Five-Spice Pork Shoulder @ China Village, Albany

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Steamy goodness: The Five-Spice Pork Shoulder @ China Village, Albany

The photo for this entry may not do the size of the dish any justice: The five-spice pork shoulder at China Village is a massive chunk of flesh meant for at least two people (priced at $18.95), and the spoon at the upper right is actually the large serving variety. Alas, I consider the “serves two” caveat as a dare, especially when it comes to pork shoulder. I entered China Village on a mission to check this signature dish off of my Bay Area bucket list, and I was not disappointed.

China Village specializes in Szechuan cuisine and its other signature dish is probably the West Style Spicy Fish soup, which brings quite a bit more heat than Five-Spice Pork Shoulder (at China Village, the intensity of any dish can be increased upon request, so I’m basing this comparison on [… read more …]

The Katsu Curry @ Muracci’s Japanese Curry, Berkeley

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The Katsu Curry @ Muracci’s: Panko-crusted pork cutlet, steamed rice, plenty of curry sauce, and of course, a sunny side egg added on.

When I used to live in West Los Angeles, I learned to take full advantage of the wonderful Japanese eateries that dotted Sawtelle Boulevard. Since I’ve left Southern California, the scene along Sawtelle only seems to have improved over the last 10 years, with some killer ramen shops now in the mix. I wish Tsujita and Daikokuya had been there during my post-collegiate years.

Back in the late 1990s, my favorite restaurants included Hide Sushi and Hurry Curry of Tokyo, the latter of which offered a terrific pork cutlet that became a weekly staple throughout my early 20s. I was thrilled to find something similar when I discovered Muracci’s in San Francisco several years back. The only problem was that Muracci’s was deep in the Financial District, which is probably [… read more …]

Al’s Chop Suey, Oakland Fruitvale, 1950s

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In Oakland, East Fourteenth Street became known as International Boulevard in 1996, so the former home of Al’s Chop Suey is currently occupied by Canchola’s Restaurant.

I discovered an old menu for Al’s Chop Suey while visiting an antique shop in Berkeley this afternoon. I dig this sort of thing, especially since the idea of “chop suey” denotes a very specific period in American food culture, namely the mid-20th century. Several myths surround the origins of chop suey, which has been referenced in the United States as early as the 1880s. However, despite the many stories regarding the genesis of this dish, chop suey was most likely inspired by the Cantonese dish “tsap seui” (meaning miscellaneous leftovers, according to Wikipedia). These days, it’s easy to dismiss chop suey as a Chinese-American bastardization, but I still regard this dish as an important gateway to Chinese cuisine. We had to start somewhere.

[… read more …]

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Tadamasa, Union City

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Tonkotsu Ramen @ Tadamasa, Union City.

I could be wrong, but I believe that my visit to Tamadasa last week might’ve been the first time that I’ve ever set foot in Union City. To be honest, the entire Hayward-Fremont area of the East Bay remains kind of a blind spot for me. As many times as I’ve made the drive from Napa to San Jose, the 680 whisks me past Hayward and Fremont before it bends westward and drops me into Milpitas.

My reason for stopping through Union City was to taste the ramen at Tadamasa, which proved delicious, with its relatively light, very clean-tasting tonkotsu broth. Tadamasa offers a Sapporo-style ramen, which is typically heavy on the vegetables, though I still ordered chasu (roasted pork) with mine. I also noticed a miso-coconut broth on the menu, which I’m tempted to try on my [… read more …]

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo

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The Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo.

I’ll just cut to the chase. San Mateo boasts a quartet of reputable ramen shops: Ramen Dojo, Santa Ramen, Ramen Parlor, and Himawari. These are the four noodle joints that dominate the San Mateo landscape. Three of these restaurants (all but Himawari) are owned by the same chef, Kazunori Kobayashi, who launched his mini-empire with Santa back before ramen was a thing (the original Santa location was where Ramen Dojo is now).

In some ways, Kobayashi is what Thomas Keller is to Yountville, though that might be a stretch. I guess it all depends on how much you obsess over ramen. I enjoy it quite a bit, myself.

With Kobayashi quietly dominating the ramen landscape in San Mateo, Himawari is kind of the independent option in town, which is absolutely welcome. Even under the best circumstances, you don’t want all of your ramen [… read more …]

Small Bites @ Ippuku, Berkeley

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Chicken Ramen @ Ippuku, Berkeley. The Ippuku ramen is very modest in flavor compared to the amazing tonkotsu-style ramen that exists in the South Bay. The Western palate will recognize this dish as chicken noodle soup, and for that reason, I don’t really place it in the pantheon of noteworthy Bay Area ramen. Still, I had to sample this dish on principle. In terms of a simple chicken noodle soup, it’s fine.

I’m not sure if the concept of the Japanese izakaya has reached critical mass here in the Bay Area, but I suspect the term itself is still unknown to most people, even among those who count themselves as gourmands.  Essentially, an izakaya is the Japanese version of a gastropub, and the menu will typically offer a wide array of small plates, as well as an impressive selection of sake and beer. In true izakaya style, much of [… read more …]

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Kansui, San Jose

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Tonkotsu Ramen @ Kansui San Jose.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always intrigued by restaurants that play hard to get. I have a strange fascination with any place that has the gumption to open during odd inconvenient hours. Likewise, I have a fondness for any chef who forbids substitutions. Surly behavior doesn’t faze me one bit (I work in a kitchen, after all), and I admire the Soup Nazi routine if it’s warranted. To me, these are all positive and confident signs, and they communicate almost everything I need to know about a restaurant – namely, that the food is good and that the chef has a clear vision. Customers be damned, if they don’t get it.

Kansui caught my attention about a month ago when I was researching South Bay ramen, and I noticed the restaurant offered abbreviated hours (Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:30am to 1:30pm). [… read more …]

Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland

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Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland. Crab meatballs, pork blood, fish tofu and plenty of rice noodles. One step beyond pho.

Hey there. I’ve been absent from these virtual pages quite for a long time, and I’ve missed writing about food. Well, I’m back. If you’ve been wondering, there are several reasons for my lack of updates lately: (1) I’ve changed jobs during the last two months. I’m a pastry chef now, adjusting to the new schedule and routine; (2) I’ve been preparing to teach a class in culinary history this summer. Reading books and composing course materials have monopolized most of my creative energy; and lastly, (3) I’ve been posting most of my updates on Facebook via Instagram. It’s like social media shorthand. If you don’t follow me already, please check me out.

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As a chef, I’m always craving new [… read more …]

The Chirashi Bowl @ Musashi, Berkeley

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Chirashi Bowl @ Musashi, Berkeley. Ahi, Hamachi, Salmon, Mackerel, Scallop, Octopus, Squid, Monkfish Liver, and Tomago. All served over sushi rice.

My iPhone said the temperature in Berkeley was 63F today, but I’m sure it had to have been pushing 80F. This weather report may sound a bit like bragging, but I’m actually complaining; California is in the midst of a megadrought, with the prospect of dead lawns and raging forest fires in our near future. At the restaurant where I cook, one of our produce purveyors already has asparagus on the radar, which is absurd for mid-February. At this pace, we could be enjoying heirloom tomato BLTs by May.

Although I did manage to eat some cassoulet at Bistro Jeanty while it rained last week, our otherwise warm weather this winter has deprived me of the opportunity to eat the braises and the [… read more …]

Kurobuta Pork Chop (and Three Other Courses) @ Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford

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Third Course: Kurobuta pork chop with apples, kale, whole-grain mustard spaetzle, cipollini onion, and apple cider sauce. Kurobuta is Japanese for Berkshire.

Here in the Napa Valley (and I believe in other parts of the country as well), January is Restaurant Month. There’s quite a few deals being offered throughout the area, but the best, by far, is the two-course lunch at Auberge du Soleil. This year, lunch at Auberge in January will cost you $20.14 — just a penny more than last year.

I will admit — at the risk of over-populating California — that today was another 70-degree day, not a cloud in the sky, with a slight breeze. Sorry if you’ve been trying to catch a flight out of New York; I’ve been trying to figure out whether or not to drop the top on my convertible (full disclosure: I don’t own a [… read more …]