Thursday, January 31, 2013

Otafuku Noodle House - Gardena

The latter part of last year I went through a teuchi (handmade) Soba phase, first stemming from an accidental revisit to Fukada in Irvine (that I had mixed feelings about), then checking out Soba Sojibo through a friendly tip along with another exciting random discovery of Ichimi-An. If a person ever starts a similar search online or off, it'd probably be a matter of time before stumbling on Otafuku. A quiet shop off S. Western Ave in Gardena.

The front has recently gone through a big makeover, but you'll still see most regulars come in through the back entrance. A narrow corridor leads past a storage closet, steamy buzz of the kitchen and eventually to the Hello Kitty noren flanked with on-duty friendly servers.

I was surprised to find three types of soba offered (the noodles themselves), where if you include the also handmade udon, makes a fourth. Documented Otafuku menu here (that I recently updated with the Dinner version).

I figured the standard Zaru Soba ($7.50) was a good place to start where I was told is the most popular of the cold offerings. The noodles are all made in a small room attached to the side of the restaurant by the owner and a quick slurp reveals the fresh, pleasantly subtle flavors of soba with nice resilient texture. Nothing life-altering here, but definitely managed to quench the teuchi experience I've been hooked on these last few months.

The mentsuyu served with good (real) hon-wasabi is a delight. On the subtle side for my personal taste but the scratch-made flavors while delicate are really pleasant.

I got a tip from the folks at Umami Mart about Otafuku's atsuyaki tamago and tried it as an appetizer one visit. Oftentimes also called Dashimaki Tamago but at Otafuku named Ji-Tamago-Yaki ($7) was made to order and still hot when it reached the table. Fluffy with great flavor, you can visually see the amount of dashi used by its color. Oishii!

I can actually make an equally comparable but this was one of the best I've had going out in So. Cal. maybe.
On the same note, a similar great experience was with their Oyakodon ($11).  Previous, to have any worthwhile I pretty much had to also make them at home.

Otafuku's hits the mark on almost all accounts. Tender dark meat pieces cuddled in a good quantity of wiggly-rare simmered eggs seasoned with a flavorful and robust dontsuyu. The minced yuzu citrus zest was a great touch, then finished off with your pinch of fresh mitsuba (Japanese parsley) leaves. So good and probably also the best I've had (since coming to the States) outside of my kitchen.

One visit I splurged on what they call their "Kikouchi" ($11) which is a Jyuwari Soba. This means 100% soba buckwheat is used in making where most are blended with some ratio of wheat flour for various reasons.

Not surprising has the most aroma and flavor of all three but also is this stiffest. It wasn't as hard as the one I had during my trip to Kanazawa many years ago (which was my first experience with a Jyuwari), but in general I felt my personal sweet-spot experience at least at Otafuku was the standard Zaru or the Seiro (coming up). And for the price I can go for the large order. :)

The Kakiage I had was pretty good but had the potential to be much better. I felt was fried a little too long as the scallops and shrimp inside were well-done. It had a pleasant nutty sesame oil aroma, though not as strong as Hannosuke's.

The soba-yu is the starchy water used to boil the noodles and can be opted to thin out your leftover mentsuyu at the end of the meal to be had as a light broth. While I don't always care for it the particular one I had here was pleasantly enjoyable.

You often hear that Oyako or even Katsu-dons at soba specialist shops are worth a try, mainly due to the same superior dashi made for the noodle's tsuyu. At least at Otafuku this theory seems to hold very true.

The Kuro-buta (Berkshire Pork) Katsu-don ($12) was great for most same reasons as their Oyako. All in great play -- the marbled pattern of yolk and whites from a not overly mixed egg, robust sauce, and the large well seasoned katsu with edges still crispy (which was definitely refreshing for a change). This day's I felt they may have fried the katsu a little too well but the pork was still tender and moist. The minced yuzu zest was again a nice touch.

These entree items come with a small side salad, miso soup and pickles. The pickles are done in their own nuka-doko and had that lovely distinctive nuka aroma and flavor. I'm embarrassed to mention the fate of mine (was unintentionally neglected too long) but it made me want to start up another. :P

The order of Vegetable Tempura was done pretty proficiently. The batter is not too thick or thin, and matches well with the soba broth that it is often found sopping in. I really love tempura'd shiso leaves (as do of nori) and wish more places in San Diego served it in the typical mix.

The Tori-jiru Seiro ($10.50) was actually had by a friend but I got to taste. The noodles in this case are cut much thinner and is dipped in a hot broth with tender Jidori chicken pieces and scallions. Really enjoyed this one (though I still have to give Ichimi-An the upper hand in the noodles themselves maybe). While the next to try on my list is their Curry Nanban, I may be ordering it again immediately after.

Anago Tempura ($7) is usually a sight served whole, but I think ours were cut up knowing it'd be shared. There are also mini tempura bowls that can be ordered for $3.50 with your soba as a combo.

I'd love to visit for dinner one of these days since there are a lot more seafood offered on the menu then. And while I'm happy to have found another shop to soothe my teuchi soba oats, I'm equally or maybe more so excited about Otafuku's donburi and side items.(!)

Otafuku Noodle House, 16525 S Western Ave, Gardena, CA 90247

Friday, January 25, 2013

Seikoen - Torrance (Lots Of Pics!)

During my out-of-town friend's visit last Winter break and doing my share of tourist guide a day in the L.A. area, we stopped by Seikoen for an early dinner before heading back to San Diego. Another shout out to fellow reader Junichi for recommending the place. (Thanks dude!) Sharing today collected photos from two visits.

As a Japanese-style Korean BBQ, there are some idiosyncratic differences (one, you'll have to pay for your kimchi) while items are also listed in terms that I'm more familiar with. In the same category we have our own Tsuruhashi in San Diego, but I felt Seikoen was more affordable with quality of meats equaling. After asking they said they've been in business in the same quiet strip mall for 32 years. Seikoen menu here.

We started off with some great beef tongue. Negitanshio is a variety lightly salted with minced green onions. The style here is conservative with the onions but pretty excellent being careful not to put more than needed amount of heat into it.

Their raw beef liver sashimi Reba-Sashi is another great appetizer to start with which I had my second visit around. Extremely fresh, they were practically glowing on the plate.

Ones I've had before (in Tokyo before they were banned) I remember having with a sweeter sesame oil dip, but here is a salt based. A light coating and the liver almost melts over your tongue. Super delicious. Heard great things about their raw minced beef Yukke as well. (Next time!)

This night we didn't quite splurge with the Wagyu Kalbi offering, but the premium Toku-jyo Kalbi (prime short ribs) we had was still plenty sublime. The darker meat in the back of the plate is Harami (a very popular cut near the diaphragm, sometimes called 'outside skirt steak').  Harami in general won't be your most tender of selection but has plenty of meaty flavor to compensate. I feel it's a meat lover's meat. :)

Above, a couple premium Kalbi slices getting some grilling action. Below my Harami ready to be consumed over rice. ハラミ オンザライス。 Mouth watering...

Another plate of tongue had the second visit. This is their standard Tanshio seasoned simply with S&P.

The recommended sauce is a lighter lemon juice based. Nice to alternate. So good!

More Harami and an order of Horumon.

Horumon is an invented Japanese word to describe offal cuts in general. An order of it at Seikoen refers to some pre-prepped large intestines (nicknamed tecchan). It's been boiled for hours and most of the funk gone and tender. Since it's pre-cooked not a lot of grill time is said required but I personally prefer mine a little crispy on the edges and moderately rendered. Despite the longer cooking, has plenty of good fat left and definitely great eats. We ordered seconds of this also...

Some Sanchu veggie and flavored miso below to wrap your grilled goodies.

Next up Premium With-bone Kalbi, Toku-jyo Honetsuki Kalbi. Great stuff, and seems like yet even more Harami next to it, haha.

Some chilled Kirin. They have Orion too!

Good soups to be had as well. Below the Kalbi Soup. Best to share but I had some for leftovers the next day with rice which was quite a treat.

A lot more items I'd like to try my next visit which I'm really looking forward to.

Seikoen, 1730 W Sepulveda Blvd, Torrance, CA

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Big Front Door

Sharing a few meals I've had at my new favorite neighborhood deli, the Big Front Door. They took over the spot of the older European Market location off Park Blvd, just South of Sprouts. I've been longing for something like it for a while now, a place I can walk to, casually grab some good food but also with an atmosphere that is cool and friendly enough to want to hang around and eat in.

Well for me BFD has become all that and I couldn't be happier, them becoming an addition to the already great University Heights / North Park community. Everything is made from scratch, many daily, and they smoke all their meats in-house as well. The bread for the sandwiches are delivered fresh from local bakery Sadie Rose.

You can purchase alcohol but at the moment can't be had on premises (until some permit technicalities are dealt with). Below the big front door swung open to the recent warmer January San Diego weather we had.

The Avocado Highway ($9) on a toasted torpedo I had earlier the visits won an easy place on my to-get-again list. Very generous amount of ripe avocado, fresh tomato, Parmesan crisp (yum) with romaine lettuce, some light oil and vinegar. I had it also with bacon (+$?) as it was recommended on the menu, definitely no regrets there. ;)

The Parmesan crisp was as thick as some peanut brittle I had last Holidays and along with the thicker cut bacon brought a lot of great texture and extra savory flavor to the sandwich. The bread was also great!

Also tried a small side of their potato salad ($1.50). Texture may have been a bit too mayo-ey for me but somehow flavor wise wasn't so much so surprisingly. Everything including the eggs and green peppers were larger cut and enjoyable.

Below, the revolving limited time Sandwich of the Season which currently is Baby Back Ribs ($10.50). Large deboned pieces of baby back pork ribs, chunky coleslaw and thick-cut oven roasted onions.

The meaty ribs had a lot of that crusty bark bits on the edges that I love, but still tender and not too dry. The sauce that seemed cider based was more tangy than sweet and nice to offset. If I do get this again though I'll definitely ask for it less in the sandwich and have some extra on the side. Otherwise it was nothing short of great.

The Black Bean Chili is priced the same as their soups and comes dressed with a little sour cream, cheddar cheese and chives. ($3 for a cup.) These smaller containers were plenty for me, it be the chili, soup or side.

The hearty ratio of coarse minced beef and richer spices reminds me of some competition style chili, though there are some black beans true to the name. Similar to my experience at the SD Soup Shoppe, I wished this was served in an actual bowl when dining in. More a wish than criticism, but I feel the meal deserved to be maybe. :)

Smoky the Meatloaf ($8) was a great tasty fill too. I actually would've ordered it again if I weren't trying to get a better spread for my post.

A good size piece of moist meatloaf with cheddar and garlic aioli, between toasted sourdough. I felt the fresh tomato slices were a great addition to give contrast. The house ketchup is rich and a little tangy and most is served on the side. The larger container of Soup of the Day ($5) was Red Pepper & Carrot. Was totally creamy but was told it uses no dairy.

The one called Turkey Day ($9) imaginably was your "Thanksgiving Sandwich" with thin turkey slices, their bacon stuffing (!), cranberry relish (that I asked to go easy on) and a drizzle of gravy. The cold cut turkey surprisingly had a lot of flavor (nicely brined) and overall was a great meal but felt it belonged on their "Hot Sandwich" selections. It's served at ambient temperature but the list of ingredients to me cry out to be done heated.

I knew I liked their stuffing (after sampling once earlier for dinner) so I had asked for extra (heated) as a side. Like many foods in a person's life, the best Thanksgiving stuffing I'd guess is what he/she had growing up at home.

My family's was the classic Better Homes & Garden Cookbook version and BFD's is similar, with the only extra addition of candied bacon (yay). Just my personal taste I thought it could use a little more onion, celery and a stronger sage kick, but that's just me. I'm only SO glad that it's not that cornbread-sausage-raisin-walnut abomination that many gourmet shops try to serve.

I had the O.F.T. (open-faced turkey) one night for dinner ($8.50). Over a slice of sourdough and plenty of hot gravy. Have to say it's been a while since I had turkey this flavorful. A good brine but with also a light smoked flavor. I need to tell these guys about the smoked pulled turkey sandwich I had with (Alabama style) White BBQ sauce..., but anyway for $2 extra you can have it with some green beans and stuffing which I did.

My most recent meal was this Caprese ($9) with side salad ($4) and small container of the soup of the day which was Roasted Tomato & Basil Bisque ($3).

The buffalo moz was cut thick and again loved the ciabatta that came from Sadie Rose. A light sprinkle of S&P made it perfect. The soup and salad were also both great being so fresh tasting. Plenty of other things to still try so I'm sure there'll be a part-two soon.

Big Front Door, 4135 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92103