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 …]

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 …]

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 …]

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 …]

Book Review: “Ekiben: The Art of the Japanese Box Lunch,” 1989

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“Ekiben: The Art of the Japanese Box Lunch,” Chronicle Books, 1989.

I’m convinced that used bookstores offer much more than any big box book retailer (what’s left of them, anyway). The problem with Barnes & Noble, or Borders when it existed, is that these stores don’t offer any old out-of-print books in their inventory. The large book retailers deal exclusively with new books, or new versions of old books, whatever the case may be. But as time goes by, there are so many interesting books that go out of print, our only chance of discovering them (if we missed them the first time around) is when they cycle back through a used bookstore.

I suppose that I’m the ideal used bookstore patron. First of all, I’m an old English major (not the normal prerequisite for becoming a chef, I admit). Second of all, I was born [… read more …]

The Last Days of Pacific Books and Arts, Inner Richmond San Francisco

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One of the last morsels from Pacific Books and Arts…

I’ve been rediscovering San Francisco’s Richmond District lately because, well, I feel like I’ve probably devoted most of 2013 to eating through the East Bay. My epicenter for this exploration has usually been 8th and Clement, a locale that places more than a day’s worth of attractions within easy walking distance.

The five-block stretch of Clement between 5th and 10th includes such noteworthy restaurants as Good Luck Dim Sum, Clement Restaurant, Burma Superstar, Halu, Cherry Blossom Bakery, Pizza Orgasmica, and many others. There’s also a fantastic bookstore in the mix — Green Apple Books — which easily boasts the city’s best used cookbook selection.

I noticed today that another bookstore in the area, Pacific Books and Arts, was closing down. I hate to see mom-and-pop bookstores disappear, but Pacific Books was liquidating its inventory as part of a [… read more …]

Eight Los Angeles Food Photos

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Tonkotsu Ramen @ Daikokuya, West Los Angeles. This bowl of ramen contends for the best bowl of ramen that I’ve ever tasted. I still have a strong allegiance to Ramen Dojo in San Mateo, but Daikokuya is equally sublime, if not a bit more simple. The perfectly-cooked egg reveals a keen attention to detail, and the broth is amazingly good. I ate ramen almost every day when I was in Los Angeles, but this bowl (my first of the trip) really resonated with me, and it continues to do so.

I’ve finally uploaded my photos from my trip to Los Angeles earlier this month. It’s a little strange to go back to a place where I once lived for about 10 years, now that it’s also been about 10 years since I’ve lived there. Though the city’s main infrastructure remains familiar, the details have become a [… read more …]

Ritsu Tonkotsu Ramen @ Izakaya Sozai, San Francisco Sunset District

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Ritsu Tonkotsu Ramen @ Izakaya Sozai, Sunset District, San Francisco. Adds-ons include deep-fried pork belly and garlic chips.

Of all the restaurants in the Bay Area, my biggest nemeses are those that are (a) located in San Francisco, (b) open for dinner only, and (c) busy. Each of these circumstances can make my life difficult: San Francisco, with its one-way streets and no left turns, can be a real hassle to navigate; dinner hours, with their inherent lack of sunlight, are typically terrible for food photography; and busy restaurants, with their limited seating options, are just challenging in general. Izakaya Sozai actually falls into all three of these categories, which is why I had postponed this entry until recently.

As with many great meals, snapping a decent shot of Izakaya Sozai’s Ritsu Tonkotsu Ramen required both planning and patience. At the very least, I knew that I needed [… read more …]