Friday, August 31, 2012

Retort Report: Tokyo X Pork Curry

Time for another captivating I-know-all-been-waiting report on retort pouch curries. Consumed this week a special treat, Tokyo-X Pork Curry. Was a just recently received gift and unrelated to my original stash.

Tokyo X is a Japanese brand breed pig where its pork product much like Matsuzaka or the more famous Kobe wagyu is to beef. Wiki mentions that it was highlighted once on the original Iron Chef but I personally remember first hearing on very early Dotch episodes (quickly becoming a subsequent regular in show appearances).

In contrast to the fancier gold foiled box, the pouch inside was almost mysteriously unembellished. Once opened, I noticed a more than usual amount of oils around the foil lining. The color an intense appetite inducing dark caramel with extremely nice fragrance to match. Plated of course along with a serving of also steaming hakumai rice.

To me the seductive rue possessed an almost dizzying quality of natural beauty that I decided not to garnish with my usual Fukushinzuke pickles. (And of all times I even had rakkyo ready...)

Were smaller cubes of sweet carrot and potatoes and at a chu-kara (中辛) medium heat level. It wasn't as porky in flavor (like how the Wagyu Beef Curry had intense beefiness) as much as it was a Really Really Good Japanese curry. The dryer texture of the pork pieces were perhaps a bit betraying in expectation but the flavor of the curry with excellent rue definitely made up for it. Reminded me of ones you might find served in semi-formal Ginza Yoshoku or old school Japanese hotel restaurants. Not too shabby to think the meal came from a vacuum sealed pouch.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Retort Report: A Couple More MUJI Curries

Has been a while but my retort curry stash from Japan will all need to be consumed fairly soon. Seems it's going to be a foil-lined vacuum sealed curry weekend for me (and not complaining the least bit). A quick background to MUJI's packaged curries can be read on the Green Curry post which happens to be my favorite from their line. Their Butter Chicken is also in my top picks.

Today we have the (Thai) Yellow Curry and a Singapore Style Soup Curry. The yellow is a middle Three-Muji-Chili-Pepper spice rating and the Singapore with a bit more heat at four. Into boiling water they go, and yes I had them both in one sitting. At 200g per package, for me these are more a medium fill serving perfect for a late afternoon snack.

As with Muji's Green, the Yellow Curry was nice with only a very mild natural sweetness from coconut milk and the spices are more played up front stage. I enjoy the lemongrass flavors and the single Bird's Eye chili pepper gives a nice kick. With Shimeji mushrooms, larger cubes of potatoes and decent amount of tender chicken pieces, makes for a good fill despite the smaller serving size.

I haven't had many Singapore style curries in my life but Muji keeps the quality high as usual with extra large button mushrooms, chunky cut carrots and potatoes and the same tender dark meat chicken pieces. All simmered in a flavorful stock with a tomato accented curry spice blend. The curry has a more gingery and tomato note and I thought I tasted Kaffir lime leaves although I don't see it listed on the ingredients list (or online recipes).

I heard from friends that MUJI may finally be opening a store in the Bay Area. Or am I being confused with the conversation about Uniqlo? Either way it seems I'm still going to have to rely on my loving Big Sis for future replenishments.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Early Bird: Coffee & Tea Collective

My light breakfast this morning from the Coffee & Tea Collective (first mentioned here). I have to admit with my lack of sweet tooth the last time I had a waffle was with fried chicken probably well over ten years ago (the Roscoe's in Pasadena). These seemed delivered moments ago and were still warm, a few to choose from including chocolate chip. Very nice capp too. Their hours seem to have finally stabilized some. I now have a total of five coffee shops nearby to rotate and spread my local privately owned business love. Mwah!

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Original Pasadena Taco Truck - El Taquito Mexicano

Spent a super weekend in Santa Cruz hanging with old close friends and making great new ones. I'm totally inspired now to wear a suit vest on a regular basis and learn the fine art of cocktail making. But I digress and tonight just sharing some street tacos from the El Taquito Mexicano truck in Pasadena. Swung by last night on the drive back down where the small detour was time well spent before trekking out the final stretch.

I've yet to try the other truck up the street which I've heard was decent. But you could say I'm partial to these $1.25 tacos that were a staple during my college years (I remember first bumblingly mentioning about back in 2010). Was a bit surprised to find the vehicle now painted fire engine red and gratuitously decorated in stickers. A shelf table even stretched across one of the concrete walls at the otherwise longtime unchanged Nishikawa Auto Service space.

At least superficially things seemed to have changed some but glad to report the tacos were still quite good as they were. In the above photo starting from the bottom going counterclockwise--Cabeza (head), Lengua (tongue) and two Al Pastors. The doubled mini tortillas here are the style rejuvenated by steam instead with some grease on a hot griddle. Light and fluffy I always thought went well with the more finely minced meats and roasty hot salsa. The chopped cilantro and onions are fresh with further accent sprite given by a light squeeze of lemon.
The Cabeza taco this time was more neutral in flavor but still with nice small bits of fat speckled about. Maybe on the mystery side in consistency but definitely unctuous. Can't eat many but usually order one a visit.
Lengua in some shops I occasionally run into ones chopped into large chunks that at least for me has a rather unpleasant texture. Here instead it's a finer shred that along with an enjoyable light gaminess also makes them undeniable good eats.
The Al Pastor from this truck is not directly carved from a vertical spit but always flavorful and moist, if missing those tasty charred bits.

Wouldn't care to compare El Taquito with the county's best as it would be missing the point. Better tacos aside they surely are ones that I most often miss and reminisce.

El Taquito Mexicano Truck, (Nishikawa Auto Service lot after 8PM?) 510 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Marukai SD - Quick Bento Visit

Whoo Whee, 'twas another hot day... And another busy day. I decided to drop by our Marukai to grab a quick bento lunch. While Nijiya still usually remains my go-to for their overall quality and value, I've been noticing both Mitsuwa and Marukai the last six months or so stepping up their bento game. While Mitsuwa SD probably had the most room for it, my blue ribbon for Most Improved if I had one has to go to the folks at Marukai SD.

Above, a Loco Moco-don I got ($4.98). Was technically a "Japanese Hambaagu (Hamburg Steak)-don" as it used a savory-sweet Demi Glace sauce rather than your brown gravy.  Actually reminded me of the style served in many trendy Internet Cafes in Japan, your shredded cabbage, squeeze of Kewpie and all.

The thick patty had a nice flavor and also tender helped by some of the usual fillers typical to Hambaagu (sauteed onions, milk, panko, etc.). Won't be your loco moco without the fried egg of course. Yolkalicious. I left much of the rice because I also had their fried rice (which I forgot to take a picture of). Was still fluffy with some bits of Spam and even a Karaage to the side. I think these guys somehow figured out how to wire tap into my Asian Dude Food brain crave center, ha.

Other temptations though were some Spam Musubis. These were the wrapped kind that I prefer and used to seeing back home. Much less messy. Now if they'd only do a version with Spam & Egg, I'd be a total regular. :)

I did remember to document the Omurice Bento that also comes with Karaage. If you grew up in Japan you'd understand the occasional strange craving of a classic chicken-ketchup-rice blanketed in a thin almost rare omelet. Btw, I recently heard the origins of Omurice was none other than the legendary Rengatei in Ginza. Was said first to be a Makanai, or your behind the scenes staff meal. At first the rice mixed into the eggs, then later became the separate folded in style seen today said inspired by the Chakin-zushi (茶巾ずし).

The famous Tampopo Omurice from the movie few may know was actualized by Taimeiken, an equally long standing and respected Japanese Yoshoku restaurant, but the idea actually came from the director of the movie, Juzo Itami himself. He wanted to create a special Omurice that resembled the Tampopo (dandelion) flower and came up with the idea of splitting a very rare omelet inside out on top of the rice mound. In fact if you see their menu, it'll still say "Tampopo Omurice - Itami Juzo-fu (Itami Juzo style..)".

Sorry the pic above is actually from a Mitsuwa (I think was Torrance) a few months back but a rare sighting of a Tampopo-style Omurice... This one seemed to also have a cream sauce over.

Back to Marukai SD, your standard Karaage Curry. A no brainer good Japanese comfort food.

The Chicken Amazu (sweet / sour) bento I thought was ok. Reminded me of Chicken Nanban, minus the Japanese tartar sauce (though the tartar sauce in Chicken Nanban was maybe more a relatively recent addition).

The only thing I didn't care for which I had earlier in the year was a Naporitan that was inconspicuously hand labeled "spagueti." It was affordable enough but not done in the style of preparation I prefer. Was pretty soggy and the onions and bell peppers still bitter from not giving that high heat searing love.

But anyway, just a brief snapshot today. Hope everyone is staying cool!

Marukai Market (SD), 8175 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92111

And a little fun humor to cap the weekend...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Miho Gastrotruck - Quick Revisit

Whoo whee, it was another hot day today. I needed to go grab something quick for lunch and finally remembered to give the MIHO truck another visit.

I've known for a while that on Fridays they've been parking off Town Center Drive over by the Amylin Pharmaceutical building. Right in front of the pond with obelisk which is pretty much impossible to miss.

The first and last I've visited was over two years ago when they just got up and running. Was one of the first fusion/gourmet food trucks in SD following the famous Kogi craze in L.A. Hard to believe there are close to seventy in this newer category now according to

I always liked the locally sourced message of MIHO. And being a creative myself I like to give credit to people who aren't afraid of trying things and that care about quality. Nothing you haven't heard in "sit downs" sure but the medium of a mobile truck makes it accessible to people in my situation today. Given my time the option in the area was the UTC Westfield mall food court, or maybe the pay-by-weight hot deli at Bristol Farms or Whole Foods. Oh, and we can't forget McD's drive-thru...

Instead I got here a made to order "New" Lamb Burger 2.0 ($10). Fresh ground lamb, sheep milk cheese on a ciabatta from a San Diego bakery. The sweet pepper relish, honey yogurt and fresh crunchy cucumbers kept things cool and on the lighter side. A pretty terrific burger. The patty was maybe a bit over the medium mark but still moist and tender. The distinct pleasant grassy/gamey flavor also on the mild side for my taste but my favorite way of consuming the meat has always been as a roast, thinly cut.

Gotta say the fries were fantastic ($3). Kennebec potatoes that were twice fried (my guess) for that perfectly crispy outer and fluffy potatoey inner. I can see myself be back just for those! If anything maybe I wished there were a little more cause they were so darn good. The less sweet hand made spicy ketchup was a nice detail too. Best of all it was great seeing the truck getting some love with brisk business. I remember some unnecessarily brutal "reviews" online during the early days... Anyway, keep up the great work guys! Next time I promise to bring along friends.

MIHO Gastrotruck Official Website

Saturday, August 4, 2012

(Edomae) Ten-Don Hannosuke - Santa Monica

[Update: My last revisit March of 2013 can be read here.]

Mentioned in a previous post, had a chance to drop by Mitsuwa Santa Monica a couple months back and try out the new Hannosuke for their Edomae-style Ten-don (tempura donburi). My second was much more impressive than the first so will be starting with. Was during Mitsuwa SM's anniversary sale and decided to go with the limited time shrimp-centric Ebi Ten-don ($12.95, with Miso Soup). Was a bit cozy inside and the place gave me a strange sensation of maybe having visited before, back in the late '90s when I used to live in L.A. but couldn't quite remember for sure.

Anyway my meal looked to be my first Edomae Bowl but with few extra shrimp replacing the large Anago (sea eel). Turned out to be a good decision but the best one I made the day was me walking the way over to a small counter with stools by the entrance. I couldn't find any seat the hour otherwise but definitely made for much better photos than the dimly lit food court.

Some may have heard the term Edomae (old Tokyo-style) referenced to a genre of Sushi. A specific style of preparation, the neta often lightly marinated or flavored for one, but more so the title reserved to sushi made with fish caught directly in Tokyo Bay. The latter should technically hold true to Ten-Don with the same descriptor, but characteristics of Edomae Ten-don also generally refers to a more bold flavored style fonded by the fast paced lifestyle of Edokko, kimono sporting Proto-Tokyo urbanites. The culture you can say that sprouted the origins of the true first Japanese fast foods.

Compared to subtle flavors of Kansai, here things tend to be flavored with more gusto. A stronger flavored sauce and also the use of sesame oil in the fry. Hannosuke I heard uses a blend but it is pleasantly nutty and the aroma for me appetite stimulating.

In Ten-don (or maybe donburi mono in general) I always felt one shouldn't expect each and every tempura to be crispy. It is drizzled in an amount of sauce and resting on a bed of steaming rice, so you'll have your crispy portions and others of lightly steeping in tasty tsuyu. What I do expect though is that each piece is warm and made to order. This bowl was much better than my first, the shrimp fried well (and fresh) where I was able to eat up to and including the crunchy tails. The Satsuma Imo sweet potato and Sheet Nori seaweed I could tell was from a batch much in advance but was still crispy helped by their thinness. Shishito pepper was also nice (probably fried with the shrimp), the small Kakiage of smaller shrimp and scallops could've had more flavor and probably would've stayed crisp longer if they weren't from frozen. The soft boiled egg is a Hannosuke thing which you don't find often in Ten-don. A great Yolkalicioius addition that more should copy if you would ask me! ;)

I have to say I did have higher expectations from the sauce which was supposedly a handed down secreted recipe. Never tried the original in Nihonbashi, but at least here I found it rather one-dimensional and for an Edomae should've been less sweet and have more Bonito stock flavor. On the splurgy side for food court food but all in all I felt not bad for the amount of seafood, fill and maybe more unique flavor profile.

One of my errands the particular weekend was dropping by Hennessey & Ingalls. I hadn't been in a long while and there's nothing remotely comparable in SD.

Ah, I ♥ the smell of books!

Couldn't resist getting something. Yay.

Below my Edomae Ten-don ($12.95) that I had my first visit. Includes miso soup and some pickles. The only other offered is the Original ($8.95) which comes with Kisu (type of white fish) instead of the large Anago.

This day things were a little busier but peeking into the kitchen I felt there was no reason to fry that many items ahead of time as they did, especially the Anago which is supposedly from Tokyo. Getting this from our Kayaba is one thing, but from Hannosuke I felt they should stick with smaller batches if at all. The large sea eel was room temperature by the time they were between my chopsticks. The miso soup was surprisingly very typical as well and could've been from any other Japanese food stall. The pickles are your Gari sweet ginger that you'd see with sushi which I enjoyed with, echoing a similar but not identical side with Gobo from the original shop. I could live with that but I really wished they brought over their special Shichimi.

For me Hannosuke fell a bit short of being that game changing food court Ten-don shop as Santouka had become for ramen. But if I were back in the area I wouldn't hesitate in ordering from them again. Just probably would be getting the Original that I think is the better value. I would then lips-to-bowl proceed to bulldoze the tasty meal down and hurriedly go about my next business. Teyandei!

[My last revisit March of 2013 they have made some noticeable improvements and can be read here.]

Tendon Hannosuke (Mitsuwa Santa Monica food court), 3760 S. Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90066