Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ramen Umenoya - Quick Visit

Hope everyone had a great Easter weekend, the weather was certainly nice.

Well as my outings usually involve food in some form, sharing tonight another meal. I've finally tried visiting Ramen Umenoya in Torrance and have to say I enjoyed their Shoyu Ramen quite a good bit ($7.95). They're located in a rather quirky smaller blue colored strip mall opposite of the mega modern parking lot shopping area that houses Ramen Toraya (formerly Ramen California).

The flavor of the broth is fairly straight forward classic Tokyo-shoyu but a lot more potent than most. Nothing overtly wa-fu like what Zetton is trying, I liked that it wasn't needlessly complicated but your honest-to-goodness Shoyu Ramen with a niboshi note just enough to give me a smile. Quite frankly what our Yakyudori's ought to be I felt.
The majority of what you see sprinkled on top are finely chopped onions, nice and sweet to offset while giving some additional texture, but other white flecks are in fact a controlled amount of back fat to add an appropriate richness.

The noodles ordered a katame firm was adequate but toppings were very cohesive. The marinated soft boiled eggs your above average for these parts (and was nice to be given two-halves as standard), the pork chashu also well-seasoned as to not get lost in the soup. Very tender, perhaps a little too much (if there is such a thing) as it was difficult for me to pick a slice up without it fragmenting into pieces. Still I'd happily take these in my just-under-eight-bucks ramen any day of the week.

The price of the Japanese Gyozas seemed to have gone up ($3.95) judging by the relabeling on the menu but were pretty decent with a pleasant nutty sesame oil finish. I wouldn't mind the side fried to be more crisp but as it was the first served the day it could've been the kitchen (both the cook and the griddle) not having completely warmed up.

I could hear some proficient wokking in the kitchen soon after ordering the fried rice Chahan (small order, $2.95) and when it arrived it didn't disappoint. Nice and flaky, with pleasant flavors of smoky shoyu dare, a tad greasy in a (very) good way with generous amount of the same tasty pork chashu found in the ramen. If anything it was maybe a little too aggressively seasoned (salty) but as it was one of the more satisfying chahan had as a set with ramen in a very long while, I was more than willing to ignore.

All the components impressively cohesive, Umenoya's holistic shoyu ramen experience the day really hit the spot for me and then some. While I'm a big gyokai flavor fan and Yamadaya Costa Mesa's Premium Shoyu is my go-to in that category, Umenoya's has easily become my favorite standard shoyu ramen.

Their menu also includes a tsukemen, but more rare an Abura Soba mazemen and even a scary gut-busting Jiro-kei ramen for those so inclined (which as far as I know is a first in So. Cal.). With a tonkotsu and miso also in the lineup you can say Umenoya is a one stop shop for your ramen needs. Still as I'm usually weary of places that try to do too many things it may be a while before I try any of them, but who knows.

Ramen Umenoya, 24222 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ramen Hayatemaru - Quick Visit, Another Limited Time Santouka, Mister Donut Mugs And Other Sunday Ramblings

Sharing one of my longer posts today. Will try to go through them quickly!
Received another gift from friends returning from the land of Takoyaki and Matcha Ice. The updated Mister Donut coffee mug.(!) I think they come in several colors but it's the one shown on the right, while my first purchased in early 2000 original Mister Donut mug and matching saucer is to its left.

Never thought myself as a "mug collector" but I seemed to have acquired a few over the years. Bobcat Bite, White Castle, Steak 'N Shake, The Waffle House, I threw in our Perry's Cafe in the back although I feel the advertisements on it make it cheesy. Not shown is one from MOS Burger (that I keep at work), The Huddle (another post here) and Ricky's (got it cause I liked the retro caricature).

Below my high-carb breakfast had this morning. Korroke (potato croquette), Pork Sausage and Kinpira rolls. Were purchased yesterday and reheated in the toaster oven.

It seems all but our Mitsuwa has an in-store bakery (Hamadaya). These were from the Costa Mesa location and pretty decent, all priced under $2. The Kinpira Roll is filled with Gobo burdock root and carrots seasoned a savory-sweet.

Was there also a couple weekends back to see if Gyutan Tsukasa was finally open. It wasn't but seemed ready to be operational any time soon. The flyers say "Coming in Spring" so maybe beginning of April? [Update: Confirmed opening will be April 1st.]

It was also the tail end of the store's Anniversary Sale. Almost every food stall seemed to have a special. I actually wasn't in the mood for ramen for once but I noticed their Santouka was serving a Kaisen-fu Yasai Ramen ($8.99). Ended up ordering one for the sake of my quirky habit of documenting their limited time offerings. :P

This 'seafood and vegetable ramen' was basically their take on a Nagasaki Champon. I could hear wokking sounds from the kitchen so it seemed to be made as it should. The generous sprinkle of fine ground pepper on top is my doing.

Portion was quite big, in fact served in a large non-Santouka wide-lipped bowl. Cabbage, bean sprouts, onions, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms... where proteins were your naruto fish cake, small bits of octopus and pork baraniku. In the end was nothing too special but the price was right for someone with a Champon hankering I suppose. I'm still puzzled why they don't give out renge spoons here. Brian of the blog Ramen Adventures had been posting on Champons from his trip to Nagasaki. Check them out!

Different weekend I finally visited Ramen Hayatemaru in Torrance. They claim to serve a tonkotsu based Hokkaido style ramen. (Ramen Hayatemaru menu here.) Even the Jonathan Gold can get confused sometimes (he mistakenly refers to Santouka in a Kyushu context in the linked article) but not all white tonkotsu ramen hails from Kyushu. Still I'll have to check out Hayatemaru's Asahikawa or Hakodate influence next time since I went for the Shoyu Tsukemen the visit ($9.50).

Seated and waiting, what bothered me a little was a scent from the kitchen of what seemed to be scorched shoyu.(?) Curious because I don't think the place does any kogashi shoyu type of ramen whatsoever. When the tsukemen finally came the good size mound of dried fish powder gyo-fun was a nice welcoming change. After taking a small sip of the dip I immediately poured the entire contents in.

For me the gyo-fun was almost necessary to make the tonkotsu-kei dip any interesting. It turned out to be (for me) salty in a not very interesting one-dimensional way. No mild sweetness in the back, or acidity to balance, but what finally did me in was the unpleasantly bitter shoyu flavor.
Noodles were nice and thick with what seemed like flecks of whole wheat kneaded within. Eggs were unfortunately hard-boiled but some shops just choose to roll that way. Pork chashu was decent. Sadly I thought the presentation was the most impressive part of the dish. :(

The Japanese gyozas ($2.90) were pretty good though. A crispy one-sided, with a garlic chive centered fresh handmade taste. Not a bad deal for the price either. Since I always have room for curry (in Japan the term called "betsu bara" or the ability of having a separate stomach for certain foods) I also had the mini-curry plate ($2.90). Was a style with some ground meats and pretty satisfying, on par or having a slight edge over Yamadaya maybe (though I did miss having a side of the sweet Fukushinzuke pickles here).

I'm hoping I'll like their ramen better although I don't really try to go out of my way for a tonkotsu these days. There's also a Miso Tsukemen, maybe what I should've gotten?

Ramen Hayatemaru, 1644 W Carson St, Torrance, CA 90501

Yesterday I was in the Santa Monica area to check out books at Hennessey & Ingalls. Too bad we don't have anything like it here in SD, but I always find the trip worthwhile.

Lunch was at Hannosuke again in the Mitsuwa Santa Monica food court. I noticed the menu had expanded quite a bit from my last visits. When first opened there were basically only two main tempura donburi offerings, the Original and the fancier Edomae Ten-don. Now you can get the tempura as a plate with rice on the side. Also chicken tempura and veggie-only options have been added, as well as being able to add any toppings by the piece.(!) I'm actually pretty stoked about the last part.

Below my Original Ten-don ($8.95, which I feel is the better deal) with additional nori tempura that only cost me $0.50 for the extra two pieces. All the tempura were nice and hot this time, the Edomae characteristic of nutty sesame oil aroma and robust flavoring very appetite stimulating (食欲をそそる).

They even finally brought over their special shichimi. I found it ground finer with a rounded blend of spices and heat that went well with.

Gotta love that oozey tempurafied spring poached egg! While my feelings of Hannosuke were on the neutral side during my last post they've definitely managed to come back around for me the visit and is becoming that (relatively) affordable and tasty Edomae-style ten-don shop that I was hoping for. Yay.

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

A quick Lunch at El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla last week. I still think the sashimi plates are a good deal at ~$11, though gone are the days seeing toro quality cuts. Below was the Hamachi and Ahi Tuna combo.

The only thing missing was a hot bowl of rice! Haha. The live uni was over my lunch budget but the day's sandwich special was Yellow Tail (~$8). Avocado is extra.

A pretty solid fish sandwich, everything nice and fresh. Not a whole lot seems to have changed with the place except I noticed they'll be moving across the street to a bigger spot soon. Actually not sure if they're expanding or moving, I'll remember to ask next time.

El Pescador Fish Market, 627 Pearl St, La Jolla, CA 92037

Last but not least, I got my metal hood for my GF1 pancake lens last week. ~$6 on Amazon. Supposed to help with flare in certain lighting conditions but in all honesty I've always liked the look of it reminding me of styles on old Leica's. Mm, now that's a handsome camera. :)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday International Cafe @ UCSD - Mar. 15: Ireland

Another visit to UCSD Friday International Cafe. Today was in celebration of Ireland, yay!
Being part you can say I couldn't miss the day but maybe it was more a luck of predetermination as I just couldn't seem to visit the last three since my first India Day post for one reason or another.
Service starts at noon sharp. The line today wasn't too bad but usually better to get there early.

What the heck (again) the Instagram shot from my iPhone looked better than the one from my "good camera." The umbrellas do leave a blue color cast but the gray skies today didn't help either. Served was Shepherd's Pie (Cottage Pie), Soda Bread, a coleslaw type salad, dessert and drink.

The potato portion of the Shepherd's Pie was fluffy and great! The meats maybe were a little underseasoned but the five-bucks the meal plate is really makes it hard to complain about much. Everything was carbolicious including the Chocolate Potato Cake. :) After the meal I was ready to mend a farm field, or maybe build one of those dry stone walls just for the fun of it. A little early but happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Burger (And Beer) @ Hodad's

One late evening a month or so back, a friend and I decided to cap off a long workday with a beer and burger at Hodad's (original OB location). Hodad's probably by far has been the most famous burger joint in SD but with subsequent episodes on the Foodnetwork, the popularity with tourists seems to have gone into overdrive. Our visit though was about an hour before closing, parking was easy and the place without a line whatsoever. It felt kinda nice to be a local where an impromptu visit like the night was easy to do. In Japanese slang we say Jimotee (ジモティー) Status. Maybe I only say it, but anyway...

Shared an order of Frings ($5.75). Piping hot and great, couldn't finish it even between the two. The friend just had a Mini Bacon Hamburger ($5.25). I never had the mini burger but it looked practically identical to my vertically colossal standard sized (like say, the Japan-only JBL 4312M 3-way bookshelf speakers that are a miniature replica of the classic full-size  4312's) except for the non-sesame seeded bun (and in this case ordered without cheese).

And here is be my beautiful looking burger - a Single Bacon Cheeseburger ($6.75). Look at all that wonderful veggies! A quick side note, a close out-of-town friend once asked me after having his first In-N-Out Double-Double why there were so much vegetables in the burger. My answer was for balance, but also contrast. So to be able to have a burger as often as possible guilt free perhaps. Hodad's burgers probably lies on the spectrum end of a Californian that is particularly packed with these fresh veggies. Knowing so makes the order of the bacon pretty much a must for a proper Hodad's experience.

This famous bacon patty (a disc of rendered bacon fried under a weight) was especially light and crispy the visit. The contrast of it next to oozy melted cheese was fantastic. Then there was the great char on the warm moist beef patty with that of cold crisp iceberg lettuce, tomato slice, onion. Contrast. Not to forget the toasted buns with wonderful crisp-edges. Textural, temperate and flavoring... Contrast.(!)

Contrast is the secret, is the reason, is the moment, when everything happens. Contrast people! 3-2-1, Contrast!

Example of a burger in town that lacks contrast. SD Five Guys.

Hodad's, 5010 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Few More Ramen Related Ramblings, Ramen Toraya - Quick Visit, Zetton And Eboshi Revisit

Decided to do a quick part-two to my last post mostly because I totally forgot to include the recently out full take of Go Ramen! Keizo's indie food film Ramen Dreams. First revealed at the 2012 NY Food Film Festival (helped organized by the one and only "Mr. Hamburger America," George Motz). Check it out:

Congrats on winning Best Short Keizo!
(My visit to Bassanova in Winter of 2010 can be read here.)

Well last weekend I was over in Torrance again but with only partial plans not having decided which couple ramen spots to try the day. Eventually felt a revisit to Eboshi Noodle Bar was overdue and really missed their great vibe. Like if I had to choose one ramen-ya in So. Cal. that wins my personal award in "Best Atmosphere," it'd be them. Gardena Ramen would've come a close second but I unfortunately saw the shop closed and replaced by another last year. :_(

Btw, I realized that I had forgotten my memory card in my good camera soon as I sat down and tried to document the interior. So all the pics the visit are from my iPhone.

But anyway the Shoyu Ramen here is pretty subtle, in fact I can easily see many may criticize as being flat out bland. Definitely not recommended for those looking for a "wow" rich tonkotsu experience (which I've long come to surrender is a lot most out there). While I admit also getting help from the salt shaker some, where it lacks in impact to me is made up by its underlining Wa-fu tone.  More something I can find myself slurping as a leaner complementing companion to a plate of guilty gyozas and (hopefully) lard-wokked fried rice chahan maybe.

Next time though I think I'm finally going to try one of their seasonal special Miso Ramen, though any of their classic Japanese Chuka dishes I'd probably be happy with also. Would maybe just avoid the new Tsukemen that I hear is seasoned more like a Summer Hiyashi.(?)
The set with five Japanese Gyozas (or half order of Chahan) goes for $9.40. The gyoza's fillings lean more veggie based but are larger and plumper than most you find in SD. Updated Eboshi full menu here.

Because of their relatively hard to get to location, visits to Eboshi have been far and too few between. If I did live in the area though I can easily see them be my neighborhood haunt.

Eboshi Noodle Bar, 2383 Lomita Blvd Ste 116, Lomita, CA 90717

So a quick visit to Office Depot for a cheap flash card before checking out nearby Ramen Toraya. They took the spot that was Ramen California sometime last year. I hear RC didn't do that well soon after the change in management which originally was a Sean Nakamura produced shop (as is currently IKEMEN in Hollywood). The irony of it all is that I feel (the original) RC's concept was probably ahead of its time where the majority of people just wanted comforting and recognizable good ramen (aka tonkotsu? just kidding).

But anyway what piqued my interest to visit Toraya was hearing that they served a Kitakata style ramen. My first and only try of a Kitakata was at the Tanaka Sobaten demo at a Mitsuwa fair last year. Something I thoroughly enjoyed, so was looking forward in experiencing again a similar bowl.

Visually Toraya's version looked pretty promising, but it lacked any Niboshi flavor whatsoever which is a key component. The soup should have also been mainly pork bone based with maybe some chicken, but this was 100% chicken.
The Post-it sized slivers of pork chashu were a style where meaty leaner strata reside in harmony next to fattier bands. The first sampled didn't leave me with a big impression but became decently tender once warmed by the soup, however flavors still on the subtle side. The fact that it was cut pretty thin was probably not a bad idea for the style, but in return I expected a lot more fanning the edges of my bowl. Noodles were an appropriate medium-thick crinkly.

So to say the least there wasn't a lot Kitakata about this bowl. While it didn't scream out bad, there wasn't much distinctive character or interest in it for me to want to order it again either. Judging by the lack of niboshi flavor in what I had the day I wouldn't bet their Tokyo Shoyu could have been any more up my alley. Not sure when I'll be back in the area again but if I do, I can see myself order a full order of the gyoza. Maybe also try some ippin plates. Ramen Toraya menu here.

Ramen Toraya, 24231 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505

My revisit to Ramen Zetton in Costa Mesa was few weeks further back. They sort of had a 1-1 score record in that I really enjoyed my first Shoyu Ramen but the "Hot" Tsukemen tried soon after was a critical bust. Fellow reader Allen had let me know he had a good experience with the Cold Tsukemen so I'm looking forward in trying it next maybe. This day I had my heart set to the Shio Ramen.

First thing I had noticed their menu was updated quite a bit (and can be found here). Where the main chicken based ramen of Shio or Shoyu used to be available in regular and Kotteri, it seems now that the richer version has become the standard for these with new Tonkotsu offerings in the mix. The dark force lure of serving tonkotsu runs strong so wasn't too big a surprise maybe. Heck it didn't take long for our RakiRaki to serve one either.

But anyway I was surprised how light caramel colored my bowl was and had to check on my order that it was in fact their Shio. The darker color seems to come from the much stronger Wa-fu stock which of course I'm a big fan of in this style of ramen. Easily leap frogs Eboshi in punch, but at least in the bowl had the day I felt the broth was a little "tired" and slightly blury in flavor.
The small sour ume topping seemed unnecessary. While it works in Santouka's creamy Asahikawa Tonkotsu as a thoughtful palate break, to me it didn't really add anything to this ramen. The texture of the hanjuku eggs were pretty much perfect for me though marinated a little on the salty side. I thought they lightly torched their chashu here but I couldn't notice such this time.

I think I might stick to the Shoyu at Zetton while their tsukemen (cold) is also on my list to retry. The Hainan Chicken Bowl wasn't as satisfying as my first had Keema Curry. Hainan Chicken to me is equally about the chicken stock/juice laden rice which was missing here, but I couldn't feel much love from the seeming microwaved small piece toppings either. Current score: 1.5 - 1.5.

Ramen Zetton, 735 Baker St - Unit B, Costa Mesa, CA 92626