cream Cone.

Q: Last, do you have a favorite single food/meal/dish?
A: It's hard to narrow to one, but it's most probably something Japanese Yoshoku. Aside from the nostalgic component I think I like how it reminds me that everything we eat were adaptations at one point and evolving. Some just stuck around longer and/or had good PR. But a nicely done scratch made bowl of Miso Soup is hard to beat... So I'll take what I first said back and it's a piping hot bowl of Miso Soup with lots of Bonito dashi flavor. Yeah!

Thanks again for visiting. Looking forward to another year!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tsujita's Edo Soba And Ichimonji Tonkotsu Miso Ramen (@ Mitsuwa Umaimono Gurume Fair 2012)

Another Umaimono Gurume Fair at So. Cal. Mitsuwa Markets has come and gone for the first part of the year. Today was the last day for this particular but there's usually another in the Fall not to mention the many 'Anniversary Sales' at various stores. I was able to make it out to the Costa Mesa and Torrance branches again yesterday for some showcased ramen tasting fun. As I mentioned in my last post, Nidaime Tsujita was back (at CM) with what sounded to be a classy Shoyu given the name Edo Soba, and curious first timer Ichimonji from Hakodate, Hokkaido would be serving a Tonkotsu based Shoyu and Miso.

Jumping first to Tsujita where I visited them on the drive back. Got there well past noon but was surprised to find the market only somewhat busy for a weekend without a crazy rush that I feared. Also unlike Ichimonji at Torrance there was absolutely no line, at least the day and hour I was there.

Hope they got more visits today (and earlier in the week). I felt sort of mixed in the pleasure of not having to wait, but at the same time feeling bad for all the people missing out on the seriously great bowl. ;)  For this fair it seems like Tsujita is sharing some of their master's original Tokyo roots with a classic Shoyu Ramen.

One sip and I exclaimed in my head "Thisu Izu Shoyu!" (デイスイズ醤油!). While it didn't have the extra strong Gyokai notes (of Bonito and Niboshi) that the version served during the past fair had (which pretty much was a less rich version of their intensely concentrated Tsukemen with slightly thinner noodles...), the flavor and aroma of the Soy Sauce hit hard in a really great way.

All that sweetness with absolutely none of the bitterness typically associated with one this deep caramel in color. I imagined they must have used some pretty quality Shoyu to achieve which was all harmonious with the also excellent stock in the broth that seemed to additionally have a pleasant subtle ginger back note. The pork chashu slices and bamboo shoots were marinated surprisingly stronger as well (don't think I've ever seen menma this dark an umber). Both toppings were successful to not be overshadowed by the soup, and to do it without being salty was an achievement.

Finally the fresh cut negi onions and right amount of surface oils give it that yin-yang dance of comfort and sprite. Noodles were the more typical thickness to match and while cooked perfectly medium-firm, were perhaps the only thing that I felt tasted somewhat average.

This would easily be considered upper tier Tokyo-style Shoyu Ramen. For the intense stuff Tsujita typically puts out, it could mistakenly be considered "light," but in fact for a Tokyo Shoyu it's quite potent and was super satisfying. Not quite reaching the level I had at Shina Sobaya year and a half ago at Raahaku but that was probably an $18 bowl if I remember right. So would I have this again for 10-bucks if I had the opportunity? In our sea of blah shops that serve a Shoyu suspiciously close to packaged nama-ramen, my answer is a definite yes. I really gotta get myself to make it up to the brick and mortar West L.A. location this year. (Pinky swear!)

Next up is the Tonkotsu-Miso I had at Ichimonji in Mitsuwa Torrance. I arrived here first and a bit early for lunch at 10:30AM. The shops in the food court including wouldn't be starting until 11. So I grabbed a few Korokke (Croquettes) and killed some time checking out the other participating stalls. (And I apologize again for the usual lack of coverage of these!) I also had some of these potato croquettes here in San Diego end of last week. The price was right and I got to try a few including creamy crab (kani kureemu), one with finely minced scallops and a simple one only laced with butter (じゃがバター, jaga bataa) which turns out I happened to like the most.

Ichimonji was said to be from Hakodate, Hokkaido so I thought I should try the Miso flavor if I were to sample only one bowl. It seems to be an original creation of the shop's which doesn't reflect emulating a particular regional style or pedigree.

The first sip was pretty satisfying where I could immediately taste the stronger tangy flavors of red miso. Most shops here underplay this to an annoying degree where when they do, you end up with a bowl that tastes like mild Miso Soup (not particularly enjoyable as a base to slurp large amounts of noodles if you ask me). While my all time favorite bowl of Miso Ramen would be the heavyweight bout from Sumire (they've visited Mitsuwa's Fairs in the past but I also had in Japan including Ramen No Eki), a decent bowl not need be as intense (though I wouldn't complain the least bit, ha).

Ichimonji's is a Tonkotsu blended that intentionally goes for a more rounded profile. Compared to say, Santouka's Tonkotsu-Miso offering option, the miso flavor is much more predominant which I enjoyed. But where Santouka has the upper hand is the solid tonkotsu component that compensates. I felt ichimonji's (at least the day at the fair) didn't deliver enough unctuous umph to elevate things to Wow status. Still, it was a pretty decently tasty bowl and in fairness if a joint ever served anything close to it here I'm certain that I'd be all over it. Since this was a food fair and expectations that much higher, I guess I was wishing for something a tad more indulgent with lasting impact.

The noodles were a wavy medium edging on the thicker-side, yellow in color and tasted great. The added texture of the slightly thicker side al dente noodles along with a flavor that can stand its own complemented nicely the relatively richer soup (instead of getting lost in it like many that underestimate importance of good noodles so often do).

The tender pork which was cut thick surrendered to my disposable wooden chopsticks and was delicious. Would've been even better if it had the grill marks that the photos on their online menu had. Maybe I should've gotten the Tonkotsu-Shoyu instead, and I also didn't try some of that spice paste and grated ginger condiment that was off to the side... Can't help but wonder, but if there is a revisit in future fairs I'm hoping they'll be bringing their Jidori based soups to sample then.

Happy Father's Day btw for all you daddies out there! Thanks as always for visiting.

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

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Sharing - Ten-don Specialist Kaneko Hannosuke In Mitsuwa SM, And Another Tasty Food Fair

I can't seem to get my head around a proper organized post these days. Sharing a few things I happen to find interesting and more random food related topics sprinkled about.

A treat for L.A. folks, Kaneko Hannosuke is opening a store in the food court of Mitsuwa Santa Monica (Mar Vista). It seems Hannosuke doesn't have any outlets other than their main location in Nihonbashi (where people always report the long lines) so this first branch in the U.S. is exciting news. ( link info here.) [Update: My first impression visits can be found here.]

Ten-don (tempura rice bowl) specialist Hannosuke serves a specific Edomae-fu ("Old Tokyo" style) where the pleasant nutty aroma of sesame oil used for the fry is complemented with a further appetite stimulating robust sauce, both hallmarks of this type. Can't wait to try as it's literally been over twenty years for me since I've had one that could be called such. The Edokko fonded flavors would be notably bolder than the likes of subtle Kansai tastes and at least for Ten-don, the version I would most definitely prefer. Hard to come by outside Tokyo until now so it's really great.


Typical toppings are some combination of Anago (sea eel), scallop, Kisu (type of Japanese Whiting), shrimp and maybe squid for seafood, while shishito peppers, sheet Nori and even Hanjyuku soft boiled yolkalicious eggs are also a common sight as tempura at Hannosuke. Could only guess what the menu plan would be here but if they play up true to the original shop's concept the meal should also be decently affordable on top. Can't see them on opening day as it's a Monday (June 11th) but the first 100 customers gets a free meal on the house.

That week will be then capped starting the Thursday (14th, ending Sunday the 17th) with another Umaimono Gurume Fair (often abbreviated to "MUGF" on this blog). The highlight usually for me are the guest Ramen shops showcasing their limited number bowls and I'm excited that there will be another two set for this celebration.

I've yet to visit the newish brick and mortar Nidaime Tsujita off Sawtelle in West L.A., but they'll be serving a Tokyo-style Shoyu which they're calling "Edo Soba" with signature gyokai accentuated broth (the marine - in this case Bonito and Niboshi) blended with Pork/Chicken/Veggies that I can't seem to get enough of. For the meat lovers there will be a Niku Soba with triple extra slices of their Chashu pork (will cost $14.50 tho). Tsujita is really known more for their Tsukemen ("dip ramen") which is exceptionally delicious in its own right, but truth be told I'm more a Ramen fan and feel I always will be. Tsujita will be at the Costa Mesa branch.

A sampling of a truly rewarding Miso-centric ramen bowl is harder to come by even more so, so I'm also looking forward to try Ichimonji, a shop from Hakodate (as was Kitahama Shoten a year ago MUGF). Will be at the Torrance locale the same days. Although Ichimonji will be offering a lovely looking Tonkotsu-Shoyu, my rec would definitely be the Tonkotsu-Miso, the shop being from Hokkaido. Appetite permit I'd love to try them both though, haha.

Sans the special ramen visitors, our San Diego store will be celebrating with some delicacies as well so do check them out. I usually end up there after letting the noodles have time to settle in my belly anyway, my drive back down while listening to A Prairie Home Companion on NPR. Oh the good times.

Anyhow, there this week scored $0.99 bags of Shishito, Piiman and Eringi mushrooms. Will probably be making more Naporitans throughout the week. I've been meaning to share a gateway version for potential first time Naporitan eaters where the ketchup is cut with a little Demi Glace (super tasty). Another version I've been wanting to experiment (with some precaution) is one using Heinz Chili Sauce (the one used for shrimp and stuff...). It'll surely give it an extra tang but curious if the citrusy addition would be in a good way or not.

Then there is the Banana Ketchup. Have you heard? Also called Banana Sauce, it's a condiment created in the Philippines when there was a shortage of Tomatoes in WWII. If the experiment happens to not go well I wouldn't be down a lot at $0.69 a bottle. But I'm here to try and prove my also out of closet avid Naporitan fan hairstylist wrong, haha. There's something in me that says I gotta try it once, and I'm not afraid of opening up a list of never ending doors, my blog being labeled a useless Naporitan info haven be damned. ;)

Like how I recently found that there is a Japanese sub-sub-culture / genre (Aka - stuff most my Japanese friends don't even know about...) of cheap fast food spaghetti called the RomeSpa (ロメスパ - pronounced ro-me-su-pa). Check out these soulful eats from Japone (ジャポネ) in Ginza, said to be the birthplace of the highly altered Japanese pasta category.


My Japanese-to-English translating battery is about depleted this Sunday evening to try to explain the background in detail (with roots to the casual standing Tachigui Soba eateries), but the three golden RomeSpa rules according to one expert are:

1) Much like most Naporitans (and acute disapproval from Italians), the spaghetti noodles are precooked ahead in large quantities. The actual meal preparation is then more a high heat toss-searing style (like Yakisoba). This is mostly due to the fast paced speed at which would be RomeSpa eaters expect their meals to be served at.

2) The spaghetti used are thick (sometimes called Spaghettoni or Vermicellini). Aside from intangible nostalgic value with RomeSpa hounds, the use of this thicker spaghetti at least to me seem to be important with not only the filling aspect as a budget conscious meal but also to give some decent texture. Not quite reaching actual al dente level, but from experience the high heat searing giving much life back to them.

3) Availability of extra large portions. There is no doubt that this is furious carbo-loading for the urban working class set. Seasoning also tends to be on the stronger side.

Other well known (and not so known) RomeSpa eateries around the Tokyo area are:

Spaghetti no Pancho (スパゲッティーのパンチョ).
Elm (エルム - or Erumu).
Little Koiwai (リトル小岩井).
RomeSpa King (ロメスパキング - reviewed by Eatnapo-san).
Tokyo Spaghetchi (東京スパゲッチ)
RomeSpa Balboa (ロメスパバルボア)
Giant Gattsuri Spa (GIANTガッツリスパ)

Well that's all I have for tonight. The first image btw is a carton of eggs I found during one of my trips to Nashville. It was so neat I almost wished I could take it with me on the plane home (and yes during my spare time on any trip I visit the local grocers and browse the isles for fun). I'm slowly discovering I have some fascination documenting egg cartons I guess. Maybe one day I'll share the full photo collection. Until then, thanks again for visiting!