For some reason, we're taking a bit longer getting back to our usual routine after our last trip to Japan. Call it what you may...we might be getting a bit older....work has been much busier for the both of us....or whatever. Still, we're starting to settle in, which means visiting those familiar places. I'm not sure you got this out of my last set of revisit posts, but one thing I do miss when visiting Japan is food with a nice amount of spice. So naturally, I do a bit of catching up when we get back. Here are two recent revisits.
It's been a while since we've been here. For some reason, winter just doesn't seem to be the right time for spicy Issan inspired Thai food. But this past weekend, with temps inching into the 80's...well, it was time.
Things have changed a bit since our last visit. The menu has been expanded and a lot of our Sab E Lee favorites are now on the current Thai Papaya menu.
We started with the Bamboo Shoot Salad; we're getting a bit wimpy in our old age and now went with a heat level 7, which was enough for us.
And some sticky rice. Nice earthy springtime tones from the bamboo shoots...almost meaty in texture. Good spice, a nice start to the meal.
We also got the Missus's favorite; the Papaya Salad with salted egg.....
In spite of being a bit short with the green beans; this was excellent. The salted egg adds a nice interesting pungent-savory layer of flavor to the salad. Loved the refreshing crunch of the shredded papaya, with hints of sweet-acidic tomatoes. On this day, that sauce was right on......I ended up dipping my sticky rice in it to get every drop. And for some reason, the pungent-sour flavors make the cabbage taste even sweeter.
As is the case with the Issan Sausage.
And while there might be better versions of Thai/Lao style sausage in San Diego these days....this is still a staple during our meals at Thai Papaya. It has that balance of sour-herbaciousness, that combines so well with the ginger and/or peanuts with a little ball of sticky rice; letting a bite of cucumber cleanse your palate between bites.
This was just the perfect meal on a nice spring day.
Thai Papaya by Sab E Lee 2405 Ulric St San Diego, CA 92111
We chose Mien Trung of all places on Easter morning for breakfast. And so did a bunch of other folks as the place was packed. The Missus had the Bun Rieu and I went with my usual Bun Bo Hue. We ate sitting elbow to elbow with other folks in communal style.
Man, this was a lot spicier than I recalled. Still; with all the veggies and herbs, slippery noodles, and deeply flavored broth......I worked up a nice sweat and got that capsaicin high....my head feeling nice and clear.
For more on this place; just enter Mien Trung in the search box......I think we've got over a dozen posts on the place.
Mien Trung Restaurant 7530 Mesa College Dr San Diego, CA 92111
Both my accountant and PCP moved offices over the last year. Both of them slightly closer to me....though in an area I'm not too familiar with. Apparently there's a whole world of business and office parks on streets named Moraga and Jutland. This little place occupies a spot where Morena turns and becomes Ariane.
Three parking stalls a rather crowded counter and indoor area, run by an older couple, this shop reminds me of The Sandwich Place.
The prices for most items; sandwiches and such run the gamut from the mid-sixes (for an Egg Salad Sandwich) to near eight bucks (for the gyro with "handmade" pita.
In this day, I wanted something with a little crunch and ordered the ham and cheese panini ($7.40).
Nicely pressed; the sourdough bread not too hard, crisp, not greasy. The Swiss cheese adding a mildly milky component to the slightly salty ham, the "you know the brand" mustard helping to cut through everything.
Not a super stuffed sandwich; not a bargain sandwich, but a simple, satisfying one, good enough for me on this day.
A few months later....well, it's tax season and my accountant's office had moved close by. Having to drop off some pre-preparation documents, I decided to drop by for lunch. In spite of the inevitable "Kronos" poster, I decided to try the Gyros Sandwich ($7.99). I had a seat outside and my sandwich was quickly delivered.
As you can tell; it's the typical Kronos mystery meat, gummy and fairly mild in the flavor. It could have done for a bit of caramelizing. The tzatziki was also fairly watery and I wished there were more tomatoes and onions to add some interest to this. And in spite of my doubting that the pita was "hand made", it was indeed the best part of this sandwich. Light, warm, and fluffy. So this wasn't a total loss.
Interesting thing. During my two visits...even though it was quick; eat and run, there wasn't a single other visitor. Though that phone kept on ringing with take-out orders. I'm guessing most of the clientele are regulars. Folks who decided to not bring lunch to the office on this day. Not a bad gig by any means.
Each of our three trips to Japan started and ended in Tokyo....naturally in Tokyo Station (actually Narita Airport, but you get the point). By now, we kind of had a habit when catching the Shinkansen to whatever our destination was. One of the items on that list....hit up an Ekiben stand.
This one was a special, to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Shinkansen line to Hokkaido. It was about ten bucks and yes, that's real crab. The oysters were decent; but it was the ikura that made this delicious. It's always fun to watch the Shinkansen go by and count how many people you see eating a bento. Well, when in Japan we're one of those.
Like any large city, it's also fun to people watch. We like to sit for a while in the seats across from the Shinkansen ticket machines. and while I missed taking a photo of the portly man wearing pink "Hello Kitty" sweats....I was basically in shock. I found this guy interesting as he carefully documented all his omiyage.
For some reason, I really noticed a lot of the signs, especially on trains and in train stations on this trip. I found them interesting and sometimes a bit humorous. Like this one titled "How to use a toilet".....just in case you've forgotten. Step 1 is the most important..... I'm always wondering, how many cases of what behavior inspired these posters.
While planning out this trip, I found that Nagoya fit perfectly in our plans. So while we'd made a quick dinner visit in the past, this time we'd be staying. Since we travel very light; we need to have facilities with a washer a few times during our visit. In Nagoya, this meant finding an AirBnB, which was super conveniently located, literally within two blocks from JR Nagoya Station. Though the downside was it being spartanly furnished (my original reservation for what looked like a larger, nicer unit was cancelled) and that it was literally next to the train tracks.
I was relieved that the noise at night didn't bother the Missus too much. And we were gone for most of the days in Nagoya.
One of the great thing about Japan is that every town or city seems to have its specialty....at least in the snack department. Nagoya has several special dishes that I wanted to try. Taka-san at Taisho said I really needed to have Hitsumabushi; Nagoya's version of Unadon. After doing quite a bit of walking already, we decided to stay close by for dinner. Right at the exit of the JR Nagoya Station are escalators leading down to ESCA Underground Shopping Center. Much like Tokyo Station "City", there's a couple of interconnected malls under Nagoya Station. In ESCA, I had mapped out Hitsumabushi Bincho, a Nagoya based chain well known for their Nagoya style Unagi bowl.
Here unagi is grilled over what is regarded as high quality binchotan. The place was pretty quiet when we arrived at about 5pm.
We decided to order the 1 1/2 order of Hitsumabushi to share and a couple of other dishes. And of course "nama biru"......
I was quite happy to see Unagi Hone-senbei on the menu.
I really enjoy fried fish bones....potato chips of the sea. Savory, lightly salted, fairly light and very crisp. Nice savory flavors...and heck, I get my calcium too! Did I mention that it goes great with beer?
We would find other versions that were much cheaper than this, but it was a nice start for me.
The Missus, curious about some of the dishes ordered the Grilled Eel Liver (kimoyaki).
I've had this before and warned the Missus about how bitter it can be. Actually, the tare used on this was just sweet enough to ward off some of the bitterness, though it still caught the Missus a bit off guard. The aroma of the caramelized tare was fantastic. Maybe the best version I've had of this dish.
She also ordered a version of Itawasa. This one was interesting.
The "kamaboko" was very nice, great balanced salty-savory flavors.....all I can say is "good surimi", something I'm not really used to here in the states. The wasabi dip was interesting. There was some minced vegetable in it; a mild bitter-pungent, and a strong fermented flavor; which is probably miso, but the texture was interesting, like perhaps fermented fish? It was quite lovely and a great pairing; the sweet-pungency of the wasabi based dip with the fish cake. I know, I've just written almost a hundred words about eating kamaboko.
And then the main dish....which was accompanied by an instruction card. This one in both Japanese and English.
Apparently, eating this dish the "Nagoya way" is serious business. According to the documentation, this is a three step process. Which we, of course followed.
The Eel itself is wonderfully textured. In the states, the skin is often chewy, here it isn't. The tare is quite complex, mild sweetness, deep interesting flavors. The flesh of the eel basically melts in your mouth, the fat content quite good.
The rice, in comparison to other places in Japan is ok, a bit too hard by my standards. The best combination is number 2, with wasabi; the floral-sweet-pungent tones and the green onion really brought out the best in the eel and added texture. The Chazuke just seemed to water down the flavors for us.
This was a nice and quite filling first meal in Nagoya for us. The service was very friendly and as with most places in Japan quite accommodating.
Hitsumabushi Bincho (ESCA Shop) ESCA Underground Shopping Center (#45 on the directory) Tsubakimachi 6 No. 9 Gosaki Esca Tsubakicho, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya-shi, 453-0015 Hours: Open Daily 11am - 330pm and 5pm - 10pm
We took a walk around the area, stopped at the 7-11 to pick up a couple of beers, went back to the apartment to relax and celebrate the fact that we were back in Japan. Tomorrow, we'd be "hiking" (again, remember, I'm here with the Missus) part of the Nakasendō trail. I needed to rest up.
After having a nice dinner in Tokyo the night before; we awoke nice and refreshed. We wouldn't be leaving for Nagoya until 130pm, so the Missus was really interested in checking things out. She was really excited about getting to see the Sakura. I'd been monitoring the Cherry Blossom Forecast and told the Missus we'd probably be missing things in Tokyo (until we returned) and Nagoya, but looked like we were on schedule for Kyoto. Still, I decided we should go to Ueno Park.
But first, breakfast. The Missus really enjoyed breakfast at Yaesu Hatsufuji on our last trip and wanted to eat the simple, but satisfying Japanese breakfast here again. We found a convenient locker, near the JR office, stowed our bags, and found the restaurant soon after.
It was still early, so we strolled around a bit. When we got back to the restaurant, there was already a line!
As the place opened, the line to the ticket machine moved quickly. We made our choices, paid, got our tickets...walked into the place, gave the woman our tickets and were guided to a table.
The Missus enjoys the tea that is provided. She went with the Natto Set (620¥) again; which She loves.
What really surprised me this time around was how good the sashimi was!
I got the Tonjiro Set (520¥), with the exchange rate a bargain at about $4.75!
The miso and pork based soup/stew was quite comforting, not too salty....in spite of being the end of March, there was still a bit of a chill in the air in the morning and this did the trick. Man, that rice was really good too......something that I notice about the Japan.
This place is a favorite of ours. I've posted on it before, so I'll leave it at that.
Yaesu Hatsufuji Yaesu underground shopping center North 1, 2-1, Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 103-0028
So, this is Japan. You eat and get the heck out of dodge....breakfast was less than 20 minutes long so it was not long before we caught the JR Yamanote Line, getting off in Ueno in less than ten minutes.
Ueno Park is pretty large, with a number of Museums and a Zoo on its property. But, we were here for the cherry blossoms. The thing that stuck with us the most about our visit here is learning about the phenomenon of the Hanami Party.
So Hanami basically means "flower viewing" and it's obvious that in this case it means Cherry Blossom viewing. But there's this kind of interesting, for us, a bit goofy, thing called a Hanami Party. Here it seems like folks reserve a spot....setting our plastic tarps to celebrate. It looks like someone needs to keep on the reserved bit of real estate until the party. Man, it was still pretty darn cold at night here.....that's kind of nuts. It does seem like the "spring renewal" has an effect on people....there's this infectious, well, goofiness that is all around. Hope springs eternal.
And for all the partiers, there're the folks who can't walk past a tree without taking a photo.....two interesting groups.....
And while things weren't quite perfect yet....those folks will probably be spending a few more cold nights sleeping on tarps in the park, the transposition of colors is still quite stunning.
I saw a small folded tarp with one guy lying on it....just enough space for him.....which is when I asked the Missus; "is there such a thing as a hanami party for one?"
Ed (from Yuma) finally has the functional tools and the time he needs to write a post for the blog. Kirk and Cathy get a break today.
Not long before my computer became nonfunctional, Tina and I were in the Phoenix area to get together with her brother and wife and catch a spring training game. But we also wanted to have another lunch at Buck & Rider since our last meal there had been pretty good, and their menu contained a lot of dishes that we wanted to try. We arrived soon after they opened:
Since we were heading home after lunch, we decided to avoid drowsy driving and stick to sparkling water, refreshing on that hot day:
The choices of oysters were impressive considering Phoenix is in the middle of the desert:
We could watch the shucker (or is it shuckster?) at work:
We could even look at the oysters in their shells and inspect their documentation (papers please):
We ordered two High Rollers from Washington (Hood Canal) on the right of the picture, and two Madhouse from the Maryland Chesapeake:
They were served with lemon wedges and our choice of condiments; we picked cocktail sauce, which was spicy and tangy (but which I didn't use) and horseradish, which was pungent and freshly ground. With the horseradish, the taste of the bivalve was emphasized.
A close-up of a High Roller:
And a Madhouse:
While both were certified extra small, both were extra tasty, especially the one from the Hood Canal. Outstanding.
Tina's tuna burger, the next item to arrive at the table, fell short of outstanding:
The slaw was probably very healthy and certainly very bland. The bun was homemade and nicely grilled. The burger itself was large, filled with ground ahi, breaded and fried. The avocado portion was generous, but the sandwich never came together to my taste. The teriyaki like sauce on the burger and the chipotle mayo spread on the bun seemed an odd combination. And the fried exterior seemed an odd complement to the raw interior:
Likewise, the fries were just okay:
The portion was generous and the potatoes tasted fresh, but they lacked crispness and maybe had sat under a heat lamp for a little too long.
So I felt like I'd hit the jackpot by ordering the Port St. Lucie French Seabass sandwich:
Except for the slaw, this was excellent. The fish tasted fresh and flavorful. The roll, the breaded filet, the tomato, and the tartar sauce along with generous dill pickle made a flavorful combination.
Here's the check:
Was it worth it? Heck yes. The oysters (even though pretty spendy) and the seabass sandwich were outstanding. The tuna burger and the fries were okay; only the slaw was truly disappointing. We'd come back again.
Buck & Rider, 4225 East Camelback Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85018, (602) 346-0110. website
Yet another one of these "Chi-poke", fast casual places. This one in the food court of Zion Market. The now ubiquitous, pick the seafood, pick the toppings, pick the sauce.......kind of place.
It's the typical drill, you pick what you want...rice or salad, etc.....fish scooped with what looks like a 1/2 ounce scooper....and you get....
Well, not that. That's a real poke bowl....from Ono Seafood. This was $7.50 back when we visited; I think it's now like eight bucks or so.
Here's the $9.95 bowl + $1 for avocado since looking at the fish, I thought I'd needs something with a bit of creaminess to set things off.
Folks were nice....they gave me some miso soup...pretty dark looking stuff, but it was not bad. Not too salty. The tuna and salmon looked just barely passable and the albacore not too good, so I went with tuna, salmon, and two scoops of scallops, which was a mistake as the scallops were still slightly frozen and had none of the nice sea-salty sweetness I enjoy. The tuna was on the dry side, the salmon passable. The rice was adequately prepared; though the cho-jang like sauce was watered down and lacked enough of the sweetness of versions I enjoy.
Still, two of the good things about the place is; they open at 1030 and I often have weird lunch hours, and they are fairly close by in the Zion Market Food Court....where I usually don't have to fight tooth and nail for parking.
A couple of weeks later I returned.
In the mood for something lighter, I went with the salad version of the medium bowl...again $9.95 + $1 for avocado.
This time around I had some albacore, which wasn't very good, slightly off tasting. The salmon had a lot of connective tissue....the tuna looked decent and I got a double scoop, which was good move. The soy-mustard dressing added enough moisture to things....as you can tell it's rather dried out; though not as bad as what I recently had at Poki One and Half....plus they know how to spell poke.
What did make me laugh was when one of my coworkers accidentally called this place "Pork U"..... The shop also makes everything else the other places in the food court don't...from ramen to teriyaki bowls to (con) fusion "nachos".
As for all these poke places? Well, it'll be interesting to see what happens when we hit saturation point. So far; I think the best of these places, not including the ones that actually "make" poke might be Tokyo Deli Downtown?
Poke U (In the Zion Market Food Court) 7655 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111 Open Daily 1030am - 830pm
For various reasons; I ended up eating at both Spicy House and Szechuan Chef over the last week; go figure. I guess it makes a nice twofer....
Is usually reserved for when some good friends of mine visit. They like the place....I'm thinking because as a whole they don't like their Sichuan too spicy? Anyway, we were headed to the new hot pot place Red Cate. The lighted sign said open; it was just after 11, but they looked at us like we were from Mars when we entered. Apparently they don't open until noon. Sigh....
Anyway, the place filled up pretty quickly. We started with some liang cai, cold dishes.
The Fu Qui Fei Pian was the best of the lot, not too wet, cut perhaps a bit too thickly, but it at least had some of the nice salty-anise-chili tones along with a slight amount of "ma" (numbing), brought on by the Sichuan Peppercorns. The pig ears were cut too thin, which took away from the nice crunchiness and was pretty bland. The green beans....well, I know this sounds a bit strange, but I like this dish on the briny-salty side and this was kind of weak; though it had some numbingness to it.
Wanting something I hadn't had in a while; I ordered the Deep Fried Shrimp with Egg Yolk.
This was pretty good; though not nearly as savory and crisp as what Ba Ren used to serve (but what is?). It was still nicely crisp, if a bit too dense. The shrimp were fine, nice and moist, and there was even a bit of numbing in this as well. On the rich side; you can't eat too many, but pretty good overall.
It had been a while since I've had Shui Zhu Yu, so I decided to order that. Good lord, look at the portion size of this thing!
Strangely, this wasn't very spicy and lacked the doubian savory-spicy-beany flavor, or even anything to really cut the oil, making this seem a bit heavy and greasy. There was an abundance of fish; which hadn't been velveted too well, making it mealy and lacking the buttery texture of a masterfully prepared version of this. There were no off flavors though and in fact, the mung bean sprouts actually had a better flavor and texture than the fish had.
As is the new norm.....more about quantity than quality. Though, while the dishes had some of that good "ma" going, it was strangely short in the "la" (spicy) department.
Spicy House 3860 Convoy Street #105 San Diego, CA 92111
I'd been hearing that Szechuan Chef has been getting better over the last year or so. We couldn't figure out where to go for a relatively early lunch (just at 11), so we opted for here.
We shouldn't have opted for the liang cai, which was wasn't very good.
The Fu Qui Fei Pian lacked any hint if Sichuan Peppercorn and had some strange, almost Korean influenced type sauce on it. The pork stomach was very bland....I guess that makes the smacked cucumbers the winner by default?
I ordered what my favorite dish during my visits several years back; the Beef Sour Soup.
While not as bracingly sour; this was still pretty good. The preserved vegetable adding the nice sour tones and a good dose of white pepper keeps things interesting. This was nice and scalding hot; the thinly sliced hot pot cut beef was fine; but almost an after thought. A decent spice and mild ginger tones heightened the dish. This would be great stuff if you're ever under the weather.
Candice had mentioned a beef tendon dish that was really good. There were several on the menu; but I went with the Beef Tendon with Pickled Pepper (Pa Jiao). And while this really didn't have very much Pa Jiao in it; it was, by far, the best dish of the meal.
We really enjoyed the make-up of this dish. The tendon had been nicely cooked; toothsome, but not hard, some pieces almost buttery, and many slices had meat attached to it. What would usually be very tough meat, had become soft with an intense beefiness. Just spicy enough to help me develop a nice sheen on my forehead, this wasn't too hot. A touch of sour helped keep everything in balance.
The one clunker was the Stir Fried Kidney with Chilies.
As you can see; the kidney was over cooked, so it was like eating rubber bands. This wasn't very spicy and the overall flavor was pretty weak. I'm passing on this dish the next time.
Still, this was much better than meals I've had here before......really ncie service as well. Maybe because we were the only customers in the place?
Szechuan Chef 4344 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
So there you go....strangely, Spicy House, really lacked spice. And Szechuan Chef really lacked the numbing Sichuan Peppercorn flavor. So I guess that's the state of Sichuan food in San Diego....you have to choose "ma" (麻) or "la" (辣). Or perhaps the best Sichuan food in San Diego in made at a hybrid Dongbei "slash" Sichuan restaurant?
I'd had a revisit marked down on my "list", but other than one real quick take-out visit, really wasn't able to revisit. Until a couple of months ago.
And they were doing some major business on this day. There's a definite demographic that makes up the customer base here....they are mostly those that are much more hip and as whole a lot younger than I am. Still, it's good to see folks, going for good "sea to table" grub. It must make Mr Grumpy'sTommy Gomes's heart warm.
As you would expect....SS seems to be always doing new "stuffs"...there's now soups, ice cream sandwiches (see Kirbie's post), and other sandwiches to choose from. But you know me......I decided to go with my favorite....The Siren.
For me, this sandwich is a bit of a tight rope walk. The brioche bun rides on being just a bit too sweet and buttery; the aioli too rich and spicy.....but it just seems to work here as the shrimp were nice and plump...and the flavor of the shrimp stood up to the spice and sweetness. If anything, I think they could knock out the garlic and we wouldn't even notice. It is a good, messy (I always get "mayo-hands" here), satisfying sandwich.
It's always comforting to know that a favorite is still going strong....or even stronger for that matter.
And I know, I've got try out some other things here....I'll save that for my next visit.....at least that's what I always tell myself.
SuperNatural Sandwiches 7094 Miramar Rd. #122 San Diego, CA 92121 Hours: Mon - Fri 9am - 8pm Sat 10am - 8pm Sun 10am - 4pm