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dinner/ Japanese/ San Francisco

Noodle in a Haystack: Creating Bowls of Ramen Delight

Inspiration can come from a number of sources and this pair of foodies is one of mine. Clint and Yoko, husband and wife, host Feastly meals highlighting their love for Japanese cuisine, more specifically ramen. Their goal is simple but challenging – to bring reliably good ramen to SF.

If anyone has lived in SF and is fairly obsessed with ramen, you’ll find our situation distressing; we have a plethora of Japanese restaurants/izakayas/ramen joints that have one or a combination of these traits:

  1. Expensive
  2. Long extended waits
  3. Just not “good” e.g. flavorful, extremely salty, dry meat, etc.
  4. Don’t make their eggs right (this makes me particularly angry)

How is it that in a city where there is over 30% Asians, this is this our reality?

Just moving back from Japan, Clint and Yoko missed ramen where finding a delicious bowl and access were never an issue. Unlike most of us, they did something about it. They made their own, and it’s awfully delicious.

They honor the traditional with the use specific Japanese ingredients and spices, often requiring them to scour SF markets for these items. In addition, being in the Bay Area, they take advantage of what’s around to make their interpretation of optimal delicious ramen. Sous vide meat? Yes. Incorporate Meyer lemon to lightly bring out citrus/sweetness to offset the fat in the broth? Oh yes.

Needless to say, every detail is carefully thought through – flavor, texture, presentation – with what reminds them of their experiences in Japan to their daily inspirations living in the Bay. They don’t hold back either e.g. their chicken skins may take up to two-three hours to make, their broth requires a multi-step process to gather umami flavors. The best part of this is, we get to enjoy what they passionately create for each bowl and dish. #winning.

Here are a few photos to help bring to life their welcoming and satiating meals.

Chicken-skin with ikura “deviled egg”

Mazemen

Shio ramen

Okinawa sugar panna cotta with kinako graham crackers

Show your support, and check out a meal with them. They host their dinners via Feastly in the Mission and Daly City. Relish in each bowl you eat, and guarantee you will leave wanting more on any given day.

dinner/ Japanese/ San Francisco

Ju-Ni: Serving Symphonies of Sushi

I’ve found one of my “ones”, and cannot wait to tell you about it.

Before going into the restaurant itself, I’d like to clarify what it takes to be a “one”. It’s not just about the food. The institution needs to be more than that: the environment – space, decor, lighting, plating – all play a role in establishing a harmonious experience; the sequencing of the meal itself; interactions and explanations from the chef and/or waitstaff weave in and out of conversation. Without sounding too out-of-the-world here, it’s about the orchestration of it all.

Ju-Ni is sushi restaurant and located in San Francisco (frankly, way more accessible to me than some other places in the area). It’s not the cheapest meal, starting at $95 for 12 piece nigiri omakase, and with a $35 three-piece supplement you are getting at $130 out of your pocket. Logistically, it’s gotten much more difficult to get reservations over the past few months with only 14 seats and two seatings per night – 6:00pm and 8:30pm.

Still totally worth it.

The traditional sushi dining experience is challenged at Ju-Ni, and updated to suit a new generation of sushi chefs in the Bay Area. The dialogue that happens between you and their staff is welcomed and encouraged, going against the notion of placing a sushi chef onto a pedestal and marveling him from afar (think Jiro from “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“). Chefs, including the owner, don’t need to be Japanese as it has no bearing at all to the quality of food they are able to produce.

They still stick to purist ideals for the way nigiri is served. Each wooden board in front of you is carefully wiped after each piece to ensure you’re able to isolate flavors between each taste. Fish and ingredients are carefully picked, and prepared in a way that is mindful of flavor and texture at the same time.

Without giving too much away, enjoy the photos of some pieces that have been my favorites in the times I’ve dined there (the menu does vary based on what’s in season, etc.)

Mackerel (Aji) with Ginger and Scallion

Soy-cured Tuna

Shima Aji

Bluefin Tuna (Sustainable)

Ikura with Ankimo Snow

Kaisui Uni

So make that reservation – wait a few weeks – and get ready to meet one of my “ones”. If you go, enjoy their delectable symphony and tell me about it.

Ju-Ni
1335 Fulton St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Reservations

dinner/ Japanese/ travels

Yakiniku Champion (焼肉チャンピオン): Premium Meats, Japanese Eats!

I’m starting off this new year with a post about a meal in 2015 because, well frankly, it was really delicious. It was one of my more memorable meals during my Asia trip; to no one’s surprise the meal was in Japan where the “average” restaurant would probably kill it in SF or NYC in terms of how it tastes (or at least presented!)

Shortly getting off my flight, my cousins who live in Taiwan enthusiastically laid out a number of options…

Cousin: “What do you want to eat?”
Me: “I don’t know…what is there to eat?”
Cousin: “Oh, well there’s ramen/udon/soba, sushi, tonkatsu, yakitori, shabu shabu…<trails off>”
Me: “Om-gee, I LOVE Japan.”

I decided on meat, and was quickly taken into a brightly-lit mall and headed to the 14th floor where we got seated immediately. After checking out their menu (and trusting my cousin to order), we were brought a series of appetizers to whet the appetite.

A series of pickled vegetables also came with as well, to help with adding some variety against the myriad of fatty meats (it helped me feel less guilty too).

And now…onto the MEATS!

Beef tongue, which was actually quite tasty; lean and flavorful, super easy to consume quickly.

Want to pour a raw egg over premium Wagyu beef? YES PLEASE. It was as delicious as it looked – not only was the meat perfectly fatty, where it melted in your mouth, but the egg helped with melding the flavors of the meat to sauce together. This is the stuff that dreams are made of, people!

On the grill, we also ordered tripe and…something else (more innards?) Deliciousness ensued.

We ended up a choice of noodles or rice, and I chose noodles – it was a nice end to a meal full of grilled meats – mostly since the broth was slightly tart.

Japan has a plethora of delicious restaurants given what they produce there is incredible. I won’t be inundating this blog with the other meals in Asia, though this was a great way to round out the year in 2015. Now into 2016, looking forward to more great meals!

焼肉チャンピオン (池袋東武店)
東京都豊島区西池袋1-1-25
東武百貨店池袋店
レストラン街スパイス14F
http://www.yakiniku-champion.com/

dinner/ Japanese/ Seafood/ Uncategorized

Kusakabe: A Deliciously Harmonious Omakase

I want to be a regular. This may be aspirational, since it seems as though everyone also feels the same way. With one Michelin star under the belt, Kusakabe seems to churn out fans – not only with its high-quality fish but its natural and comforting service. Nothing seems to be out of place, and all is harmonious with the extra focus on what’s most important – the fish.

There is only one menu – the omakase (chef’s menu) – where eight central courses are all centered around fish, and several sushi pieces sewn throughout the meal.

Sushi Prelude

The first piece was a great opener and set the tone for the rest of the meal. The Zuke Chutoro – a lightly seared bluefin medium fatty tuna cured in soy sauce – was awfully delicious. The tuna was flavorful; the saltiness from the soy with tuna melded harmoniously and ended with a faint char at the end. Chef Ken mentioned this was their signature piece, and I can totally understand why.

Unlike its previous counterpart, the hirame (fluke) served with shiso was light and refreshing. Nice way to follow the zuke chutoro.

The katsuo (skipjack tuna) followed suit. Served with some green onion, it was delicious as it encapsulated umami flavor.

Sashimi

Tuna and hotate (scallop) sashimi served on top of shaved ice with fresh wasabi and yuzu onion sauce. Each piece was definitely very fresh. Surprisingly I also enjoyed eating the radish as it provided a complementary refreshing taste and crispy texture against the fish.

Soup

The Ushio-jiru (seafood soup) was made from Japanese tai snapper, and had somen noodles with fresh yuba. At first I wasn’t expecting much, but after the first slurp I was under a food trance. All I could keep doing was slurp to much of my pleasure. The soup had depth, with meshing umami and citrus flavors, and lightened with dashes of cilantro.

Hassun

The beautiful plate of the chef’s petit fours and a Shiguko oyster served with French Daurenki caviar well represents what’s in season. What I got was, not surprisingly, all very tasty – some examples include a shrimp with a dusting of freeze-dried egg yolk or a crab claw with a puffed rice cracker.

Warm Dish

The Sansho Teriyaki Monkfish and its liver with “Soba” buckwheat and Nameko mushroom risotto was finely cooked. There wasn’t much risotto and I would say, mainly focused on the monkfish. Nothing wrong with that in my book!

Sushi Chic

The shima aji (striped jack) was nice, with some good fattiness to it.

Kamasu (Japanese Barracuda) was so delicious too. It was lightly torched which brought out the light char flavor but went so well with the fish itself.

I easily gulped down the buri (yellowtail) – it was very fresh and had some good fattiness to it. Yum.

Sushi Finale

The omakase officially ends with your choice of toro or wagyu beef sushi, which I chose the former. You can never go wrong with toro (fatty tuna). After all, it’s meant to melt in your mouth and that it did.

Obviously I couldn’t stop there so I ordered two more pieces to see what was on the a la carte menu.

I decided to pick a piece where it required a bit of preparation versus being a fresh piece of fish, so this was the Ji Kinmedai (Golden Eye Snapper) that has been lightly smoked with cherry wood. It was delicious, though I think I tasted more of the smoke from the char than the cherry wood.

Last, but certainly one of the more memorable pieces of sushi to me, was the Gyoku. It was made from fresh lobster and organic eggs. Essentially it was a fluffy egg cake, and provided a perfect sweet savory ending to the meal.

I found my entire meal to be nicely paced. Chef Ken was incredible and knowledgeable about his craft and fish. Nothing there felt pretentious and just a restaurant that aims to serve delicious sushi and dishes. Good thing I’ve already made my next reservation.

Kusakabe
584 Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 757-0155
kusakabe-sf.com
Opentable

dinner/ drinks/ Japanese/ nyc

SakaMai: Satisfies the Late Night Craving

In a city with a plethora of late night eat options, I would say it is not always that easy to find the greasy Japanese food that hits the spot.

SakaMai in the LES has a few dishes that personally address my need after having a few drinks – hearty and saucy dishes – meant to coat the stomach from the pains of consuming too much.

Their eighteen spice curry was a draw just based on knowing that this dish is heavily spiced, which read to me as flavorful. The meat was tender, and there was a good amount of rice to offset the intense curry. All the components of the dish raised thumbs up in my book. After all, there’s nothing like some curry to warm the tummy up and spell comfort right?

It was hard to ignore this item on the menu – their uni and bone marrow mazemen. There were two fatty elements going on in this dish and managed to work together nicely. The bone marrow coated the noodles so the fatty texture was distributed throughout the noodles; the uni gave it a smooth umami ending flavor; lastly, the noodles were nicely cooked to an al dente texture. My recommendation is to share this dish with some others so that everyone can have a bite, at least.

If you’re ever in the LES area, I’d say SakaMai is worth checking out to satiate that last night craving. Don’t worry if you haven’t had enough to drink. They have an extensive sake and drinks menu as well. Either way, most likely your friends who are as drunk as you will thank you for bringing them here.

SakaMai
157 Ludlow Street (near Stanton St.)
New York, NY 10002
(646) 590-0684

dinner/ Japanese/ nyc

Takashi: Late Night “Secret” Ramen Soothes the Soul

As noted in NY Mag’s article on late night ramen joints, Yakiniku Takashi has joined the list of Japanese restaurants that provide a different menu into the wee hours of the night. The seating is only available on Fridays and Saturdays on a reservation basis only. You can email them (ramen@takashinyc.com) to ensure a spot for maximum of 4 people. It wasn’t too difficult to score seats (surprisingly). After enduring several hours of hunger pains, I arrived at Yakiniku Takashi hungry and ready to pounce on my ramen.

They only have one type – the beef broth based ramen served with scallions, seaweed, beef belly and beef intestine (spicy or not). The glean on top is the oil, and that’s when you know you’re about to taste something hearty. The thin noodles were cooked just right, al dente, and soaked in the velvety broth. Other ingredients and seasonings made the broth come alive: The crispy beef intestine provided additional texture with each bite. Scallions helped cut the fattiness of the ramen while the seaweed provided the extra layer of umami flavor amongst the pork belly and beef.

All in all, I would go back especially considering this tough cold winter. How many below freezing nights and snow storms can we really endure? It definitely warms the body full of fatty flavorful goodness, and assures you that you’ll get through the winter just fine.

Yakiniku Takashi
456 Hudson Street (near Barrow St.)
New York NY 10014
(212) 414-2929

 

 

dinner/ Japanese/ nyc

Sushi Nakazawa: Looking Beyond His Tutelage

Chef Nakazawa, apprentice of the famous Jiro from “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“, has touched down to New York’s West Village and opened up a sushi restaurant. You have the freshest fish being served here alongside a fine sake selection. The decor inside is simple and elegant.

In my opinion, the biggest differentiator within high-end sushi omakases comes down to how each chef decides to prepare the fish – not just raw with rice, but use of various approaches like torching, marination or aging with the fish itself. Sushi Nakazawa definitely has  interesting ways of seafood preparation in additon to housing the famous tamago (egg omelet) that required Jiro’s stamp of approval, so come and seek it out (yes it has a $150 price tag).

Unforunately I can’t identify all the fish here, but as you can tell there are a number of different delicious pieces.

More and more fish!

This series of sushi pieces resonated with me because they had an interesting texture or were just very fresh.

Uni. Enough said.

Tuna hand roll – delicious and easy to eat, despite being at the tail end of the omakase.

The famous tamago that takes months to perfect. It was almost cake-like and sweet, a good way to end the meal as almost like a dessert.

It’s an expensive meal but a very good one. I would happily go again, and eat some more well prepared and thought out sushi. Something is said to having a great meal where everything is tasty, simple and well-balanced, just the way the Japanese do it.

Sushi Nakazawa
23 Commerce St
New York, 10014
Phone:(212) 924-2212

dinner/ Japanese/ Molecular Gastronomy/ nyc

Yuji Ramen: Memorable Experimental Ramen

Over the past few months I’ve read a lot about Yuji ramen and its omakase offering with only 6 seats at the Whole Foods Bowery counter. I did my best to get tickets; I signed up for their friends and family listserve, clicked numerous times on Kitchin for tickets as servers were crashing and managed to score the entire bar for me and my friends. SUCCESS!

Yuji Haraguhi stresses that his seafood, which is incorporated in each course, is all sourced locally with the help of Whole Foods, and tries to reuse ingredient leftovers as much as possible. His three mazemens, a ramen with no broth, are normally served at Whole Foods so you can get them whenever you like (oh yes, I’ve been back a few times already). His omakase is comprised of seven courses for $71, each course incorporate a form of noodle and toppings. For me, what made the dining experience was hearing Yuji explain how he put dishes together, his inspirations that stemmed from investigation and novel takes on food.

Now, onto the delicious food!

We started off with pickled vegetables – califlower, radish, cucumbers, etc. Good way to start the omakase.

The next dish had several components: conch that was confit in ramen fat, pureed roasted corn, caramelized onions, toasted soba malligaliati ramen, shungiku and basil flower. It was a delicate balance of flavors, slightly sweet and savory at the same time.

Squid was the “noodle” in this dish, served with summer melon, yuzu kosho puree, torched pickled lemon cucmber, togarashi, yuzu and fish sauce. Again all the flavors were balanced and the squid was well cooked.

Their salmon and cheese mazemen – house cured salmon, camembert cream cheese, lemon zest, salmon skin, nori and shiso. It was one of my most famous dishes of the night. The salmon and cheese work so well together, just enough creaminess, “al dente” bite and umami flavor.

This dish was comprised of two parts – fluke tartar with okra, shiso, scallion, miso, ginger, quail egg yolk and a ramen cracker. It was definitely a nice Asian seafood take on the tartar concept.

This chilled mazemen highlighted the soft-shell crab from Maryland, with  crab chips and calendula flower. It was a delectable bite with a good contrasting texture of the chips with the soft noodles.

Pictured on top was the clam broth in gelee form. Within the gelee was ponzu, grated kirby cucumber, stone crop, radish, smoked bacon, borage flower that was later served with hot noodles and melted the gelee into broth (pictured below).

Another famous dish involves using a fresh press. Yuji explained around how ramen broth is essentially a conversion of water, just like coffee. By using a coffee press, you can release flavors into water while straining small particles. He first torched leftover mussel shells and then placed them in broth within a french press so that you can press down and release all the mussel and seafood flavor.

The ramen noodle with mussel broth combined with grey tilefish, scale powder, scallion, nori and mussel meat. Delicious and had umami flavor yet was very light.

Soba Tofu Panna Cotta was a perfect way of ending the meal. The panna cotta was served with wild blueberries,  husk cherries and toasted soba. I loved how the texture of the silky panna cotta was juxtaposed with the crunch of the toasted soba. The fruit gave it a gentle touch of sweet and refreshing flavors.

I would highly recommend going to Yuji Ramen, whether it be for their omakase or their regular menu. Their menu and omakase is affordable and absolutely delicious. I plan on going again in the future since they have a very seasonal menu so if anyone ever wants to go again, let me know!

Yuji Ramen @ Whole Foods Bowery
95 East Houston Street, New York, NY 10002
646-262-1358
facebook.com/YujiRamen

dinner/ Japanese/ nyc

Fukurou: A Japanese Izakaya in the Village

Newly opened in Greenwich Village / NoHo comes an izakaya from Japan – Fukurou. I was curious to try out this izakaya as a foodie craving for more of Japanese food in this area. Known for unique dishes like Avocado Tofu or Miso Marinated Cream Cheese, I managed to convince a friend to come with me and try this restaurant out.

The beauty of izakayas is the fact that all the dishes are small and easy to share which means MORE TO TRY! Pictured above is the grilled black pork rib with shio-kuji and scallion. Even though the pork was slightly fatty, the shio and scallion helped cut that intense flavor and made it more balanced.

This was their duck soba served with scallions. It was a nice bowl of soba, though generally a bit too much scallion for me.

The simmered yellowtail daikon radish which was delicious. I personally loved how soft yet firm daikon radish can get when you stew it for a while, so I really enjoyed this dish in particular.

Grilled yellowtail head is always an enjoyable dish for me. A very traditional izakaya dish; it had a good balance of meat to fattiness as well.

Lastly for dessert we ordered the green tea tiramisu, which was essentially a Japanese honey cake with matcha powder on marscapone cheese and red bean paste on the side. I really enjoyed this actually since it was like a deconstructed version of tiramisu but with traditional Asian flavors.

All in all, Fukurou is a casual Japanese izakaya that allows you to enjoy the sake with an interesting number of enjoyable small dishes.

Fukurou
87 MacDougal St.
New York, NY 10012
(212) 388-0013

Japanese/ lunch/ nyc/ Seafood

15 East: Treating Myself to High-End Sushi

As a celebration of my new job, I decided to take myself to 15 East for some delicious sushi. It has been a while since I’ve been to a nice restaurant (I know it’s a bit shocking) so this was a nice way of celebrating with myself. Needless to say, there’s a reason why 15 East has a Michelin star – they serve very fresh sushi in a very clean and comfortable atmosphere. I got their lunch omakase:

You start off with edamame, and looks like it’s covered with some matcha powder.

Octopus – clean and not too chewy.

Above are all my sushi pieces I got dealt with. For all the sushi experts out there, I can’t remember which each one was but I would have to say the highlight for me was the marinated tuna (3rd from the top).

The uni from Hokkaido was also another highlight of my meal. It was a great piece of uni, providing the richness of the sea in one bite – it was perfectly creamy and rich, and didn’t make you feel like you were eating innards. SO DELICIOUS!

After the plate of sashimi and raw prawn (as shown in the first picture), they fry the prawn head for you to eat further. Nothing goes to waste and proved to be something not wasted. It wasn’t oily and had a great shrimp / prawn flavor.

I’ve managed to squeeze in one more addition to my lunch omakase – an ikura uni soba. It was well made – the soba was cooked perfectly – and the fish roe and uni made it unbelievably tasty. Would I have it again? YES please.

Lastly I was served this strawberry panna cotta-like dessert – it was light and had a good taste of strawberry. It was a great way to end the great meal.

For those who are looking for some fresh sushi served with an attentive waitstaff, this is the place to go. If you’re going to sit at the sushi bar, make sure you say hi to the sushi chef Masato. He definitely knows his fish!

15 East
15 E 15th St (btw Union Square West and 5th Ave.)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 647-0015