Sunday, June 30, 2013

Everyday Bentos 5 - Homeopathic Practitioner Ayako-san's Healthy Salad Bento

Sometimes I can be really surprised where I find my bento documenting volunteers. One day I randomly walked into the Santek store after a lunch at Izakaya Sakura not having ever been...

A myriad of higher end Japanese electronics, household to cell phones. Games, massage chairs and top line vacuum cleaners to suihanki rice makers. It's where I found (and purchased) my brain explodingly adorable bookshelf toaster oven for one. So cute! Will have a separate post for it soon, but anyway when I found out the sales lady was a bento-ist, I did my speil with the blog up on iPhone and surprisingly all went smoothly! :)

Ayako-san actually is a part-time employee at the shop where her main profession is a homeopathic practitioner as well as a Japanese teacher on the side. Naturally her bento would prove a healthy and well balanced assembly. Salads maybe are relatively rare for a bento but here we have one with arugula, prosciutto, olives and boiled egg. A nicely simmered kabocha to the side and of course some hakumai rice. The salad's dressing is an original, explained made with rice vinegar, canola or grapeseed oil, S&P and grated onions. The day's was yellow because grated carrots were also used.

And again some casual Q&A...

Q: What are your favorite food/s?
A: Sea cucumber (Namako). I enjoy it as a sunomono with ponzu and grated daikon.

Q: Favorite restaurant in San Diego?
A: TadokoroAkinoriYumeya and Bluefin.

Q: Do you have any favorite guilty/junk foods?
A: Yes, a lot. Chocolate, karinto, flan (purin), shu cream (cream puffs) from Nijiya, Cakes from Sage.

Q: If you were in Japan right now, what would you want to eat?
A: Takoyaki from Takoyuu in Minase, Osaka!!

Q: Where do you like to shop for groceries in San Diego?

Q: Do you enjoy cooking and any specialties?
A: I find cooking time meditative for me. Plus, eating quality food is much easier when it's a homemade meal.

Q: When you cook, what are areas you take particular care in?
A: Having a large variety and contrast within is very important to me. For example, simmered foods vs. raw or grilled. Meat ingredients, root vegetables vs. leafy, marine vs. things harvested from land. Then there are all the different seasonings. Soy sauced, vinegared, salt, miso, garlic, ginger and spice heat to name a few.

Q: What other things do you tend to fill your bentos with?
A: Since they are usually leftovers from dinner, almost anything. Oden, pasta, cold udon, fried rice, Japanese curry.

Q: Any other comments you would like to share?
A: I've made bento for my children every morning for seventeen years. I really think the culture of bento making in Japan is great.

Wow, this was really nice Ayako-san. Thanks again so much for sharing!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Everyday Bentos 4 - Bookstore Clerk Sachiyo-san's Korean Japchae Bento

The same week documenting Nobu-san's Aisai Bento, I was crazy ecstatic to have received an overwhelming support from other workers of the same Japanese bookstore! All of whom pack their lunches, Sachiyo-san was one which even gave a rare Ok for a full portrait. This is the most ideal scenario for me and I wished others also weren't as shy. Still, I'm probably more appreciative of the fact that Sachiyo-san was such a good sport about sharing her simple leftovers from the night before, a Japchae bento. But as you know, this was exactly what I wanted and the impromptu shoot was done in the side break room. Thanks again Sachiyo-san for your cooperation!!

Ingredients in the Japchae were Korean potato starch noodles (dangmyeon), mushrooms, spinach, carrot, bamboo shoots and I remember her saying that she had used turkey bacon being out of meat the day. Very awesome. The accompanied tsukemono pickles are also homemade and consists of cucumbers, daikon, garlic and sesame oil, marinated overnight. Mmm, and the canister is for hot tea.

And the most fun part, the quick Q&A...

Q: What are your favorite food/s?
A: Japanese white rice (hakumai) with nori.

Q: Favorite restaurant in San Diego?
A: Thai restaurant, Siam Nara.

Q: Do you have any favorite guilty/junk foods?
A: McDonald's french fries!

Q: If you were in Japan right now, what would you want to eat?
A: Sushi, and the convenient but delicious desserts from konbini's.

Q: Where do you like to shop for groceries in San Diego?
A: Mitsuwa and H-Mart

Q: Do you enjoy cooking and any specialties?
A: Yes. Japanese food in general (nihonshoku) and also gyozas.

Q: What other Korean foods do you make?
A: I often also make Korean soups.

Q: What other things do you tend to fill your bentos with?
A: Nimono.

Q: Any other comments you would like to share?
A: I love Korean television dramas! And I have started to take Korean lessons.

That was fantastic, and thanks so much for sharing your bento with us!!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

5-Year Bloggaversary Random Saturday Post

So it's my fifth year of blogging about the things I eat and anything loosely related. Onto my sixth! This day kinda crept up on me so I don't have much prepared. I do feel I've been doing this a lot longer than I have, probably because my habit-turned-hobby of regularly photo-documenting my meals had started back in 2005.

[Houtou hot pot at Kosaku in Yamanashi - 2005]

It coincides with the purchase of my first digital camera that I speak about some in my 10-Photos Meme post, a Casio Exilim at the Shinjuku Yodobashi Camera. Now that cameras are on most phones it's weird to think there was a time I've not had one.(!)

So I've grabbed a few photos from the time so to reminisce about (which I'm pretty good at, ha). Above a Houtou hotpot from Kosaku in Yamanashi prefecture. Flat udon noodles that resemble something between fettucini and tagliatelle are cooked in a hearty miso broth (think freezing winters...). I had the pork version which also had plenty of kabocha pumpkin, sansai mountain vegetable and super fresh negi on top. The weather was cold and the meal delicious.

[Japanese breakfast at a Ryokan in Kanazawa - 2005]

I've lost that first camera within a year's time (I think left in an airplane) and got a Canon Elph SD1000 to replace. If lighting conditions are optimal, it takes amazing shots with great macros and I still love the look of that particular minimal model (rectangular with small radiused corners) the most. :)

[Tsunahachi in Shinjuku - 2005]

You can check out Serious Eats' J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's 2012 write up of Tsunahachi here, but anyway learning to be very steady with the Exilim (and Elph later on) was actually kind of a fun challenge. I've since went up to the Canon S90 a few years later for better low light capability, but now pretty much use the Lumix GF1 with 20mm pancake lens exclusively as my everyday workhorse. For now I haven't been tempted to go to a full-blown DSLR, mostly for convenience reasons.

[Chicken sashimi at Tori Masa in Tokyo - 2005]

The middle "Sabi-Yaki" of leaner sasami breast meat with dabs of wasabi was done very rare also. Was ridiculously tender moist and delicious but I don't think I'd eat rare chicken here ever. Their "Negi-maki" (last photo) was pretty ingenious where the chicken was actually wrapped around the negi. Showing the underside, the leeks soaks up all the chicken juices during the grilling process. It's a bit laborsome but I've copied and been making them the way ever since. Then there was the life changing Tsukune which I also go over in the earlier mentioned 10-Photos Meme. The lighting wasn't great during this dinner and I'm pretty impressed how steady my hands were, haha.

Well, that's all for tonight. Some old photos and a little camera talk. I'm still having a lot of fun and don't have any plans of stopping anytime soon. Thanks to all those who supported this quirky blog and really greatful for all the friendships I've gained along the way. You know who you all are! :)

[A short Q&A from last year's bloggaversary post here.]

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lunching @ IKKO - Costa Mesa

Sharing a few lunches had at IKKO in Costa Mesa tonight. Located next door to Ramen Zetton (Zetton updates here and here), I briefly mentioned about in the past but the meals for the post took some time to collect since IKKO serves lunch only on weekdays (the visits were during rare work related errands I do in the area).

Anyway when I first dropped in the dimly lit cozy atmosphere inside caught me a little by surprise but it didn't take much to get acquainted to -- a few smaller tables divided by noren curtains and a classy sushi counter at center. Patrons during all visits were fairly consistent between business professionals and affluent Asian housewife types. IKKO is definitely popular with the ladies, haha.

There's a sign outside that warns of not having any American style sushi rolls but curiously enough they're known more for their fusion Japanese dishes. Skimming through the menu there were many carpaccio style sashimi plates as well as other non-traditional creations, particularly in the loose xeroxed seasonal section. Also many non-typical fish were on the sushi board, the day's - Sazae (turban shell), Kintoki Dai (red bigeye), Kasago (scorpion fish) and Houbou (blue fin robin) to name a few. The choices available from the full dinner menu was for the most part out of my normal lunch budget but I was happy to find the lunch offerings more wallet friendly with even a few specials that were actually a good deal.

Surveying tables I could see that their Chirashi was popular and decided with it first. They come in three grades, the regular nami, ($15), a fancier jyo ($25) and the top tier tokujyo ($35). All the lunch sets start with a simple salad of mixed baby greens tossed with an onion-balsamic dressing, sweet potato chips or sometimes fried onion. As for the chirashi, I eased myself in with the basic nami.

Came in a mini ohitsu which was kinda cool (the wood often said to help absorb any excess moisture). Some neta I remember seeing were Bonito and Albacore that were both flamed a tataki style, Salmon, all pretty nice. I felt the maguro was ok in freshness the day, the shiromi which I forgot to ask what (maybe Hirame) was lightly sweet as well as the hotate scallop. The tobiko added a welcomed texture. The tamago had some minced veggies mixed within which was a nice touch and joy to eat.

Way too many sushi places here put tamago as an afterthought but it's actually a popular way of gauging an itamae's craft. While IKKO's isn't the surimi fortified precious dashi ingot that I often dream to have, it definitely put things on a positive note. In a similar vein gotta say the miso soup was spot on with good clear and fresh tasting dashi. The meal also came with some pickles and a kombu seaweed tsukudani with sesame seeds (goma kombu).

Since I was late noticing their Kobe Beef Hamburg lunch set, I had my heart set on it my second visit. This is a non-rotating permanent lunch special and at $9.75 one of the most affordable sets offered.

Since I often make hambaagu at home I'd like to expect ones that I eat out would be at least as good but for whatever reasons this has often not been the case in So. Cal. (my most recent at a revisit to Kagura which I haven't posted on yet). Unfortunately my search for a decent rendition outside of my kitchen still continues. A nikomi style in an original miso demi glace sauce, the meat was chopsticks tender which was nice. Having a good amount of filler is pretty typical for this Japanese version of the hamburg steak, but I felt the texture was much too starchy and detecting any of the beefy umami, it be Kobe or not aside was difficult as well. :( The demi glace was interesting but still a little 'from a jar' tasting and while not bad it could've used a little more drastic pepping up maybe.

I had asked if they'd upgrade my standard miso soup to their Shijimi (a type of small Japanese freshwater clam) version (~+$2?) and it turned out a good decision. Has been a long while since I had Shijimi miso soup and this was pretty good.

The smaller meats are harder to get to but tasty. Asari (Manila clam) probably has a stronger brine flavor due to its marine origin, but the Shijimi's taste and ability to elevate the humble miso shiru is just as potent. :)

Having a little more time to study the menu, my next visit was trying out their Soba and Kaisen-donburi sets ($12.75). Getting to choose your bowl topping out of several sashimi choices was fun. I've tried both the hot and cold accompanied soba sides and enjoyed them equally but a Jidori Tsukune-jiru (soup) with grilled mochi is another option.

The experience with the commonly encountered off shelf soba noodles were well vamped with decent tsuyu along with some grated daikon, nameko mushroom, ume sour plum, tenkasu (tempura bits), green onions and Ooba green shiso.

The hotate-don while the portion is on the smaller side, the scallops were nice and sweet, pre-seasoned in a little simple nikiri of soy sauce and sake/mirin (with the alcohol simmered off). I actually had this twice and made me wonder why I don't do at home more often. :)

Last I was really curious of the tokujyo chirashi and decided to go for it one day. With a few upgrades seen in the nami such as chu-toro, this also had an extra ama-ebi shrimp, ikura, uni, hamachi, shime saba, and snow crab.

Overall very nice but have to say it made our Izakaya Sakura's $20 lunch chirashi-don feel like a real bargain. Then again, that's if you're lucky to be there when the illusively late itamae is present. :P

I also had the Kumiage Doufu appetizer the visit ($4.75). Came dressed with nikiri and a dab of wasabi. I felt the tofu could've had a stronger fresh soy bean taste and maybe the nikiri could've been a tad sweeter as well as it pretty much tasted like straight shoyu. But the yakumi of finely shredded bonito flakes, negi and grated ginger made it a fancy hiyayakko if you will and enjoyable.

My impressions are strictly for lunch but while I feel some dishes could use some refinement in execution, they have more than a few items that I find attractive (and also fits more my frugal budget). And as I'm always on the side that roots for Japanese restaurants that take effort in doing unique things, this makes myself being a supporter of IKKO an easy given. :)

IKKO, 735 Baker St (Ste C), Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lunching @ Robataya Oton - Part Three: Few Menu Additions

A few updates in Robataya Oton's lunch menu. I noticed some newer items earlier in the year and been slowly trying over the last several months. My first post when they had just started lunch service in 2011 can be read in Part-one here, and another update Part-two a year and half later here. Other mentions are randomly scattered about my blog as usual.

They've definitely gotten more popular as a lunch spot compared to the days I did those early posts. So if your group would like to sit in the cozy cubbyholes be sure to come early (I'm not sure if they take reservations during lunch). The smaller counter space up front is where I usually sit since I prefer the better light for photographing.

I was probably most into trying their Ten-don (Tempura Donburi, $10.50). Was a nice bowl with all the tempura made to order, hot and fresh. The shrimp had a good springy texture and the squid also soft, helped some by skilled knife scoring.

I love Shiitake (I've heard called 'the abalone of the forest' which I think is neat) and the Ooba green-shiso leaf battered on a side was happy to see. The oil used seems pretty neutral (no flavor or scent of sesame detected) and the sauce on the lighter side but it's not like I was expecting an Edomae experience. Its personality fit Oton's. The only small but unfortunate thing is it seems the unpretty head of mushy rice is rearing itself up again which I thought was dealt with during my second update post. It's not too bad but I really hope they fix this once and for all.

I almost forgot, your lunch starts with a small starter salad now, chilled and crisp. Since I enjoyed the tendon I tried next the Ten-soba (Tempura Soba) which is available as an Udon as well. Comes with two Inaris and not a bad deal at $8.50 I thought.

One thing I noticed earlier with their optional side mini-sobas was how the broth here seemed to have gone from very light Kansai-style to dark/robust Kanto overnight. I personally prefer this stronger Kanto flavoring so not complaining, just was a little surprised.

The noodles are off the shelf and so softer but there's something oddly calming and reassuring about it, haha. But don't get me wrong, I sure dream of a handmade teuchi shop to open in SD one day. I thought these shrimp could've been prepped better as they didn't seem to be strategically 'broken' in areas to fry straight. Being shaped a question mark the thicker end were tougher, but overall it was a pretty pleasant bowl despite.

They have Japanese Curry now (yay, hehe). The standard is $8 but this Kurobuta (Berkshire) Katsu Curry special was around ~$10 if I remember right. A much less viscous style, it's a very wa-fu rendition, created more with the intention of the Curry Udon (coming up). Was a little too light for me and the rice-to-curry ratio being off didn't help (I needed way more curry). They know how to fry here though and the pork cutlet was great, crispy on the out, moist and tender in, calculating carryover heat.

The Curry Udon I had most recent (twice) and the curry definitely matches this dish better. Has that good underlining but noticeable wa-fu dashi flavor and the aburaage (fried tofu skins) were a nice touch. Having said that I do prefer Okan's more concentrated version much more but Oton's is a good lighter alternative. Not bad, only different. The last new permanent addition is a Nigiri Sushi set but at $16.50 a bit over my lunch budget and didn't try for the post.

One day's special was a Kurobuta Katsudon that I did try. The katsu was a little smaller than I expected but nicely done otherwise. Eggs were not overcooked, still left a little wiggly in some areas. Overall a decent rendition but still not quite up there with the great one I had at Otafuku Noodle House in Gardena. Definitely one of the better had in San Diego though. I opted for the mini soba here which is an upgrade (also optional mini udon) in place of the miso soup for $2.

Other specials often seen were their bento boxes of Berkshire katsu and grilled mackerel, as well as (maybe my favorite) fried panko crusted sardines and sashimi.

The rice issue doesn't happen often enough that it prevents me from inviting friends. But hopefully the kitchen will resolve it once and for all. :) I'll be looking forward in having the Ten-don again but for the most part my favorite lunches at Oton remain the same. The Spicy Harami-don, budget conscious Tori Soboro-don and Yakitori-don.

Robataya Oton, 5447 Kearny Villa Rd # D, San Diego, CA 92123