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
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f62/15922455/files/2015/01/img_1463.jpg
I started by blending all the snacks I wanted to include and dividing it into two large tin foil pans.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f62/15922455/files/2015/01/img_1458.jpg
In a small saucepan, heat butter, corn syrup, soy sauce, and oil over medium heat. Once melted, remove from heat.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f62/15922455/files/2015/01/img_1461.jpg
Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f62/15922455/files/2015/01/img_1457-0.jpg
Pour wet mixture over the snacks and mix well so that coating is evenly distributed.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f62/15922455/files/2015/01/img_1459.jpg
Season with furikake and roasted seaweed.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f62/15922455/files/2015/01/img_1460.jpg
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.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f62/15922455/files/2015/01/img_1462.jpg

Japanese Pop Up: Abura Ya

Garden House is a casual lunch spot serving salads and sandwiches open on weekdays for the business crowd. Located on 14th Street between Franklin and Webster Streets in Oakland, Garden House is pretty close to my work. I have often walked by, but have never stopped in to try it. The restaurant is long and narrow and not very interesting. It’s actually quite easy to just walk by without stopping. The idea of opening up a pop-up restaurant when Garden House is closed is pretty genius, especially as more businesses have opened and improved the area. Abura-Ya opens Wednesdays-Saturdays nights and specializes in Japanese fried chicken.

My friends and I went to the Abura-Ya last night. After walking in, I shortly discovered how it works. You order at the counter, pay cash, and find a seat. It took some time to review the menu so it was good that there were two parties ahead of us so we had time to decide on what to order.

The fried chicken is marinated in shiso-koji and pepper and then battered with corn starch. You have a choice of eight different flavors, three wet and five dry. We chose two of the dry seasonings, Shanso and Japanese Miso. I enjoyed the fried chicken, but wish I could try the other six flavors to make an informed decision.
IMG_7521.JPG
The deviled avocado was half an avocado stuffed with egg salad and drizzled with a sweet teriyaki sauce. The avocado was perfectly ripe giving the entire dish a silky smooth texture that was delicious.
IMG_7523.JPG
We ordered the Japanese chicken curry dish as well. It came with curry sauce over more fried chicken and rice. It seemed a bit repetitive for me since we already had the eight pieces of fried chicken. One of my friends loves curry so she preferred this dish over the other seasoned fried chicken.
IMG_7519.JPG
I was intrigued by the beef stew as I never had a Japanese version of this dish. The soy braised beef came with potatoes and onions and was served over rice. It looked and tasted similar to other Chinese beef stews I have had. I liked it, but there was a disproportion of sauce to rice. A little too much sauce was poured out. If I had another large scoop of rice, this would have been much better.
IMG_7518-0.JPG
The albacore tataki salad special was essentially pieces of seared tuna over a bed of greens. The tuna was nice, but I didn’t really like the salad. By the time I had the salad on the bottom, the flavor of the tuna leaked onto the greens tasting somewhat fishy.
IMG_7525.JPG
I mostly enjoyed the food and atmosphere of Abura-Ya, but I loved the concept of the Pop Up. Eating from paper trays and compostable utensils was fun and made things pretty easy to clean up as well.

Takashi: A Chicago Find

I had never heard of Chef Takashi before my recent trip to Chicago. My friend and I were looking for places to eat in Chicago and first found “Slurping Turtle,” a restaurant of Takashi’s, which specializes in noodles. The menu didn’t “wow” us, but then we found the restaurant of his namesake. That was enough for me to make an Open Table reservation for this Japanese and French inspired restaurant.
20130901-230246.jpg
My friend and I arrived to find a really cute, upscale restaurant. As we reviewed the menu, we decided on sharing two appetizers and two entrees. The appetizers of our choice were the corn chowder and the soy ginger caramel pork belly. The soup came out first and was enjoyable with a nice, sweet flavor and was comforting to the palette.
20130901-230323.jpg
The pork belly arrived with a pickled daikon salad and steamed buns that were meant to create open faced sandwiches. The pork belly was incredibly good, cooked with a sweet flavor of hoisin sauce that melted in my mouth. Oh, I wanted more.
20130901-230406.jpg
One of our entrees was the sautéed west coast sea bass. The fish came with a ratatouille on a bed of white beans. The fish was cooked very delicately with a crispy skin.
20130901-230503.jpg
Our other entree was the seared loin of veal. We got three pieces of veal each prepared on top of something different. We had a gratin of onion and zucchini couscous, asparagus, and bacon preserved lemon-caper brown butter. I haven’t had veal in a long time, but this was likely the best preparation I have had.
20130901-230435.jpg
My friend and I were quite full and ended up foregoing dessert. To be honest, we thought the choices were unattractive and slim. It was okay, because we enjoyed everything we ate.

As we were leaving, I saw copies of Chef Takashi’s cookbook, “Noodles”. As I flipped through it, I found that his recipe for the pork belly was in it. I asked the host if they had any autographed copies. The host responded that the Chef was there and could sign it. I ended up being able to meet him and have a photo with him. He was extremely nice and gracious. I am now a huge fan.
20130901-230529.jpg