Japanese Cuisine in Pasadena

A couple of weeks ago, I took a road trip with one of my closest friends to Southern California to check out the Super Bloom in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. It’s a long drive so we stopped in Los Angeles County to split up the drive both ways. Along with the beautiful wildflowers, there were plenty of cactus and Ocotillo. I even got an opportunity to do some four wheeling from one end of the desert to the other.  If you want to see more desert or dessert photos, follow my Instagram account.


On the return home, we stayed in Pasadena for the night. After a few days of mediocre food in the desert, we were interested in some fresh sushi. With some research, I discovered the recently opened Sushi Enya.  

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so we made our way to Colorado Blvd and were lucky to get seats at the sushi bar. We decided on the omakase dinner which would be a three hour affair and included welcome tea, about twelve pieces of sushi, soup, two appetizers, a hand roll, and homemade dessert.

The meal was very well paced and service was both friendly and impeccable. The waitstaff had eyes like hawks because as soon as you were done with a plate, someone would remove it as quick as lightning. A new cloth napkin would appear if you stepped away. I was getting quite full and made a comment to the sushi chef and he said he would use less rice for my remaining nigiri. I was also impressed to see a female sushi chef, even though she wasn’t ours. I heard women don’t make good sushi chefs because their hands are warmer than mens, which is not good for fresh fish. This was my first encounter with a female sushi chef.  I thought the dinner was excellent. After “slumming it” the past few days, it felt like a worthy occasion.  

Our hotel check out was noon the next day. We both planned to work out in the gym in the morning before check out. We would also have a final meal in Pasadena before the long drive back to the Bay Area. I didn’t really want to work out, but luckily I did. Otherwise, I would never have met San Francisco Giants Catcher Buster Posey! He was pretty cool about taking a photo with me.


After our work out, my friend wanted ramen so I sent a text to another friend, a Pasadena resident for a recommendation. He mentioned a ramen place called Ramen Tatsunoya. It’s special because this is the only Ramen Tatsunoya outside Japan. I was sold. I ordered the favorite Koku Tonkotsu which has rich broth with pork back fat, spicy miso, garlic, and burned onion oil. I added a flavored egg. This bowl was pure comfort. The ramen noodles are a bit thinner than I’m used to, but I thought the consistency lightened it up. This must be how they make ramen in Japan. It tasted different, but felt legit.


We made great choices in Pasadena, Japanese cuisine and hitting the gym!

Thirty Minute Omakase: New York City

Before going on a trip, I usually do a lot of research and draft a list of eateries I want to try and then I make a few reservations. This was not the case on my trip to the East Coast last week. The main reason I was traveling was to March on Washington. I was going to spend a few days in New York and decided to mostly wing it. I did remember being intrigued a few months back by a food photo on Instagram taken in New York City. It was a picture of uni from Sushi on Jones and was taken from @infatuation_nyc.  I took a red eye flight from Oakland International Airport to John F Kennedy Airport. I was lucky to check into my hotel early in the morning and took a nap. Around 1:30pm, I decided to walk around and get some lunch. I was staying in Midtown and Sushi on Jones was about two miles away in the East Village. I was going to wing it and made my way downtown on foot.  

The concept for Sushi on Jones is thirty minute omakase. I arrived at Sushi on Jones about 2:30pm. I spoke through a small window like I was talking to a gas attendant. I was asked if I wanted to be seated for omakase. I said yes and was told to give him a few minutes. A couple minutes later, two people come out of a clear plastic door. I walked in and entered into the outdoor sushi bar with four chairs, two of which were empty. I took a seat. I also removed my coat since there were heat lamps above me. It was quite cozy so I said hello to my neighbors.
I was embarrassed, but had the courage to let the sushi chef know that I did not want any wasabi. One at a time, I was given a beautiful piece of sushi. I was quick to take a photo, dip the sushi in some soy sauce, and eat. In a matter of seconds, the next piece was in front of me. I would repeat my actions. After about four pieces, I forgot to take photos and just dipped and ate.  
I get mad at myself when I forget to take photos. I am not sure what happened. It may have been when the customers next to me transitioned. When I noticed, of course, I restarted the photography. Apparently there were twelve pieces total. You could order any of the pieces a la carte. I added the uni/wagyu hand roll on the menu.  
In general, the quality of the sushi was great at Sushi on Jones. It was all very fresh and melted in my mouth. Although I did not time myself, I did not feel rushed and was probably done within thirty minutes. I could probably have eaten a lot more sushi as well, but I was already spending a lot for lunch. If you want quality sushi and want it quick, Sushi on Jones does the trick. To make a same day reservation, text (917) 270-1815. The concept has been such a success that I heard they are installing their second sushi bar in Midtown soon. I think the idea of thirty minute omakase would do very well in the Bay Area.

Sushi in San Diego

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I was in San Diego last week and realized that it has been twenty years since I moved down there for graduate school. How time flies and how things have changed. Twenty years ago I didn’t eat sushi. Back then, I even had a part-time job as a waitress at a restaurant called Sushi-Ya. As an employee, I had the benefit of half-off, but used it for teriyaki, not sushi. I wish I could use that benefit today, because I eat a lot of sushi now.

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My friend recommended Sushi Ota, so I made reservations for two at the sushi bar. With good sushi places, my friend and I have been experiencing omakase meals. We were a little disappointed in the omakase, but we were served some amazing sushi worth talking about.

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We had a global trio of sashimi. The uni is local from San Diego, the amberjack came from Japan, and the toro came from Spain. The uni was so sweet and fresh and beautifully set on a half shell. I have never seen such oily looking toro which put a smile on my face. The generous portion was mouth watering.

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We were served quite a few nigiri. I can’t ever recall having salmon belly nigiri, definitely not one that looked long and skinny like this. I had higher expectations for this interesting looking nigiri.

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The golden eye snapper nigiri was lightly seared with sea salt and citrus. I enjoyed this one a lot.

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My friend thought it was awkward that we were given toro and uni nigiri when we had it as sashimi in the beginning. I didn’t mind at all because they ended up being my favorites of the evening and I believe they are the most expensive.

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Another beautiful nigiri was the tuna. I’m not normally a fan of red tuna, but this one had been marinated in soy and served with a Japanese pepper.

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The omakase included a lot more than I am showing above, but I don’t recommend going to Sushi Ota for the omakase. I would order a la carte in the future.

I had seen some unagi being served so decided to order an additional unagi hand roll. Everything about the hand roll was perfectly delicious including the freshly roasted seaweed. This is one of the best I have had.

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For those who live or frequent San Diego and enjoy Sushi, add Sushi Ota to your repertoire. You will get high quality fresh fish. And ask for Kaz as in Be”cause”. He was a friendly guy and a great sushi chef.

Copper River Salmon: Sushi Sam’s

My friends have been telling me about Sushi Sam’s Edomata in San Mateo for a few years. I like fresh sushi and will even drive to Rohnert Park (Hana) to get it. What finally sold me to go to Sam’s was Copper River Salmon. This is a seasonal salmon and it wasn’t going to be offered too much longer. Copper River Salmon is from Alaska and are strong fish with a healthy store of natural oils and body fat which make the salmon taste so good.

A group of four of us decided to have a very early dinner last Saturday. We took the five o’clock reservation for a couple of reasons. 1) A later reservation doesn’t mean you don’t have to wait. 2) Fish runs out.

We arrived at about 5:15pm and the restaurant was already getting full. We decided to order the eight piece omakase sushi. Two different pieces of fish came out at once.

Amber Jack and Seared sea bass

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Horse mackerel and Copper river salmon

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Red snapper and Baby lobster

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Seared fatty tuna and Barracuda

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I actually enjoyed them all and took the liberty to rate them. Here’s how they fared:

8. Barracuda
7. Red snapper
6. Horse mackerel
5. Amber jack
4. Seared sea bass
3. Baby lobster
2. Copper river salmon
1. Seared fatty tuna

After eating our eight pieces, we ordered even more items including a “do over” of my top two. With only two more weeks left for Copper River Salmon (now at time of writing only one week), I had to have another piece of this. Fatty tuna or Toro is probably my ultimate favorite fish, so this time I would see how I would like it without the sear. Surprising, the seared version was slightly better. I think searing it really brought out the flavors and oil of the fish.

We ate a lot more, but I won’t go into all the details. All in all, I think Sam’s has really good fresh fish. I definitely have no desire to wait for a table. I think by 5:45pm, the restaurant was full and the long waits began. I also think Sam’s is extremely noisy and chaotic leaving it a little difficult to really enjoy the fresh and delicious food.

Kiss Seafood: A Hidden Gem

I probably shouldn’t have started Weight Watchers a week and a half before my birthday. At the same time for someone like me that enjoys eating so much, there probably isn’t a right time. I made the decision to go ahead and start.

What I like about Weight Watchers is that you don’t necessarily have to give up foods, it’s about moderation. In celebration of my birthday, two of my friends took me out to Kiss Seafood in San Francisco. Japanese food seemed like a healthier choice.

Kiss Seafood located between Japantown and Pacific Heights is a mom and pop shop that seats about a dozen people. I’m not kidding when I say mom and pop. The husband is the sushi chef while the wife waits tables. Kiss is a restaurant known for their Omakase meals and I have been getting my fix of Omakase lately.

We started with a free appetizer made of white radish, clear noodles, and tiny sardines. It was pretty adventurous to say the least. It was fairly tasty having been marinated in some kind of sweet soy and was easy to wash down with Asahi beer.
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Our first plate was a trio of salads. It came with Japanese eggplant, octopus, and a persimmon salad. I loved the octopus. It was tender yet smokey.

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Our second plate was full of beautifully cut sashimi. From left to right, we had baby striped bass, toro, king mackerel, amberjack, giant clam, and Thai snapper. It was fresh and all were very good. I can reflect on a time many years ago that I worked at a sushi restaurant and disliked sushi.

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Our third plate were deep fried lotus root and turnip with fish meat in a broth with a clam placed on top. This plate showed a lot of creativity and textures.

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Next came number four which is a favorite of mine, chawanmushi. It was not that long ago that I had my first chawanmushi at Coach Sushi. This steamed egg was perfectly silky. It had scallops and mushrooms in it.

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The fifth plate was five pieces of nigiri. From left to right, we had halibut, sockeye salmon, spanish mackerel, yellowtail, and marinated tuna. I was so focused on making sure I got the names down that I forgot my photo. The photo below is a bad photo of a customer having the same dish as us. The other photo is my plate after I was done with it, after all I am on Weight Watchers.

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The sixth dish was mushroom soup. The warm earthy flavors were very comforting on this rainy evening.

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It’s common for Asian restaurants to leave you with some type of fruit to end with. We received a piece of melon. It was nice and sweet.

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Kiss Seafood is a hidden gem and really worth finding. And if you happen to be on Weight Watchers, a meal at Kiss works pretty well.

Jin Sho: Ode to Steve Jobs

Today is officially Steve Jobs Day in California, but I celebrated yesterday. I picked up my sleek new 16GB white iPhone 4S and I dined at Steve Jobs favorite restaurant in Palo Alto, Jin Sho.

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I spent several hours with my friends at the Stanford Shopping Center including a few hours at the Apple Store. By the time we were ready to leave the mall, I was starved. Where should we have dinner? My friend who lives in Palo Alto presented a few ideas including, Jin Sho. It seemed like the perfect idea that we eat at Jin Sho. When my friend called the restaurant, the host seemed pretty adamant that they couldn’t accommodate us. Our second choice was a Cuban restaurant. We parked and were heading toward the Cuban restaurant when we passed Jin Sho. My friend who doesn’t like no for an answer decided to walk over to Jin Sho and ask again. I don’t know what she did or said but we were “in”. When our waiter found out we didn’t have a reservation, he was very surprised. He said they turn a lot of people away. We were very lucky or it was meant to be or both.

Jin Sho opened in 2007 by two former Nobu Executive Chefs Noriomi Kaneko and Ichiro Takahashi. The menu was quite large and my foodie friends and I decided to order a large variety and share. We ordered one large omakase meal, one prix-fix meal, a sushi dinner special, a couple of additional appetizers, and extra nigiri.

The appetizers we ordered were the corn tempura and the agadashi tofu. Both were excellent.

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The prix-fix dinner comes with miso soup and allows you to select from a list of appetizers, entree, and sushi roll. We ordered the yellowtail with jalapeño, the lamb chop, and the spider roll.

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The large omakase came with 3 dishes from the sushi chef, 2 dishes from the kitchen and 1 dessert. The sushi chef prepared a tuna tartar with caviar and a mountain berry, yellowtail with an onion dressing, and halibut with a hot oil. I could taste the wasabe in the tuna tartar so I was not a fan. My friends loved it though. I really liked the other two fish dishes, but the yellowtail probably edged over the halibut especially with the yummy onion dressing.

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The kitchen prepared dishes on the omakase menu were rock shrimp tempura with spicy mayo and black cod with fish liver. Although the tempura looked and has a similar concept to honey walnut prawns, it doesn’t taste like it at all. Still good, it has the flavor of the sauce used in a spicy tuna roll. The black cod was awesome. Claiming to be marinated in miso for 3 days, it is light, full of flavor, and delicious. We had to have some extra bowls of rice to enjoy every speck of sauce.

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The variety of sushi came out next. My top picks are the baby yellowtail, the ocean front, and the toro.

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We did find out from our waiter that Steve Jobs liked to order udon and his sushi choice was saba or mackerel. In Steve’s honor, we were going to try the saba as well. Definitely not my choice in fish, but to show appreciation to Mr. Jobs, I was happy to eat it with a smile on my face.

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I was too full for dessert, but that wasn’t going to stop my friends. They ordered the chocolate dome and the blood orange mascapone mousse. I tasted both and they were pretty good. I was impressed that this Japanese restaurant had such non-Asian desserts that were quite good.

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This is definitely a restaurant I would return to when in the area. We may have slightly over ordered this time, but it was the first time and now I know what I like. And since Jin Sho is good enough for the Honorable Steve Jobs, it’s good enough for me. Happy Steve Jobs Day!

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Seattle’s Best and I’m Not Talking Coffee Part I

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Last week a friend of mine and I took a four day trip to Seattle, Washington. They say August and September are the best months to visit. We had planned to see some Dale Chihuly art, watch a Mariners game, and eat, of course!

Eat is what we did and we did it well. Seattle is known to have fresh seafood so we thought we would give sushi a try. Our first night out, thanks to yelp, we found Nishino. With 4.5 stars and about 250 reviews, it seemed worth a shot. Many yelpers were suggesting the omakase. Omakase means “I’ll leave it to you” in Japanese. At a sushi restaurant, you are giving the Chef the authority to serve you whatever he chooses. I have never ordered omakase and thought there was no better time like the present.

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Course 1
The first plate had three pieces of fish beautifully presented. From left to right we had smelt nanban, uni on top of egg tofu, and hamachi with jalapeño, ginger salsa and a fried garlic chip. I could tell this was a great start to an amazing meal. I am not a fan of uni, but this one was awesome. The combination of the fresh uni on the soft egg tofu was sweet and just melted in my mouth.

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Course 2
Amaebi ceviche with avocado, oranges, red onion, and jalapeño. The ceviche is topped with a shrimp head that is deep fried. I put the shrimp head aside and ate the ceviche. I was feeling adventurous so I ended eating the fried shrimp head minus the eyes. It was crispy and good.
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Course 3
Albacore tuna with an onion soy dressing on a bed of greens and lotus root chips. This was the only fish that Mori, our sushi chef said was from Seattle so I was looking forward to it. This was most delicious and next to the uni tofu was a winner.
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Course 4
Steamed Manila clams with enoki mushrooms and seaweed in a dashi broth. This dish puts your typical miso soup to shame.
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Course 5
Fried oysters and tempura French green beans. This may have been my least favorite dish although I enjoyed the variety.
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Course 6
Curry dusted pan seared halibut cheeks with cilantro aioli. I was amazed by the size of the cheeks. The cheeks on a fish are the sweetest and most tender part of a fish. I was beginning to get quite full, but still enjoyed the flavors of this dish.
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Course 7
Tuna, salmon, and scallop nigiri and tuna, white fish, and hamachi roll. We were on the home stretch now. There was no way I was going to eat the rice from the nigiri. I pulled the sashimi off and ate the tuna, salmon, and scallop. Salmon sashimi is my favorite, but I was a bit disappointed with this one. I’ve had better.
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Course 8
Mango, red bean, and raspberry white chocolate mochi ice cream with assorted fruits.
Although I was really full now, this beautiful dessert plate was put in front of us. I forced myself to eat the first bite of mochi, but I had no problem devouring my share.

This was one of my most amazing meals ever. Definitely my best Japanese meal. I loved the variety, the beauty, and the creativity of the omakase. For $60, it was a steal. I thought to myself, I could fly here to have dinner for about the same price as French Laundry! Well, that would be a little lavish, I guess it will have to be another trip to Seattle including a meal at Nishino.