Well...Tajima is another one of those places I've been kind of down on for a while. Perhaps not as much as Dumpling Inn, but as I mentioned way back in 2006, I enjoyed the food put out by the previous owners. But that's almost ten years now, time to turn the page.
There are some aspects of Tajima I appreciate......the refresh that took the restaurant from looking like a student hangout with shelves of manga and games, to the more grown up, pub like atmosphere, craft beer on tap. On all my visits the place has been staffed adequately and each Server, while perhaps not the most efficient have always been affable and nice.
I was also told that I've focused too much on the ramen at Tajima in recent years and not enough on the other food served. Fair enough; it was time to circle back and see what Tajima had to offer in 2014. As with all these circling back posts; I make several revisits; in this case five! Just to see what's up.
One thing I noticed is that the miso soup here is decent; perhaps on the salty side, but not insipid like "throwaway versions" elsewhere.
I decided to start things off with something I've never been fond of - Pork Mayonnaise, along with an "old Tajima" favorite; minchi katsu.
This just verified that Pork Mayonnaise is not for me.....it's way too rich, kind of greasy in a nauseating way. The pork was tough making this a rather unpleasant dish. The minchi katsu could have used more filler,I can't believe I'm writing that. It was dry and tough and seemed to have been fried for too long. Though I'm a fan of breaded and deep fried "meatloaf".....I'm not particularly fond of this. Still, this is quite a bit of food, if you throw in the rice, miso soup, and green salad for $8.95.
It took a while for me to recover, but I returned a couple of weeks later and ordered the hot mess called Kimchi Pork Udon ($9.95).
I do mean "hot mess" in the most endearing way. This was probably my most favorite dish during these visits. Being Japanese style kimchi, it was more sour than fermented and spicy; the pork was tough and I'm glad there wasn't very much of it. I'm a sucker for nice drippy egg and the noodles were prepared as well as low grade Nishimoto Trading udon can be.....decent chew...nice and slippery. The benishoga (pickled ginger) and bonito flakes actually made the dish kind of interesting in some ways as well. Though it looked like this was cooked up in some dorm room, I enjoyed it. Of course I couldn't finish it all.....I ended up eating the leftovers for dinner.
After these two gut busters, I changed my strategy a bit. I went for an early dinner and stuck to two appetizers; no rice.
I love beef tataki and I'd never had it at Tajima, so I went with the interesting sounding Beef Tataki with Jalapeno ($7.95).
I should have just stuck with the regular Beef Tataki. The meat was on the chewy side, not a bad thing with tataki. There was an abundance of ponzu sauce; again, not a bad thing......it refreshed and adds a nice peppy, sour flavor. The jalapenos and the fried garlic just didn't do it for me. The Jalapenos added too much of a not so spicy, slightly bitter "green taste", I'd prefer a few thin slices of a more fruity pepper; perhaps some bright and vibrant Thai Chilies? The fried garlic was too bitter....I'd prefer something more upfront and pungent....heck garlic paste would do the trick....I was even thinking, since the onions did add some decent pungency; why not roasted garlic......add a level of sweet to things?
I've always thought the Chicken Karaage ($4.50) to be gummy and bland......
Let's give it up for consistency! There are two ways I look at Chicken Karaage, either it's light and crunchy, with mild flavor, or it can be softer with a nice salty-soy-slightly-sweet-mildly gingery flavor. This was neither. Huge portion for the price though.
A week later I decided to return and order the one dish that "old Tajima" did really well; the Okonomiyaki ($10.95). After the ownership change, the okonomiyaki went downhill, eventually leading me to make my own. I was interested to see what it was like in 2014........
Man, this sure looked good.......but as they say, "the devil is in the details". I was on the look-out for shrimp.....I really couldn't find any large pieces....could those tiny reddish pieces be minced shrimp? I did find two squid legs and a very sparse amount of pork. Other than that, this was a pile of egg noodles and dough.....which wasn't completely cooked in the middle, topped with a load of bonito flakes and okonomiyaki sauce. Man, I couldn't do more than a couple of bites and took this home. It was still hot when the Missus tried a bite, after which She was done. She completed the search and rescue for seafood and found nothing.
Still, not to be discouraged, I went back for one final lunch.....and went with a favorite of mine Katsu Curry ($8.95).
After all of the rather large portions at Tajima, this dish was surprising. The pork was wafer thin and tough, when I bit into it the texture wasn't right....turning the cutlet over I noticed that it wasn't fried completely on one side. This should have been done at a higher heat, faster. The curry was on the salty side and not very good.
I think I've had enough for now.......
So what's up with Tajima? Well, maybe if I was in my early twenties, having consumed more than a couple of beers, this stuff would look great with "beer goggles"...... But I'm not in my twenties and it's all about a different combination of quality and quantity. I can find a better version of just about everything I had at Tajima elsewhere. Still, Tajima does certain things well.....I like the folks who work here; they are really nice. Tajima is open late...San Diego still seems to be a "close by 9" town, though things are changing. And yes......I still think the best thing Tajima currently makes is the ramen....though Tajima may not be even in my top 5 for that.
Tajima Japanese Restaurant
4681 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111