Here's a couple a of places I passed on my way to and from work and one that I had intended to check out, but had already closed.
Okan Diner Replacing Izakaya Kanpai:
Driving home down Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, I noticed that the signage for Izakaya Kanpai had changed. I took a closer look and to my surprise; it said....Okan Diner!
I guess Okan's Empire is expanding yet again. So now it'll be a threesome, with the original Okan (Mom), Oton (Dad), wouldn't it be funny if they named this shop "Bozu"?
Be interesting to see what the menu's going to be like.
With Havana Grill and Private Kitchens opening in the last two years; the complexion of this strip sure has changed. I'm sure that the parking situation will probably become a bit tenuous as well.
5430 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Gourmet City Changes Ownership:
The sun is rising a bit earlier these days. And on my typical 6am drive to work, I noticed a new Grand Opening sign on Gourmet City.
My sources tell me they now serve Cantonese fare in addition to the previous menu.
5541 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Pho 87 Opening Soon:
A few weeks back, the Missus wanted me to pick something up from Northgate Market. I ended up having breakfast at Café Dore (post upcoming). On my way back home I noticed that the signage for Pho & Banh Cuon Ha Long Restaurant had changed to Pho Huong Viet. And while my sources told me it was still under the same ownership, I made a mental note to check them out. Having to make a return trip to Northgate Market, I turned into the parking lot at the corner of 54th and University.
And found that the place was being renovated. The sign on the door said "Pho 87 Noodle House. Coming soon in 2 weeks."
The Missus was rarin' to go during our first full day back in Kyoto. We'd put in a it of mileage on this day, but She did let me (us) catch the Keihan Line two stops to Demachi Yanagi. We got out, had a quick cup of coffee and headed East. Thru a few winding streets somehow ending up at Hyakumanben Chion-ji Temple.
From which we were to get our bearings and head back down Higashioji-dori taking a turn onto Imadegawa-dori.
In spite of being a pretty large street, things were very quiet on this morning, with very few people, and this rather unhappy fellow around.
We knew we were getting close as the street went over the river.....
Before heading back down that street and to the Philosopher's Path.
The path ends in the Nanzenji neighborhood and we walked on over to Sanjo Dori, crossing over the Kamo River. I was in search of our lunch destination.
Before we were interrupted by Typhoon Vongfong on our previous visit. I had planned having a lunch at a place that did Obanzai; basically a place that made seasonal dishes, many of them simple, rustic, and vegetable based, created to minimize waste. The dishes I saw just reminded me of stuff I ate growing up. this was almost the antithesis of the very popular Kyoto Kaiseki.
Just simple, home style dishes....soul food, if you will.
The place I chose was Mimasuya Okudohan......which had a display of "yasai" (vegetables), displayed outside a typical Machiya in the area north of Nishiki Market and the shopping arcades.
There was no one waiting when we arrived at opening time. The fragrance of steaming rice permeated the air as we were seated.
There was a simple two multi-course menu for lunch.
Like the "okazuya" I grew up doing take out from, things were prepped and set-up for a quick service.
And the place filled up fast.
We got one of each of the two lunches.
So many of the flavors were so familiar to me...and the Missus, since I make quite a bit of Japanese nimono style dishes at home. What we really remember is how good the rice was here....I mean, really fragrant, slightly nutty, just amazing.
And the miso soup....more of a red (aka) miso, with a savory bite to it.
And of course those items the Missus loves so much like Kabocha. I really enjoyed the nasubi (eggplant), which had so much savory and earthiness to it.
One of the lunches came with a not so traditional dessert.....which the Missus enjoyed as well.
As we left, we noticed that quite a queue had developed outside the restaurant. It's nice to see folks wanting to try obanzai. For me, it was like stepping into Baban's kitchen. And that's priceless.
Mimasuya Okudohan 318-3 Sanjocho, Nakagyo Ward Kyoto, Japan
I was having one of those long days....and it was only 1130am! I wanted a bit of solitude during lunch and wondered where to go. I just got in the car and drove....thinking of maybe Sakura or Okan. But those places were just going to be too hectic for me. I pulled into the parking lot and walked past Bistro Kaz and turned around and headed right on in. It had been a couple of years since I last visited. And it looked like there was now some overlap on the menus between Kaz and Sakura; but the place was quiet. I started noticing over the last couple of visits that this seems to be the kind of place that the "Japanese ladies who do lunch" visit. No different on this day.
The menu here seems to have evolved from the Japano-Italian pasta heavy initial incarnation; into more of a diverse offering. Though pasta is still at its core. The pre-fixe lunch menu is still in place as well. On this day; I decided on the Beef Tongue Stew, which sounded nice and comforting.
The bread was warm and crusty and when the young lady asked me if I wanted more I should have said yes.....
This was a bit more than I bargained for. The tomato sauce was heavy and quite thick....and while definitely not bland, was really missing seasonings to balance things out. The texture of the three large and fork tender pieces of beef tongue was excellent. Though I was expecting a more assertive, pure beefiness that I love from beef tongue. This could have been a regular cut of beef. This dish actually could have used some penne or something similar to help with what was more of a gravy than a stew.
Not bad, but I'm going back to the pasta dishes here next time.
Thanks for stopping to read mmm-yoso!!! Cathy is posting today, to complete a trifecta of ramen posts for this cold and wet San Diego week.
Kirk and I have posted about Chopstix and Chopstix Too many times over the years (just type in 'Chopstix' in that search box at the top left of this page). The service is fast, the food is good and the locations are convenient. The menus are the same.
It was ready to rain again this weekend when we got to the original location of Chopstix.
Sometimes I only order off the appetizer menu. The cold tofu is served with a salad ($5) and is enough on some days. Although, I've been known to also order just a side of Yasai Itame (stir fried vegetables)($5) and mix it with the cold tofu.
The Mister always peruses the menu and ends up ordering the mabo ramen ($7.45) - a pleasant, chili and bean based spicy sauce, made with tofu and ground pork served in (in this case) miso soup base. There are various choices of soup base (tonkatsu, soy sauce or miso) and add ins here. The noodles are nice and chewy and the broth always is served quite hot, with the temperature still warm even at the bottom of the bowl.
The mixed tempura appetizer ($6) includes two fried shrimp along with vegetables.
The chicken sesame (no sesame) salad ($7) is also enough to be a meal. Fried properly crisp and not oily. A tangy, mustard based dressing is served with this and is quite good.
Vegetable ramen ($7) is another choice on those days when I have to watch my cholesterol intake before the semi-annual blood test. This was with the soy sauce broth (even though I really wanted tonkotsu) and was filled with a variety of cabbages as well as onions, some carrots and sprouts. It was very good, again served quite hot and with nicely chewy noodles.
Stay warm and dry this week!
Chopstix 4633 Convoy Street San Diego 92111 Open daily, 11-10
Chopstix Too 4380 Kearney Mesa Road San Diego 92111 Open daily, 11-9 Website
Kirk and Cathy are crazy busy now. Ed (from Yuma) is gainfully unemployed (also known as retired), so he has time for a post today.
I was in San Diego recently, staying on Clairemont Mesa Blvd, and I noticed a new large ramen location not too far from its intersection with Ruffner:
With the cool weather, I had been thinking about getting ramen on the trip, and when I saw that neither Kirk nor Cathy had posted about it, I thought I'd give it a try – probably taking one for the team since Kirk had been unhappy at Ajisen in Orange County.
So I arrived shortly after 11 AM. There were already a few cars in the sizable parking lot, and a few folks scattered in the modern, well-lit restaurant, which featured a variety of eating arrangements to accommodate individuals and groups of different sizes:
I was planning on having iced tea, so I was delighted to see a range of fruit flavored iced teas. This one is mango:
It was really good. Fruit sweet and full of mango flavor. Served in a covered to go cup along with a straw with one end cut at an angle making it easy to push through the lid.
The attractive menu was wide-ranging, including sushi and other Japanese dishes, but I was here for ramen. I ordered it with tender pork ribs (at lunch special prices). When it arrived at the table, it looked like this:
Up in Orange County, the Ramen was served warm, a real disappointment for Kirk; mine in San Diego was piping hot with little wisps of steam across the surface. At first the noodles were too hot for slurping, and when I finished, the broth was still warm and pleasant.
The noodles are not standard ramen (Kirk says Kumamoto style). They were, I thought, perfectly cooked, however. Not too soft and not too hard. Goldilocks style.
The cloudy broth was lightly porky with wakame overtones. Not as intense or rich as Santouka, but plenty good enough for this gaijin:
The wakame added color and flavor, and the cabbage provided a nice crunchy contrast to the other elements in the bowl.
The real hero of the soup, this ramen's main character, was the meat. Browned and nicely braised, the porkribs had toothsome chew. And a lot of tendon and cartilage and connective tissue:
Just look at this piece:
The service was professional, efficient, and reasonably friendly. I appreciated the bill arriving before I finished eating, making timely payment easy, and I appreciated the bottom line:
For 2017, this seems very reasonable.
Would I come back again?
For sure – at least for the fruity teas and the ramen with those ribs. The San Diego Ajisen Ramen, one of the over 700 branches of this large Chinese owned chain, seems to perform better than the shop Kirk visited in Orange County. And when I looked around the room, it was obvious that Ajisen has a wide appeal. On one side of me there was an older Asian couple and then a man from Charlotte, North Carolina, here on work, who'd never had ramen before. On the other side of me was a student from Japan. I am no expert on ramen; in fact I am pretty much a novice. For that reason, I enjoyed the clear menu and the table service, much easier for me than standing in line and trying to figure out the option grid at Santouka. Your mileage may differ.
Ajisen Ramen, 7398 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego 92111, (858) 277-1380. Website
I'd been following the progress of this spot on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard for a while now. A few weeks back, I noticed the sign had gone up. There wasn't very much hype about this place as there was when Nishiki opened. But the questions and mentions I did get were interesting....it seems that folks in the Japanese community were quite interested. Heck, even Taka at Taisho mentioned this place to me! Word had got around that this ramen chain from Odate, Akita had won some awards. Also, the owner of this shop, Takashi Endo, the Director of the Ramen Assiciation of Japan was in partnership with the guy who owns San Diego's Nishiki. Along the way there was a, from what I heard, acrimonious split, but the owner of Nishiki kept the name. That's all I'm going to say about that.
I guess that didn't stop Mr Endo from opening a ramen shop here in San Diego. And yet, there wasn't too much hype about the place. But based on what I had heard, I was keeping an eye on the shop's website and "FOY" Junichi was apparently keeping up with Facebook. In fact, he posted the soft opening and grand opening information in the comments of this post.
So there I was two minutes to five, one of the first ten people in line at Menya Ramen Ultra. Folks that know me will think it rather strange, as it's not my thing to get all worked up about places opening.
I was seated at the counter....all the customers were Japanese speakers except me.....but I guess I looked the part as my order sheet was in Japanese.
It wasn't hard to decipher what I wanted...just the simple Tonkotsu Ajitama Ramen....but when I opened my mouth, the very nice young lady immediately turned the sheet over to the English side....even though I had already filled out my order.
The kitchen was going through its paces....Takashi Endo actually passed by and gave me a nod. Kind of funny. I'll give them this; they really staffed well for this.
My ramen arrived scalding hot. The fragrance was definitely that of tonkotsu paitan and really reminded me of Japan. There's certain funkiness to the smell of a good tonkotsu that I enjoy. I believe this version is a combination of pork and chicken as there seems to be a real hint of fowl in the broth. It's a bit lighter in the collagen area, but still fairly rich. It's very nice, not overly salty, and possibly my favorite version in San Diego right now.
The egg had a nice flavor, though I would have been happy with it being a bit less cooked. Also, it was served almost ice cold.
The noodles were just perfect in texture, at least for my taste, slippery with a nice chew, and look how the broth just coated those noodles. I didn't even have to order it "katame", firm.
The chashu as a single thin slice, but it had a nice balanced flavor and wasn't tough.
The overall impression of the bowl was that this was a good textbook version of tonkotsu ramen, which means it's already better than 99% of what out there. It's not flashy, there's no crazy hype, no exotic ingredients, which suits me just fine.
If they hold the course, I now have a place where I can enjoy a straight-up good bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Though that might be a bit more difficult based on the line of folks waiting for seats as I left last night. We'll see what the future holds.
I understand that Ultra's grand opening is tomorrow, they'll be open from 11am - 3pm and 5pm to 9pm daily. However, if you need your ramen fix tonight, they are still going though their soft opening paces from 5pm to 9pm tonight.
Menya Ultra Ramen 8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
The Missus and I have our favorite cities, Kyoto is one of these. It strangely felt almost like coming home, we feel so comfortable here. We again stayed in the area near Higashiyama Station. We enjoy the less hectic pace here, yet the location is close enough to everything.
After dropping things off at the apartment and getting a load of laundry going we headed off to an early dinner.
We headed up Higashioji-dori to a familiar sight.
The place was just opening up. The gentleman running the place was just getting things in order, towel rolled over the back of his neck. There's a comfortable, well-worn vibe to this shop.
Just as on our previous visit, we were greeted with a smile, seated, plates were pointed out. Then he pointed to the self-service dishes on the counter telling us "helpu you self....."
It was apparent on our last visit that rice bowls and fried chicken was the way to go here.
The Missus enjoyed the chashu gohan here the last time; but had really developed a taste for mentaiko in Hokkaido. So She surprisingly chose that!
Very nice savory tones, perfectly cooked rice.
So I ordered the chashu gohan....love the balance of salty-sweet in this version of chashu.
And the wonderfully crunchy, super moist, umami laden chicken karaage.
Surprisingly light, with a faint flavor of ginger, a hint of sweet and major deep savory tones, must be Shio Koji.
A pretty inexpensive meal as well; about $12 for two!
Karako 12-3 Okazaki Tokusei-cho Kyoto
After dinner we crossed over the Kamo River and made our way back to the shopping arcades and the Nishiki Market area. It was quite relaxing to revisit those now familiar places, like the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine.
It was such a crisp and clear evening. The bright lights of the restaurants and bars on Ponto-chō reflecting beautifully on the Kamo River.
The last time we were in Kyoto our visit was slightly interrupted by Typhoon Vongfong, I promised the Missus that we'd return and finish off the plans we'd had. And so we decided to visit during autumn, where we'd see the wonderful changing of the seasons.
But first, let's have a Mt Fuji break. As I mentioned previously, when leaving Tokyo for Kyoto or anyplace in Kansai for that matter, get a seat on the right side of the Shinkansen....... On a clear day, there's nothing more picturesque than passing a snow topped Mount Fuji.
We left from Tokyo Station quite early in the morning.....I call this shot; "Onigiri at Sunrise".
And a little something from the "Ekiben Stand".
One of the really great things about train stations in Japan is....well, besides being super clean, are the availability of lockers. We stowed our luggage in a locker and headed off, back to Tōfuku-ji. I guess checking out the autumn colors is serious business here as we walked past quite a line to get in.
Of course everyone wants to view things from the Tsuten-kyō Bridge (The Bridge to Heaven) which looked absolutely packed.
As were the trails....though things were covered by the autumn foliage.
And yes indeed, the crowds were no joke.
Though this is Japan, so things were rather orderly.
And views were quite stunning.
And in spite of the crowds, things were rather quiet. So you could find that little peaceful space to admire.
Satisfied we left and headed back to the station to catch the train back to Kyoto Station.
Stopping at a few temples along the way like Taiko-an.
Back to Kyoto Station, they were gearing up for Christmas.
The chill in the air called for ramen and we headed up to 10th floor of the Station Building to Kyoto Ramen Koji, basically Kyoto Station's own "Ramen Street". There are 8 different ramen shops on this floor. Having already had Seabura (Pork Backfat) Ramen, flame torched chashu Miso Ramen in Sapporo, and Iekei Ramen, I wanted some nice Fukuoka style Tonkotsu. So I talked the Missus into Hakata Ikkousha. Yes, I know they have a location in Orange County, but I believe the menu is slightly different.
They were also the busiest place on this floor. We went to the ticket machine and put our money in and got our ticket and waited in line for about 10 minutes.
As is somewhat typical for us; there's no way I can finish a whole bowl myself; we got the Ajitama (soft boiled egg) Ramen and a side dish to share. The presentation at Ikkousha is interesting. They lie four thin slices of chashu on top of the bowl, making it look like a single large layer of pork.
Man, that egg was just a perfect soft, runny boiled thing of beauty. The pork was not my favorite, especially after having so much during this trip as it was on the bland side and rather dry. The noodles were good, a tad past how I prefer them prepared, but way better than anything here in the states. The broth was rich, but I found it less satisfying than Ippudo (we'd go to the Kyoto location later during the trip). I found it less porky and not quite as rich, even though it seemed nicely viscous. It was not bad by any means; quite good, as it still had that "aaaah" factor.
The Karaage was decent, good flavor, but the texture was a little too soft for our taste. Again, we'd have our favorite version again while in the city.
Overall, a nice bowl, decent karaage, it was autumn, the air crisp, our bellies warm.....
Hakata Ikkousha Kyoto Ramen Koji Kyoto Station Building (West Zone), 10th ﬂoor
After having a wonderful time visiting Kamakura, we were pretty hungry. We arrived back in Tokyo and freshened up. We had one more night left and the Missus still hadn't had Her share of Yakitori yet. Isehiro had been a recommendation I received and we even tried to get in on our first evening in Tokyo, but they were strangely closed. So we decided to give it another try.
My understanding is that all the tables upstairs are usually reserved, but the tables and counter downstairs are not. There was not a single soul in the place when we arrived.
But the gentleman behind the grill was cooking like crazy, then placing items in containers. The Missus and I looked at each other and got a feeling that this wasn't going to be a particularly stellar meal. Items are precooked, then reheated.
Next little thing. We were told that there were two "set" menus available.......you can do extras, but no a la carte. The full course was 6480 ¥ (about $60/US at the time) and the "healthy" course was 5832 ¥ (about $54/US). Man, that's not cheap. Each course had 9 skewers, the healthy course had some vegetable items.
We decided to stay the course and just go for it. Though at this point, I'm thinking this better be good. I decided to get a Highball to start.
After the traditional oshibori, the hot towel, things started coming fast a and furious....I mean why not? Most of it was premade.
We both got the Sasami (Chicken Breast) to start. This has never been a big favorite of mine and this version was dry and needed much more salt as well. I first thought that this might be tori-wasa, which would be tender and medium rare, but this was overcooked.
One item that I thought was good here is the Kimo; the chicken liver. The Missus loves this, but I'm not too fond of it. However, this was very good, not too minerally in flavor, without that mushiness I'm not a big fan of.
The tare added a nice sweet-saltiness that deflected all the flavors in chicken liver that I don't like.
We both also received Sunagimo, chicken gizzards.
I usually enjoy how gizzards really absorb the smokiness of the bincho; but instead of being crunchy, this was hard, and strangely didn't have that smokiness I enjoy.
Next up for the both of us was the negi-maki, thigh meat wrapped in scallion.
The meat was very moist if a bit on the tough side. The bitterness of the incinerated scallions was rather unpleasant.
Next up for the both of us is one of my key favorites when it comes to yakitori; tsukune (chicken meatball).
In complete contrast to other items that were basically burnt, this needed a bit more color. What little tare was used on the meatball brought nothing to it. The meatball was toughr than I prefer and there were hard bits as well.
Next up for the Missus, Cherry Tomatoes.
Innocuous, tart, could have used a bit more time on the grill.
I received another of my usual favorites; "kawa", chicken skin.
The burnt bits were crisp, but the rest dry and gummy. This needed more saltiness, or at least a good tare.
The Momoniku (thigh) was quite good.
Except for the scallion being burnt bitter again. Great sweet-salty flavors for the toothsome but not tough chicken thighs. The slightly smoky flavor lifted the dish.
Next for the Missus, Shiitake.
This was fine, but really didn't have any seasoning....it was almost like it hadn't been grilled. Check out the skewers, no blackening on it. Odd.
I received the Aigamo (Duck).
This needed more seasoning and was overcooked for our taste, making it tough and rather stringy.
The Missus finished up with Nankotsu; chicken cartilage.
This was decently prepared, if a bit on the dry side. The amount of salt used was perfect.
My last dish was another favorite of mine; Teba, chicken wing.
Dried out, rubbery, and too salty. Not my favorite combination of textures and tastes.
The Missus and I left somewhat disillusioned. I've always said that it's hard to get a bad meal in Japan and while this wasn't terrible, it wasn't close to being good. I'm wondering if it was just a bad night? Luckily, we'd get some great yakitori later on during this trip.
Isehiro Kyobashi Honten 1-5-4 Kyoashi, Chuo 104-0031 Tokyo
Ed (from Yuma) shares a fancy omakase dinner with Tina – and now with you, dear reader. Tomorrow Kirk or Cathy will share something different.
It was a dark and stormy night, after a dark and stormy drive over to San Diego, so Tina and I were happy to walk into the clean well lighted space that is Kokoro (website). We'd made an early reservation so Ishito-san had no other customers at the bar when we arrived:
Both Kirk and I have posted about omakase experiences here, so Tina and I wanted the top-of-the-line omakase and ordered it three days in advance.
The meal started with a simple looking mushroom appetizer – enoki and sliced oyster mushrooms in beautiful little bowls:
That pic doesn’t show much food, but the shrooms were lightly sauced and had an earthy/woodsy flavor. Nice modest beginning.
Then bowls showed up with a large oyster cut into three pieces, flanked by little pieces of dark seaweed, and topped with a blast of ginger:
The concentrated flavor of the ocean.
About this time I ordered 6 oz Kikusui sake:
It was cold, smooth, and altogether pleasant.
Our sashimi plate was a thing of beauty:
The maguro was exceptional and deeply flavored. The uni was good, of course, and the tako had a nice balance between flavor and chewiness. Even the scallop, which was pretty bland really, tasted fresh and tender. I should add that the wasabi was quality as well, hot spicy with bits of real wasabi throughout.
Here's another view of the plate:
Ishito-san was proud of the white fish selection. "Five different fish, all different flavor and texture." The hamachi was what you'd expect, fresh tasting, firm, and rich. The hirame (right behind the octopus) had firmer texture and deeper richer flavor than expected. I'm pretty sure that the slices were endawa, dorsal fin muscle, which I have not had since Wal Mi Do closed. Both Tina and I enjoyed the range of flavors, textures, and richness among the five.
The last item on the platter was maybe the most amazing of all:
I have never had or seen two toned tuna before. And yeah, real good and real rich.
It was time for a change of pace, so we were pleased to see a small covered bowl set in front of each of us:
Inside was a deceptively simple looking clear broth soup:
The cube was a piece of crab and seafood cake, mild and tender. The green herb was very strong flavored and contrasted nicely with the cake. But the key to the whole dish is the thin golden brown oval on the bottom of the bowl – a slice of bottarga – salted, cured, pressed, and aged mullet caviar. When you bite into it, it dissolves into a myriad of minuscule fish eggs.
The next course was one of our favorites, a complex autumn/winter stew that seemed perfect for a rainy evening:
The two main ingredients were pieces of crunchy fried fish and thick succulent tender slices of beautifully braised daikon. They were accompanied by gobo root matchsticks, fried slices of lotus root, a couple of candlenuts, and a few salmon eggs. The flavors, textures, and colors of the stew made this a big winner for both of us.
At this time, our hashi were replaced with new ones. “Why?” crossed my mind briefly, and then an amazing beef salad was set before us:
The steak was exceptionally tender, deeply flavored, and rich. The greens with their fresh and sometimes bitter flavors provided contrast. And the yuzu based steak sauce/salad dressing went with both, its tang balancing the rich meat. "That's wagyu beef from Japan,” Ishito san said, “Grade A5, the best." We believed him. It was good.
Then Tina and I each got a couple slices of fried monkfish accompanied by ponzu:
Okay, but not especially memorable.
The sushi course was the last savory part of the meal. It looked pretty ordinary:
However, it was quite good. The anago was sprinkled with coarse salt and was fresh and meaty tasting. The saba had been lightly cured so we could taste real mackerel flavor. The unusually large ebi, never a favorite sushi of mine, was wonderful here. We were told to use no shoyu, which seemed odd, but the shrimp were so fresh, meaty, and sweet that Ishito san wanted nothing to mask that taste.
The meal concluded with a choice of Italian style ice creams or sorbet. Tina loved her raisin and vanilla bean ice cream:
And I was blown away by the green apple sorbet:
Overall a great meal.
Kokoro, 3298 Greyling Dr. Ste. B, San Diego, CA 92123, (858) 565-4113