Man, work has been busy. And there were a couple of cool/rainy days, where I just wanted a bowl of noodle soup, and some quiet. Here's where I went.
Pho Hut and Grill:
I didn't expect much based on my previous visits. I wasn't sure what to order and ended up going with the Mi Sui Cao, dumpling egg noodle soup, not cheap at $8.50, but based on those earlier visits, I really didn't want pho.
The bowl was generous and it was better than I thought it would be.
While the broth was a bit heavy with regards to the MSG, it wasn't bad, decent flavor. The egg noodles were done well.....the dumplings were typical, a bit on an under-performer because all of them were torn open and falling apart. Not bad....but perhaps a bit over-priced in my mind.
Pho Hut & Grill 5252 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92117
When I want a quiet lunch, I'll sometimes hit up Hinotez. There's usually no one sitting at the bar when I at there if it's early enough. And like other visits, the place was empty. Instead of the usual item I order; the Shio Ramen, I went with the Shoyo Ramen.
This was actually a bit better than the last couple of shio versions I'd had here in the recent past. It was piping hot, had a mild, but not too salty flavor. The egg was decent, but the chashu was again cold and dry. The standard issue noodles were prepared decently....could have been more firm, but was a tad better than average. It won't win any awards, but I wanted a quiet and peaceful meal and I did get that.....
The area look a bit smaller than I thought it would be. There's a three table and four seat "bar" looking area near the entrance and a sunken area with tables and another bar; I didn't see any seats, but am pretty sure they'll be there soon.
Upon arriving, it took a bit to be noticed. I was told to sit anywhere I wanted. The service was friendly, if a bit on the slow side.....going thru those opening jitters.
I went with the Kotteri Tonkotsu, done "Yamadaya Style", which made my bowl $12.95. Wow, more expensive than places I'd been to in Japan like Nagi, Ippudo, and Rokurinsha!
So you're basically getting one extra piece of chashu, another half an egg, and a cube of kakuni pork for three bucks. The broth was actually a bit richer and more flavorful than what I'd had on my previous couple of visits to the Clairemont location. The flavor is still not quite "there" for me. It needs a bit more porkiness and oomph. I forgot to order the noodles "katame" and was punished with weak, soggy noodles. Historically, I've not been impressed with the chashu at Yamadaya. It is often cold, dry, and flavorless. This was actually decent, it was warm, and while still not great, at least it had some flavor. That piece of kakuni was terrible though. Hard and chewy, lacking in flavor. The egg was good, just making the cut in terms of doneness, had some flavor and was also warm, which added to the enjoyment.
In spite of all my criticisms, I believe in terms of broth, this bowl was much better than what I'd recently had at the Clairemont Mesa location. I recognized two of the staff working in the kitchen, though it did take a while to get to my table.
Will I return? Well, it seems that I have jury duty every year, so maybe......if I'm in the area, perhaps. Will I be making a special trip here? Not really.....though I'm sure it's a boon for folks who work and live downtown.
Ramen Yamadaya 531 Broadway San San Diego, CA 92101
Well, I gotta say, based on my last visit to Kayaba, it seemed the place was "not long for this world". Sad, because I'd had some pretty good meals there in the past. At the end of October, I received a text from Dennis showing a new sign going up. A shop named Musashiya, which I believe has the same ownership as the Udon shop in LA.
So, before leaving on our trip, I decided to drop by. Looking at the menu and the plastic food, it seems that only the name has changed.
I've had the Katsu Curry at Kayaba many times, so I decided to go with that.
Well, as you can see the place has some spiffy new plates. Also, notice there basically nothing in the curry....it's almost all sauce. And while the curry at Kayaba would sometimes vary wildly in flavor, this tasted about right, mild heat, mild spice, thick gravy. At least the tonkatsu wasn't fried to death.......it was moist, though the breading could have been more crisp. I think there was a mild malfunction with the salad as it had no dressing. I also ordered a side of the potato salad, which I'd always enjoyed at Kayaba. This version had enough onion, but needed some salt.
Here's a vintage photo of the Katsu Curry.....
Well, at least the tonkatsu was decent, right? So upon returning from our trip to Seoul and Japan, I decided to try the tonkatsu and this is what I got.
Good lord. Talk about deja vu all over again. Dry, fried to death, breading as hard as rock, and check out the gaps between the breading and the pork! Very sad. Well, the potato salad tasted well seasoned this time around. The miso soup at Kayaba had always been kind of insipid; that held steady.
Here's another vintage photo of better days past......
So like the lyrics go at the end of Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who: "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss....."
Perhaps the menu will change...perhaps we'll see handmade udon....perhaps the new boss will be the same as the old boss. And I'm sure to get fooled again, though not by Musashiya.......for at least a couple of months.
Musashiya 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd Ste 119 - In the Mitsuwa Marketplace San Diego, CA 92111
It's time to Clear Out the Memory Card (COMC). It's been a few months since I did one of these. It's also a nice coincidence that two of my favorite places here in San Diego are Tadokoro and Taisho. If you check the Big List you'd see how many posts I've done on these places. So, here we're doing mainly photos.
It had been a while. It was nice chatting with Take-san.
For some reason the lighting gave me fits - that's Tai.
Kisu - which I believe is Whiting
My favorite Ankimo.
Sushi Tadokoro 2244 San Diego Ave San Diego, CA 92110
During one of our weekly "fixes" at Taisho.
Yakitori Taisho 5185 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92117
Hard to believe that one man lift and one new sign could make such a difference. Right before our trip, FOY (Friend of Yoso) "Xiāngjiāo" sent me a text and a photo showing a sign going up.......on Izakaya Sakura!
During the week that followed, I received at least 8 emails...many expressing sadness and even dismay about Sakura's new sign. I guess having no visible identity was part of Sakura's identity in their mind. ChrisR even used the phrase "end of an era", which I think describes the opinion of most of those emails. I do think TS's "Tearing Down the Berlin Wall" analogy was perhaps a bit much though!
Anyway, in case you haven't seen it yet, his is what the final product looks like.
I'm not fond of the sign, but it's a sign. While we've posted about Sakura over 25 times in the over 10 1/2 years we've been in existence, I guess I'd never quite put together how much the lack of signage gave the place some kind of cult status in San Diego. Fact is; I recall Sakura having a sign, circa 2002 or 03. San Diego was quite different in terms of Japanese (or even Chinese/Thai/Korean, etc) Restaurants in those days. I recall being in the place (Ed, not sure if I was having dinner with you) when a customer insisted on Kazu serving him some set of rolls. He was quite pushy, somewhat verbally abusive, Kazu actually brought out the phone book offering to help the guy find a place that would serve him what he wanted. I believe interactions like that led to the removal of Sakura's signage, though I've never asked. Personally, even though I've been there many, many, times over the years, I don't know Kazu well enough to ask....so maybe one of you will.
The food scene and tastes in San Diego have changed a lot since I first started doing business here in 1998-1999. And as much as I might seem too serious in my thoughts about what's being served, I think what's available is much more diverse than back then and am thankful for it. Social media and how we get our information has changed things as well.
The food is the bottom line, right? So here's a post signage chicken karaage. Looks much like what I've had over the years. No difference, no signage tariff.
As long as the food stays consistent; I'll keep eating here. Sign or no sign.......
Izakaya Sakura 3904 Convoy St Ste 121 San Diego, CA 92111
In case you really miss it......just one more time, ok?
It was nice to see Narita by daylight as arriving anywhere at night makes things a bit mysterious. The vibe of the city seemed quite relaxed, it's quite hard to believe that over 35 million people pass through an airport just a few miles away. Looking out from the window we had our first glimpse of the colors of the season. Something we don't get here in San Diego. Since our shuttle back to the airport wasn't until 940 and it was only 6am, we decided to do a bit of exploring and find something to eat.
Things seemed quite calm as we walked through the JR Narita Station, which is nearly right next to the privately operated Keisei Narita Station next door. We could make out some of the streets that we thought were so confusing the previous night. There were quite a few small temples tucked along the side streets.
We decided to visit what is probably the most popular site in this part of Narita; Naritasan Shinshoji Temple which is easily found by following the signs. The street heading to the temple, Omotesando, is lined with shops and restaurants, which were all closed at this time of the morning.
The street were very quiet except for schoolkids headed off to class. One particularly feisty little girl marched off quickly in front of us. Everytime we'd speed up, so would she, when we started catching up, she broke into a full on sprint....she refused to let us pass her! It seems we had become part of the morning entertainment.
The temple grounds were quite a bit larger than we anticipated. There's was a good amount to see. Sorry to say, my photos of the Main Hall were among those that were corrupted and unrecoverable form one of the SD cards. Still, there were quite a few distinct structures like the Three Story Pagoda.
For me, the most interesting structure was the Shakado Hall, which looked both grand and imposing at the same time. This was temple's main hall until the 1960's when the larger main hall was built.
Workers were taking down plants and flowers from an autumn flower show which had concluded the previous day.
There's also a large park. The cloudiness in the photo below is not an artifact, but the mist coming off the spruce as the environment warmed up.
We climbed up the stairs next to the Shakado Hall and were greeted by folks as they walked down past us.
The Missus read a sign that basically said, "shortcut to JR East Station", so we followed the trail. And wouldn't you know, we somehow quickly ended up quite close to the station.
We started looking for something for breakfast. And according to the Missus, "a pastry and coffee is not going to cut it!"
We circled around a bit, then ended back at Keisei Narita Station, and noticed a 24 Hour Ramen place. This seemed to fit the bill of the Missus wanting "as much ramen and yakitori" as we could possibly find on this trip.
There was one person manning the shop and one customer in attendance. The typical ramen ticket machine in the corner. The Missus couldn't make out some words and the proprietor (his photo was on the posters adorning the walls) was nice enough to point to different photos on the walls so we could correlate them to choices on the machine.
The Missus read some of the signs and said this place serves "backfat" ramen.......that would be "seabura" ramen. So what the heck, I went whole hog (no pun intended) and ordered the large bowl.
The Missus went with the Tenkasu-don - those crispy bits of tempura batter on top of rice, drizzled with a tentsuyu type of sauce, along with a raw egg. She added another boiled egg for good measure.
When my bowl arrived, I could see what looked like rice porridge on top of the ramen. It quickly became clear that these were silky little minced pieces of fat. Some of which melted away, some not. It added quite a bit of richness to the broth, which, in spite off all this fat, never became greasy. It added a different dimension to what was pretty much a ubiquitous bowl of ramen. The tonkotsu broth (minus the rendered pork fat) was fairly light and on the salty side. The noodles were done adequately...the Missus said the boiled eggs were decently flavored, though a bit on the over-cooked side for Her taste. There was a huge amount of beansprouts, I enjoyed the textural contrast it added to the ramen. The broth wasn't quite hot enough for us, which would have ended up in an even richer bowl of ramen in my mind.
While not an excellent bowl, this was still good enough for us. Would be in the top 2 in San Diego......is San Diego ready for backfat ramen?
Even though we had an amazing time during our trip to Japan last year, our time in Kyoto was limited because of Typhoon Vongfong. That was among more than a handful of reasons we decided to head back; the Missus had always wanted to see the fall foliage and She had gained a real affection for Yakitori (and ramen - remember the Santouka effect?). Also, She needed a use for the $$$$ Burberry overcoat She had bought..... So we decided to head back to Japan. Our trip was scheduled for 17 days and we had a 14 day Japan Rail Pass, so we needed to figure out what to do with those extra days. Seoul seemed like a good idea and that ended up being the plan. We arrived at Narita Airport quite late in the afternoon......man, the sunsets here at like 445pm! I decided that we should just the evening in Narita, before heading to Seoul the next morning. We stayed at the Narita U City Hotel, which is a bit dated, but very close to the JR Station, has a friendly staff, and even a free shuttle to the airport.
After settling in, the first course of business was getting something to eat. Of course the place I'd been looking forward to eating at was closed, even though Tabelog said they were open on that day. So we passed through the JR Station and started exploring, up and down the somewhat confusing side streets of Narita. Until we came across this busy little shop.
And the Missus did want to eat a lot of yakitori on this trip, right? The place was a hoot; the young man who managed the front of house would loudly greet guests as they entered and shout to find seats for customers. In this photo he is shouting upstairs to find a table for some customers. The staff were friendly and quite boisterous. There was an English menu, but we decided to ignore it and take a walk around the counter to see what we wanted.
That combined with the Missus's ability to understand some Kanji helped us make some good decisions.
Of course we started with a couple of beers.
It seems like the place also did a bustling hot pot business, but we were here for grilled meats. In looking at what was being ordered we quickly noticed that pork was really popular here, so we ordered mainly pork influenced items, even though none of them were on the English menu.
The Butahorumon (pork intestine) was very tasty. Smoky, with a crisp exterior, it had that nice savory slightly musty intestine flavor I love.
The Missus favorite was the delicious Yamaimo (mountain yam) wrapped with Pork.
Crunchy, slightly sweet, the thinly sliced bacon added a nice touch of smokiness. Just the right amount of salt made this quite tasty.
The Renkon (lotus root) was also wrapped with bacon.
It wasn't quite as pleasing as the yamaimo though.
Veering away from swine, we just had to try the Tsukune (chicken meatball), which was just ok, too many hard bits, not too flavorful.
The Pork Skin was seasoned well and had a nice deep smokiness, but was a bit too rubbery, with hard bits for our taste.
I ended with a nice Yaki Onigiri, grilled quite well.
This ended up being a nice little meal to get us started. I recall the prices as being quite reasonable as well.
The Missus had wanted to eat a lot of yakitori, right?
Sadly, Osaka would be the last stop on our trip to Japan. Well, not really our last stop as we left Osaka early and decided to grab lunch at Tokyo Station.
As always, the Shinkansen was perfectly on time. It's such a comfortable way to travel.
People watching is such fun........and we saw this group of folks; mostly men having a great time in the rows in front of us.
There was one guy taking photos.....I guess the designated photographer. As soon as the Shinkansen started; they started....breaking out the beer! 8am in the morning! I sent Kat a text and a photo and she explained that it looked like a company outing......hitting the brews at 8am? That's one heck of a company outing! They sure were having a great time. What was even more impressive.....after they exited I walked past the seats and it was spotless! As if no one had even sat there.....they sure did a great job cleaning up.
We had a small bento to share......
We decided to spend our last few hours at Tokyo Station before heading to the airport. They call it Tokyo Station City and if you ever visit there it becomes quite obvious that it's large and populous enough to qualify as a city.
There was one last eating destination that I wanted to try. It is located in the basement of Tokyo Station near the Yaesu exit. Here you'll find Tokyo Ramen Street. Here you'll find one shop with a line that stretches around the corner....like a bunch of teenyboppers waiting to buy Justin Beiber tickets. This is the very popular Rokurinsha..... Hyped by folks like David Chang, even people I know who wouldn't know Tsukemen from Tsukemono have heard of this place. The line says it all. I will say, it moves pretty quickly...there are signs along the way telling you what the projected wait is from that location.
This is one of the those order from the ramen ticket machine places.
We ordered a Ajitama Tsukemen, the standard issue Tsukemen here. Along with some extra chashu, menma, and another egg. This ended up being enough for the Missus and I to share.
I really liked this....the Missus on the other hand didn't care for the heady niboshi (dried baby sardines) - sababushi (mackeral flakes) flavor, with a topping of bonito powder, calling it too fishy. The broth is thick, perfect for sticking to those thick and chewy noodles....did I say chewy noodles? Let me say, very chewy noodles. This was also a bit too much for the Missus.
It was also a bit much for the quite...ummmm....hefty young lady seated on the table next to us. The Missus kept laughing as the young lady, who had ordered a large bowl of tsukemen, with chashui and extra egg....in other words more than what the Missus and I were having combined, kept complaining about how chewy the noodles are...making her jaw sore, in Mandarin. But that sure didn't stop her from finishing off her bowl and the remainder of her eating companion's as well. In fact, the other young lady looked a bit tense. When the Missus mentioned this to me, I said, "she's afraid that she's going to be dessert!"
The chashu was very nice; it looked too tough, but was tender and well flavored. The egg....well, you can tell how good it was. I loved this, the Missus, not so much. Oh well, that how it goes. I will say that for some reason the broth gets cool quite fast.....it was getting less pleasant to eat at the end.
For me, it was a nice way to end our time in Japan. And makes me want to return soon!
Rokurinsha (Tokyo Station) 1-9-1 Marunochi, Chiyoda, Tokyo
For a number of reasons, I'd always hesitated when travel to Japan was mentioned. Those reservations were misplaced, we both loved Japan. Travel was easy....while finding addresses were not. We noticed that each city we visited had it's own distinct personality and of course wagashi (confection). The food.....oh yes, the food, from Sushi Iwa and Suzunari to Okariba and Mizuno, I don't think we've ever eaten so well!
Recently, I was having quite a hectic day and needed to get away for lunch. I'd also been craving the Chicken Nanban from Okan. So I headed on over. I got there right at opening time and it was nice and quiet.
And of course I ordered the Chicken Nanban - Fried Chicken with Vinegar and Tartar Sauce ($9) and even splurged a bit and went for the Chasu Gohan ($3.50) as an "extra".
So how was it? Well, I'll pass on the chashu rice bowl next time. The portion size was quite generous, but the pork was ice cold, on the dry side, really waxy, and lacking in flavor.
The chicken delivered as it did before. The chicken was light and very moist. The batter crisp and almost laquer like. The vinegar added a nice mildly sour component which really cut the richness....of both the fried chicken and the tartar sauce.
The sides were fine, rather mild in flavor..... I've noticed that over the years the portion sizes here seem to have gotten larger.
As I was eating, the place really filled up. I must have been stuffing my face with some enthusiasm as the guy who sat next to me asked me what I was eating. I pointed it out on the menu and he ordered it. The guy next to him decided on this as well. While chatting, some of the tartar spilled on the sleeve of my shirt. Not ten seconds later, one of the servers came by with an oshibori to help me rub out the mayo stain. Acts like that make my day.......everything just seemed a lot brighter and nicer as I headed back to the office.
On our last evening in Osaka, we finally managed to meet up with one of my favorite Food Bloggers, Kat and her husband Satoshi. Over the years I've seen blogs come and go, I really do miss many of them. But Kat has been a constant with me since probably late 2007 and has been blogging as many years as I. We'd come close to meeting up a few times, but timing and scheduled were never in synch. So finally, the Missus and I got to meet the both of them. We met them at the local Don Quixote had some snacks and coffee and basically strolled around and chatted.....the thing about knowing each other in the bloggas - sphere is that there was a wonderful familiarity to the whole thing.
When dinner came along, we just popped into this Kushiage shop, named Gokakuya.
First rule of Kushikatsu...."no double dipping"!
Satoshi did an amazing job of calling back our orders.....the Missus loved the sauce.