Tag Archives: Japanese

No Car? No Problem! BARTable Asian Food Goes East (Bay)

In Part 4 of this #BARTable Asian food series finally heads to my hood, the town of Oakland. Continuing along the Richmond-Millbrae line this guide will take you through West Oakland, 12th Street/City Center, 19th Street, and MacArthur Stations.

West Oakland

To be honest, this is the first station we can skip. The two places in remote walking distance of this BART station that serve Asian food are 2 Chinese American takeout spots, neither that serve food that’s any good.

12th Street/City Center

Downtown Oakland’s BART station is surrounded by Asian food, especially given its proximity to Oakland Chinatown.

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

In Chinatown one can, of course, find a veritable cornucopia of Chinese food and only blocks away from the station. For Hong Kong style cafe food, I like heading to Shooting Star Cafe (especially good for desserts and Hong Kong style milk tea) and Baby Cafe. For dim sum you can head to Restaurant Peony for arguably some of the best dim sum in the East Bay or Tao Yuen Pastry for some classic Chinatown grab and go dim sum. Gum Kuo and neighboring C&M Bistro are go to spots for Cantonese roast meats, though Gum Kuo also has excellent noodle soups and rice noodle rolls.

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

For non-Cantonese food in Chinatown, Spices 3 is the place to go for Sichuanese food and Shandong serves thick noodles and fabulous dumplings if you have a hankering for the heartier fare of Shandong province. And for one of the few Bay Area restaurants with Guilin style noodles, you can go to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.

Chinatown, however, doesn’t just have Chinese food. For Cambodian food there is Battambang. Vietnamese food can be tastily sampled at one of my downtown favorites, Tay Ho, who’s signature item is the northern Vietnamese dish banh cuon. And for vegetarian Southeast Asian dishes, slightly out of Chinatown on 13th and Franklin is Golden Lotus.

The other side of Broadway in Old Oakland has a few Asian treasures as well. In Swan’s Market is the excellent AS B-Dama that serves great Japanese food. Le Cheval is a spot for decent Vietnamese food closer to the Oakland Convention Center.

19th Street Oakland

Further up in Oakland in Uptown and the northern part of the downtown business district are also a number of Asian restaurants, though they aren’t quite as concentrated as Chinatown. Some of these places below can also be accessed by the 14th Street or Frank Ogawa Plaza exits of the 12th Street/City Center stations but it was easier to delineate each BART station’s offerings at 14th Street.

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Near 14th and Broadway you have some of my favorites for a work lunch break. I go to Shiba Ramen‘s Oakland restaurant every time I want a comforting bowl of ramen. For Afghan food, there’s the newly expanded Kamdesh. On 15th Street there’s Ma Me House for a pared down menu of solid Vietnamese food and Ichiro Sushi for solid sushi and lunch specials that are filling, but reasonably priced.

Further north, closer to my current office are a few more Asian spots centered mostly around 17th Street. There’s Aburaya for some extremely tasty Japanese fried chicken. A couple doors down is Pho 84 where you can eat classic Southern Vietnamese dishes in slightly more refined settings. Around 22nd and Broadway is one of the few Taiwanese restaurants in the East Bay, Taiwan Bento, where you can eat some Beef Noodle Soup and Gua Bao. If you need some fruit tea or boba to wash down your lunch at any of these spots you can saunter down to Yokee on Franklin Street where you can get some delicious boba or very Instagramable fruit teas.

MacArthur

The final Richmond-Millbrae line station in Oakland is MacArthur, conveniently also the closest to my apartment. It’s also the closest station to Temescal, the neighborhood that contains Oakland’s largest concentration of Korean food in Oakland (yet interestingly enough Koreatown is just to the South). 

For Korean food there are a number of options including Daol Tofu House and PyeongChang Tofu House for their namesake, and tasty, versions of soondubu. Hancook is the new restaurant in town that has Korean style hot pot. And further up Telegraph is Bowl’d, which serves a number of Korean dishes but best serves Bibimbap. Want Korean BBQ? I would venture a little further afield to Mosswood to Ohgane, a wonderful place with delicious BBQ that’s only $22 for All You Can Eat 10PM-2AM each day.

KMG at Hawking Bird

KMG at Hawking Bird

Temescal doesn’t only serve Korean food, however. Other Asian places include the oft-lauded Burma Superstar for Burmese. Down the street is Hawking Bird, the fast casual offshoot of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving decent versions of khao man gai (Thai style chicken rice). Across the street from Hawking Bird and Burma Superstar is Marufuku Ramen which serves a pared down menu of excellent ramen. 

So while San Francisco has plenty of Asian food, take a BART train across the Bay to Oakland where your taste buds can expand with all these excellent options. I dare say that some of these restaurants are better than anything San Francisco has to offer on their particular cuisine.

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Disney World Asian Food

First, I should note that I was not deliberately seeking out Asian food on my trip to Walt Disney World with my family. I know some of my readers may find it hard to believe, but I would have been perfectly content with Fish and Chips from the UK Pavilion at EPCOT and multiple servings of hash browns at the closest Waffle House (which I, in fact, did do for my first meal).

That said, my siblings were fully invested in tasting this Disney World food bucket list which included a number of Asian items. As I am game for trying any type of food, I happily went along and ended up having enough content for a blog post.

As a caveat, this post is really limited to EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. I personally avoided Magic Kingdom (which is essentially a larger Disneyland) as much as I could and had no time to eat at Hollywood Studios. So with that noted…

EPCOT

My first day at Walt Disney World this trip was spent entirely at EPCOT, which is also my favorite Disney theme park. I could probably just spend a whole day at the World Showcase part of EPCOT and still not be bored. 

As noted above, for lunch I had actually wanted to go eat fish and chips at the United Kingdom pavilion but my sister vehemently disliked the proposal. We found the French options to be fairly pricey so we scooted along to Morocco. Since I wasn’t in the mood for Moroccan food we ended up compromising by eating at Japan pavilion’s Katsura Grill.

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Katsura Grill is Japan pavilion’s fast casual eatery with a number of items including bento boxes, ramen, udon, sushi rolls, and appetizers. My sister ordered a bento box while I decided to go with the ramen. I got the Spicy Seafood Ramen which was served with a lightly spicy seafood broth. The shrimp were cooked decently, though I didn’t taste that much garlic while the broth was a bit lighter than I hoped for. The ramen noodles were cooked decently but all in all the dish could be described as solidly average. I did try some of my sister’s Chicken Teriyaki Bento which was pretty decent with chicken that was cooked well and had a good amount of sauce without overpowering the chicken. All in all Katsura Grill was basically a Disney-fied version of mall food court Japanese food.

After lunch we strolled along to the other pavilions, stopping to get our EPCOT passports stamped at the US, Italy, and Germany pavilions before swinging by the China pavilion. We took a small break by the koi ponds at the China pavilion where I took the opportunity to go to Joy of Tea, the drink stand of the pavilion. Over there they had a Lychee Iced Tea that was super refreshing and perfectly sweetened with lychee syrup. I would highly recommend buying a cup of the tea for a nice stroll around EPCOT on a hot, sunny day. Honestly, the tea tasted as good as some of my favorite bubble tea places and I’m glad my sister-in-law found the place.

Animal Kingdom

After our first day of food at EPCOT my sister and sister-in-law texted me that they wanted to try a couple items the next day at Animal Kingdom. After doing some quick research I found out that both of those items could be found at Yak and Yeti, Animal Kingdom’s Asia area full service sit down restaurant. I quickly made a reservation for 5 for 2PM on Disney World’s app, which allowed my sister and I to wait and take a ride at Pandora’s Flight of Passage.

We arrived a little bit early for our reservation but nonetheless was seated in about 15-20 minutes. The decor is what I would describe as a fascinating “attempt” at something Nepalese or Bhutanese but with some Southeast Asian motifs. That aside, we settled into our rather large table and ordered the following:

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

  • Ahi Tuna Nachos – My sister-in-law’s pick was a heaping mound of nachos with marinated ahi tuna and some Asian style slaw. While it might have been a shareable “meant for 2” it certainly fed a lot more. I personally don’t like tuna very much but I did enjoy the dish and I found the crunchiness of both the nacho chips and the lettuce greens to work very well with the wasabi aioli. I would definitely order again
  • Dim Sum Basket – The dim sum basket had a couple of each item, some were hit and some were miss. The hits included the cha siu bao and the pork potstickers, both steamed really well with flavorful fillings. The shrimp dumplings and siu mai were a bit of a miss though and didn’t come near decent quality for them, even if I did admire their attempts at a thin dumpling skin.
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Korean BBQ Short Ribs and Dim Sum Basket at Yak & Yeti

  • Korean BBQ Short Ribs – We added an additional half order of the ribs and the regular rib order was definitely large enough for 2 people. The ribs themselves were pretty good, with meat falling off the bone and a sauce that combined traditional barbecue sauce elements with a hint of gochujang (a Korean hot sauce). The shoestring fries were perfect and the slaw helped cut a bit of the richness of the meat. Like the nachos, I would order these again.
  • Chicken Fried Rice – The fried rice wasn’t anything to write home about, but was pretty solid and was a nice filler and way to sop some of the sauce in the nachos and ribs.
  • Garlic Noodles – The garlic noodles were perfectly cooked with a decent amount of sauce, though could have used a little more garlic. We honestly ordered this as a cheaper filler item instead any of the lo mein options and while this was fine, an order of lo mein probably would have been better.

Honestly the portions of food at Yak & Yeti are such that we could have done without one of the side items and still been pretty full. The food here was definitely better than EPCOT and a lot more innovative too. I almost went back to Pandora to take a bite of pineapple lumpia but my stomach was sufficiently stuffed after lunch.

All in all, the Asian food in Disney World is solid, if not spectacular. That said, very few people, including myself, really go to a Disney theme park for the food. But there’s enough quality food items at Disney World to also make some of the meals memorable, in addition to the rides and the overall ambience. That said, Disney could learn a lot from the kitchens at Universal’s Harry Potter worlds in terms of making food that is remarkably tasty but also reasonably priced. Hopefully with Disney’s theme park expansions, even better and more innovative food will be coming to a Star Wars or Toy Story land near you.

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No Car, No Problem? #BARTable Asian Food Part 3

Part 3 of this series takes us to admittedly the hardest, and generally most consistently evolving, BARTable area in terms of surveying the Asian food landscape. Why? Because it takes us to the heart of downtown San Francisco where a number of San Francisco Asian retail and culinary districts are located and the landscape of food in the area is ever evolving. Part of my hesitance to finish this part of the series is on how fast everything changes but I just realized that I can’t be paralyzed by the constantly evolving landscape, otherwise I’d never finish this post and move on to the next post, my stomping grounds in Oakland.

So here we go, a BART station by station guide to downtown San Francisco as of March 2018.

Civic Center Station

Civic Center and the Tenderloin is home to San Francisco’s Little Saigon, a community of Vietnamese immigrants that started springing up in the 1970s and 1980s as refugees from the Vietnam War and its aftermath immigrated here. Over the past few decades the strip of Larkin Street in the Tenderloin has been a center of Vietnamese businesses in the city. As such, you’ll find wonderful places to taste Vietnamese cuisine such as the Vietnamese Chinese style wonton noodle soup at Hai Ky Mi Gia and neighboring Them Ky. You can get Southern Vietnamese style pho at Pho 2000 and Northern Vietnamese pho and other items at Turtle Tower. Banh Mi chain Lee’s Sandwiches also has a location on this stretch of Larkin between Eddy and O’Farrell.

While Vietnamese cuisine has been in the Tenderloin for decades, that last ten years has seen a wave of Thai cuisine in the neighborhood. This includes an outpost of the swanky-ish Ler Ros and the more mom and pop San Jai Thai. If you want Northern style Thai with some fantastic Lao specialities, there’s Tycoon Thai.

Powell Station

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Powell Street Station is the stop for Union Square, the central shopping hub of the city and the area with an endless array of hotels catering to the millions of (mostly well to do) tourists that travel to the city. As such, I generally don’t recommend any Asian restaurant around Union Square and the parts of SoMa near Powell.

However, there are a few bright spots. Northeast of the station, slightly removed from the tourist and shopping hubbub, are a few solid choices. Among them include Chinese hot pot chain Little Sheep, delicious ramen shop Mensho Tokyo, Korean restaurant 707 Sutter, hole in the wall Filipino diner Tselogs, and Vietnamese Chinese seafood restaurant Kim Thanh.

Right by the BART station in the heart of the hustle and bustle are some good options, especially if your wallet is a little more hefty. Michelin starred Kin Khao serves terrific Thai food (their tasting menu, though pricy, is absolutely worth it) and Hakkasan serves solidly refined Cantonese cuisine. And not to be remiss is Tin, a good Vietnamese restaurant in SoMa.

Montgomery Station

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Montgomery Station drops you off in San Francisco’s Financial District. While there are are a few gems during the lunchtime rush like Señor Sisig‘s regular food truck locations on 2nd Street and Pine Street, it’s a rather barren place as a whole for quality Asian food.

However, Montgomery Street is the closest BART station to San Francisco Chinatown. While the hike to Chinatown is generally uphill and requires at least a 10-15 minute walk from the BART station, most places in the neighborhood aren’t too far to be considered unwalkable. Closer to the BART station on the flatter Kearny Street you can find such restaurants as vaunted Cantonese seafood place R&G Lounge, Taiwanese tea and food experts Hanlin Tea Room, and Sichuanese noodle specialist Chong Qing Xiao Mian. 

Further up the hill include upscale Eataly styled restaurant/food emporium China Live and a number of longstanding Cantonese places. These include Kam Po, a delicious purveyor of Cantonese BBQ, and Lai Hong Lounge, a dim sum and Chinese seafood restaurant.

Embarcadero Station

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

And finally at the eastern end of San Francisco before BART heads through the Transbay Tube is Embarcadero Station. Like Montgomery Station there isn’t a plethora of Asian food around it, as expense account new American and European influenced restaurants are generally the norm. A couple bright spots do exist though (and both are also fairly pricey): Yank Sing, a solid purveyor of dim sum with 2 locations, and The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant that may not live to its previous heights but still serves well executed food.

Downtown San Francisco, overall, has a great volume of Asian restaurants though finding a good one can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Hopefully this guide can help cut across the clutter and won’t be dated too soon. 

I can’t wait until the next part of this series though, as I head across the bay to my hometown of Oakland.

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Food Alley at Westfield Santa Anita, Arcadia

For a couple of years now I have heard about the growth of exciting, quality Asian dining establishments in Westfield’s Santa Anita Mall. First, it was Hai Di Lao, the first American branch of the pricey Sichuanese hot pot chain. Then it was the development of Meizhou Dongpo’s second US location and Din Tai Fung’s new larger 3rd Arcadia location. 

All this development has not been limited to big Chinese or Taiwanese chain restaurants. Late last year Westfield Santa Anita opened “Food Alley”, a food court of sorts between the Nordstrom and Din Tai Fung that doesn’t have your typical Panda Express or Sbarro mall food court options. To be clear, there still is a regular food court at Westfield Santa Anita on the first floor near JC Penney’s for all your McDonald’s and Sarku Japan cravings. However, Food Alley contains some out of the box, Asian oriented stores with food that I have never seen in any American mall.

Thus, I had to try out these eateries and see how they matched to all the great restaurants that dot the strip malls elsewhere in the San Gabriel Valley. Since it would be very difficult to try them all by myself, I asked a friend if she would be interested in joining me and she thankfully said yes. These are the dishes and places we tried:

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick

  • Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick – Our first stop was at Side Chick, where the star dish is the Hainanese Chicken Rice. The chicken was moist and flavorful while the rice was a little dryer than I like (though saved a little by the church of the fried garlic). I loved the ginger scallion, sambal, and vinegary soy sauces that accompanied the chicken. While the rice is not as good as Savoy, the vaunted Hainanese Chicken Rice slinger in Alhambra, I think Side Chick has the edge as my favorite Southern Californian chicken rice spot for the chicken.
Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo

Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo

  • Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo – While I would have wanted to try more bowls of udon, we were starting to get full from the Hainanese Chicken Rice. We settled on the spicy niku udon. I liked the chewy udon and tender beef slices, but wasn’t really feeling the thicker, kimchi laden broth. While I wouldn’t get the spicy niku udon, the udon and beef were definitely good enough that I am eager to try other bowls of udon the next time I am there.
Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Westfield Santa Anita

Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Westfield Santa Anita

  • Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung – Since the new Din Tai Fung was around the corner, I just had to try some soup dumplings. I ordered a half order of 5 soup dumplings. While none of them broke (making them better than the Glendale and South Coast locations), there were a couple with dumpling skin tops that were a little thick and chewy. They were certainly good but not up to the standard of the original Din Tai Fung in Taiwan.
Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu

Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu

  • Japanese Cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu – For dessert we had the Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu. The several slices were, in a word, sublime. It was like a creamier sponge cake that was light and fluffy and just a touch sweet. Honestly, if I didn’t have as much self control that night, I might have eaten an entire cake.

All in all, Food Alley blew away my expectations and definitely was the tastiest mall food court I have eaten at this side of the Pacific. And yet, I didn’t even try any ramen or skewers at the Backhouse nor any drinks at Matcha Matcha. If this is what new, modern mall food courts will be like from now on, I guess I’ll be spending more money shopping at Nordstrom and slurping noodles across the country.

 

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O Ramen, Albuquerque

O Ramen
2114 Central Ave SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106

I’m not quite in Vancouver yet, but before I bombarded my blog with a number of posts from British Columbia, I wanted to take a brief detour to my current home of Albuquerque.

Ramen, as some of my friends may know, has become an absolute craze in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and other coastal cities in the past 7-8 years. While bowls of fresh, rich ramen have been a staple in Japan for a long time, David Chang’s Momofuku is often credited as sparking the proliferation of Japanese style ramen shops in the United States. The spread of ramen’s cult following has been huge in coastal cities, but it remained notable absent from Albuquerque and other inland cities, until now.

When I heard that there was Japanese style ramen in Albuquerque, I jumped to try it. I went on a date a few weeks ago to try the tonkatsu ramen (their deluxe ramen) and curry (but did not blog about it due to the birthday post backlog). Last week, a friend and I went for lunch where I was able to try their vegetarian ramen. Thoughts on the items below:

Deluxe Ramen

Deluxe Ramen

  • Deluxe ramen – excellent, rich, but not too thick, pork broth broth. The noodles were perfectly done and had the perfect amount. Unfortunately, while the chashu pork fat was melt in your mouth luxurious, the pork meat was dry and tough. I also liked the nori and the perfectly soft-boiled egg.
Chicken Katsu Curry

Chicken Katsu Curry

  • Chicken Katsu Curry – The chicken was breaded very nicely, locking the tender juices of the chicken while having just enough crispiness for crunch. The curry was milder than I like (even for Japanese curry, which is more sweet than spicy), but you can tell that the curry was home made with small chunks of lightly pureed peas and other vegetables
Vegetarian Ramen

Vegetarian Ramen

  • Vegetarian Ramen – whoever says that vegetarian broth is always bland can use a lesson or two from O Ramen. There was a very rich, umami laden broth with a base of several tasty mushrooms, in addition to the herbs and seasoning on top. The tofu was nice and crispy too, though the breading became very soggy, very quickly in the broth (but that was to be expected). This bowl of ramen absolutely defeated my appetite and while I wanted to drink more of the broth and eat more noodles, I could not 3/4 of the way in.

The service is pretty good as well. There are generous refills of water and the check came just right after we finished the meal.

All in all, the quality of the ramen is arguably even better than lesser ramen crazed cities like San Diego and puts O Ramen near the top of my list of Albuquerque area eats.

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Daikaya, Washington D.C.

Daikaya
705 6th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

Mother’s Day one year ago I started this blog in memory and honor of my wonderful mama, who introduced me to the world of delicious food across East and Southeast Asia. Given that this is a one year anniversary of sorts, I was debating on what to write about. Do I write about a restaurant I have already posted about because I would be eating dishes that my mother would love? Do I write about a new restaurant eating dishes my mom would order, but the execution was subpar? Finally, do I write about a restaurant that serves dishes that my mom would be less experienced in, but is just really good?

I opted for the latter because, at the end of the day, my mom was about eating good food around magnificent company and, on occasion, experiencing new things.

Daikaya

A few weeks ago when I was in DC, I had a quick lunch with a friend of mine after touring the NPR building. We decided on Daikaya, a restaurant serving ramen that has a good reputation and was between where I was visiting and where my friend was working. Given Daikaya’s rave reviews, I was ready to see how it stacked up not just to Toki Underground, the previous king of ramen in DC, but to the great ramen joints in Southern California and New York City.

Fortunately we arrived at Daikaya just before the DC lunch rush started crowding the restaurant. Within about 10 minutes we were seated in their modern bar-esque type seating arrangement. We were promptly served water and ordered relatively quickly. I got the spicy miso ramen with chashu and soft boiled egg.

After waiting for about 10-15 minutes, the bowls of ramen came to our table. The first sip of the soup was heavenly, with a perfect amount of spice and salt. As a person who usually eats Hakata style tonkotsu ramen, which can be a bit salty, I was pleasantly surprised with the lightness but also complexity of the spicy miso flavor. The ramen noodles were cooked just right, which was wonderful given that Toki Underground can have a tendency to overcook their noodles. The soft boiled eggs were also cooked just right with the flavors balancing the spice of the broth really well. The chashu was the only disappointment. It wasn’t bad, per se, but could have been sliced thicker as well as had juicier and fattier cuts of pork.

Overall, Daikaya definitely beat Toki Underground to take the title of “Best Ramen in DC” in my book. As for the comparison between Daikaya and ramen shops in LA or NYC? I feel Daikaya was comparable, but I probably need to eat more Sapporo style ramen shops in either city before I can really judge.

In the end, I think my mama would have agreed with my decision on good food and great times with friends. Given that Daikaya also has an Izakaya upstairs, it looks like I will have more opportunities in the future for friends and food, just as my mom would have wanted it.

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Sushi King, Albuquerque

Sushi King
118 Central Ave SW
Albuquerque, NM 87102

I have driven by Sushi King many, many times on the way to work and back but I never had the chance to go inside. I decided to take the opportunity at lunch today given that I had no food in my fridge. At about 1:30, after having slept in past daylight savings time from an exhaustive, but fun, trip to the Democratic pre-primary convention yesterday, I drove down Central to satisfy my curiosity.

It was surprisingly busy, given the time of day on a Sunday, but there were enough tables empty that my server told me to sit wherever I liked. I sat down and took a look at the sushi menu as well as their regular menu, which were both surprisingly short compared to Asian restaurants in the area who love to inundate you with options. The menu was quite simple and limited to only sushi, noodles, and Japanese curry. Seeing that the type of Japanese noodles I really wanted to taste was not on the menu (ramen), I decided to forsake both the sushi and noodles by ordering Japanese curry with chicken.

Sushi King 1

Now, Chinese and Japanese curry are a little bit different than the curries you would find at an Indian or Thai restaurant. One, Chinese and Japanese curry are less spicy to the point of being what most of us would call mild. Two, Chinese and Japanese curry is fairly simple in that it consistently has three main ingredients aside from the curry: a choice of meat, potato chunks, and cooked medium slices of carrots. Occasionally some places and homes will add onions.

The curry came out in a medium sized bowl with curry that was more like a soup than a thick gravy/paste that I have seen at other Japanese place. Upon tasting the curry, I realized that the problem was the overuse of water, which basically made the dish bland. The chicken, potatoes, and carrots were definitely cooked well, but the curry flavor was not as rich as I was used to. The rice, however, was well cooked and had a sprinkling of sesame seeds on top, which I liked.

Sushi King 2

I should mention that I also ordered 2 pieces of inari (the bean curd skin roll), which they did pretty well. It was tightly wrapped with a very good chunk of well packed sushi rice and a piece of dried seaweed rolled around it in the middle. It’s probably the best inari I have had in years, much better than the laziness of some restaurants which just dollop rice in the fold of the bean curd skin, plop it down on a plate, and call it a day.

In terms of service, the server could have done better. The server was very pleasant and efficient, but not as aware and understanding as I would have hoped. While I was waiting for food, I was asked to move to a smaller table because they were notified that a table of 5 was coming in. This is despite the fact that the restaurant wasn’t very full and I was asked to sit wherever I liked in the beginning. Albeit, this incident could be more about recognizing and checking my privilege given that this isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things. The server could have refilled waters though. I did notice the water glasses of other tables equally parched, yet lacking attention.

All in all, my experience was mediocre, but it seems like I should have headed the restaurant’s advice when the sign explicitly says “sushi and noodles”. Perhaps next time I will have a better experience when I order some nigiri along with a plate of yakisoba or bowl of udon.

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Sumo Sushi, Albuquerque

Sumo Sushi
800 3rd Street NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102

A few months ago I gave a very disparaging review to Amerasia, Sumo Sushi’s sister restaurant which serves good, authentic Dim Sum as much as Taco Bell serves good, authentic Mexican food (though even that is generous to Amerasia). However, I had a pleasant experience in 2012 next door at Sumo Sushi and decided to go their yesterday when my fridge was absolutely bare and I was too tired to buy groceries and cook.

After parking in their gravel parking lot, I entered the restaurant and was promptly seated after a family of three. After a few minutes of serving the family ahead of me, my server gave me a glass of ice water and asked if I was ready to order. I asked for her recommendations on the Donburi and udon bowls, but she said “they’re different” and refused to give a recommendation because she “didn’t want me to complain later.” I was a little surprised at such a defensive response, but nonetheless I decided to go order salmon nigiri, inari (sushi rice wrapped in fried tofu), and Oyakodon (bowl of rice with simmered eggs, chicken, and vegetables).

Sumo Sushi 1

A bowl of complimentary miso soup and it was fairly generic, though nice given the brisk night. Then the nigiri and inari came. I was a little puzzled at only getting two inari pieces as I generally am used to three, but the inari was good if a little understuffed with rice. The salmon nigiri was decent with big pieces of salmon, albeit it wasn’t quite melt in your mouth good. The rice was a little dry and small, but all in all not bad. It could have used some freshly grated wasabi, but in general it’s rare to get fresh wasabi at any sushi restaurant that’s not high end and in a super big coastal city (and even then, you’ll likely get generic wasabi paste a lot anyway).

Sumo Sushi 2

The Oyakodon came last and was definitely redemption for the night. The broth mixed elegantly with the rice, with a slightly subtle but very clean and fresh flavor. It complimented the eggs, chicken, onion, and bell pepper slices as well. While clay pot rices of Chinese cuisine and bibimbap of Korean cuisine are divine in their own right, the Oyakodon here definitely reminded me why I liked donburi best among small mixed rice bowls in East Asian cuisine.

Once I was done, the second server refilled my water glass and cleared my table. Finally the bill was presented to me as the final seconds of the Duke-Syracuse NCAA men’s basketball were being played. It came to about $20, not including tip. While the service wasn’t great, the Oyakodon and the pleasant atmosphere more than made up for it. I’ll definitely be back again, but definitely not for the Dim Sum and hopefully with a different server.

As a side note, if you want to listen to an excellent NPR program episode on Japanese food, I recommend listening to this January episode of Good Food with Evan Kleiman.

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Sushi Hana, Albuquerque

Sushi Hana
521 Central Ave NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102

Wow, first of all I want to say thank you for all your thoughts, support, and positive comments about my last post, “One Year.” It’s truly inspiring to see my family, my friends, and my friend’s friends read my personal tribute to my mom and how much she inspires me to this day as evident by this blog. Thank you so much for joining me on this culinary journey in honor of her.

Speaking of culinary journeys, I am truly privileged that my food adventures started in Southern California. After all, I can pick and choose which of the several dozen Dim Sum parlors I want to eat at in the San Gabriel Valley on any given day. If I don’t want to eat beef pho, I can go a few blocks down Bolsa or Brookhurst in Westminster, CA, to eat a delicious bowl of chicken pho or pick up a banh mi sandwich. Likewise in San Diego I can choose between sushi, ramen, teppan, and other types of Japanese restaurant at my leisure. In just one relatively small strip mall in Irvine I can choose between five shops that serve their variations of Taiwanese beef noodle soup.

Albuquerque, like most of America, is different. There’s only one place that serves authentic dim sum (sorry, Amerasia doesn’t count) and one place that does Taiwanese food. Given the relative lack of Asian people in the city, aside from the sizable Hoa (Vietnamese from China) population, it’s natural that some restaurants serving Asian food would combine different cuisines to offer people a chance to try different foods without needing to go to larger cities like Phoenix or Denver.

Sushi Hana

One such restaurant is Sushi Hana, which predominantly serves sushi and other Japanese items, but also sells a few Korean dishes too. Since that intrigued me a little bit, I decided to try a bulgogi bento box and an order of salmon nigiri. This might not be the most authentic thing on the menu, but it also killed two birds with one stone in terms of seeing at least how one restaurant tries to navigate the foods of Korea and Japan together.

The bulgogi actually turned out well. It was tastefully marinated without being overpowered by the sauce. The beef was cooked nicely too. The bento box also included a small portion of seaweed salad (decent), California roll (filled with imitation crab meat with some type of creamy sauce that tasted just off, but at least the avocados were good!), tempura (decently battered), and an egg roll (nothing special). There was also miso soup with mushrooms as well, which I did like. As for the nigiri, the salmon was reasonably fresh for a non-coastal city and the rice was cooked well, however they didn’t quite come together seamlessly and could have used a dab of wasabi.

The service was pretty good though with attentive, but not overly pushy, waitstaff that made sure I was treated well. All in all it was a nice experience, with some flaws balanced by other highlights. Sushi Hana certainly wouldn’t compare to, say, Sushi Ota in San Diego, but it does a good job in attempting to execute quality Japanese and Korean food. It’s not easy trying to balance two food traditions, as it would be similar to a Mexican restaurant with Salvadorean items or a French restaurant with Spanish items. However, in many places it is the reality and you just have the admire the chefs who do a good job.

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Uncle, Denver

Uncle
2215 W. 32nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211

tofu

My first foray into authentic Japanese style ramen that you could find bountifully in Tokyo was the much vaunted Momofuku Noodle Bar, the restaurant that helped launch celebrity chef David Chang to fame. I came into the bar knowing about the rave reviews, but still a skeptic because I had been trained to believe that ramen was just cheap noddles to be thrown together in an instant if you’re hungry, like most Americans. The first bite at Momofuku, however, converted me to a ramen lover in an instant.

To be sure, the price was expensive. If my memory is correct, the ramen itself was $20-25, a rament splurge even by New York standards. However, the pork was so tender, the broth so refreshing, and the egg so perfectly soft poached. I remember coming back to California in the winter of 2009 searching for anywhere that had ramen, and I was fortunate given that Southern California was in the midst of a ramen craze.

Moving to Denver, I was searching for a ramen place to fill the void. Most places I saw that might have it were either way to far or very lowly rated, until I read a copy of 5280’s 10 Best New Restaurants. That is where I found Uncle, which has win other numerous awards and been named one of the city’s best restaurants in less than a year since its opening.

On Friday, having no dinner plans and needing aid to fight a potential cold, I decided to drive to the LoHi neighborhood of Denver to eat at Uncle. The food and the service did not disappoint.

Let’s start with the service. When I entered the restaurant the hostess put down my name and gave me an estimated wait time. That is all standard procedure, but then she asked if I wanted something to drink. She immediately delivered my birch beer and glass water with no hesitation. After I was seated, it took a little time for my server to get to me, but after our initial greetings she was very attentive without being overbearing.

ramen

As for the food, it is as good as any place I would find in LA or NYC. I ordered the chilled tofu appetizer and kimchi ramen. The chilled tofu was perfectly marinated, with a light refreshing soy sauce, fried green onions, and sesame seeds. There was a perfect balance between soft and crunch. The kimchi ramen was pretty good too, with house made kimchi, a broth with good balance of spiciness and sourness (from the kimchi), and a perfectly soft poached egg. My one fault of the dish was the fact that they used braised, shredded pork instead of the more traditional slices of chashu (marinated barbeque pork), which made the dish less full. It was not a huge turnoff, but a minor disappointment to what I thought would be a heartier meal.

In total I spent about $20, plus tax (ramen – $14, tofu – $3, birch beer – $3), which is certainly not bad for a well regarded restaurant in such a trendy neighborhood like LoHi. I have yet to try their oft-praised pork buns or their traditional ramen yet, but given my rewarding first experience I bet I will b their soon.

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