Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fukada, Irvine - Quick Lunch Visit

It was a little funny how the moment I drove into Fukada's mall I realized I had eaten here once before many years ago. At the time the place was squeaky new and guessing had just opened. Definitely pre-blogging days where I unfortunately can't seem to remember what I had then for the life of me.

Not sure if they were doing the handmade noodles thing (soba and udon) the time, I think I would've remembered that. But anyway I had picked up their name again earlier in the year browsing through one of those free Japanese publications, then last summer worked out a visit during the few work related errands in the city.

[The soba & udon making backroom at Fukada, Irvine.]

From what I gathered, the place gets really busy during lunch hour where a 20~30min wait to be seated can be typical on weekdays. As far as I know it's the only Japanese restaurant in the area and I noticed most patrons were of Japanese business people and seeming ex-pats, at least when I dropped in. The time being around 1:30PM helped a lot for me to miss most of the rush (lunch ends at 2 here). The menu is available online on their site though some listed prices are outdated by about a buck.

Items offered range from your usual suspect donburi mono (a few Fukada inspired), tempura that can be ordered by the piece (nice), a fairly extensive appetizer list (I'd like to try the Nasumiso and the Tataki's next time myself) all the way to your typical teriyaki as an entree or bento set.

Equally extensive is the soba and udon offerings where my heart was set on having the afternoon. Although by then I've heard the udon was the better bet, since I'm not a huge consumer of it I went the soba route anyway. A Ten Zaru ($9.95) - Cold rinsed soba with tsuyu dip and tempura combination. 

The regular portion as you can see is not that big, extra would cost $2 more. While I'm far an expert of teuchi (handmade) soba I've had my few shares in Japan including once a Jyuwari type where only 100% buckwheat is used (a typical ratio is 70/30 or 80/20 blend with wheat flour).

After preemptively apologizing first to patrons sitting in very close proximity about my meal photo-documenting hobby, ha (we were at the counter and practically rubbing shoulders), I dove right in. A few slurps, it's quickly evident that the buckwheat aroma and flavor were surprisingly low. Also while the first mouthful strands were decent, the rest were pretty brittle and felt a little too waterlogged than it should. I actually have a teuchi soba hobbyist friend and know he struggles with similar results mainly due to not being able to get quality soba flour here. 

Gotta say though that the scratch made mentsuyu dip was excellent. The dashi flavors are vivid and the delicious trifecta of it with sweet-savory of shoyu and mirin was a great balance. I can seriously put down a mugful of this, ha. The tempura of shrimp and vegetables were also pretty good and I'd love to tack on an Anago sea eel and Shiitake next time.

I also tried their house Tebasaki Karaage (fried wings, $5) that came out piping hot. The crispy wings themselves lacked seasoning and thought it could use a longer rest in the marinade maybe. The sweet-savory sauce beneath was tasty but you sort of had to first take a bite of the chicken to get beyond the impenetrable skin layer for it to adhere any. The few last pieces that were let to sit in the sauce longer were definitely better.

I really wished I could've squeezed in at least a second visit before posting especially since I felt I was just getting warmed up familiarizing with their menu, but alas it didn't seem to be going to happen anytime this year. I'd probably try the handmade udon next which I've heard much better praise of though admit the duck-centric Kamo Seiro and Kamo Nanban soba is still tempting.

My personal gist is that Fukada is your good neighborhood Japanese restaurant that takes pride in the theme of healthy eating and use of organic products in cooking. The whole scratch made noodles thing I feel is more an extension of it rather than claims of any true artisanal take. Nothing wrong with that though portions of at least the soba could be better. It in mind with some clever peak hour avoiding, I look forward in being back.

Fukada, 8683 Irvine Ctr Dr, Irvine, CA 92618


kirbie said...

Oh, DH and I like coming here for the udon with mountain vegetables and the spicy tuna bowl. Sometimes we visit the to-go location to avoid the wait.

Dennis K. said...

Hi Kirbey, yeah I saw a few people having those. I've since visited more soba places and looking forward in posting them.