While I'd been keeping an eye on the opening of the new 99 Ranch Market on Balboa, I never really made it until a couple of weeks ago. They opened while we were out of the country and when I got back, my schedule was a mess for a while. So, I finally made it over when I needed to pick up something on the way home from work. Krispy Krunchy Chicken is located in the food court on the east side of the building along with Saigon 5 and a location of Shanxi Magic Kitchen (those posts are coming up). I decided to grab something to go and the folks at KKC were really friendly...insisting I sample their chicken tenders.
So, I placed an order for 10 wings....which are currently on special for $7.99. I was told it would be 10 minutes for my chicken, which was perfect as it gave me a chance to dash over and make my purchases in the market.
I got the basic fried chicken wings.
These were indeed (C)Krispy, (C)Krunchy, hot, and very moist, probably since this was made to order. In spite of being fairly hefty sized wings, I thought the batter to meat ratio was quite nice. Both the Missus and I thought a more aggressive Cajun seasoning would make this a bit better. Much like Kirbie, I couldn't help but make the comparison to Popeye's. While you're at it; check out Jinxi's post as well.
I'm glad I didn't get the "Buffalo" version since I saw that it was simply doused with hot sauce.......the chicken would have been soggy by the time I got home. Both the Missus and I used a good amount of Crystal Hot Sauce to add a little kick to the rather mildly seasoned wings. Still these were not bad.
During this visit; I learned that KKC opened at 930am, which made it a perfect spot for a bite between meetings. Curious that the place makes Ramen; albeit a definite Chinese Style (Wuji) ramen; I thought I'd give it a try. So I ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen and was given a free chicken tender.
This had been sitting so while being fairly crisp, had dried out a bit and was quite bland.
The ramen was also mediocre.
The broth is thin, yet has a greasy mouthfeel. The flavor is slightly "tinny". The worst thing was that the broth was served almost lukewarm and was more salty than anything else. The chashu, while well flavored is fairly tough. The noodles were overcooked. The egg was nice and softboiled and might be; other than the very cheerful young Chinese kids manning the booth the best thing about this bowl of ramen.
A few days later, I needed to grab something before a 11am conference call so I dropped by and got a three piece meal with potato wedges.
Unlike my wings, this wasn't cooked to order and it suffered a bit. Especially the breast which was really dry and bland with the batter falling off. The color was also darker than the chicken on my previous visits. The potato wedges were also dry.
If I return, I'll probably go with the wings and hope they make them to order. And while the chicken here is larger than Popeye's, I enjoy the flavor at P's better. Like I said you can't help but make a comparison. Popeye's was founded in New Orleans in 1972; KKC, in Lafayette in 1989 and uses an injectable flavor/brine....which I think they need to use more aggressively.
I really liked the young people working here; they are very friendly, and always giving out samples. I believe they also have a location in the East Village.
Krispy Krunchy Chicken 5950 Balboa Ave (Inside 99 Ranch Market) San Diego, CA 92111
I'm finally catching up on things. A few recent observations.
More Ramen Coming to Kearny Mesa ?:
At least if the ABC notice is correct. Something named Menya Ultra. Some quick slapping on my keyboard yielded a clue.... and a bit more. I'm pretty sure that the folks at Nishiki Ramen can't be happy at the company name. But another Hokkaido ramen chain in San Diego? Well, I think there's room for that.
An acquaintance mentioned a ramen place opening in the East Village named BeShock and told me they were going through a soft opening. I was told the folks opening the place are from Nagoya; which made me a bit curious. So I trucked it down to the corner of 13th and Market street to see what was up.
For some reason, I expected a little neighborhood shop like the nearby Tokyo Deli. So I was surprised to see this large, spacious, very nice restaurant....I guess I "be shocked"?
The soft opening menu was a single page; with items like karaage, salads, and the like on the top....the middle was a collection of rolls, and five types of ramen on the bottom.
I was brought my water and some gratis edamame....
I saw Shio Koji Karaage; Shio Koji and Shoyu Koji are both staples in our household and using Shio Koji in karaage is pretty much an "open secret". So, I ordered the karaage and was surprised at what came out.
So, these were actually coated in masago arare; rice cracker beads. It adds an additional layer of crunch, but also gets soggy fairly quickly. The portion size was quite large. Also going down a bit of a different path; this was white meat chicken; though the marinating process give the chicken a texture like dark meat. Also, I quickly noticed that the flavor is quite mild......amost too mild for me; not enough shoyu-shio koji or any other (ginger-garlic-sweetness) flavor. It's pretty much about the masago arare.
I also ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen and was rather intrigued at what came out.
The broth was different; in fact, it might be the least salty ramen broth I've ever had....it didn't have much porkiness to it and I even thought it could be chicken. I was told that the folks here use a lot of vegetables in making the broth which really makes the flavor different. While it was fatty; I didn't think it was particularly rich, in other words, it lacked some of that "aaaaahh" effect. Everything else was good; the standard issue Nishimoto-JFC noodles were prepped well; the chashu had been torched before being placed in the bowl; it had a very nice porkiness to it. The egg was also by the book. Overall; a bit different...... I might try the Miso Ramen next time.
The folks here were really nice; the manager, who is from Nagoya, also spent time in Hawaii and we had a nice chat.
I returned a few days later. I had seen Chicken Tartar (i.e. tori nanban) on the menu; but when I returned it was gone.
So I went with the "Cajun Karaage" instead.
This wasn't very spicy and the batter was soft and gummy, though it was prepared and served in a more conventional way than shio koji karaage. The flavor just kind of fell short and this was definitely "b-list karaage".
I also went with the Chashu Bowl. Having had a few of these in Japan, I was surprised at how large and how much pork there was.
There's quite a bit of pork hiding under....well, all that pork. The pork was tender without being mushy. The flavor was good....again, not too heavy handed in terms of shoyu - saltiness - sweetness, but the pork flavor actually came through quite well. This time the flavor and the texture worked for the good of the dish. The shoyu tamago was decent; it could have used a bit more flavoring, but I have no complaints.
I really enjoyed talking to the nice young man in charge on this day.
While I thought the flavors somewhat mild and tame for my taste, sometimes people can make the difference. I really enjoyed BeShock, BeCause the folks here were so nice. I'll come back to try things out after their grand opening....which is BTW....today 10/17 at 530pm. They'll have Tori Nanban; though I'm not sure what they're going call it. The ramen style here doesn't seem to be my thing, though I will try the Miso Ramen to see if I prefer that.
The manager is a certified Sake Master and they have a bunch of boutique brews....so when I'm not driving.....
I hope they do well.
BeShock Ramen & Sake Bar 1288 Market St San Diego, CA 92101
Back in June, I noticed a shop in the former Fish Bucket location in Tierrasanta. The name of the place? Donburi Kitchen. In spite of the location I was fascinated; since I've long thought that a good Donburi shop making classics like Gyūdon, Tendon, Oyakodon, or Katsudon would be a great fit for San Diego. So a few weeks back I dropped by during lunch to see that they had just opened. Notice they still have awning from the Fish Bucket in place; "Seafood Market - Fish Grotto"?
Nice young man greeted me at the front door....looking around I kinda knew that my wish wasn't going to be granted here. The menu was confirmation. Poke Bowl; Ramen on the menu, spicy tuna roll, California roll (though there was Hamachi kama and Chirashi) on the chalk board. The only traditional "donburi" I saw on the menu was the Unadon. So, basically your neighborhood Japanese (in name only) jack-of-all-trades kind of place. Nothing wrong with that....but what the heck was I going to order. I asked the young man who suggested ramen; so I went with the Tonkotsu ($8) and some Chicken Karaage ($4.25).
I was a bit surprised at this as it was more "Toriten" (Chicken Tempura) than actual karaage. I quickly noticed that breast was used for this. Even though the batter quickly got soggy, the chicken was very moist and tender, with a pleasant flavor, like it had been quickly brined. Eat this quickly and it's pretty good. Not a big fan of the Sriracha Mayo though.
As much as the chicken was a pleasant surprise, the Tonkotsu Ramen was routine - except for the bok choy......first time for that in my ramen. The broth was quite indistinct, being more of a shoyu-tonkotsu kind of thing and really lacked the nice tongue coating feature that makes a good tonkotsu broth.
The noodles; standard issue, were a bit over-cooked for me. The egg was a bit of a mess, it looked like there was some trouble peeling it, but it was decent marinated and not ice cold. The one saving grace was the chashu, which was fairly tender, and had a nice flavor. This was perhaps a bit better than Izakaya Kanpai about par with Ototo, basically lower second tier ramen. Funny, a guy came in and also ordered ramen; tasted the broth, then requested Togarashi, Sriracha, and Vinegar for his ramen......
About a week later I returned, basically to go ahead and try one of the Donburi....but man; it was so darn hot. There was also one thing I wanted to try. I rather enjoyed the Chashu last time around so I started with the Ponzu Chashu, not cheap at $5.50.
This was actually pretty good, the ponzu didn't take away too much of the flavor of the chashu which wasn't particularly sweet, but had a nice shoyu-sweet flavor. It looked like the exterior had been torched/seared. Man, serve this with some negi and over rice and you'd have a decent Butadon. Chop it up and mix with negi and some of the cooking liquid and it would be a decent Chashu Gohan. Hmmm....I might request that one of these days.
I really didn't want rice on this day....but what the heck to order. Well, I gave in and tried the Poke Salad, which was priced at $7.
I gotta say; they did a pretty good job of hiding most the short comings of the fish, by coating it real well with the sauce. Lots of connective tissue, but it wasn't too tough or stringy nor was it overly mushy. The sauce seemed to use gochujang as the base; tasting like a milder "cho-jang", sweet-salty-mildly spicy. Decent amount of avocado, enjoyed the scallions, the greens not overly dressed. Would have liked a bit more onion and perhaps some tomato in this. But overall, not bad.
So, one more visit to finally try a donburi here. But first, I started with some Agedashi Tofu ($4).
The tofu had a nice molten interior but was too lightly dusted/battered as it really lacked crispness. The sauce tasted like a watered down "mentsuyu" (concentrated soup base) that had been cut with some wakame to add more flavor. It was a bit too mild for my taste.
I actually enjoyed the no-frills salad, the dressing was decently refreshing, the greens nicely dressed.
Not knowing which bowl to get, I went with the east way out and got the Teriyaki Chicken version ($7).
Fairly decent rendition of teri-chicken. The chicken breast was again nicely moist, the sauce a bit too salty for my taste, but not offensive. Dig the Vietnamese Pickled Daikon and Carrots! Not a huge portion, but good enough for a decent lunch for me.
Overall, a decent neighborhood "San Diego - Japanese" joint....I heard three people come in and ask what "chirashi" was. Very nice staff, decent prices, for some reason this place reminded me of Izakaya Kanpai (which I have to revisit one of these days) with a less ambitious menu. I was told that one of the owners was formerly part owner of Fish Attack....which kind of made sense. This was decent neighborhood food not to offend. I'd even order take-out if the place was in my neighborhood. Nothing wrong with that, right?
One of the guys I know loves this place and keeps telling me I need to check them out. I've told him that I'd been to the Little Italy location a couple of times and have basically found them to be more style than substance. But on a recent weekend morning I found my self in the area and thought "why not"?
Being right around the corner from Tacos Perla and right next to Modern Times Flavordome I'd passed the place enough times. Same drill as the Little Italy location, order at the counter, grab a seat at the table. I do like the lay-out; though I tend to think of ramen as being something for milder, cooler weather; all this outdoor type seating seems to be taking quite a different tangent. Still, really nice counter folks, the guy who brought me my drink was also great.
I simply went with the "Belly of the Beast". At $12, I think it's a dollar cheaper now......
The broth was just above lukewarm, not my favorite temperature for ramen broth. I'm sure the "no-spoon" thing has something to do with that.....though I understand that you can get spoons these days...by request. It was lacking in richness, and not much in terms of flavor other than being much more salty than I recalled. No deep umami, or subtle, nuanced saltiness, it was basically very dull. I left most of it.
There were even less noodles than before; pretty much standard issue, but prepped well; but too crumbly, lacking a nice pull.
If there's anything that set Underbelly apart from other ramen shops (other than the no spoons and hipster-ish-ness), it was the proteins. As before, I found the oxtail dumplings to be on the mushy side; but for some reason, it seems like there's a bit of kimchi in them now, which helped the flavor. As before, I could note no hoisin flavor on the short rib and though I liked the fat on the beef brisket, which also had a decent beefiness, the center of the meat was cold.
Now the egg was the best item, as it was decently soft boiled, and the flavor was right in the ballpark. But the yolk was ice cold....which really didn't go too well with a now almost room temperature broth.
All in all, I think Underbelly has taken a few steps backwards. I took a look at the beer list, which was pretty good. So perhaps that's what Underbelly has become. More of a Gastropub that serves ramen? Well, at least I gave this location a try.
We got into Tokyo mid-afternoon, and proceeded to take the Narita Express to Tokyo Station. We decided to stay in the Nihombashi area fairly close to Tokyo Station. Our apartment was pretty small; like really small, though it had a laundry in the basement (remember the Jingisukan?). So we took care of all of that stuff; got in a short nap. By the time we woke up the sun had set and it was time for dinner. In spite of the hustle and bustle, we really liked this area, it made travel around the city quite easy. Anyway, with my trusty pocket wifi, I looked up our first option on my map; some Oden sounded great, but there was a huge line at Otako Honten. Plan B, grab some yakitori from Isehiro, but they were strangely closed down for the night. Plan C? I dunno..... I guess we'd grab some ramen from this little shop.
Boy did they like the signs and the posters....and the lamps! Even inside. The young lady working was a joy, very friendly, and patient.
Anyway, we ordered the Max #1 ramen, large size for me, a negi gohan, and onsen tamago for the Missus who'd of course share some of my ramen.
Man, that was shredded scallion allright....with some nice pieces of pork and a quail egg.
This was actually pretty tasty as they sauced the rice. Plus, the Missus loved the egg.
The ramen was different from other versions I've had.
That broth was really fatty, the texture was almost like oil. It had some definite chicken tones and some porkiness as well....but good lord it was so rich to be almost greasy. It also bordered on being quite salty. Good thing it was quite hot or we'd have some sludge on our hands. That egg was quite good, nice flavor, and nicely soft boiled. I really enjoyed the noodles which were fairly thick, a bit flat, but had been prepared to a wonderful pull and chew. I don't know why places here in San Diego have such a hard time getting it right, when this random ramen place on the corner here in Tokyo nailed it? The pork was a bit on the chewy side, but had decent flavor.
The quail egg and the spinach was an interesting touch. Walking back to the apartment, I suddenly realized we'd just had Yokohama style Iekei Ramen. I remembered reading about the shop that spawned this style of ramen, Yoshimura in Yokohama. And the thing that really made this place a legend was that the owners of Yoshimura-ya actually gave away the recipe to anyone who wanted it!
This was actually pretty good, if a bit too greasy and salty for my taste. No complaints for a random ramen shop we found.
Sorry about the address; I couldn't find a Romanized version of it.
Shinagawaya Yaesu 八重洲2-3-9 Chūō, 東京都 〒103-0028, Japan
We walked back to the apartment with warm bellies. Tomorrow would be a rather early day as we were heading to Kamakura.
And no, we weren't headed to Asahikawa for the weather, which was actually pretty nice at about 36 degrees Fahrenheit when we left Sapporo, but for more hedonistic endeavor.
The weather changes quickly here....from the mild near freezing drizzle and the rainbow above, to the sudden snow during our 90 minute ride to Asahikawa.
But things had cleared pretty quickly by the time we had arrived.
When we mentioned visiting Asahikawa to folks who knew about the city, the first thing mentioned was Asahiyama Zoo; though they really couldn't fathom going there at the end of November. And when they found out what our real purpose was....well, they kind of thought of us as being a bit, well, as my Mom would have said, "きちがい".
To get to the first destination, we had to leave the train station and cross several streets to one of the many municipal bus stops. From there, it was me, using my terrible, quite limited Japanese, to ask if the bus passed the destination. Once on the bus, I used Google Maps with pocket wifi to figure out when we were getting close. Lucky for us; the wonderful and friendly driver remembered that I had asked about the place and made sure to let us know. And when we started walking in the wrong direction, stopped, opened the door of the bus and pointed us in the right direction. You gotta love Japan!
So where was this? Well, while I have a favorite splurge sake that I enjoy, my favorite (not) everyday sake is made by Otokoyama. If my liver could only speak. Sam used to call me Mr Otokoyama ages ago and Ed from Yuma and I really enjoyed our Otokoyama in our younger days eating at Sakura.
So a visit to Otokoyama Brewery was a must.
The sake museum was interesting, I didn't know that Otokoyama has been around for almost 350 years!
You get to see the brewing facilities, a collection of scrolls, and vintage brewing tools.
Loved the various displays of various awards and the world wide distribution....heck, I even recognize some of these places!
And then of course, there's the tasting area......
Just when we started tasting various sake, a busload of Chinese tourists invaded. The Missus was laughing as many of them complained about having to use the steps to go upstairs! We decided to take a break and sit at one of the desks; which had a collection of reading glasses of various magnification....I don't recall seeing anything like this before.....
When things calmed down a bit, having tasted most of the free samples, we went to taste the "good stuff" which you had to pay for.
It is a tiny shop, a few simple tables and bar seats.
As with most ramen places we've been to in Japan, you help yourself to the ume and pickles.
What did we order? Well, that was a no-brainer. Shio Toroniku style of course. Which was delivered in the signature thick sided donburi, designed to keep the broth hot during your entire meal.
There some slight, though significant differences with regard to the ramen. The noodles were even more chewy and just had a wonderful texture. The pork cheek was sliced much thicker than what we've had here in San Diego, and yet started to fall to pieces when dipped in the broth. The big difference? The broth tasted less salty, but had a mild seafood flavor, this totally reminded me of the flavor of Sanouka's shio broth when they first opened. I don't really pick that up in recent bowls in San Diego.
Since we'd had a rather large breakfast, we shared the single bowl, and also ordered a boiled egg and some rice, which was cooked perfectly, and went well with the pickles.
One constant between Santouka here and Santouka in the states is.....the boiled egg is still mediocre as it's hard boiled. At least this one didn't have that sulphuric tasting green ring around the yolk that indicates a terribly overcooked boiled egg.
In regards to the ramen, the Missus claims this is the best bowl of ramen She has had to date. Me? Well, I'm not so sure..... Still, I can now say I've been to the original Santouka.
We walked back to the train station with bellies full of warm ramen.
The train was pretty empty, I guess it was the slow time of the day.
My friends actually did pretty well, since I bought them a bottle of the Otokoyama Kitamiduki, which I was told you can only purchase in Asahikawa. They told me it was delicious. For some reason, I think that we'll return to Asahikawa one day. After all, the Missus loves Santouka!
Our flight from Seoul to New Chitose Airport was perfectly uneventful. The airport is about 30 miles from Sapporo. It might easily be one of my favorite airports....there are a number of shops selling; well, everything! It's not a large airport and easy to maneuver....and good lord, the samples! We ended up buying a load of snacks for my MIL.....so much, that we ended up mailing it Sapporo! As regular readers will know, I'm not much of a snack person, but I was totally taken by this Hokkaido corn snack, which was light, refreshing, and not too sweet. More on that in a later post. After sampling a load of stuff and buying some snacks, we activated our JR Pass and got to Sapporo Station in no time. Our good friend Akiko had made our hotel reservations at the Hotel Monterey Sapporo, telling me that I'm "going to love the breakfast buffet". It was a nice choice, just a five minute walk from the station.
After checking in, freshening up, and relaxing for a bit, we headed out. First stop; the ATM at 7-11, the easiest, most convenient ATMs in Japan. Be it 7-11, Lawson, or whatever; the snack selection and prepared food at these shops are something to be reckoned with.
In spite of it being close to Thanksgiving, it wasn't too cold....yet! So of course the Missus wanted to walk to our lunch destination. Which wasn't so bad after putting in all those miles walking in Seoul. That's the Sapporo TV Tower located in Odori Park.
Strangely, we didn't come across too many people during our walk....perhaps it was a bit cold? Or perhaps folks were just a lot smarter than us and used the subway, which ran just a block from our hotel.
I'd read about Nijo Market before our trip and it was along the way to our destination so we decided to take a look around.
Seeing all that seafood and knowing we'd be around here for a couple of days really got the Missus excited.
The prices were no joke!
But it did get my heart beating a little faster since I knew we'd be looking for some crab for the Missus.......
The Missus had declared this to be a "discovery of ramen and yakitori" trip. Our last stop before leaving Narita for Seoul was for some Seabura (pork backfat) Ramen at Miyamoto. So it only made sense that we'd try some ramen here in Sapporo. It only made sense that we visit a place famous for what I heard called their "flame torched chashu", Ramen Zero, which, being in the Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade was really easy to find.
We entered......and of course came across the ramen ticket machine!
As with most places in Japan, the folks here were really nice......most of the labels didn't have kanji characters, but a young lady came out and we made it through punching the right buttons with a combination of really bad Japanese...at least I know what we wanted and could order it in Japanese......it was a matter of finding the right buttons.
We were in Sapporo; so it was only right that we get a Sapporo Classic "Only in Hokkaido". A light Pilsner, easy to drink, great head, with a sweet finish.
So, like I said, Ramen Zero is known for this......
Will you look at that piece of pork belly. This obviously wasn't one of those one thin slice of chashu places. I really liked the pork, which was tender, but not falling to pieces, smoky, with a nice pork flavor. The Missus thought they put too much black pepper on the beast. She also got a nicely soft boiled egg and some rice, which was just perfect.
Since this was Sapporo, I got the Miso Ramen....with the pork of course!
Man, that pork...plus the bowl was about $11 US and totally worth it. The noodles were nice, of the thicker variety,, curly, and firm. The broth was the most un-miso, miso broth I've ever had. It was very mild, slightly thick, with a touch of sweetness, and we made out what seemed like a rather strong ginger flavor. In other words, everything took a back seat to that pork.
As you can tell, we didn't leave hungry. It seems we lucked out as I heard the place often sells out of items early in the evening.
Sapporo Noodle Zero Minami 2 Jōnishi Chūō-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaidō, Japan
Due to the season, night was falling like a curtain as we left. Still, we had a bit of exploring to do before heading back for the evening.
And while my last go around with Pho Hut wasn't bad; this was disappointing.
Well, at least the egg noodles were decent, not overcooked. But the broth was basically MSG water, lacking any depth, the char siu was tough and tasteless, and as with previous visits, the dumpling fillings just floated away from the wrappers....I guess you could look at the wrappers and say it's just another noodle and this should be pseudo meatball egg noodle soup.
Pho Hut & Grill 5252 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92117
And it did to a certain extent as the chashu was low on flavor and tough, so the kakuni pork did quite well. The noodles were nice and firm. Calvin loves the fresh pressed garlic with his ramen, while I think in this bowl it kills all the other flavors. I still think the broth could be hotter as it cooled quite quickly. The egg was decent, but the broth is not what it was when Yamadaya first opened.....lacking in flavor and richness.
The guys really enjoyed the Tori Nanban; the "Chicken Tartar" more.
Crisp, nice ginger tones, with a dose of vinegar........really good this time around.
As a bonus, John and Calvin treated me to lunch! Thanks guys!
Ramen Yamadaya 4706 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117