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My Ramen Obsession

As far as I can remember, I have loved all kinds of noodles.  It was a staple in my childhood diet especially when the only food I ate fell in the carbohydrates category, chicken, turkey, pork, and fruit.  To say the least my diet was very imbalanced would be an understatement.  Despite the fact that I have since expanded my eating horizon quite significantly, the foundation of my food love has never really changed all that much.

I love food that is flavorful – duh…I mean who likes bland food???  For instance: I have always loved tofu, but trying to eat it in its natural form without any sauces or spices, I cannot stomach it.  And despite the fact that I had try the little to no carb diet back in college, that didn’t last very long for me as the thought of bread, noodles, rice, pasta haunted me day and night.  Giving up my foundation was literally driving me insane!

Fast forward to today: I am eating carbs again and I love it!  However, I am more discerning about my choices in the various carbohydrate options.  One of the things that I never really thought much about was ramen.  Growing up in North Carolina, ramen meant Top Ramen or Instant Cup Noodles.  Even when I finally moved back to San Diego with my family, ramen had only expanded as far as the options that were given prepackaged with the fried and dried noodles.

Then my first experience with having ramen that was NOT from a package was at Tajima about 5-6 years ago?  Back then, that was the benchmark of delicious ramen for me.  That is until I tried my bowl of ramen while vacationing in Honolulu back in the Spring of 2011, then the mind blowing bowl from Hide-chan in New York during the Fall of the same year.  What I have known as “ramen” was forever changed since then.

So the most recent adventures into the ramen world while in San Diego included three of the “newer” additions to our wonderful city: Hinotez, Ramen Yamadaya, and Rakiraki.

Shall we begin going down the rabbit hole?

Hinotez

This restaurant came in after the old Honey Bee Café left their spot several years ago.  Sandwiched between auto shops, across from the rows of dealerships, and it’s next door neighbor (same building) is a bar, it isn’t exactly broadcasting itself in the best light.

That was why I was so surprised when I first stepped in that it was completely redone and looked the part of a ramen house.  Ok…good start!  A look at the menu and you know they are trying to just run a no frills shop and that’s just the way I like it.  The choices are limited and simple: ramen (limited choices), a few entrees from the kitchen, and then the short yakitori list.  The reason I came in was for their ramen, but I can’t go without at least trying their chicken thigh yakitori.  Here is the breakdown of Hinotez:

I have been back several times and although it never felt like we were intentionally being ignored or neglected, they seem to conveniently forget a part of the order the last three visits.  And each time, they apologize profusely and depending on the time and mood and fullness, I’ll either have them still put the order through or just have it skipped.

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A good broth is hard to find and time consuming to make.  That’s why I have to look at a restaurant lovingly when they do a good broth for me.  Hinotez’ tonkotsu broth is milky, thick, and flavorful.  It is on the saltier side, which makes it hard for me to finish the WHOLE bowl’s broth (though I do make a nice dent to it).  As for the noodles, it can vary from being slight overcooked to almost just right.

In addition to the ramen, we also ordered steamed gyozas and they were only ok.  Nothing to rave about nor complain about.  Just kind of “meh” (hence why there has never been a picture of it) and not worth your stomach space – skip it!

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As for the chicken thigh yakitori, that came with two skewers, I love!  The chicken was juicy and seasoned with only salt and that was all that it needed.  However, on my last visit, they didn’t quite grill it to that perfect caramelization on the outside that I loved the first two times.

Overall Verdict?…I hope that Hinotez will have more yakitori choices down the road, but this place has potential.  There are some things that need to be worked out such as consistency in cooking, but they have the flavors that can keep me coming back for more.

Ramen Yamadaya

Located in the same strip mall where Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot resides, this little (emphasis on little) shop is unassuming.  Yet it is Los Angeles chain that has graced our town (why can’t more of this happen????) and I was very excited to go try it one evening with my mom and younger sister.

Ramen Yamadaya has a small indoor seating area, with bar seating right in front of the open kitchen where you can watch the guys prepare your ramen.  There is also an outdoor patio area that has some limited seating as well.  Even though the place has been open just a little over two months, the word is out that Yamadaya is here.  Is it good you ask?  Well if you’re a chain with six locations in southern California, I would imagine they have the art of ramen down to the ‘T’.

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See those glops of fat floating at the surface?…Yea that’s what you look for when you’re getting yourself prep and hyped up for a delicious tonkotsu broth experience.  Just like Hinotez, these guys have the broth’s consistency down – thick and rich with porky goodness that coats your mouth and all the way down your throat before settling happily in your stomach.  Yea…this was freaking good.  Best part?  It was NOT over salted and thus…I only put down my spoon because I was going to be scraping the bottom.

When it was done, I had to dig myself out of that fatty, rich goodness to remember more about the rest of the bowl.  Noodles?  Yes, there was noodles and I had order extra just because I could see their portions run small.  They were cooked just right and even though I am not a slow eater (by nature), by the time I took my last bite, that was when the noodles felt a little “softer”.  Not bad Yamadaya…not bad at all (gawds I want myself a bowl now…*gurgling*).

The service was bare-bones – two front of the house servers on a Friday night with three or four guys working the kitchen (cooking, cleaning, etc).  Hence you may have a little more problems getting their attention when you really want something.  However, I’m all for helping myself to things when the restaurant’s small and short on staff.  For this bowl, I’m willing to sacrifice a waiter’s attention as long as he brings me my order.

Rakiraki

Actually…I didn’t make it to Rakiraki as intended, but hopefully by next week!


Gaijin Noodle + Sake House

After our first Padres evening game, CP and I had to find some food afterwards to wash away the sad outcome.  I had read about a new place opening in the Gaslamp last month, and decided that it was the perfect time to check it out – Gaijin Noodle + Sake House.

After mapping it out and walking closer to the location, I then realized that the restaurant was where the old Cheese Shop location was!  Hence the restaurant is narrow and opens deep into the building.  Off to the right hand side is where the magic begins with the grill lined with rows of skewers of meat.  Let’s get started!

For all patrons, they provide for you a complementary “salad” of shredded cabbage, dressed in a “kimichi” spicy-sour dressing.  Nothing mind blowing, just additional water-based vegetables to consume.  I personally love cabbage, but not the biggest fan for the dressing so this dish is not something I would want again.

Our bowls (or in this picture, just mine) of the Spicy Miso Chasu Hakata Ramen.  Accompanying the spicy miso based soup were slices of chasu, bamboo, mushrooms, naruto (no, not the anime character, the swirly fish cake), bok choy, and cabbage.

It was a good bowl of noodles, not ramen.  I say this because it was not the “hakata” style ramen I’ve come to know while in Hawaii and New York.  This is definitely passable and suitable for a “Gaijin” who is looking for something to eat after a night of drinking.  I don’t absolutely hate this bowl of noodles, but I wouldn’t call it ramen or even recommend it as a bowl of ramen.  I will tell you that it’s a nice bowl of noodles and that’s about it.

The true star of the night were the skewers of chicken thigh meat, marinaded with red miso.  These skewers of savory meat were juicy and tender and I could probably eat about 5 skewers by myself!  I mean, there was nothing better that I could think of than to eat more of these skewers and makes me wonder how the other options are.  If this is any indication, then I would not mind having a meat fest with Gaijin Noodle + Sake House….mmmm….meeeeat.

Overall?  This is a nice new addition to the Gaslamp Quarter, and I sincerely hope they expand their yakitori options!

Gaijin Noodle + Sake House
627 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101


Minca – New York, NY

After finally spending a FULL week back at home in San Diego, I realized it was time to do a post!  It has been a little crazy and I don’t know how this much time could have gone by already.  Anyways…I have to tell you all (those who actually read my little blog) about an amazing meal I had while in New York!

Presenting…Minca Ramen Factory’s Basic Pork Broth with thin cut noodles.  This piping bowl of goodness includes: “stewed pork” (charsu), bamboo, “wild mushroom”, boiled egg, and nori.

I don’t know how to describe how amazing this bowl was.  It was pretty darn awesome….and that was just me overcoming me sudden lack of vocabulary at my disposal.  There have been only a small handful of GOOD ramen I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in my lifetime.  This has to be in my top 3!

The flavor of the broth was so rich and velvety, that I wanted to gurgle with the broth just so it could coat my the entire of my mouth for even longer. I could taste the salt and garlic seasoning the broth, accenting the pork-based broth.  The flavor of pork is not as in your face despite the cloudy appearance, yet I think I liked this balance.  Makes me wonder what their other broths taste like…

When I stepped into this little hole in the wall, that was behind a dumpster (due to construction), I was not even remotely hungry.  Yet, this bowl of magic could still carry every flavor note on the tongue.  That is a sign of a good meal – when you can crave and love it, even though you are practically stuffed to the gill already.  I would have ordered 2 bowls for myself that night actually, but I was with my coworkers and I just decided I had too much to eat that day.  Instead, I took my coworker’s unfinished bowl of ramen and proceeded to eat hers too.

However, I urge you all to go out there and try a bowl!  Especially if you do live in the area!  Otherwise, next time you find yourself out in that city, give it a slurp!

Minca Ramen Factory
536 E Fifth St
New York, NY 10009


Best of Park Ridge, NJ

While traveling for work the last two weeks in Park Ridge, New Jersey, wasn’t exactly the most thrilling and exciting trip ever, it wasn’t the worst.  There were some real gems in the surrounding area (especially Ridgewood) and here were my best of Northern New Jersey!

Best List / Must Eats

Fire & Oak – come Monday night and you can get $1 oysters and I’m talking about BIG, good oysters.  However, skip the sushi and the seafood entrees.  The sushi was terrible and the entrees were so bland that my coworker were passing the salt between us throughout the meal.  So after you down as many oysters as you can, order yourself a slab of their chocolate peanut butter pie.  It comes ala mode (but you can’t see it due to the mountain of whipped cream) and it is ridiculous how rich this dessert was.  I had to pull myself away because it was just that good, yet I knew I shouldn’t polish it off on my own.

Sushi Village – Do NOT be alarmed by the fact this restaurant is in a strip mall, nor it’s exterior outlooks.  Once inside, you’ll be completely transported to a modern, fresh feeling restaurant.  The reason this place made it on my list is not because it was the best sushi I’ve ever had.  The sushi was good (far, far better than Fire & Oak’s), but there were two things that got me:

  1. All you can eat sushi dinner for $19.99!  It is a freaking deal no matter how you swing it.
  2. The “Spicy Seaweed Salad” – this concoction is pure genius! Take the usual seaweed salad, but add spicy krab and mix it in with some tempura crunchies…it becomes a mouth of happiness.  So simple, yet so addicting and delicious.

Brooklyn’s Pizzeria – straight up good, wood burning oven, pizza in the area.  I personally enjoyed our pie and I know how strongly people feel about pizza in that state and it’s neighboring one too.  However, I found it to be delicious and I had to stop myself from devouring the whole thing. (Note: it’s cash only business)

Bricklane Curry House – my gawd…this place was the place that gave me one of those food-awe-haze moments.  The Butter Masala was incredible to the point where I would say it comes close to my fave at Punjabi Tandoor’s Makhani.  And their paneer pakora (which my friend has coined as “pan-pak”) was amazing too.  I don’t know if I like Village Indian’s pan-pak or Bricklane’s more!  AHHHHHH THE DILEMMA!  (Oh! Don’t forget to order yourself a mango lassi – thick, creamy, and packed with mango goodness!)

Organic Tofu House – when I think of middle of nowhere cities in the woods…I don’t automatically think amazing Korean tofu stew.  Who would??  However, this Korean tofu house was a real diamond in the rough.  It’s in a strip mall and on the other side of the main street through Ridgewood.  Complete unassuming and yet, for those who venture in, they are met with a quaint little restaurant that whips out a pot of bubbling, scathing hot, organic tofu stew!  Man oh man…my coworker and I dove into our bubbly pots with little care for our tongues because we wanted the stew!!

Fire & Oak
2 locations in New Jersey

Sushi Village
700-90 Broadway
Westwood, NJ 07642

Brooklyn’s Pizzeria
15 Oak St
Ridgewood, NJ 07450

Bricklane Curry House
Multiple Locations – NJ and NY

Organic Tofu House
88 Godwin Ave
Ridgewood, NJ 07450


Post Thanksgiving/Black Friday Shopping Dinner

After a big meal with the family on Thanksgiving day:

Followed by my latest start to Black Friday shopping at 8am!  That would be usually almost my time that I arrive back home with my bounty.  However, I was using my rational mind for once and told myself, “You do NOT need anything this year!”  I had already bought my big electronic purchase this year – my Sony S Tablet, and that was more than enough.

….so said my rational brain.  Yet, the shop-a-holic in me could not resist the temptations of sales and that was how I found myself out at my first store by 8am.  At that hour, the craziness was winding down and it was much easier to deal with.  Heck…it was my most relaxing Black Friday shopping since I started participating in it about 5 or 6 years ago.

The madness that I heard about (and the wreckage in the aftermath) of this annual event was astonishing.  To think – people were pepper spraying each other so they could have one up on another fellow shopper for a hot ticket item.  Is it really worth it people?

Anyways, after my morning of shopping, I rested in the afternoon with some of the Thanksgiving leftovers, including my Lemon Cream-Cheese Cookies that I made for the dinner.  The cookies were shaped into bows and crumbled and melted in your mouth.  The citrus was refreshing after a heavy meal during Thanksgiving, and is light as a sweet, naughty snack.  These cookies will remain in my permanent fave recipes.

That night, exhausted, I met up with LA for a simple dinner at Chopstix Too.  I needed something that would not remind me of Thanksgiving and this was perfect.

Got an order of my favorite – Crunchy Roll, plus a bowl of Chopstix Too’s Tonkotsu Ramen, since I’ve never tried theirs before.  LA has her order of the Chicken Katsu and Crunch Roll plate.

The Crunchy Roll is just a simple staple that I love and by no means – is my idea of GOOD sushi.  This is the type of sushi you get when you want something that just tastes good, feels like an indulgence, fills you up, and most of all…RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP! ($4.95)  I love it because it’s crunchy (duh), sweet (from the eel sauce and imitation crab meat), spicy (the spicy mayo and my extra shot of siracha),  and carby.

The tonkotsu ramen (sans the green onions, can’t stand green onions) was surprisingly…not too bad!  I was anticipating a disappointing bowl, but I was surprised by it.  The broth was medium strong, good flavors (could use just a little more pork flavor), and it warmed me up during that cold evening.  The ramen should have been more firm, but it wasn’t soggy.  Only a little softer than what I would like my ramen to be.  My one gripe about this whole bowl – the hard boil egg was not the marinaded kind like Tajima’s.  😦  Still…both LA and I enjoyed our simple meal and that night, I slept quite peacefully with the few sale items I did get my hands on and a warm belly.

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and shopping adventure!

Chopstix Too
4380 Kearny Mesa Rd
San Diego, CA 92111


Hide-Chan Ramen – New York

About 3 weeks ago, CP and I were in NYC to kick off the start of college football season!  Granted, the game was up in Westpoint, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to go to the city again.  New York is among my top destinations for food and I don’t think that would come as a surprise.  This little peninsula is packed corner to corner with buildings and businesses, and the only city where I’ve ever been to where you can have a selection of the world’s cuisine at your finger tips.

One of the places I have been meaning to visit was Hide-chan Ramen.  Located in Midtown East, down a quite street, upstairs in an unassuming location and if I hadn’t looked up the place online with pictures of the entrance, I would have never thought of stepping through its door.

At Hide-chan, you have the choice of intensity for the broth (rich, medium, and light).  The intensity equates to the richness of the broth and the richer it is, the more pork fatty goodness coats your mouth with each sip.   Additionally, you dictate the firmness of your noodles (very firm, firm, medium, and soft).  Both of us ordered the traditional Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen, with just different toppings.  We went with the medium intensity broth and firm noodles.

Here’s an up close shot of my bowl – see those globs of fatty goodness?  It added to the full mouth feel of rich, pork flavor that lingered even after the broth has slid down your throat.  I was in love with the broth from the first sip.  A wonderful foundation for its supporting cast that made up the rest of the bowl.  The ramen itself was nothing like the instant top ramen you get at the grocery store (unless maybe they sell this kind of amazing ramen in the markets of Japan).  Firm and cooked al dente, which made it perfect for slow consumption so that when you reached to the end of your meal, the last bite is not a soggy mess.

I have been to another famous ramen joint in the city – Ippudo – and I must say they are completely different ramen houses.  Ippudo’s broth was rich and tasty, but their ramen was not my preference at all.  I much prefered my bowl of ramen here at Hide-chan and would recommend others to come here too.  CP has already noted Hide-chan as a must stop for the city (his others are Papaya King and the 53rd & 6th Halal Guys).

Now my mission is to find a bowl of tonkotsu ramen that blows my mind in San Diego….suggestions???

Hide-Chan Ramen
248 E 52nd St
New York, NY 10022


Del Mar’s Gourmet Food Truck Festival

The Del Mar Fairgrounds was the host of the first ever Gourmet Food Truck Festival.  It was a gorgeous day out and perfect for gorging ourselves with amazing food.  Now as  I seat here after some “down” time, I am going through all my pictures and reminiscing about the eat-a-thon with my friend, LA.

We arrived at the fairgrounds with a tentative game plan: hit as many trucks as we could, and share everything we get.  Oh look!  This sign told us where our adventure would begin…

To kick off the eating, we started at Dogzilla:

To wet our appetites, we started with the Yakisoba Dog ($6) – a spicy hot link topped with stir-fried Yakisoba noodles with cabbage, bean sprouts, and green onions, Okonomi sauce, red ginger, finished off with Ao-Nori.  I was excited to try this because it was everything I love, in a bun!  And not just any bun, but a sweet Hawaiian bun.

The sausage gave the meal the spicy kick I prefer my meals to have.  With the lack of Sriracha and only ketchup, the sausage provided that spiciness that made my tongue happy!  The yakisoba was good, slightly sweet and salty, and the sweet bun helped wrapped everything for mobility.  I think this was one of the best starter for this food adventure!

Next…Great Balls on Tires:

Specializing in well…great balls!  Of meat :).  While waiting in line, we talked with two fellow foodies and had a great conversation with them!  As LA said, I make friends where ever I go and you know what?  Food always tastes better with great company! 🙂  Also, during our conversation, LA came up with a perfect phrase that even our new friends found to be quite amusing, and reflected myself perfectly – “food stalker”.  There needs some definition to go with this new phrase….here’s a shot: a food stalker is one who stares at others, known and unknown, solely to drool/obsess/investigate food that is not at one’s own plate.  Who will ask many questions to inquire about the food item being consumed and occasionally proceed to request for some.

Maybe that’s what a food stalker is?  If anyone has a better definition, send it to me!  For now, under this definition, I am a bona fide food stalker extraordinaire!

This bona fide food stalker and her accomplice went for an order of the Ballywood and Buffalo Balls (respectively and $6 per item).  The Ballywood was garam masala chicken balls, topped with coconut madras curry, crispy fired onions, and served with saffron basmati rice with tomato and cilantro chutneys.  The Buffalo Balls were buffalo style chicken ball, mac & cheese, blue cheese dressing, and served with celery and carrot.

The meatballs were amazingly juicy and tender – both of them!  The curry was not spicy (how I like mine), but rather on the sweet side.  However, it was flavor packed and I couldn’t help but lap it all up (my half) along with the somehow decently cooked basmati rice!  The buffalo sauce on the other hand was not spicy, and was sweet with a bit of vinegar tang.  Again, not my usual go-to flavor combo, but the meatball itself was so good, plus when I took a bite with the mac & cheese (with panko bread crumbs at top!!!), it made for a great bite!  Overall – this red, black, and white truck satisfied me and LA.

Next stop – the Tornado Potato:

We went for the “Tornado” with cajun seasoning.  As you can see, it’s a towering spiral of a whole potato on a stick!  LA and I had this at the County Fair this year, but we both wanted a fried potato item so we went with this place!  We both agreed that the potato should be sliced thinner to get that crispiness of a chip on the exterior, while remaining fluffy inside like a fry.  It was still tasty and we both love our potato treat!

Having had so many savory items, plus with the sun baring down on us for sometime now, we both needed a cool off and something sweet.  The answer to our prayers?

Longboard’s Ice Cream:

The recipe of this truck is simple: pick your ice cream flavor on a stick, then your chocolate coating choice (milk or dark) and finally your topping to coat the whole thing.

My choice: coconut ice cream, dipped in dark chocolate and topped with half graham cracker crumbs, and half rainbow sprinkles.  I loved the idea of how this worked and I loved the freshly dipped items, but my only issue was that ice cream bar on the stick was too icy.  It must be from keeping the ice cream frozen in order to dip them, so I can understand yet it did bother me a little.  However, it was still quite enjoyable!  Oh!  And since I forgot to take an individual pic of LA’s pop, she chose: pistachio ice cream, dipped in dark chocolate, and covered with rainbow sprinkles.  According to LA, the pistachio ice cream was only ok and didn’t have enough pistachio flavor to it.

After our pops, we decided to sit and rest for a bit, to let all the food mix in our stomachs and begin to really process it.  That was when the food coma started creeping in!  Oh man…I knew from there, it was only going to go downhill.  However, after sitting, then walking, and watching a race, we dove back into the crowds (which only grew even larger at that point).  I met up with a couple of friends and a colleague, watched what they ate and decided I had to make one more last haul!

Hence, LA and I made our way to Tapa Boy:


I ordered the Pork Longanisa Bowl with garlic fried rice (sinangag), an egg, and a side of papaya relish (atsara) with tomato and cucumber.  Man…when they say garlic rice…boy, oh, boy…did they really mean it!  The rice was packed with garlic and I loved it!  Their longanisa was sweet, which surprised me a little because I was expecting something spicy (are you noticing a trend here?…because I am).  The meat was super tender and yield to a plastic fork with ease, so it was still quite good. Though it didn’t blow my mind away.

To end a long day, though I didn’t have any…a friend bought herself a decked out waffle from Waffles de Liege:

This here is a liege waffle with chocolate drizzle, almonds, and topped with a giant scope of Fosselman’s English toffee nut ice cream.  I only had the ice cream and it was amazing!  My friend “Channy” dove into this with a huge smile on her face.  Judging from her expression, I think she liked it ;).

Well my friends, that was my first ever Gourmet Food Truck Festival!  I can’t wait for the next one, but until then…I am going to start having to find these food trucks around town for lunch!  Bon appetit my fellow food stalkers!

For more information on the food trucks visited:
Dogzilla
Great Balls on Tires
Tornado Potato
Long Boards Ice Cream
Tapa Boy
Waffles de Liege