Ippudo: In My Own Eyes

Ippudo Berkeley opened up in late July and I posted a blog about my friend’s experience on opening day. People waited three hours to get a bowl of ramen at Ippudo. After almost two months since opening, lines can still get quite long especially with school in session. Here’s my account of a recent visit with another friend to Ippudo. After waiting thirty five minutes in line outside, we were led inside and seated.

We started out with Ippudo buns. You can order the soft pillowy buns with either chicken, pork belly, or vegetables. Our buns were spread with mayonnaise and had a thick slice of tender pork belly in a tangy glaze. Biting into these were soft and heavenly.


We were debating whether to get the chicken kara-age or the fried chicken wings. The waitress recommended the chicken kara-age. The flavor was subtle and the chicken did not have much of a coating to give it a textural component. It fell flat and I was disappointed in my waitress.


The ramen came in three flavors and you have a choice of how firm you want your noodles. I was drawn to the description of the Akamaru Modern which is a more bold translation of the original pork broth with thin noodles topped with Ippudo’s secret “Umami Dama” miso paste, pork belly chashu, cabbage, and sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. I added a soft boiled egg and requested my noodles to be bari kata, which means firm. The flavors of my ramen broth and noodle texture were very much prepared to my liking.


My friend loves spicy so she ordered the Karaka Spicy which has the original “Tonkotsu” (pork) broth with an added kick, thin noodles with Ippudo’s special blend of hot spices, topped with pork belly chashu, bean sprouts, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. She ordered hers kata which is al dente. The bowl suited her as well.

In our minds, we still thought we made a bad choice with the chicken kara-age, so we decided we would go ahead and order the fried chicken wings. The chicken wings are glazed in a black pepper sauce. Unfortunately, the wings didn’t meet our expectations either.

  
I would definitely return to Ippudo for the buns and ramen if the wait isn’t too long. The prices are a bit high for a bowl of ramen, but it’s worth it to satisfy a craving now and then.

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I Dream of Sushi

I recently met my BFF at Angel Fish in Alameda for dinner. Sushi is always a good choice on a hot day and Alameda is usually a bit cooler as well. My BFF has been a regular at Angel Fish for almost two decades. Every time I have dined at Angel Fish, I have enjoyed it very much. Come to think of it, it is one of my favorite neighborhood sushi restaurants, even though it is not my neighborhood. The fish is always fresh and the prices are reasonable.

So first I have to admit I was late for dinner. My BFF had already gotten us seats at the sushi bar and ordered some nigiri at happy hour prices. From 5pm- 6pm, there are some specials, so she ordered the hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), and maguro (red tuna). I was so delayed that she had to eat my portion. It was fine by me as I wouldn’t want raw fish sitting too long. When I arrived, I ordered my own serving of salmon. It was fresh and delicious as expected.
It was my first time having agemono. I loved everything about these deep fried tempura lobster bites. With a splash of lemon, I’m in heaven. One of the best things about Angel Fish is that it doesn’t always have to be about the raw items. They have a nice variety of cooked items that are unique and creative.
We ordered amaebi which I did not photograph. It’s not my favorite item, but I do like consuming the crispy fried shrimp head. Toro is one of the most expensive fish. When this fatty tuna belly is available at Angel Fish, you really should get it. It was so buttery, it melted in my mouth.  
Some other patrons ordered the cha soba so we decided we would share this as well. Cold noodles are a perfect choice on a hot evening. To enjoy this dish, you would dip soba noodles and seaweed into a sauce where you would first mix in minced daikon, green onions, and a quail egg.
One of my favorite things to eat is an unagi hand roll. With the added texture of cucumber and avocado, this is the perfect bite to me.  
Although Chef Taka still had a few pieces of uni out, he purposefully opened up a brand new box of uni for us. The opening of this box of imported uni from Japan really made our day.  
The uni was elegantly placed on top of a shiso leaf and rice and came with crispy roasted seaweed on the side.
In front of me in the sushi case was tamago that I had been eyeing throughout the course of the evening. I was relaying my limited experience and enjoyment of tamago. Typically, not a favorite of my BFF, we decided we would try it. We learned that Chef Taka makes this deliciousness every other day.

It was a great light dinner and we decided we would start dining at Angel Fish together once a month. I’m already dreaming about it.

Bluefin: When you can’t decide between Japanese and Thai food

Last week my family decided they wanted to go out to dinner. There was a lot of debate over what to eat. My mom had been in the mood for Japanese food lately and hadn’t gotten her fix. I was thinking Laotian or Thai food. My sister in law had suggested a restaurant in Alameda called Bluefin that serves both Japanese and Thai food. We all agreed to give it a try.
We ordered the fried chicken wings to share. They were cooked to a beautiful golden color and were crispy and flavorful. I enjoyed the fried herb that complemented it.  
I ordered the sake sashimi appetizer. When it came out there were some oohs and ahhs. It was very fresh and presentation was on point. I think I ate all five pieces in under sixty seconds.  
My brother and mother like cooked sushi, so they ordered a four sushi rolls: 1) The Dancing Roll is a California roll topped with BBQ eel. 2) The Lion King Roll is a California roll topped with salmon and baked with a special sauce. 3) The Bluefin Bomb has tuna, salmon, avocado, asparagus, scallions topped with a spicy sauce. 4) The Lobster Tempura roll has crusty fried lobster with avocado, masago, asparagus, and special sauce. These all were presented in a bamboo sushi boat.  
My sister in law wanted Thai food and ordered the Papaya Salad which has green papaya with prawns, tomatoes, peanuts, and a spicy lime dressing. I thought this was really fresh tasting.
I ordered the Tom Kha which is a Thai soup with coconut milk. My “bowl” runneth over with chicken, mushrooms, tomato, onion, lime leaves me galangal, and lemongrass. It was a large bowl that I couldn’t finish in one sitting. I ended up having it for lunch the next day and it was still delicious.  
One of my nieces ordered the Teriyaki Beef dinner. Bluefin knows their teriyaki. The beef was cooked a perfect medium rare and the flavor had the right amount of sweetness. It was laid on top of cabbage, carrots, and broccoli.  
My other niece wanted udon. We got her the tempura udon with the tempura on the side so that everyone could indulge in the fried goodness.
I definitely had a good overall experience at Bluefin. It’s easy to find parking, the staff are really nice, presentation is awesome, and their was a great variety of food that was quite enjoyable. I don’t know why the Yelp reviews are mediocre.  I would add an additional star.  I thought the chefs were able to conquer Japanese and Thai cuisines very well. I personally would go back to Bluefin to try more of both cuisines.  

Okonomi Yaki: Popping Up in Temescal

Last month, I went to check out Temescal Brewing on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. I can’t say that I was there for the beer; I was there to try “okonomi yaki,” a popular street food from Japan. I met up with a group of friends at Temescal Brewery for the Okkon pop-up. Every other Wednesday, Satoshi and Sochi Kamimae sets up a table and a grill in the Temescal Brewing beer garden to make the Japanese specialty.  
“Okonomi yaki” is described as a Japanese pancake. I was excited to try it for the first time. I had never even heard of it before. I placed my order for the “buta tama” which is the classic “okonomi yaki” with pork. Additional toppings of mochi, mentaiko roe, wild shrimp, and mushrooms could be added. I added mochi to mine.

It is a pretty interesting scene to watch Chef Satoshi make the pancakes. I watched as he made them individually with love and care. Chef Satoshi would toss shredded yam, cabbage, tempura bits and green onions in a bowl and combine it together with an egg and flour batter. After a thorough mix, he would then slowly pour the mixture onto a heated grill. On top of the mixture, he would add two thin strips of pork belly. Once cooked part way through, Chef Satoshi would turn over the golden brown pancake to cook the other side.  
I think the pancake gets turned a number of times and a lid is placed on it to ensure it cooks thoroughly and evenly. It’s not a quick cook, so its genius to set up this pop-up in a beer garden where you can enjoy a nice cold beer and have a place to sit while you wait.
Since we ordered separately, my friends and I just shared them as our orders came out. The “okonomi yaki” were dressed with a sweet and savory sauce and an avocado oil mayonnaise. They were fantastic. I enjoyed the exterior, especially what was brought out by the crispy pork belly. The vegetables were abundant, fresh, and delicious. I would describe the “okonomi yaki” more as a crispy omelette rather than a pancake. The additional topping of shrimp on one and the chewy texture of mochi on another were great.  They were excellent to wash down with beer as well.
Most people that come to Temescal Brewing are here for the local craft beer. I’m not like most people. I am one who definitely needs good food to enjoy a good beer. I am lucky to have had both in one place. Temescal Brewing has a nice selection of homemade brews on tap. Their website currently list nine varieties. I enjoyed one of the lighter beers. Temescal Brewing celebrated their one year anniversary last month. Congratulations and best wishes for many more years to come and many more “okonomi yaki”!

Genji: Grilling up Lunch

I have never been to Japan, but I would imagine that there would be a lot of eateries like Genji Japanese Restaurant that service busy office workers. Apparently, the restaurant recently moved from Downtown Oakland to Uptown Oakland, making it really easy for me to get to Monday through Friday. There are some food items already prepared that you can grab and go, but they also have a menu of items that are made to order.  You can choose to eat at one of their tables or take away.

 On my first visit, I picked up a side of seaweed salad and a side of cucumber wedges from the refrigerator. I brought it up to the friendly cashier and placed an order for an una-q which were five pieces of unagi (eel) sushi roll. It was a light and enjoyable lunch. I would skip the cucumber wedges in the future as it was bland even with the sauce.  

My coworkers got the unagi teriyaki from the grill which equates to two pieces of eel over rice.  All their teriyaki grill plates come with a side of edamame and a slaw. The charbroiled eel was delicate and flavorful and the rice was cooked to perfection.  
On another visit, I ordered the chicken teriyaki. I have been in search of a good chicken teriyaki for a long time and have found it here at Genji. They grill up Mary’s free range chicken and coats it with a delicious teriyaki sauce.  

One of my colleagues splurged and got the Angus rib eye teriyaki. She ordered it medium well. It was cooked through which I normally do not like. I like my beef cooked medium rare. I had a piece of her steak and was shocked how good it was. The flavor of the teriyaki sauce just disguised how cooked it was. She absolutely loved her plate.

My other colleague was looking for a lighter plate so she got shrimp teriyaki. The shrimps were fresh and plump. It is great that Genji has the variety of grill options so you can order what you are in the mood for. Now that I have done my taste test, I would likely alternate between the unagi teriyaki and the chicken teriyaki in the future.

Kiraku: Japanese Tapas in Berkeley

 

My coworker introduced me to Kiraku, a small Japanese tapas restaurant  on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.  She recently had dinner there and was texting me photos as the food was being served.  I was intrigued.  My friend who lives in Palo Alto was happy to make the drive to eat there with me last week.   Here’s what we had in the order that it came out.

I was in love at first site with this beautiful spoonful of uni, ikura, and yuba.  It tasted fresh and had a subtle flavor of the sea.  

 

We had the homemade tofu that was topped with seaweed, bonito flakes, and green onions.  Although the presentation was pretty, it was cold and bland and not what either of us expected.  We should’ve had the agedashi tofu instead.

 

The beef tataki was lightly seared on the outside and thinly sliced.  The beef was very tender and was complimented with a citrus flavored sauce.  It was my absolute favorite plate of the evening.

 The corn tempura is clusters of kernel corn that is battered and deep fried and tossed with green tea salt.  This is a very popular dish.  It was good, but I think I expected a wow.

My friend who is obsessed with foie gras ordered the foie gras with daikon.  I remember my last hurrah with foie gras before the California ban in 2012 and decided to keep those memories as my last.  My friend really enjoyed this dish.  I tasted the sauce and the daikon and thought that was lovely.  

 

The roast duck came out next.  It was perfectly sliced with each piece having crispy skin.  However I thought it was a tad over cooked which made it taste boring.

 

The organic chicken karaage was something my coworker had recommended.  I had no problem ordering it because I love fried chicken.  I liked the coating, but thought it fell a bit flat.  

 

We ended our meal with my favorite sashimi, salmon.  This was the perfect ending being that it was fresh and light.  

 My coworker would probably disagree on the perfect ending because one of her favorite things she had at Kiraku was their homemade grapefruit yogurt ice cream.  Me and my friend opted to drive to Ici instead.  There are a lot more items on the Kiraku menu that I am interested in trying so I’m sure I’ll be back soon. 

DIY: Hawaiian Twist on Chex Mix

This is the second year that I made handmade gifts for the holidays. Previously, I gifted a delicious granola. This year, I decided on a furikake chex mix. Furikake is a bottled Japanese seasoning. I like the one made of roasted seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, and salt. My sister in law has made it for parties. I have even purchased some at Jimbo’s, an ice cream shop in San Jose.

The traditional Chex mix is a savory mix of various snacks, but I love the furikake version which offers a sweet and savory mix of flavors. When you make it yourself, you get to put the snacks you like and avoid those snacks you don’t enjoy as much.

Here’s the list of ingredients needed:

1 box Rice Chex cereal
1 box Corn Chex cereal
1 box Kix cereal
1 bag of pretzel sticks
2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 bottle Furikake
Additional roasted seaweed
3/4 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup vegetable oil
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I started by blending all the snacks I wanted to include and dividing it into two large tin foil pans.
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In a small saucepan, heat butter, corn syrup, soy sauce, and oil over medium heat. Once melted, remove from heat.
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Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
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Pour wet mixture over the snacks and mix well so that coating is evenly distributed.
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Season with furikake and roasted seaweed.
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Bake at 250°F for 1 hour. Mix and turn every 15 minutes.

After an hour, the coating should have hardened. Remove from oven and let cool before putting snacks in airtight containers.
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